All professions are facing the disruption of the fourth industrial revolution. It’s natural to feel uneasy at the thought of technology like AI being able to execute tasks more accurately, faster, and consistently than we can. Particularly when we do those tasks for a living. But as those who thrived through the previous three industrial revolutions knew, the future belongs to the early adopters who embrace and leverage change.In the excellent book, What to Do When Machines Do Everything, the authors agree that tech will transform the face of the G7 labor force, but note “new machines always give as much as they take away.”
In recent decades we have watched the effects of technology on an industry play out with news media. Traditional offerings like newspapers had to evolve or die as new ones like social media and blogging were born. As a result, news media across the board is now delivered in more relevant, timely, and accessible ways to more discerning consumers. Likewise, as technology drives the automation, enhancement, and creation of jobs in sales, choosing to partner with it and play to our own strengths will lift sales outcomes for everyone.
So, now we aren't afraid of the bots, how do we best use them?
"We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten."
Bill Gates, Co-Founder, Microsoft
Check the foundations of your sales operation
Before we tech-ify anything, we need to be sure of the foundations of our sales machine. More specifically, our processes (sales funnel), methodologies (techniques we use to execute stages), technology (CRM and tech stack), and leadership (how we coach and measure performance).
- We have clear structures (e.g. a sales funnel with clearly defined stages).
- That these structures are aligned (e.g. our CRM matches the processes and methodologies we use).
- Our teams know how to execute (e.g. how much activity they need to meet their goals, how to lead with value).
- We are not seeking to add technology for the sake of adding technology (shiny object syndrome).
Allows us to identify:
- Gaps or hotspots in our operation based on performance.
- Exactly ‘what, when, where, why and how’ we need the technology.
- How we can manage, monitor, and maintain new technology.
- Defining our relationship with technology.
- The expected ROI.
Teams impatient to implement technology because they want fast results, be warned that technology is no quick fix. It's intended to execute traditional sales concepts innovatively. So, when applied to a broken sales engine, technology tends to make things worse. Getting the foundations right first not only helps maximize technology investment but tends to itself provide significant sales results.
Now we're prepared, let’s get into it.
Identify where technology can best enable salespeople
Sales enablement professionals look for ways to remove inhibitors, which are often human limitations. Fortunately, where humans struggle technology tends to thrive (and vice versa, as we’ll discuss next).
In reviewing our sales foundation, we might have identified challenges like our sales cycle being too long, or average deal size too low. Let’s consider common human-based factors that impact on results like these, and how technology can partner with us to overcome them.
- Salespeople are time-poor and have a high cognitive load. This is bad news for fiddly and time-consuming administrative tasks like CRM updates. Although important for deal momentum, relationship quality, and predictability, the lack of urgency associated with each individual task makes them easy to snooze. One way technology can save time, brain space, and support strategy is with functions like automation. Humans will still need to trigger a key touchpoint (like updating a deal status) but technology can carry the rest of the burden, prompting for key information, automatically setting meetings, generating templates, sending emails, setting reminders, and blocking out time to work on the deal.
- Human brains aren’t always on. Salespeople always need to keep their finger on the pulse, but juggling opportunities, outreach, active deals, and networking can burn them out. One way technology can help is by acting as a second brain, keeping track of tasks like “follow up this deal in a week” or “let me know when a new hire is made at any of my target companies.” Setting and then forgetting tasks like this helps salespeople feel less swamped, be more effective, and focus on the high-payoff jobs at hand.
- We don’t follow the rules. No matter how great our sales foundations and enablement are, salespeople won’t always remember (or choose) to use the processes and methodologies. Here technology is sales enablement’s best friend, building a just-in-time path under salespeople as they walk. For a company focusing on better discovery, technology might help by pre-populating the discovery meeting template (talking points, action items) and emailing it to the salesperson half an hour before a discovery meeting.
- There is too much data for us to handle efficiently or effectively. In today’s marketplace, the use of data at hyper-scale is needed to sell competitively, with technology quickly analyzing huge volumes of data to identify patterns and make unbiased assessments. Setting salespeople up to sell better, technology can provide high-impact insights they need when they need it, like 'top 10 prospects based on predicted revenue margin,' or 'the recommended price for this deal.'
This list is made up of activities we find repetitive, time-consuming, or annoying. We’ve all been complaining about them for decades. Bringing in technology as a faithful sidekick allows salespeople to avoid these tasks (while still reaping the benefits), instead focusing their full human intelligence on the higher-payoff, more rewarding activities.
Confirm you haven't over-corrected
Just as humans can’t handle data like technology, technology can’t (yet) mimic the human touch. So, after we have identified the gaps in our sales operation, and where technology can bridge these, it’s time to check we haven’t over-corrected. Here are common ways human intelligence is worth the investment.
- We steer the ship. Technology is excellent at executing inside the square, but it can’t leave it. When change happens every day, it remains a human responsibility to strategize, apply, monitor, and innovate both our own behavior and that of our technology.
- Buyers want a connection. Technology can automatically make the sales process feel as human as buyers expect, using personalized messaging, hyper-relevant targeting, and value predictions. But, at the end of the day, buyers need to connect with the human behind the wheel to build the trust, understanding, and rapport needed to evolve their salespeople into trusted advisors.
- We can break through the noise. Like the uncanny valley in animation, most of us instinctively know when something is artificial. We identify generic messaging, spot the sequences, and logically know when it’s unlikely engagement was hand-crafted, even if it reads ‘human.’ This artificial activity has made the marketplace incredibly noisy, so the human ability to catch attention by surprising buyers becomes more valuable by the day.
- Human behavior isn’t linear. B2B sales aren’t compatible with self-checkout. Buyers don’t know how to buy, politics are complex to navigate, and humans often behave in unexpected ways when taken at face value. The ability to manage people, risk, and politics remains one of the highest-value skills of a B2B salesperson- as it always has been.
- We have our own superpowers. At key touchpoints in the sales conversation, human traits like humor, curiosity, emotion, imagination, empathy, emotion, persuasion, inspiration, persuasion, and non-linear thinking are essential to extract and convey more information than simply what is said.
Remember, the robots aren’t taking over, they are just invited to our party. We dictate where to leverage the new-school technology so we can better utilize our own skills to execute a better old-school experience.
“The world is experiencing one of the most profound technological shifts with the rise of real-time technologies and generative AI. This comes at a pivotal moment as every company is focused on connecting with their customers in more intelligent, automated, and personalized ways,”
Marc Benioff, CEO, Salesforce.
It’s true that technology gives sales operations such boundless capacity that there is no longer a path forward without it. But as we now know, that’s no cause for fear. By building tech over solid sales fundamentals, and thoughtfully applying it, salespeople can enjoy a future-proof career with superhuman results.
What is your TQ? Tech-Powered Sales (HarperCollins, 2021) is a practical guide for navigating industry 4.0 as a sales professional, authored by me and Justin Michael. For an evidence-based deep dive on how to go from the traditional sales mindset to a tech-enabled sales superhero, get your copy here.