Technology. Whether you love it or hate it, there is no question its impact on the daily operations of sales teams has been enormous. From handheld devices to apps and cloud-based, on-demand resources, both the salesperson and buyer have a perpetual source of information.
In spite of the positive impact technology advancements have on our profession, there is still one key and fundamental skill set that determines the success or failure of any sales professional. And it is offline—off the techno grid.
Before we go there, let’s look at how technology has changed the day-to-day activities of both sales reps and managers.
Technology is an accelerator: The pace of the sales profession has changed dramatically. When I first became a sales rep, information was acquired at a snail’s pace. I kept abreast of my client’s industry through monthly industry print publications. Maybe not by Pony Express, but they came in the mail on the publisher’s timeline. Communication was simple: phone, letter or face-to-face. And while company financial results were published, access was difficult. I would actually buy shares and invest in client funds in order to get their annual reports.
Now, information and insight is available on a continuous basis with real-time data. We expect whatever we need to be at our finger tips and become quickly frustrated when access is not immediate. If we are savvy enough, we don’t even spend time with search engines. Tools and alerts push relevant information to our inbox the moment it hits the web! With this ever-present stream of data, we have what we need to make better decisions, identify real opportunities and know more about our prospects whether we are researching an individual or a company.
Adding to the speed and efficiency factor, digital contract execution with electronic signatures has revolutionized and shortened close cycles in industries such as real estate, banking, and many business-to-business transactions.
Technology is an amplifier: Technology, and specifically social networking and media, has become the bullhorn of today’s communication. One tweet can go around the world in seconds. One press release can be picked up on multiple online news sites and accessed by clicking a link. Technology also impacts our ability to efficiently collaborate with our colleagues, partners, prospects and clients. The effectiveness of our messaging is amplified since communication is immediate with an expectation for rapid response.
Earlier this week, I was meeting with a new client via a web conference. I have learned, albeit the hard way, to silence all other communication when participating in an online meeting since the temptation to peek at incoming messages can be so distracting. This time, I forgot to silence my cell phone. A call came in. I forwarded the call to voicemail. Immediately, I got a text. When I did not respond, I got a call to my office phone line, then a text via Skype, then Slack. Are you kidding me?
The point is, technology advancements have amplified the modes of communication. While distracting at times, when properly managed, these channels can also be leveraged. Messages and content are easily shared over many platforms and mediums. We can extend our reach to potential buyers and stay in touch with existing buyers without making a single phone call.
Technology is an illuminator: Technology provides transparency with the ability to manage, account for and report on EVERYTHING. We have access to dashboards, metrics, and exception and status reports on a continuous basis. Whether you are a rep or a manager, your ability to manage your business with data, not just anecdotes, has been revolutionized.
Performance is tracked in real-time. Many of my clients have electronic boards in their offices highlighting stack rankings that are updated instantly. Stats on the number of new meetings, closed deals, new logos, and total revenue are available for the entire team to see at any given time. There is no hiding poor performance and lack of results.
Artificial intelligence is also illuminating prospect engagement during the sales cycle. Has your email been opened or forwarded? What subject line gets the best results in an email campaign? What has changed at the companies or with the individuals we are working with? We are notified the moment new information is posted.
With all the technology at our disposable, there is one constant that remains the single and most critical success factor for any salesperson. As noted above, it isn’t an online tool, dashboard, platform or alert. It is old school and simple—engaging the right people at the right time with the right conversation.
Yes, meetings and opportunities still go hand in hand. Sales reps that have full pipelines of qualified opportunities will outperform those who don’t, every time. These high performing reps can’t afford to waste time with shoppers. Therefore, they maximize the investment of their time and rigorously qualify opportunities to separate the buyers from shoppers.
At the end of the day, the successful sales rep is still reaching out with the goal of having a conversation. Regardless of the medium, they are prepared and engaging with their messaging. Even with the most advanced techno-tools, if sales reps don’t have the interpersonal skills to effectively establish credibility, build trust, and earn the right to explore possible partnerships, technology will fail to yield a return on investment. Pitching is not tolerated, lecturing is not needed and provoking can backfire.
Sales call preparation—knowing your prospect, their business and tailoring your message and your approach to them—is just as important today as it was 20 years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The ‘how’ continues to change while the ‘what’ remains the same!