Guest Post: The Evolution of Sales Tools and the Efficiency Paradox

 

Think about the most recent communication you sent to a prospect. Picture who the prospect was, what you wrote, and what your objective was. Do you have it in your mind? OK then. Let me ask you a few questions.

Did you dip a feather into an ink-pot to pen the letter? Did you seal the envelope with a wax stamp? Did you give it to a carrier who then rode off along back-country roads or cobbled streets on horse-back to deliver it?

While the notion is pleasantly nostalgic, I’m sure you did none of those things. In fact, you probably didn’t spend the time to craft and post a letter at all but rather sent an email. Emails are delivered to people much quicker, cost (virtually) nothing to create and send, and they can include much more information than a letter written with a quill pen.

The reason I’m using this absurdly outdated example is to make a point about the drivers behind the evolution of tools and the importance of investing in new tools. Tools (technology and processes) evolve over time primarily from an onward and inevitably pressing need for operational effectiveness and gaining efficiencies.

Efficiencies are what allow civilizations to develop and prosper, while indeed fueling the competitive spirit that ultimately drives the engine of commerce. Farming, for instance, allowed civilizations to become sedentary, which was a great saver of time. Communities could grow the food that was needed to sustain themselves, and have time left over to think, create, develop, and specialize. At one time, most day-to-day responsibilities were occupied with providing or maintaining the necessities of life, the “support tasks” if you will. Keeping the family or the community as a whole adequately fed, clothed, housed, and even protected or defended took up most of our time.

Even in today’s world, almost a billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. Collectively, the women of South Africa walk the equivalent of 16 trips to the moon and back each day just to stockpile enough water for their needs. Imagine how they could spend that time differently if only they had instant and reliable access to safe, potable water? Imagine, by comparison, how much the rest of the world takes the availability of this precious resource for granted.

In the dynamic and high-demand world of selling, the evolution of tools has had a significant impact on our ability to perform our jobs, present our ever-expanding array of solutions, service our customers, and generate revenue—the life-blood of our companies.

The biggest advancement in the development of sales tools was the telephone. The typewriter, carbon paper, the fax machine, the photo-copier, the slide projector, the over-head projector, these tools and others (voicemail, email, etc.), had a profound influence on business in general, and selling in particular.

Then, in the 1980’s came the mass availability of personal computers and printers. Letters, proposals, sales projections, and marketing materials could be created in far less time, with far greater creative flair and customization. Personal computers (PCs) were ordered for every employee who needed to create, process, and record information. Desktop PCs, however, didn’t change the world of selling much—at least until the introduction of email and the Internet years later.

It was the introduction of portable laptop computers in the mid 1980s that opened up a whole new world for the sales professional. No longer were we confined to working with, or having access to, information bound by the ‘anchor’ of our desk. Mobile computing was about to change the way we worked, and indeed the fundamental business of doing business. “Bringing work home” would now have an entirely new meaning – we would become more ‘available’, more ‘productive’, and we were ‘global’.

Indeed, the introduction of laptop computers is what begat the first sales tool revolution. Because salespeople could use the tools of their trade wherever they were and no longer needed to travel back to the office to look up information or to write proposals, they could use their time more efficiently, and their efforts and energies would be rewarded accordingly.

Laptops also opened the door to exploring new uses—or “applications”—for leveraging computing power in selling. Soon, we began to wonder whether we could somehow create electronic versions of our slideshow presentations. Was it possible to eliminate the design and production of film slides and the need to carry boxes of slide trays to our sales calls? It was indeed possible. And soon, PowerPoint became the 4th application in Microsoft’s market-share dominating software suite.

The Efficiency Paradox

Incorporating new technologies in an effort to improve efficiencies is a two-edged sword, however. Deploying laptops meant that salespeople had to learn new habits and behaviors in a ‘wired’ world. Power cords, batteries, and (back then) diskettes, needed to be remembered and packed every time reps moved from one location to another. That, along with waiting for systems to boot-up in front of customers, making sure you had enough battery power and had the right presentations loaded resulted in net-new consumptions of time that didn’t exist before. For instance, the ability to create customized slide-shows was a boon to the sales process, but it was a new expenditure of a sales rep’s priceless resource of time.

There wasn’t then and isn’t now, a 100% gain in efficiency with the adoption of new technologies and processes. New technologies save time, but they also impose additional new requirements of time.

There can’t be a better example of this efficiency paradox than that of CRM. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is this decade’s version of Salesforce Automation—which launched shortly after the introduction of laptops. CRM is a tool to help salespeople keep track of tasks, prospect and customer interactions, contact details, opportunities and forecasts. In many ways it is an efficiency boon to sales reps. It is however, a substantial drain on efficiency in equal measures. CRM, in my opinion, is no more of a sales productivity tool than using Excel and Word are. Yes, it helps. But it doesn’t result in net efficiency gains.

So where are we now?

We are at the beginning of yet another sales tool revolution: one that will be even bigger and more ‘evolutionary’ than the first. It will change the way we collect, record, and share information. It will change the way we communicate and collaborate. It will free us even further from our modern day drudgery allowing us to gain greater efficiencies, and therefore generate even more revenue. However, like other technological advancements of the past and present, the advancements of the future will introduce new consumptions of time, and in the short term, tax both our patience and productive output. Learning (and adapting to) new processes, forming new habits and behavioral patterns, and managing the use of these new technologies, will off-set any efficiency gains—to a degree.

Even so, no one would argue that replacing the quill and ink-pot with computers hasn’t given us a worthwhile (and indeed everlasting) gain in efficiency. And so the inevitable march toward progress and the next sales tool revolution continues on.

 

Author, Nancy Nardin is the foremost expert in sales productivity tools. As President of Smart Selling Tools, she consults with many of the top sales productivity software vendors as well as end-user organizations looking to select the right tools. Click to get Nancy’s What & When weekly digest with invitations to complimentary webinars and informative publications. Follow Nancy on Twitter @sellingtools or subscribe to her Tool Talk blog. Nancy can be reached at 916-596-3035.

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