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The technology trust gap that’s hurting sales efforts

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa)

With more than 20 per cent of the UK population employed in sales (either directly or indirectly), salespeople as a demographic, are a hugely important technology user group. But they’re also one of the most poorly served! 

Nowhere is this truer than for field sales people — the men or women who spend at least 75 per cent of their time on the road selling products or services to customers. As a consequence, technophobia is often rife in this unique and challenging sales environment!

Unsurprisingly the majority of field sales reps regularly use technology as part of their day-to-day job. However, regardless of the technology they are using, over a third (38 per cent) of the 251 UK-based reps my company, Skynamo, surveyed (in October 2018 via research firm Censuswide) believe technology is “more of a hinderance than a help”. This perspective is creating huge resistance to any new technology in the sales environment, fuelled by the bad experiences reps have had using the tools deployed by their organisation.

In this article I’ll explore the underlying reasons why technophobia is so rife in field sales and outline my five key steps to overcoming tech resistance and recalibrating your sales team’s perception of technology as something that’s empowering them with the time and information to be successful.

Who brings a knife to a gunfight?    

Fundamentally the problem is simple. Time and time again firms are forcing field sales reps to use what are clearly the wrong tools and yet expecting them to somehow be able to do the right job with them. It’s the sales equivalent of using a chocolate teapot in the desert.

Our survey found that sales organisations are placing a high reliance on ‘low-tech’ such as Excel spreadsheets (48 per cent), email, and instant messaging (41 per cent) for day-to-day updates. Many of these spreadsheets and emails are printed onto paper and used as the basis for formal reporting. A further 7 per cent admit they rely purely on paper-based filing and handwritten notebooks. 

On top of this, almost half (43 per cent) of sales reps are required to use more sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, often alongside enterprise resource planning (ERP) software/accounting packages in addition to their sales reporting tools – be they paper, excel or email.

It probably doesn’t take a genius to realise that entering data into all these disconnected systems inevitably means that mistakes and anomalies are commonplace, especially where on-the-road access isn’t available to reps and they’re left relying on their fatigued memory and note-taking at the end of a long day.

One in five of the reps we surveyed specifically stated that cumbersome technology directly impacts their ability to enter work-related data accurately. 89 per cent admit to flaws in the accuracy of the data they themselves record in notes, meeting reports and their company’s CRM system. As a result, more than a quarter (28 per cent) don’t trust their company’s CRM data.

Using a disjointed mix of tools that aren’t designed for use in the sales field sets both reps and managers up for failure. Not only does it breed distrust in field data but also mass resistance towards any field sales management software and mobile sales apps, even those which have the potential to help sales teams sell more.

But let’s be clear — most of the problems field sales people experience with technology aren’t due to poor quality technology but more to do with the way it is being deployed.

Mobile first: choosing the right tools for the field sales job

For salespeople on the road it’s really no wonder they find technology a hinderance. They don’t have the luxury of a comfy desk, a powerful desktop PC and superfast broadband. The reality is that reps are constantly on the move from meeting to meeting. They’re often working on more entry level mobile phones, tablets or laptops and battling with bandwidth poor WIFI hotspots and patchy phone signal while tethering their laptop in a motorway service station or pulled up on the side of the road on the outskirts of an industrial estate. They need focused simplicity and access to just the information and features they need, not the complexity they get from a full CRM and ERP system.

Field sales reps need a single interface they can use to access data and functionality in both CRM and ERP systems instead of jumping between two different applications on their mobile device — something that can bridge the gap between the two. They need an app designed specifically for use on a mobile device and that supports the unique set of tasks they perform while on the road.

Massive advances in technology provide us with all the components needed to make it easier for salespeople to gather and have access to high quality data – but this isn’t happening – because experience has taught reps and their manager that tech just makes life more difficult, not easier. We need to champion the cause and show how the right technology can make all the difference.

Mobile technology designed specifically to support field sales reps is proven to dramatically reduce the time reps spend on admin, freeing them up for more customer relationship building and selling. A single, user-friendly interface which fits in their pockets, provides them with access to accurate information about products and customers, the latest pricing and stock information, and the ability to act on that data will improve their sales performance. They will have all the functionality they need to nail their job.

So how do I think we can overcome the massive resistance that stands between struggling sales reps and the technology that will empower them to sell better? Here are my five key steps to get salespeople onboard with technology projects:

1. Involve rather than impose

If you’ve got negative or suspicious reps and you’re trying to adopt a new technology that you’ll expect them to use - be completely open and involve the whole sales team at every stage of the adoption process.

Transparency communicates trust and respect from management and invites trust and respect from employees in return. When everyone is treated as a stakeholder you’ll achieve a much more open attitude towards adopting the technology.

2. Make the benefits obvious

Take the time to communicate how a mobile sales app will transform both office-based and field sales activities for the better. Show how this will help them, not just how it will help you as a manager or business owner. For example, accurate and readily available customer history and product information empowers reps to be sales consultants - enabling them to provide each customer with unique solutions to their business challenges. On top of this, simplified order taking and report writing processes have proved to help field sales reps work productively, freeing them up to enjoy more downtime.

3. Track the impact

Be sure to keep track of changes as the new technology is being employed. Communicate these visually to help reinforce the positive results. Compile graphs to compare before and after time spent on admin, hours needed to reach weekly targets, number of weekly visits completed, and any other metric that will show the value added by newly adopted technology.

4. Listen to what the users have to say

Technology deployments are rarely perfect. All new systems require minor adjustment and user adaption before running optimally. Feedback from sales team users will be crucial to a successful adoption and setup process. It is their user experience that will determine, not only how willingly they adopt new technology, but also how much the entire business benefits from their ability to utilise new tools.

5. Nurture (training) over nature

Give the sales team the support they need to use the tools they’re given. Tech resistance often stems from tools being thrown at the sales team with the expectation that the reps will just know intuitively how to make it work. Don’t cheap out on training. It absolutely worth supporting and helping sales reps improve their proficiency in the field.

Field reps reject sales technology when it stands in the way of their selling efforts, which often happens when a technology wasn’t developed specifically for field sales work in the first place. Adopting mobile field sales technology, and managing the adoption process well, will see field reps welcome new technology and their sales performance will skyrocket as a consequence.

Brian Howe, Alliances Director, Skynamo (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa

Brian Howe is the Alliances Director at Skynamo. With over 20 years of experience in sales, he is currently helping bring the brand from South Africa to the UK.