As a salesperson, you learn to rely on intuition, charisma, and bonds forged over the course of a long customer relationship. Metrics, software, analytical tools: they’re for marketers – the theory-formulators, the lead generators, the A/B-testers, the people who are there to tee you up so you can smash it across the green. Force of will and force of personality have taken you pretty far in the past, so why wouldn’t they carry you forward into the future?
It’s a seductive myth, and more so because it was true until quite recently. Today, however, you can’t rely on your gut or your way with people. Not exclusively, at least. When you have data about your customers, you have power; if you don’t have it, you’re denying yourself an opportunity to know them better – and thereby preserve and strengthen your most critical relationships.
The data percolator
Today, the sales process can be augmented by technology – and artificial intelligence in particular. That isn’t to say that machines can handle your negotiations or write you a convincing elevator pitch: we’re not in HAL 9000 or Skynet territory yet, and we ought to be thankful for that. But by convincingly approximating and automating human cognitive processes, the technology can reliably provide actionable information through CRM systems – the kind of insights that not only might not have occurred to the sales professional, but couldn’t have occurred to them under any circumstances.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see why managers and executives want salespeople to get on board with automated data capture and analysis. Self-sufficiency is nice, but results are nicer: a claim that can’t be validated by anything other than a feeling is really little more than an informed guess. CRM technology can capture, collate, and interpret data in seconds – giving the human using it the time to concentrate on the things that really matter.
This is, in some respects, the story of the last two centuries. Factories used to be full of people weaving and working the loom, but machines did it faster, so we had the people focus on things that required more thought and insight. There are still cab drivers in London who will express outrage at the idea of ever using the GPS, but compare the performance of those who use it against those who don’t, and you’ll see who’s ferrying more customers to their destinations.
No salesperson ever lost a deal because they had too much information about their customers. An accurate CRM system which provides maximum visibility into their behaviour is worth its weight in gold to your business: the more data, the more you have to go on when it comes to making critical decisions.
Of course, it’s vital to understand this technology once it’s implemented. While the natural attitudes and expectations of salespeople are part of the problem, nobody should ever be expected to sit down in front of a CRM dashboard and immediately know exactly how to use it. Nor should the value of these systems be overstated: they won’t solve every issue that faces a company, and they won’t do a salesperson’s entire job for them. It’s important for companies to manage their expectations around what the technology can and should do for them.
Nonetheless, if upper management makes a calculated effort to promote and adopt these systems, the considerable value a CRM has should become abundantly clear in short order.
An uneasy alliance?
Salespeople need to seamlessly incorporate technology into what they already do: if they have to make special arrangements or accommodations for it, it’s not working as intended. It’s easy to forget that the philosophy of self-reliance so endemic to the profession occurred as a response to an age where information about habits, trends, and buying patterns was negligible.
Today, you can accumulate and analyse data from all kinds of correspondence – emails, phone calls, instant messages, texts – and understand why people think the way they think, and why they behave the way they behave. With this information to hand, you’ll be in a much stronger position when it’s time to renew a contract or cross-sell additional products: you’ll know what they want based on historical precedent, you won’t be making an educated guess.
CRM and AI technology have made it possible for the modern salesperson to be more intelligent, more efficient, and more profitable for their companies. If you can embrace it and integrate it seamlessly into your day-to-day routine, you’ll have a clear edge on your competitors – and a clear route to prosperity.