A common theme in science fiction is the hidden dystopia in what otherwise appears to be a perfect world – a utopia aided by technology. The underlying message is ominous: Technology is a direct threat. In the world of sales, technology that should help reps succeed at their jobs can become dystopian if the process is not considered first. Unfortunately, many companies throw technology at a problem before fully understanding the issue, and they’re disappointed when adoption or ROI is lower than anticipated.

The good news is that a few simple actions can be taken to avoid this problem:

  • Fully map the process. As simple as this sounds, it is often overlooked or done poorly. Capture the details about each step – its complexity, the time it takes to complete, the number of people involved. If critical data is missing, collect that data. There may be a rush to fix issues, but incomplete, inaccurate data leads to poor decisionmaking.
  • Determine the root causes. On the process map, make a list of potential problems, and start with the one that will have the greatest impact. Keep in mind that the simple question, “What are we trying to fix?” may seem like common sense, but in a complex process, what might help one group could cause problems for others.
  • Avoid re-training initiatives. If the training didn’t work the first time, beating your reps into submission with more training won’t work. The best processes are intuitive or automated, helping to guide the user. The problem is that these processes take longer to create and implement. While re-training is expensive (e.g. training time, materials, rep opportunity cost), it is it familiar and has a predictable outcome. The reps are trained, the task box is checked, and, for a while, the numbers improve. But people fall back into bad habits, especially if good habits are complex and time consuming.
  • Redesign the process. Cut redundant steps. If a manual check step is needed, put it closer to the start of the process. This will reduce waste in the form of time spent fully completing a task only to have the end result scrapped and creating the need for a replacement (e.g. an RFP). Identify how technology can reduce the time spent on steps in the process, eliminate errors, or help the rep make an impact with the buyer.
  • Use a phased implementation approach. Avoid the temptation to expect all goals to be met by one arbitrary deadline. This will most likely lead to shortcuts and the cutting of key requirements. Expect sales reps to absorb small amounts of change at a time. A phased approach will help them cope with the adoption curve, allowing the project to be chunked into reasonable parts.
  • Automate whenever possible. When manual work is added to the rep’s day, it reduces time spent on core selling activities. Adding support staff is not always the right option, as to err is human. A well-designed process will reveal areas that can be better served by technology that runs in the background. When considering technology solutions for reps, make sure they are intuitive and do not add complexity to their day.
  • When redesigning any sales process, interview reps to understand how their time is spent throughout the day. More importantly, observe reps in the field – their actions may differ from what they report, and you may end up with insight into problems reps aren’t even aware exist.