Creating the Perfect Storm Part I: The Executive Viewpoint

What are the current opinions on sales technology among top executives in the field today? In order to integrate sales technology, it is always good to model after success.

A recent study by Dr. Linda Ferrell of the University of Wyoming and Dr. Tracey Gonzalez-Padron of Michigan State University, sought to establish some of the underlying opinions facing sales technology today among executives in the fields of health, beauty, household products and wellness. Interviews were conducted in a semi-structured manner and the results were analyzed to create a framework of how technology affected their organizations and the leading perspectives.

It is important to distinguish between the effects that a technology can have on a firm’s sales efforts from the perspective of different relationships in the firm to consumer chain. A product that can help maintain the relationship between sales people and customers, for example, could have a negative effect on the relationship between the salespeople and the organization itself.
The Sales – Consumer Relationship

The use of technology to maintain relationships between sales and customers is by far the most positive. Customer Relationships Systems have become more affordable than ever and have reached a very wide spread. However, the full use of CRM and other technologies has been hampered in some cases. The effectiveness of a technology’s introduction has been found to relate inversely with how established senior members of the sales force are. That is, senior members try to resist incorporating technology more.
The ability to augment the customer with the salesperson is key; not the replacement. Making information easier to access is difficult for even the most stubborn sales member to turn down, but the replacement of procedures by automated processes may exacerbate a difference in opinions.
Customers have also benefited from the incorporation of sales technologies. An informed customer saves the salesperson a lot of time and makes the process more efficient. The most advanced content delivery systems allow tracking to see which particular content items customers have viewed, bringing the amount of additional education down to a thin margin for the salesperson.
The Firm-Sales Relationship

The use of technology within the firm has made the salesperson’s job much easier as well. Training and education has been made easier with the use of technology. The use of video for internal communication has reduced the dependence on complex and sometimes difficult to understand print material. Internal communications are also made much easier with new technology, making coordination for order fulfillment much less of a hassle for sales people.
The Firm-Customer Relationship

The relationship between the firm and the customer brings with it distinctive trade offs that counteract the positives of the other two relationships. One of the underlying principles that was encountered in many of the interviews was the idea that the sales technologies strengthened a firm’s relationship with the customer at the expense of the sales team. On a related note, this weakens the sales force’s relationship with the company. One of the examples provided was the integration of company wide CRM. While this seems to be the obvious play from an efficiency perspective, it represents a ‘cutting out’ of the salesman’s important relationship building capabilities that mediate the relationship between the company and the customer. A balance must be struck instead of relentlessly upgrading technology.
Take Aways
The effects of integrating a new technology into the sales procedure of a firm are overwhelmingly positive. The negative aspects need not be seen as a trade off, however. How does a firm decide what role technology should play within the new sales practice? Check in next week for the answer.
Source: Ferrell, Linda, Tracy L. Gonzalez-Padron, and O.C. Ferrell. “An Assessment of the Use of Technology in the Direct Selling Industry.” Journal of Personal Sales and Selling 30.2 (2010): 157-65. Print.

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