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    How to train your people not to think

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    I heard a horror story from a sales leader recently whose organization uses about 15 different sales tools. One day, the "cadance tool" was glitching and unusable.

    While the vendor was working on the problem, she walked out on the sales floor to find that the floor was mostly silent. She inquired with one of the salespeople, and he said “Oh, I can’t work right now because of that glitch.”

    Her response was: Really? You can’t work because one of your tools is down? Pick up the phone. Call someone.

    Unfortunately, this story is a symptom of a much bigger problem in sales today. As the head of a technology company, it’s a problem that’s a little uncomfortable for us to face, but it’s a real problem that must be addressed.

    The problem is that technology is sometimes being used to train our salespeople not to think.

    The problem with AI

    Artificial intelligence (AI) is all the rage in sales technology today. From sales assistants that book meetings to sales enablement that automatically suggests content, we are awash with opportunities to outsource our thinking.

    The problem comes when we start to rely on the technology to do all of the thinking.
    George Brontén

    And, to be clear, sometimes this is a good thing. Albert Einstein famously said that he never memorized anything he knew how to look up. It’s good practice to outsource rote memory and other information that is not necessary for functioning, in order to free up mental space for creativity.

    The problem comes when we start to rely on the technology to do all of the thinking. This happens in medicine, too, when a technological diagnostic tool takes the place of a doctor asking questions and spending time with a patient to understand the root cause of a problem. Likewise, it happens in sales when reps get caught up in following the rote process served up by AI and other technologies at the expense of spending time and asking good questions, and coming up with creative solutions.

    The other problem with AI

    To make matters worse, AI isn’t even all that great (yet) at pretending to be human. Sales assistants designed to book meetings and handle inquiries by pretending to be a person are causing mass skepticism among potential customers.

    I can’t tell you the number of organizations I’ve heard from who get regular feedback from customers and potential customers complaining that the “person” they’ve been interacting with is difficult to deal with and doesn’t listen to them (usually because it’s not an actual person). Or whose entire domain has been blocked by major companies in their market because contacts at those companies got sick of hearing from virtual assistants.

    I’ve blocked companies for that reason myself.

    Meanwhile, the salespeople these “assistants” are supposed to be “helping” often come to rely on them to deliver leads and handle basic communications that would be better handled themselves. In short, they make the salespeople stupid. Or, at the very least, they make them look stupid.

    The proper use of AI and big data

    All of which is not to say that AI is a bad thing. We’re improving machine learning and AI inside our own tools. And, of course, we’re big fans of tools that help guide salespeople through your process and create consistency across teams and throughout the prospect’s decision-making journey.

    But the proper use of AI and other technologies is to assist and support the native intelligence, creativity, and skills of your sales team–not to replace it.

    Too often, we see sales organizations in complex environments hiring inexperienced salespeople and expecting the technology to turn them into superstars.

    This doesn’t work because complex sales requires complex thinking. Your salespeople need to know how to have deep business conversations with prospective clients. To ask them probing questions that get to the root of their issues. To help them co-design solutions that make sense to them.

    This is critical in an environment in which, increasingly, how you sell matters more than what you sell. Products and solutions often look much the same as each other to the customer’s untrained eye, with similar features and benefits. When your salespeople have business value conversations, and provide a unique and uniquely valuable purchasing experience, customers notice. These type of conversations increase win rates, profit margins, and customer loyalty.

    If you want salespeople who know how to do this type of thinking, then you need to purchase technologies that support thinking, rather than replacing it. And you need to train and coach your salespeople in how to use the technology, and in how to have the intelligent, creative, human conversations that differentiate your company from everyone else.

    I’d love to show you how Membrain does that. I promise if you reach out to me, you’ll actually talk to me or to one of our live, qualified, intelligent, actually human salespeople… and not some AI bot pretending to be me. Try it.

    George Brontén
    Published August 29, 2018
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.

    Find out more about George Brontén on Twitter or LinkedIn