Sellers Are Overwhelmed by New Technology

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Technology has long been used to boost seller productivity, but sales leaders are telling us that efficiency gains have become slower and more expensive. This is because technology intended to help sell frequently makes the salesperson’s job more cumbersome. Sales organizations’ tendency to run most tasks through the sales rep requires an increasing number of complex systems to support.

In an effort to help salespeople meet ever-changing customer needs, sales leaders have spent years driving a “just one more” strategy — asking sellers to learn one more skill, master one more technology, or adopt one more tool in the hopes of closing just one more deal.

In the process, well-intentioned sales leaders designed a role that is simply too complex for most salespeople. In a recent Gartner survey of 501 B2B sellers, only 25% strongly agree they complete all tasks assigned to them while also meeting company standards of high quality.

Sales leaders’ solution? Technology. And yet, almost half of sellers feel overwhelmed by the number of technologies needed to do their work. This isn’t a mere annoyance — it’s the difference between hitting revenue targets and not. According to our research, sellers who feel overwhelmed by technology are 43% less likely to meet quota than non-overwhelmed sellers.

Sales leaders must rebuild the seller role around what core performers can actually manage. The seller role of the future is about asking salespeople for less — fewer skills, responsibilities, and tasks — and getting more.

To do this, sales leaders need their technology strategies to work for sellers. Successful sales teams will reinvent the seller role by treating technology as a teammate rather than merely a tool. This will empower salespeople to focus on a narrow set of uniquely human abilities: disentangling psychological and emotional aspects of buyer decision making via two concepts called mentalizing and value affirmation.

Technology has long been used to boost seller productivity, but sales leaders are telling us that efficiency gains have become slower and more expensive. This is because technology intended to help sell frequently makes the salesperson’s job more cumbersome. Sales organizations’ tendency to run most tasks through the sales rep requires an increasing number of complex systems to support.

From the salesperson’s point of view, more technology hasn’t made their job easier or less expansive — it’s just been yet another thing to learn.

Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) make a new approach possible, but only if sales leaders think differently about tech deployment. In the future, progressive sales organizations will adopt technology as a full-fledged member of the sales team, freeing up salespeople from some of their tasks. Rather than giving salespeople more tech, the tech itself will take on more responsibility to navigate the buying environment independently.

Therein lies the revenue technology revolution. Gartner has identified four stages of sales technology maturity, as illustrated in the figure below.

In Stages 1 and 2, humans make decisions and execute tasks with machine support — salespeople remain at the center of a complex web of technology and tools. In Stages 3 and 4, machines make decisions and execute tasks with human guidance, sharing responsibility with salespeople in a way that reduces seller burden.

While it’s hard to imagine that fully autonomous selling (Stage 4) will become the norm for complex B2B sales, many organizations are currently stuck at assisted selling (Stage 2). Sales organizations that embrace tech as a teammate to reach automated selling (Stage 3) will achieve a comparative advantage and see a measurable step change in sales productivity.

The opportunities to leverage tech as a teammate are vast, so where should sales leaders start?

Successful organizations ruthlessly prioritize use cases that will show immediate impact and that salespeople will welcome. Gartner research found these core use cases fit the bill:

By focusing on these use cases, we estimate that sales leaders may be able to free up to a quarter of salespeoples’ time.

For technology to be a true teammate, salespeople must trust it enough to share ownership or — in some cases — cede control of the sales process.

This disposition, called “tech receptivity,” depends on seller trust in technology, confidence in their ability to use it well, and openness to modifying their sales approach — all factors that can be influenced by business leaders.

In addition, salespeople will need to develop skills in prompt engineering, hallucination spotting, and creativity, among others, to engage effectively with their new tech teammates. Leaders can champion the development of these skills by enabling their people to to experiment with the capabilities and limitations of their tech partners in a productive and low-risk way.

Treating technology as a teammate reduces role complexity and frees up bandwidth for salespeople to bring unique value to buyer interactions.

Recently we’ve observed a powerful phenomenon in our B2B buyer data that increases the likelihood of a high quality deal. We call it value affirmation — when interactions with a supplier clarify the value of a solution by helping validate a buyer’s decision and boost their confidence, buyers are 30% more likely to purchase a high quality deal. Buyers are more than twice as likely to report value affirmation when they work with a salesperson.

Salespeople are uniquely qualified to support value affirmation because of a skill psychologists call “mentalizing.” Mentalizing is the ability to infer unspoken beliefs, feelings, and intentions to predict and influence buyer behavior.

Picture the buyer’s mind as an iceberg — the visible tip is what they reveal out loud. The untapped potential lies beneath, accessible only through mentalizing.

Sellers are out of sync with buyers, and mentalizing can help get them back on the same page. In a recent Gartner survey of over 200 sales leaders, 83% agree that their salespeople struggle to adapt to changing customer needs and expectations. When organizations successfully leverage technology as a teammate, salespeople have room to mentalize.

Elite salespeople often possess a natural talent for mentalizing, but it’s also a skill that can be honed through practice and prompting. There are four levels of mentalizing which build on one another and can be done before, during, and after buyer interactions:

Sales leaders can train all four levels of mentalizing in activities like “role-reversals.” Many organizations already do role-playing exercises where salespeople practice their own lines while someone else (incidentally) plays the part of the buyer. But these can be opportunities to challenge salespeople to take turns inhabiting the minds of the customers they’re role-playing. Salespeople might even consider using generative AI as a partner to practice basic role-playing by prompting the language model to take on the perspective of either a seller or a particular buyer persona.

In the near future, it will be common for leaders to enhance seller mentalizing skills by leveraging breakthroughs in natural language processing and emotion AI. These tools offer clues about buyers’ emotional states and engagement levels as inferred through word choice, vocal tone, body language, and facial expressions.

Consider a virtual conversation with a large buying group. The salesperson is focused on quite a few things simultaneously: making their key points, determining how their message is landing, and answering questions. To do this, they’re using their mentalizing skills — looking at facial expressions, parsing the tone when stakeholders are speaking, and assessing whether questions indicate a sufficient level of understanding. While the best salespeople can glean a lot of insight from all of this information, there’s also a lot they will miss. And that is where an AI “partner” can help.

The idea that salespeople might be able to adapt in the moment based on real-time engagement insights is alluring. But salespeople can only process so much information at once, and colorful real-time sentiment dashboards risk being distracting or demoralizing. The most promising functionality may be after-call reports where salespeople can see which moments triggered strong reactions and adjust their approach for next time.

In the future, the role of the salesperson will be about doing fewer things, but doing them better. Sales leaders must combine the transformative power of AI with the uniquely human capabilities of their salespeople to drive high-margin deals.

While this future might seem like science fiction, competitors — and likely your own salespeople — are already experimenting with new technology. By treating tech as a teammate and re-focusing salespeople where they can add unique value, you stand to unlock a step change in seller productivity and achieve significant revenue growth.

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