Let’s Get Real About Sales Automation

Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”  That doesn’t make it easy to achieve. As Steve Jobs said, “Simple can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

As technology and automation become ever more ubiquitous in every aspect of our working lives, it’s easy to lose sight of these words of wisdom. Nowhere is this drift away from simplicity more evident than in the sales automation space, where there’s been an explosion of tool providers both large and small. Just look at Gartner’s latest CRM market share report: The worldwide CRM market, of which sales automation is a big piece, grew 13.7% from $18B in 2012 to $20.4B in 2013, and it’s estimated to grow to $23.9B in 2014.

This growth of CRM is now joined by a growing focus on Big Data: a promise of microscopic insights into buyers that will lead to an only-dreamed-about-level of intelligence for go-to-market strategies. This seductive combination of data-gathering platforms and data analytics is appealing to those in executive management. The danger here, however, is that salespeople become unduly burdened with data gathering and data entry requirements for systems that haven’t been designed with the reality of their jobs in mind. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big believer in enabling technologies—especially those that can help bring focus, discipline, and structure to the sales process. But it appears that many platforms are designed from what I characterize as an “exuberant aspirational” perspective rather than a practical, pragmatic perspective.

The role of sales is already complex. No need to throw more complexity into the mix. Personally, I agree with those who argue that the most effective salespeople are essentially mini-entrepreneurs managing their books of business with creative energy. As with any entrepreneur, they have to apply their limited time, resources, and focus to the highest of high-value activities and pretty much exclude anything outside of these.

If you agree with this premise, then every platform or sales tool that you consider should be viewed through the following prism: First, how does it enable my salespeople to be more focused and disciplined while still allowing them to be creative and entrepreneurial? Second, how does this help my sales managers coach and mentor their teams? Asking these questions will quickly allow you to assess if a platform that seductively promises so much output that it simply and unrealistically requires too much input.

So, as sales becomes more challenging, with an increasingly sophisticated and informed buyer, it’s incumbent on us that we follow the advice of da Vinci and Jobs and equip our salespeople with platforms and tools that are simple, focused, and pragmatic in their design and that support and enable the entrepreneurial essence of good selling. In other words, let’s set aside unduly exuberant aspirations that lead to complexity and replace them with healthy realism that demands simplicity. 


John Golden is author of Winning the Battle for Sales and Social Upheaval: How to Win @ Social Selling and founder and CEO of Focused Revenue Results Inc., which helps small, midmarket, and startup companies with strategy, marketing, and sales.

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