How to Stop Fighting the Monster of Sales Technology Complexity

Here’s the scenario. You’re on a ship in a vast sea. Somewhere out there on the horizon is a land of opportunity, solid ground on which to build a beautiful, sun-soaked empire–if you can get to it. But right now, you’re tossed by the waves of the ocean and, while struggling to keep your feet from being washed out from under you, you’re battling a giant, many-headed sea monster.

You have a sword, but each time you strike off one of the Hydra’s heads, two more heads spring up in its place. The battle is impossible, but you keep fighting because if you don’t, your ship will be destroyed and you and all your crew will sink to the bottom of the ocean. All you want is to reach that land of opportunity, but how can you possibly get there when the beast between you and your dream keeps growing new heads?

You can’t.

But there is a way to safely stop fighting the monster and sail to solid ground and renewed opportunity. You just need someone to throw you a lifeline. Well, here’s your lifeline.

The ocean is sales complexity, and the Hydra is the technology forced upon salespeople

Sales complexity has grown exponentially in the past ten to fifteen years, and so has the technology designed to tame it. From the old days of Rolodex and Yellow Pages, there are now tools and apps for everything from prospecting to call recording to tracking activities and developing org charts.

Most of these tools were conceived to solve specific sales problems, and many of them do a good job of addressing the particular problem they were designed for. Unfortunately, they do an even better job of increasing the very complexity they were supposed to reduce. They’re like heads on a Hydra, where the body is a legacy CRM system.

Take the most popular CRM platform as an example. It is fairly inexpensive to purchase initially and promises to solve a lot of problems. But most companies find that in order to get it to work in the context of their strategy and process, it requires customization.

So you invest in customization and purchase a plug-in or two. When the implementation is complete, you discover that one of the plug-ins has “broken” a key functionality of the software. You hire developers to fix the new problem, but from the fixed problem springs two new problems.

In this case, the Hydra is the CRM platform, because, for every problem it solves, it presents you with two new ones.

Now consider that in most cases, the CRM is only one of many technologies implemented within the sales organization. And each layer of the tech stack presents its own set of heads for you to battle.

Meanwhile, your salespeople are battling their own beasts in the form of added complexity with each new tweak to the technology system that requires them to take an extra step, input additional information, or open a separate app to do what’s required of them.

This is no way to run an effective sales organization.

But you’re not alone.

This major company lost the battle and sunk their tech implementation ship

When Lidl, a major German grocery retailer, launched a massive SAP integration, it was supposed to make everything simpler. It would unify their inventory system and help them track their supplies and sales more effectively across their thousands of global locations.

But as the project continued, it began to show signs of stress. Each time a new function was added or a new region integrated into the system, the system’s complexity grew like the head of a Hydra. And each time that happened, new code and new systems were implemented to solve the problems that arose. And each new layer created new complexity.

$500 million and seven years later, the implementation sunk under the weight of its complexity, and the retailer claimed defeat, shuttering the project and swallowing the $500 million as a loss.

The dirty little secret behind technology complexity

The dirty little secret is that most technology companies don’t want to solve the technology complexity problem.

Complexity is big business for them.

While you struggle to keep your ship afloat, they’re thriving off your need to buy more and more of what they have to sell. You buy their inexpensive starter seats, and then you invest in plugins and then you buy custom programming and then you buy more pieces of their ecosystem to try to plug holes that the integration with your old ecosystem created…

And they eat every morsel of investment you throw at them, growing more hungry heads as they go.

Obviously, not all technology companies are this blatant about their enjoyment of your suffering. If they were, they wouldn’t keep customers for long. Yet even the most popular sales technology companies are guilty of this at least in practice, if not in intention.

So what on earth can you do about it?

Defeat the Hydra by changing the terms

If you’re familiar with ancient Greek mythology, you are already familiar with the story of how the mythical Hydra was finally defeated. After many great heroes failed, Heracles succeeded by changing the terms.

When he realized new heads sprouted each time he cut one off, he recruited a friend to help. The friend brought a hot iron and each time Heracles cut off a head, the friend cauterized it with the iron. In this way, the Hydra was unable to continue reproducing its heads and Heracles eventually won the battle.

Cauterizing problems with a hot iron isn’t an option in sales, but changing the terms is.

You can stop the cycle by choosing not to purchase technology on impulse or because it seems cool or as a stop-gap to fix a problem or because it’s the technology everyone else is using.

Instead of wrestling with giant technology companies to make their software work for you, you can choose to focus on strategy and process, and then choose technologies that align and help you execute on your strategy and process without excessive customization.

Focusing on strategy first will enable you to make smart choices about the technologies that you use to implement it.

Look for strategic partners who can help you do all of that, and then help you choose technologies that fully align with what you’re trying to accomplish. The technology you choose should agilely allow you to execute on your process, reinforce behaviors that align with your methodology and training, enable your salespeople with on-demand training and content, and provide useful analytics that makes it easy to optimize your process.

By starting with technology that is aligned from the start to help you execute on your strategy, you eliminate the complexity of plugins, custom coding, and escalating implementation costs.

In this way, your technology will:

  • Enable the team to substantially improve performance on an ongoing basis
  • Do so in one beautiful, easy-to-use workflow that salespeople and managers love engaging with

With strategy, process, and technology for execution in their proper places and aligned, your ship is free to sail blissfully away from the Hydra and on to lands of opportunity.

This week’s post is by guest author, George Brontén, Founder & CEO of Membrain, a sales effectiveness software that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy by driving successful behaviors to consistently reach your targets in complex sales.