Technology Can Be Bad for Sales

Last Updated Jun 9, 2007 8:22 AM EDT

I don't buy the idea that computer technology makes you more productive. In fact, if your organization is already screwed up, adding technology can be like dumping bottled water on a drowning man. And even so-called "personal productivity" tools can be a colossal waste of time.

Take email. Yeah, I know that email can be damn useful when it comes to communicating with customers and colleagues. But if you're not careful, it can take over your life, gobbling up hours that could be spent doing something productive, like selling.

That's especially true inside organizations where there's a lot of bureaucracy. Suppose you have some corporate drone who spends a couple of hours a day sending paper memos of the "look at me, I'm important" or of the "just wanted to keep you informed" variety. That two hours is going to result in, what, about five or ten memos a day? But give that bonehead an email account and suddenly that two hours is going to generate ten times the amount time-wasting corporate SPAM.

Don't laugh. I've seen this happen in real life, numerous times. I once worked for a company where the average employee spent 25 percent of his or her day answering email, most of which was internal horse manure that had nothing to do with sales. And instant messaging is even worse. Add it to a meeting-happy organization and all productive work will immediately grind to a halt while everyone one "bleep bloops" each other all day.

CRM can be another major time waster. Sure, it's useful to track customer accounts, but the net effect of CRM is to make everything that happens visible to the entire organization, including managers and executives who know less than nothing about sales. Suddenly everything that the sales reps do is political. Demands to close a particular deal filter down from clueless execs who don't have the slightest idea why a sales pro might be letting an opportunity "percolate." Simply to defend themselves against corporate intrusion, sales reps start entering bogus data just to cover their tracks.

Look, I know that "keeping management informed" is supposed to be a good idea. But the organizational stovepipes that keep clueless parts of the company away from meddling with Sales play a role that's as positive as the door to your parent's bedroom. Sometimes it's best to be ignorant of exactly what's going on.

And then there's the complexity issue. How many times have your internal sales meetings been hijacked by discussions of the technology that you're using, complaints about IT support, or requests for new gadgetry? How many hours a week do you spend fiddling with your smartphone, desktop and laptop? Is that really time spent productively? Or are you just worshipping at the temple of high tech?

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a wicked big gadget-head. And I think that it's possible to use email, CRM and mobile computing effectively - providing that you remain in control of how much time you're spending. But many is the day that I've burnt up three or four hours on the phone with some pinhead in technical support, trying to diagnose a problem that's the result of some goofhead programmer pushing a product out the door that wasn't ready for prime time.

And that takes time and effort that would be better spent in front of customers.

Let's face it: Technology adds complexity to the work environment. Every ounce of complexity means a drop in productivity. Technology is only valuable if the advantages of using that technology outweigh the burden of that additional complexity.

In other words, technology, by itself, doesn't make anybody more productive. So I'd appreciate it if the high tech companies would spend less time shoving new product features down our throats and more time making certain that their products don't make it harder to get productive work accomplished.

Like that will ever happen.