The Sales Tech User Experience: A Productivity Killer

Scott Albro
Co-Founder and CEO, Goldie
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Sales technology is foundational to any modern sales organization. The average virtual sales technology stack now has 13 different technologies according to Gartner. The rapid proliferation of sales tech makes sense. In an increasingly digital world, different sales technologies have the potential to improve buyer engagement, streamline internal processes, and increase visibility.

While a mature sales tech stack certainly has its benefits, there are also costs, and, unfortunately, those costs are typically borne by sales reps. Reps struggle with two issues when it comes to the sales tech: first, they need to use a lot of different technologies; and, second, the user experience (UX) of these technologies is usually poor.

The result is that sales reps work for the tech stack, not the other way around.

This isn’t just an inconvenience. Sales tech proliferation and low quality UX materially impacts sales productivity and team morale. For example, various time studies show that salespeople spend 15-20% of their time on tech-related tasks such as CRM administration. These mundane tasks obviously takes away from time that reps could spend on actual selling.

Fortunately, there are solutions to these issues and the rapid growth of ChatGPT highlights many of them. While ChatGPT gets a lot of attention for its ability to answer questions using natural language processing (NLP), much of the magic lies in the effortless user experience. Afterall, GPT-3 (the non chat version of the GPT) was seeing good adoption, but it wasn’t until the chat version came along that things really took off. That’s a UX breakthrough, not an AI/NLP/LLM breakthrough. Applying similar UX breakthroughs to sales technology will go a long way to improving the lives and productivity of sales reps.

The problem with sales tech user experience

Before we analyze what ChatGPT can tell us about sales technology, let’s examine how problematic sales tech UX is for reps today. To understand the magnitude of the problem, we need to understand three dynamics:

First, sales organizations force reps to use a dizzying array of sales technologies. Again, Gartner maintains that the average virtual sales tech stack has 13 different products in it. Reps probably don’t use all of those applications on a daily basis, but 13 is a big number nonetheless.

Second, the typical sales tech product offers reps a poor user experience across the entire user lifecycle, from training to ongoing usage. Anyone with experience using a CRM knows that the amount of work that a rep needs to do to complete a basic task can be overwhelming. This is particularly true given the repetitive nature of many sales tasks.

Third, sales is still a fundamentally human activity. That means there are a lot of technology users in a sales organization which compounds the UX problem even further. This is unlike marketing, where there is a lot of technology, but not nearly as many people using it.

When we combine these three dynamics, we end up with a severe user experience problem that impacts a lot of people due to the sheer number of people that work in sales.

The sales tech UX problem originates with a single root cause - neither sales technology buyers nor vendors truly prioritize the sales rep user experience. Many pay lip service to it, but in most cases, revenue leaders (and the vendors that respond to their needs) introduce bad UX into the sales org when they make decisions to improve things like oversight, governance, and visibility. These are valid objectives, but in many cases, things like oversight take priority over making the rep’s life easier. In fact, pursuing an objective like oversight often requires the rep to do more work.

There are many examples of this, but CRM is the most prevalent. The average salesperson spends approximately 15% of their time on administrative tasks in the CRM. This includes activities such as data entry and pipeline management. While these may be necessary tasks, they are not about helping the rep. Instead, these tasks are mandated to provide increased visibility to sales leadership, the CEO, and the CFO.

How to improve the sales tech user experience

If we want sales tech to work for sales reps (not the other way around), then we need to focus on a few things. The ChatGPT user experience highlights various design principles that we can leverage in sales tech.

The best interface is no interface

There’s a saying in design: “The best interface is no interface”. That’s particularly true for busy professionals such as salespeople where a bad user experience can kill productivity. When a sales technology is easy and intuitive to use, it requires minimal effort on the part of the sales rep so that they can complete their task quickly and efficiently. In contrast, a sales tech with a complex UX can be frustrating and time-consuming for the rep.

One of the dominant UX patterns with sales technologies is that there are a large number of things, such as buttons, filters, and dropdowns, that users must interact with to accomplish something.

Imagine a sales rep wants to create a list of leads generated over the last 30 days in a particular territory. Today, a sales rep must engage in a multi-step user flow to generate that list. The rep needs to navigate to the right part of the application, apply filters, save the list, and so on. ChatGPT provides a good example of how a no/low interface approach can solve this problem. In a minimal UX (or ChatGPT) world, the sales rep would use natural language to ask the software to generate the list. The rep simply asks for the information they need and receives that information, without having to navigate through multiple steps and options.

Meet sales reps where they are

Another well-understood product principle is to “meet your users where they are”. This is particularly important when sales reps are your users. Reps are overwhelmed by the many tasks and responsibilities they have to manage on a daily basis. Much of this comes down to the sheer number of applications and tools they need to use to do their job. Today’s sales tech stack is dominated by products that require reps to learn, log in to, and use a standalone application.

If vendors were to meet reps where they are, sales productivity would improve dramatically. This would mean integrating sales tech products into the places where reps already spend the majority of their time, such as their browser, email, collaboration tools, and CRM. This would allow reps to access the technology in the context of their existing workflows and activities, making it easier for them to adopt and use the product and thereby increasing sales productivity.

Sales tech learnability

According to Nielsen Norman Group, “Learnability considers how easy it is for users to accomplish a task the first time they encounter the interface and how many repetitions it takes for them to become efficient at that task”. Reps typically struggle with learnability when it comes to sales technology. It’s hard for new users to accomplish a task when they first encounter it and, in many cases, reps never become efficient at that task, no matter how many times they repeat the task.

It’s easy to see how learnable ChatGPT or other chat based interfaces are. We use simple language to interact with the product. This is a highly learnable experience because the user experience is as simple as conversing with a friend or colleague (even though we are, in many cases, conversing with a machine). With chat, the product behaves like a person that we just interact with naturally. That’s the most learnable UX imaginable.

Aha moments

Good technology products deliver “aha” moments. Aha moments occur when a user understands the value of a product and how it will benefit them. This happens when the product solves a problem for a user by helping them to complete a task or retrieving valuable information for them. While numerous sales technologies help sellers, most reps would be hard pressed to recall an aha or magical moment when using the product.

Compare this to the experience a user might have with ChatGPT where a simple user experience allows the user to discover the full capabilities and power of the software on their own terms. This self-directed exploration not only creates a better user experience; it also allows the user to discover the complete value of the product in a really easy way (think of a developer as they discover that ChatGPT can write code for them if they just ask it to).

Demonstrable sales outcomes

Sales reps are driven by outcomes. As such, they expect the tools they use to deliver outcomes, but sales technology products haven’t always done a good job of surfacing outcomes to sales reps. Instead, the user experience focuses on helping reps complete mandatory tasks and neglects the benefit or outcome the seller receives as a result of completing that task. For example, imagine a CRM that highlighted and congratulated a salesperson when they hit their monthly demo target.

There are exceptions to this, as some vendors have cracked the code on surfacing outcomes in their products. For example, one of the killer early features of sales engagement tools was they would notify reps when a prospect had opened an email. That’s a simple outcome, but one that reps would get excited about and one that caused reps to increase their use of sales engagement tools.

Sales tech that improves productivity

We spent the last 10-12 years investing in technology that we hoped would improve sales productivity. Instead of improving rep productivity, we actually made it worse by forcing reps to use so many different sales technologies, many of which deliver poor user experiences.

While sales tech UX is a huge problem for reps, it’s not an unsolvable one. There are proven product and design principles that we can adopt in sales tech. These would have a significant impact on seller productivity, but to get there, sales technology buyers and vendors need to start prioritizing the rep user experience over other business objectives.

At Goldie, our mission is to make sales reps more productive. We’re building a product that meets reps where they are, is easy to learn, and is a joy to use. If you’d like early access to Goldie, just fill out the form below.

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