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Tools Don’t Change People

by David Brock on June 26th, 2013

My friend Bob Thompson made this comment on Customerthink.  It’s important, tools don’t change people, they may improve our efficiency, they may help improve our impact, they amplify our capabilities, they extend our reach, but they don’t change people.

If we are doing the wrong thing, tools enable us to make mistakes at the speed of light, impacting thousands of people.  Anyone who has been around IT and technology for any time knows the tried and true phrase, Garbage In, Garbage Out.

But too often we get it wrong, “CRM [Substitute your favorite Sales/Marketing X.0 tool] makes us better sales people!”  This is dead wrong, it helps us execute great sales processes more efficiently, so we have the potential of producing much greater results.  Tools can help us do things, we have never been able to do before–in some cases, things we never imagined possible.  But to exploit them, we have to first focus on the fundamentals.  We have to focus on identifying the right things to do and how do to them right.

Sales, marketing, organizational effectiveness all start with the fundamentals, basic principles.  What problems are we the best in the world at solving?  Who has those problems?  What do they value?  How do we engage them most effectively?  What processes enable us to engage them most effectively?  What processes enable us to work most effectively?  What skills/competencies/capabilities do we need to engage them, create value, and help them buy?  How do we develop a performance oriented organizational climate?  What do we expect of and how do we measure performance?  What do we stand for?  How do we want our customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, and community to view us?  How do we make sure our people understand and execute with passion?

We cannot get value from tools, without these fundamentals in place.

But too often we forget this, we take short cuts.  We don’t spend the time on the fundamentals, but invest millions in new tools.  Or we mistakenly think, it’s about the tools.  Then we have discussions about “compliance,”  our discussions focus on the tools themselves and not what they enable us to do.  The tools become a distraction.  Rather than amplifying our capabilities they slow us down.

We can’t perform at the highest levels possible–individually or organizationally–without leveraging the best tools possible.  But we have to start with basic principles to maximize their impact.

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12 Comments
  1. You are both 100% right on this topic. A respected friend of mine, Trish Bertuzzi told me “A fool with a tool is still a fool.” Could not say it better or more succinctly myself.

  2. Hi David,
    On the face of your argument, I agree, that it’s the person who must be skilled and effective to use tools effectively and that simply employing a tool to achieve a business goal–sales, marketing, whatever–isn’t a substitute for actual skill. BUT, I do believe tools such as these change people–technology changes the way we think, prioritize, manage time, break down tasks, etc. I have been in college for IS for the last few years, as an adult student, and IS was a great change from my former interests, which were artistic. I feel that slowly, almost insipidly, if you will, the tech tools, apps I use have truly shaped the way I think when planning projects, approaching business situations, and even when approaching life itself. What do you think? Can’t we both be correct to some extent, within the framework I’ve outlined?
    BTW, great post, and thank you so much for being such a great contributor to BizSugar!

    • Heather: Thanks for the thoughtful comment. In reality, it’s becoming a chicken and egg issue. Some of the new technologies/tools such as rich analytics do change the way we think and act, providing capabilities not possible without them. So technology is creating ways of doing things profoundly differently.

      Having said that, the effective use of these tools/technologies still need to be grounded in a framework of basic principles of what we are trying to achieve. For example, analytics don’t achieve their full power without great questions.

      These things are becoming so tightly entwined, it’s difficult to separate them. So it’s not bad to look at them in the whole, as long as we don’t use the tools as an excuse for not focusing on the fundamentals.

      Thanks for the thoughtful perspective!

  3. Good post with a powerful headline! I do agree with you that there are no shortcuts. The fundamentals must be in place first. Once they are the right tools can drive and reinforce behavior (which can change people) in a very powerful way.

    A suitable quote by Richard Buckminster Fuller: “If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.”

    • Thanks for the great comment George—by the way Membrain is an extraordinary tool to increase the effectiveness of sales professionals.

      Love the Buckminster Fuller quote. As I mentioned in my comment, some of this is approaching a chicken/egg thing. The tools do influence our thinking and approach, but we do need to start with basic principles and fundamentals.

  4. David – Agree with you. Many times I have seen situation where management introduces new tool and forces employees to use it. What happens next? Employees will first gripe about having to learn and use yet another tool and will use the minimal functionality just to satisfy their managers. None of this really changes the processes or the poeple, which was really the goal of introducing the tool in the first place.

    I would say both employees and mamangement are to blame for this. Management needs to ensure they are addressing the whole solution that includes people, process and tool rather than forcing just another tool through their throat.

    • Harry, I think you are absolutely on target—I think the issue goes further, I’ll try to outline it without getting into the weeds too much.

      1. The sales people selling these tools call on the Sales and Marketing executives to sell the tools.
      2. Naturally, they focus on what it can do for “them,” but “them” turns out to be the managers, which is natural because they are the decisionmakers and pay for it. While the “them” may have started with the whole organization, it’s almost human nature that it focuses on the managers. I don’t know how many reviews I’ve gone through asking people things like “Why did you buy CRM?” with the answer being “It gives me such great reporting.”
      3. We implement the systems, with clear WIIFM for the managers, but no WIIFM for the sales people.
      4. Then people start using the “C” word–compliance. Anytime we start talking about compliance we know that we have failed. Sales people start doing all the things you describe and more. Managers do too.
      5. So the people who sell this stuff and the managers who buy this stuff need to be real attentive. “What does it to for our sales people? What’s the WIIFM for them? What are we trying to do to make their jobs easier, to help them win more in a shorter time, at higher margins?” If they focus on compelling answers to these, then the management reporting/etc is icing on the cake.

      Hope this makes sense, I’m so glad you tee’s it up, it’s been pent up in me for some time. Thanks Harry! Regards, Dave

  5. Spot on, Dave. I dropped this comment in a LinkedIn group and then realized I should have commented here for you.

    To a degree, I think about this in a similar way as Dave Stein talks about “tips.” Unless tools are part of an integrated plan, they can be a waste of time and reduce time spent selling and overall sales effectiveness. Tools should be strategically selected as part of an overall plan, be embedded into workflow, and improve something critical to sales outcomes… process, response time, velocity, productivity, service, effectiveness (win-rates)… something. When tools are used that way, are implemented effectively, and evaluated by the results they enable, I’m a fan. This requires specific emphasis on HOW the tool can be used most effectively, however, not just implementing it , introducing it, and hoping for the best.

    I also like your point about amplifying our capabilities (for better or worse). The longer I’m in this crazy business the more I gravitate toward skill set foundations like:
    – Business acumen
    – Value creation skills
    – Dialogue / communication skills
    – Problem solving and decision making skills
    – Influence skills
    – Networking skills
    – Research skills (through various “tools” like internet search, alerts, and social media)
    – And good ol’ fashioned resourcefulness

    To the extent that tools can help the (middle) performers (especially) step up their game, and open up more time to spend using these (well-training and supported) skills sets, the better chance we have of moving the needle.

    • Mike, thanks for this great comment. I’m in absolute agreement with both you and Dave. We really need a “systems thinking” type of approach. These things all tie together—tools, processes, training, strategy, leadership, metrics, etc. By themselves they don’t achieve much. Collectively, they allow massive improvements in performance. Change one, the impact ripples through the rest of the system–usually not positively, unless we’ve really planned for it. To get the maximum value from tools, we need to look at the system as a whole. Thanks for the great reminder. Regards, Dave

  6. Tools don’t change people, but often-times tools give people the ability to change. Whether for good or bad, that still depends on the person.

    When I studied history, I was amazed at how much impact simple tools had on entire cultures. How the plow pulled by a beast of burden radically transformed agrarian economies. How the repeating rifle probably had more to do with the abuse of colonial Africa than perhaps any other factor. Lots of examples.

    Not so long ago, my company had an internal, mainframe-based e-mail system. Yeah, I’m showing my age. Six months after implementing, I had IT turn it off from 9am-Noon and 1:30pm-430pm…on the off chance that somebody might actually pick up the telephone and call a customer or go visit a prospect. I know I’m a neanderthal, but we had productivity run amok, and it was counter-productive.

    In our world, if a tool can help me understand who my best prospects are, gain insight into that customer or prospect, align my solutions to help them and help me articulate how I and my services can be of value and deliver that value…fantastic. Otherwise, thanks but no thanks.

    • Jim: You are absolutely right. In some ways, we are caught in a Chicken and Egg quandary. Tools can enable us to do things we have never imagined before, so they become not only the driver, but also the enabler to the change. But any tool also demands some introspection–what are we trying to achieve, how do we leverage the tool to help us, etc.

      By the way, DecisionLink is one of those game changing tools. It really helps sales people engage customers in ways that were previously unthinkable. You and your team are doing some exciting things!

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