One of the biggest hurdles distributors face in implementing new technology such as AI is resistance from their sales teams.

Experts say sales reps tend to resist technology due to:

  • The fear of the unknown. Change can be anxiety-inducing. Introducing new tools or technology to your organization, no matter how good they are, will alter established workflows and processes. Using new technology may feel like more work if they don’t understand the value.
  • Big Brother. For a traditionally independent and autonomous workforce, embracing technology that provides more visibility into or direction around their actions can feel like management looking over their shoulders.
  • Complex technology. If a technology isn’t simple and intuitive, it won’t get used. Cumbersome technology will result in weak adoption by a sales team.
  • Negative experience with sales initiatives. Sales reps may hold a natural skepticism toward new tech or initiatives because they have seen big ideas from management in the past that have failed them.
  • Fear that technology will reduce their role or replace them. Technology won’t take over your sales team’s commissions or their jobs, but that fear is very real for some and must be acknowledged in the selection and implementation process.

Despite these fears, the benefits of technology such as AI for sales reps are clear:

  • Improves response time
  • Frees them from low-value, administrative tasks
  • Provides a more complete view of customers’ buying behaviors
  • Adds value (in other words, it can help sales reps sell more)

Unless change-management strategies are in place inside your organization to mitigate resistance, adoption rates of any new technology can be low.

Without strategic adoption of technology that enables reps in today’s selling environment, distributors will fall behind. Gartner expects that by 2025, 80% of B2B sales will occur in digital channels. The digital aspect of business will continue to grow, but it will be people using technology that will truly unlock its business potential.

About 60% of B2B sales organizations will transition from experience- and intuition-based selling to data-driven selling, according to Gartner. This will require a “permanent transformation in strategy, processes and resource allocation that moves the sales organization from seller-centric to buyer-centric and from analog to hyper automated, digital-first engagement with customers.”

How to overcome sales reps’ resistance to new technology

Here are seven strategies we’ve found to be successful in helping distributors successfully implement technology:

  1. Focus on how the tool benefits sales reps (and make sure it actually does). Many solutions on the market today just add work without adding value. When the tech is terrible, change management strategies won’t make a difference. Just as personal technology can save time and provide value in everyday lives, reps will embrace technology in their work lives when it benefits them directly.
  2. Over-communicate success stories. Sales reps must understand how the technology can benefit their day-to-day workflow – in other words, what’s in it for them. Start small. Identify a feature that can have an immediate impact on their workflow; train everyone on that functionality. Tell stories of wins to help drive adoption.
  3. Make sure you have strong leadership support for the technology rollout. When there is executive oversight and interest, managers feel accountable for their team’s adoption of the tech. When managers are invested, adoption of the technology by their team inherently improves.
  4. Have managers train reps on the key features and functionality. We’ve found it best to have managers trained on a new tool before their reps are trained on the tool. This builds internal enthusiasm and comprehension of the new tool. When sales reps complete user training by their own management team, they’re more likely to trust that the tool actually will work for them.
  5. Train reps on the ‘art’ of their selling skills. This complements the “science” of functionality training. Organizations that include role-playing exercises as part of their sales rep training and coaching see some of the best adoption rates.
  6. Set clear usage expectations. Identify who in your organization is responsible for tracking adoption and keeping users accountable for using the tool. And, rather than say, “We want consistent usage,” define what that actually means to your organization. A strong goal might be: Each sales rep should pitch to at least 25 customers per week with three products pitched on average. The goal should be aspirational yet attainable.
  7. Incentivize the use of the tool. Incentives can be as simple as Amazon gift cards, hours toward a day off, or free lunches. Team-based competitions can encourage usage of new technology – for example, set a goal that specifies a pitch threshold and offer prizes to individuals that exceed the goal.

With the right tools, sales teams can produce better results for customers, sales reps and your bottom line. But without buy-in, your technology dollars will go to waste. Include a change-management plan in your next sales enablement implementation to ensure the technology is adopted.