Are Your Salespeople IT Literate? *

We are all users of technology, however many salespeople have huge gaps in their IT literacy, having developed ‘coping strategies’ to get by. The most obvious coping strategy is getting someone else to do it for you, the most damaging impediment to developing personal IT skills. What has evolved is the idea that everybody has ‘enough skills’; people can send email, put a Word letter together, produce a couple of slides and run a spreadsheet for their expenses or commissions. This is pretty thin stuff when it comes to using the potential of these applications.
We were involved with a project to increase a sales team’s productivity and within scope was their use of PC technology. Rather than develop an academic view of IT literacy the salespeople were interested in a practical expression of what IT literacy could deliver for them, so we looked at what high performing, very productive salespeople were doing with technology to see whether there was any correlation between IT literacy and high performance. We found that there was**. We then tried to establish if there was a single piece of functional usage connected to each of the major packages that we could use as a proxy for general IT effectiveness.

As a result we developed the following thresholds for IT literacy:

  • Using Mail Merge in word to support small marketing campaigns
  • Pivoting Excel spreadsheets to reveal more useful data sets
  • Animating PowerPoint presentations appropriately
  • Using Rules Criteria in Outlook to help manage inbox volumes.

If you are capable of doing these things you are capable of using technology in value adding ways.

The other interesting connection we found was where this level of IT literacy was being demonstrated the salesperson’s contribution to inputting and extracting data from their organisation’s CRM was more significant. They were power users. Also, these salespeople were more effective internet users in using search engines for research purposes. IT literacy has ‘leaky benefits’, it creates a virtuous circle of productivity, affecting all aspects of a users IT engagement.

Why not look at how your salespeople are (not) using IT, there could be a significant performance benefit to be gained in developing their IT literacy.
* Assuming Microsoft Office as the Application Platform – All trademarks acknowledged.

** The one exception to this correlation was where somebody had full access to somebody who ‘did’ IT for them. They were as productive as the IT literate (not more productive) but were carrying the cost of this assistant’s help.