Everyone wants to use the latest technology in the workplace. Here’s how to determine whether a new item will be a tool or a toy.

When your sales people come to you with the “We need to get …” requests for new technology, what do you hear? Is it a request for a tool or for a toy?

Often, sales team requests for new equipment and software can sound like a burdensome and unnecessary expense. Recently, one executive said to me, “I don’t need my sales people with one more distraction in their day–[they need to] get off the iPad and go sell something!”

Of course, tablets are just one technology being offered up to companies to support sales activities. Smartphones, apps, CRM systems, software packages–the list is always growing. So how do you get the most out of your investments in technology for your sales force?

Reasons to Invest

Here are a few ways to look at possible investment justifications:

  • Productivity: It’s about getting more with less. The smartest investments come at companies that have a clear line of sight to what functions they want to make better–and how much improvement would justify the investment. If I can see a cost-benefit improvement from one function that pays for the investment, I am inclined to give a green light. It’s when I hear of a combination of several benefits, none of which can stand on their own, that I get skeptical.
  • Speed: I love time, but I am an engineer’s son.If you can show me that we save measurable time to get the same or higher activity yield, I am in. But I will want to see both measures–not just an implied improvement.
  • Clarity: I recently watched a tour on a manufacturing line. The guide explained what the line did, then brought out an iPad and flipped through a very clear supply chain management process, showing how this line integrated into the bigger picture. It all came together right on the plant floor. The power of those few slides, delivered at the machine instead of in a boardroom, was extremely compelling.

Maximizing Value

You also want to make sure your team will be able to get an easy payoff from adoption of the new tools. A few factors to think about are:

  • Immediacy: To see a faster payoff, integrate immediate training into the acquisition. I often see teams give out the device for a period, then train users later, after the users have “gotten used to the device.” All that does is delay any expected improvement in performance. If you can’t bring it all together simultaneously, wait until you can.
  • Utility: How does the technology make the user’s life better? For instance, CRM systems are often underutilized because the user sees only a burden; it’s management that gets the benefit. Adoption curves go up dramatically when people see the benefit to themselves, so make sure new tools offer a payoff for users.
  • Ease of use: Apple figured this out decades ago. Adoption rates go down if the device or application’s design, connectivity and even power supply aren’t easy to manage.

Confession time: I myself am a tech junkie. I’ve certainly bought my share of toys with dubious “productivity” justifications.

But when you’re running a company budget, you need a strategy with performance claritybefore you purchase the next must-have item. I recently read a blog post from Ashley Furness of Software Advice, who quoted a study saying that of employers planning to deploy tablets across their organization, “more than half haven’t articulated a clear adoption strategy.”

Make sure you’re not making that mistake.

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