The best sales professionals and teams understand the sales process begins long before the first meeting with a prospect. Your success in front of a customer depends on how much time and energy you've invested in your professional development, your knowledge of the sales process, and your understanding of how human connection is the key to a new relationship.

I've developed many sales processes across multiple product categories, and I've seen what it takes to be successful with sales. Having closed more than $100 million in sales, including deals with the biggest players in tech, I know the difference between things that actually drive sales and things that distract you. Technology plays a vital role in successful strategies, but you must remember that technology should facilitate the human element, not replace it.

After using, embracing, and discarding a variety of technologies throughout my career, I've found five tools to be helpful. As you set goals for 2020 and beyond, use these technologies to complement your human sales efforts, streamline your sales process, improve your prospecting, and bring in more revenue.

1. Manage relationships with a CRM.

The importance of a CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) should come as no surprise to anyone who's been in sales for long. A good CRM provides invaluable services to a sales team, tracking lead data and organizing information in a way that can improve the sales cycle. 

That said, I've sometimes been a critic of CRMs. In many cases, they can be a distraction. The key is isolating the benefits and reducing the distracting qualities of CRMs.  

Get more from your CRM by automating the tasks that take time and leveraging the tracking capabilities of prospects in your funnel. When you enter new prospects into the system, schedule triggers for promotions and other marketing materials to keep the relationship moving forward. Also, use alerts to update you when it's time to reach out to your prospect. 

In terms of distractions, avoid spending too much on your CRM. Many salespeople will actually treat their CRM as the goal itself, trying to maintain a perfect system. It's best to use a CRM as a tool and not to view it as the end game. The end game is sales. 

2. Save time with smarter email outreach.

Email has become such a significant part of our daily life that it warrants a specific focus. Email takes time, and time is money. If you want to be efficient and effective, you need an email app that helps automate routines and supports the sales process -- not just a tool that helps schedule emails. 

Mixmax is one such tool that sales teams can use to customize email communications to deepen prospect engagement, shorten sales cycles, and ensure smart follow-up. It also provides additional functionality in emails and integrates with most CRMs. 

The best tools allow users to create curated sequences to engage all types of leads; schedule and automate sending; use templates for sales pitches; track and manage campaigns; and integrate with a variety of other sales technologies.

3. Use online apps to build your community.

For all the time professionals spend on Instagram and Facebook, they could be focusing on growing their human network and tapping into the power of online professional networks. 

For starters, LinkedIn is an essential tool for sales professionals. You should be using LinkedIn to find new prospects and learn more about them. It's effective as an outreach tool and as a tool for content marketing and influence. You should be posting valuable content and writing informative articles that empower your community. 

Sales professionals should also be looking at tools that help them build their human network. Apps like Eventbrite and Meetup can help you find niche communities to build relationships. It's never been easier to find events in your area. 

4. Stay up-to-date with Google Alerts.

Sales relationships are like any other relationship: They're built on trust and being likable. In so many cases, staying on top of current events can help you stay connected to your prospects and customers and maintain current topics of conversation.

To make this process easier, consider how Google Alerts can help you stay updated on your industry, customers, and prospects. The online tool allows you to define a search term and receive relevant articles in your inbox.

Staying on top of news and events is important for many reasons. First, it helps you stay knowledgeable, which helps your customers. Second, you can congratulate your customers or prospects on good news or alert them to threats in their markets. Lastly, it gives you a reason to stay top of mind with your customers. 

5. Always be learning with audiobooks.

Audiobooks don't have a reputation as sales tools, but why not? Successful salespeople prioritize their continuing education. With audiobooks, I not only learn new strategies and techniques, but I also benefit from a well-rounded knowledge base to inform my conversations.

Amazon's Audible holds a firm grip at the top of the audiobooks world, but don't forget about the free resources at your library. Overdrive serves libraries all over the map, delivering free audiobooks to anyone with a library card. You can become a better salesperson and a more capable leader while you're at the gym, commuting, or cooking dinner. 

Final word.

When you have a strong foundation built on skills and the emotional intelligence for sales, you can start to use technologies that boost your sales success in a variety of ways. Notice how none of these tools is a silver bullet. It's on you to integrate each item in a way that augments your current efforts without distracting you. With the right tools, a small investment can lead to massive returns for your business.