People are used to listening to technology. Drivers use navigation apps for the fastest route across town, and consumers take guidance from software on who to date and what music to play. However, famously unpopular computer advisors, such as Apple's Siri, have made some people wary about getting advice from machines.

Many salespeople are uneasy about following guidance provided by software. While "smart" technologies have sprung up throughout enterprise software, from marketing automation to business intelligence, real adoption has been much slower than in consumer tech. With sales acceleration, executives, managers and technologists are typically the most excited to adopt new guided-selling solutions, but the average salesperson will say that you can't rely on a magic box to make these critical decisions.

Data Shows Guided Selling Works, But Sellers Remain Wary

As CEO of a sales acceleration company, I obviously believe that software-driven guided selling technologies have the potential to make sales organizations much more efficient and effective, and that sooner or later, most salespeople will recognize this. But I also understand when salespeople are wary about outsourcing crucial decisions to software. When sales acceleration engines providers talk about factoring in all sorts of extraneous data--like cycles of the moon and sports scores--without showing how this helps the seller, it makes it harder to bring them onboard.

Even so, there is hard data to show that guided selling helps individual sellers and sales organizations--not just to do more work, but also to sell more effectively. We recently studied individual sales reps and sale organizations to see how automatic prioritization affected performance, and found that salespeople who adopted this technology not only saw significantly higher talk time and contact attempts per day, but also saw their conversion rates go up. Though some sellers were initially concerned that guided selling would just shuttle them from call to call, raising the volume of contacts they attempted but lowering their overall efficiency, these results showed the opposite.

Adoption for Advice-Giving Technology Depends on Transparency

The key to fast, meaningful adoption of these solutions is to offer transparency. Yes, salespeople do pay attention to results. And at companies that adopt guided selling tools, we've seen sales reps that held out at first will join in when they witness their colleagues' success first-hand. But this "adoption by osmosis" approach may be too slow for sales organizations that need to stay ahead of the competition with the latest technologies. Furthermore, you risk losing critical early support if you deploy a non-transparent, "black box" selling engine and it doesn't provide the promised results.

Waze and Siri are perfect examples of the importance of transparency for software that gives advice. Waze saw massive user growth with minimal marketing because it's transparent--it shows all the data it's using to make its predictions on the map as you drive. Meanwhile, Siri was promoted heavily but became the butt of many jokes when it couldn't deliver on early promises. Even though Siri improved over the past years to become much smarter and more effective, it's still struggling to regain users who were turned off by its "black box" approach that made it hard for people to see how the technology evolved in response to its early stumbles.

Providers of sales acceleration technologies--or any other enterprise software, to be honest--must pay attention to this lesson. With automatic lead prioritization for example, technology should not just tell salespeople the next step to take in the process, but offer a transparent approach that shows the seller why this precise action is important now. Transparency will be the key to getting salespeople--and knowledge workers in general--to jump onboard and start listening to computer-generated advice.

Published on: Mar 25, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.