Killer app your sales force

how to drive IT system adoption and build the sales rep of the future


Published on: September 2022

Written by: Massimo Pernicone

Every decade has its iconic video games. Whether it was Pac-Man, Super Mario, Call of Duty, or MineCraft – among many others – everyone can remember the hot new game that thrilled the generation.

The platform didn’t matter. Atari, Xbox, or Wii – it was all about the game. It still is. Console makers and game designers know this well, so the competition is fierce when it comes to creating the next killer app.

But killer apps aren’t just for video game players. When developing your sales reps, a killer app—defined as “a computer application of such great value or popularity that it assures the success of the technology with which it is associated broadly”—can be transformative. In today’s world, the old ways of selling are no longer sufficient. To be successful, reps need to adopt a new, data-driven way of working.

However, this transformation does not come easily. Unfortunately, sales reps are not exactly longing to open Salesforce or PowerBi to spend a couple of “joyful” hours analyzing data, extracting insights, and defining a course of action to improve their results.

Sales reps who make the shift to this new way of selling, though, see huge benefits in both their productivity and bottom-line results. So how do you motivate all sellers within your organization to adopt this new way of working? This is where the killer app comes in—you need to codify how sellers access datasets and support the new approach with powerful use cases for increasing sales success, so that salespeople see the benefit of changing their ingrained behaviors.

What’s in the way of adoption?

There are two common arguments salespeople make as to why IT system adoption doesn’t happen.

  1. I am not good at using technology, and every year a new tool comes out, I just cannot keep up.” This is only half-true. Often times, reps will reveal that they tried to open the system just once or twice, felt lost and overwhelmed by the complexity, and gave up.

    As one CTO described: “With IT, you need to get your hands dirty to learn and see the potential of the tool.” In this case, reps’ hands are clearly spotless.

  2. I am a people person… I want to be in the field talking to clients, not entering data into the CRM and analyzing them. Sales calls is what delivers results. I am not sure how the new IT tools will help me with that.”

This second argument would be reasonable if salespeople’s roles were purely relational – however, in today’s world that is not enough. The best salespeople are great at both everything that is client-facing, and at leveraging IT tools in order to help them make better decisions about their sales activities and build better insights to communicate their unique value to each customer.[1], [2] Unsurprisingly, better value also leads to better client relationships.

Still, many companies today have to deal with a change-resistant sales force that fails to recognize the potential of the data and tools they have at arm’s reach. Most sales forces continue to work based on their intuition and what they remember from past wins. So how do you shift your people’s mindsets so that they make more data-driven decisions?

Connecting the case for change with the power of the killer app

Shifting mindsets takes time, energy, and persistence. It requires a multi-dimensional approach to change management, and often calls for multiple rounds of training, coaching, and mentoring to make changes stick.

While this may seem daunting, embarking on the journey to enable your salespeople to be more data-driven can produce incredible results. In fact, research shows that 56 percent of CEOs whose organizations shifted toward a digital transformation experienced increased revenue.[3]

So how do you get there? Combine a change management strategy with the power of killer apps is a great place to start. Begin by asking:

  1. What is the outcome you are trying to achieve for your salespeople? Why is better IT tool adoption the solution?
  2. What are possible killer apps for your salespeople to use to get where you want them to be? These can take the form of a dashboard or set of instructions on how to leverage the company’s IT tools (CRM, PowerBi, Sales Enablement, etc.)
  3. What are related use-cases that leverage data or insights, which will encourage sales reps to seek out IT tools and change how they work and think?

There are no easy answers. What you come up with will be contextual – it will depend on your company’s industry and unique needs. Here are two examples of organizations that have leveraged the three points above:

A global player in the paper industry wanted its sales reps to be more prepared for meetings with important clients. They created a killer app in the form of a report to better understand recent shift in SKU volume that made up the bulk of recurring orders from clients. These patterns made it possible for the rep to figure out if a competitor was aggressively pursuing the same client, or ask the client what was behind the SKU change.

A global player in animal pharma is in the process of deploying their new onmichannel strategy. Their killer app aims to provide sales reps with analytics on interactions between veterinarians and the company, which includes their engagement with communications delivered through multiple channels—emails, calls, and meetings. These insights will enable sales reps to activate the best omnichannel strategy to connect with their prospects and clients. For example, after a face-to-face visit, the rep will be able to see that a veterinarian opened 80 percent of emails, but never engaged in calls with the Inside Sales team. As a result, the rep will be able to make an informed decision about the best next touchpoint—whether it is sending an email, or following up two weeks later with another visit.

These two examples demonstrate how a killer app – and its related use case – need to be specific to each organization.

Bringing your sales force along on the killer app journey

After selecting your killer apps, it’s critical to ask, how can your organization codify it and cascade it internally to drive adoption?

  1. Start by listing the KPIs your salespeople care about (net sales, growth, frequency of visits, etc.) and identify the key decisions that can help improve that KPI. For example, if the KPI is sales in a specific client segment, underlying decisions might be the number of touchpoints or demos of a new product.
  2. Define and explain the killer apps – and their related use cases – to help your salespeople make those important decisions based on the data in the system. This can take the form of a killer-app playbook – a document encompassing all of your killer apps and their use cases for different roles in the sales force. Pro tip: define when these killer apps need to be accessed, whether at specific moments (e.g., gauging a territory’s potential at the end of each quarter) or continually (e.g., before daily visits to important clients). Doing so could, for example, provide visibility into product demos that others on the sales team have already run for a particular client, making it easier for a sales rep to more effectively allocate their time and run demos for less frequently touched clients.
  3. Codify an easy way for salespeople to dig into the IT system and extract the data they need for a specific use case, and build a set of steps to analyze the information. Again, this is core to the killer app and can take the form of a dashboard or a set of instructions to follow in the IT system. Keep it straightforward to avoid overwhelming the sales team: two to three killer apps and related sets of instructions will be enough to start.
  4. Bring your salespeople onboard, engage them to discuss why they should change (emphasize the connection between killer apps and relevant KPIs), what is in it for them (highlight success stories and the possible cost of inaction), and how to do it (leverage gamification to make adoption fun, and use recognition as an incentive to encourage implementation of the new tool). Enabling this change also means setting the sales managers up for success as internal champions and adoption coaches for salespeople.

This kind of transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It requires an iterative approach—with frequent reviews and expansion as your sales force grows in confidence—and a recognition of people’s different reactions to change, which is called an “XY Sales Transformation.” Developing this culture around sales tools will prime your team to adopt more sophisticated killer apps in the future, resulting in better planning, more insightful conversations, and higher sales performance, among many other benefits.[4]

Though it may be easier to convince someone to try a new console to play their favorite video game, creating killer apps for your salespeople can go a long way in shifting reps’ mindsets and promoting action. Eventually, IT systems adoption has largely to do with the people side of sales strategy – it is still about “getting your hands dirty.”


[1] A Theoretical Review of CRM Effects on Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty. Shaon, K.I.; Rahman, H. Central European Business Review; Prague Vol. 4, Iss. 1, (2015): 23-36.

[2] Sales Technology Orientation, Information Effectiveness, and Sales Performance. Hunter, G.K.; Perreault, W.D. Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management; Vol. 26, Iss. 2, (2006): 95-113.


[4] Why Sales Reps Should Welcome Information Technology: Measuring the Impact of CRM-based IT on Sales Effectiveness. Ahearne, M.; Hughes, D.E.; Schillewaertb, N. International Journal of Research in Marketing; Vol. 24, Iss. 4, (2007): 336-349.

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