Ed. – Mark Smith is an expert in enterprise software and business technology innovations and the CEO and Chief Research Officer of Ventana Research. Mark has worked in the software industry for 25 years, leading innovations in research and technology and has held CMO, research and product development roles at research and software companies. He was rated the 2011 Software Industry Analyst of the Year and one of the Top Ten Technology Influencers in 2012. He started Ventana Research more than a decade ago.
Most organizations see improving the effectiveness of sales as a way to increase productivity. Those organizations that take advantage of the latest sales applications and technology are finding themselves with a competitive advantage, but many organizations lack the time and resources to assess and deploy appropriate platforms. That’s a shame, since most sales organizations have plenty to improve in their selling, forecasting, incentives and planning according to our latest research on sales performance management. We found a high demand even for many of the basics; for instance, many organizations still use personal spreadsheets or outdated applications that are costly to manage. At the same time, marketing organizations are investing heavily to be more revenue- and sales-focused to ensure they maintain relevance and contribute to their organizations’ performance and profitability. Both sales and marketing have fixated on specific processes and how they can work better together.
Our research agenda for 2013 calls for us to examine how organizations can maximize results through new business technology, adopt dedicated applications designed for sales effectiveness and marketing, and use best practices to be faster, smarter, better and more cost-effective in operating sales.
The top three technology trends in sales are analytics, collaboration and mobility. Together with advancing technologies such as business and social collaboration, they are helping increase the flow of information to help managers coach and increase employees’ learning potential. Mobile technologies such as smartphones and tablets are becoming more common, tied to dedicated sales applications and tools that now become more accessible at any time or any place. We will conduct more research in 2013 on the growth in social and mobile sales to see how early adopters are doing and where the industry is improving with these new technologies. At the same time a lot of new software is available through cloud computing; you can rent and configure the software for your organization, reducing the need for IT resources to implement, deploy and maintain it. Advancements in dedicated sales analytics can help organizations understand performance, and help plan and predict sales, providing a path for increasing optimization and letting users more readily share information with finance and operations. We plan to conduct more research into the next generation of sales analytics and build upon our existing research, making sure that the metrics and plans adapt to the existing economic and industry environment.
Many sales organizations realize that traditional sales force automation is mostly for tracking accounts, contacts and opportunities. In 2012 many SFA providers started to expand to a broader sales performance management platform, with integrated forecasting, collaboration, document management, quotas and territory management. This new focus, along with a rapidly expanding set of dedicated applications that have evolved from sales compensation, can bring better incentives, quotas, territories and analytics. This evolution of sales application suites was evident in our 2012 Value Index for Sales Performance Management.
My personal perspective is that 2013 will be even more competitive. While sales compensation management software has been evolving over the last 15 years, it is still finding its place in increasing numbers of sales organizations. In 2013 we will assess how and where sales should be managing compensation and incentives. Many sales organizations that are still wedded to the use of spreadsheets will come to realize that the use of such outdated software impedes their ability to manage sales effectively. It’s not easy to manage forecasts and pipelines that have specific time series and change level analytics in a spreadsheet; a better approach is to use applications designed for the task, and designed not just for sales operations but for the entire sales team. Our recent research in sales forecasting finds areas of improvement that could have dramatic impact on course-correcting sales activities and moving beyond the probability of sales to the confidence of the forecast, which is probably why forecasting was the top application priority in sales according to 65 percent of sales organizations. Sales is also starting to realize the advantages of using marketing in demand generation processes, which nurtures leads into opportunities and can provide a wealth of information to help sales organizations better engage with prospects.
Sales organizations with limited resources and time need to use best practices and not waste time on technology that’s not ready for deployment or that fails to match up with the competencies of their teams. Interactive social collaboration across sales teams is a better and more effective practice than a myriad of emails. In addition, the use of product information management through all channels of sales and marketing is essential, but our product information management benchmark found significant room for improvement as organizations work to ensure proper representation and highest customer satisfaction. Our assessment of PIM vendors finds many addressing these needs and delivering benefits for sales.
As the configuration, pricing and quote (CPQ) process gets more automated, sales organizations find better consistency in their business processes, including in the fundamentals of contract management. Sales organizations have significant room to improve in supporting non-direct channels and ensuring that data and processes are aligned to the overall sales target. As marketing gets its act together on demand generation, the scoring and qualification of contacts for their true interest through a lead nurturing processes that include behavior, demographic and relevance will help identify the right opportunities for sales to act upon. Sales organizations need to address technology best practices and use analytics and metrics that can be harvested from modeling and planning methods in order to increase the quality of their results. I expect that big data and predictive analytics also will make inroads with innovative sales teams in 2013.
What’s old is still new with sales, and improving upon forecasting, compensation, coaching, collaboration and learning will be job one for those that really want to drive excellence. Applying talent management process with adapting the existing sales team and hiring the right team members, and help ensure that everyone contributes to the business of sales. The rapid increase in the use of smartphones and tablets in sales is leading to a new generation of applications and technology that can better meet sales teams’ needs. I expect to see more reengineering of marketing and sales processes, improving leads and materials and using automation to enhance the quality of leads and move beyond just the process of passing a quantity of useless leads. Finance organizations can also demonstrate their commitment to improvement in sales processes by offering to help argue the business case that delivers the benefits they care most about, which is profitability.
Being more timely and proactive in sales is the mantra for 2013. Those organizations that are prepared to use technology to those ends will be the ones that maximize their potential and retain sales teams that can contribute to financial profitability and customer satisfaction.