How are sales tools and techniques being moulded by the mega-trends?

15th Jul 2013

The mega-trends of mobile, social, Cloud Computing and Big Data are coalescing to have an unprecedented impact on organisations and their component departments. In sales teams alone, these disruptive trends have the potential to transform operations by empowering staff with better technology, knowledge and mobility.

However, sales has a reputation as being something of a laggard when it comes to embracing newer technology, and historically there has been resistance to the adoption of sales force automation (SFA) tools. While a new generation of more tech-savvy salespeople are coming on stream, many others are still stung from having to work with a generation of SFA systems that were technically challenging and seemingly offered little value to the rep.

But with the mega-trends also reshaping SFA offerings, salespeople could finally have tools that will help them sell, and collaborate with partners, customers and team members.

“These trends are arriving at the right time and the right place for the sales profession,” says best-selling author and sales authority Sean McPheat. “In terms of the objectives of the modern day sales professional, it is about making more sales, doing more in less time and having immediacy of information. And if you think about the mega-trends that we’ve got – mobile, social, Cloud and Big Data – they are complementing those objectives really well.”

So how are the trends shaping sales tools and techniques in 2013?

Social media

Patrick Stakenas, research director at Gartner, says: “90% of sales people spend time on social networks every day, whether it is for personal or business. So basically every sales rep, every day, is on the internet on social media sites. But how do we use that from a sales perspective?”

One powerful way that social media is facilitating salespeople with their jobs on a daily basis is through social sales prospecting and research, helping them to better qualify leads and conduct prospecting activities more efficiently while also being better informed about accounts and prospects.

“Some of the advanced sales intelligence systems like ZoomInfo, InsideView and iSell crawl the internet looking for things where someone has posted something on the likes of LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebok, so that when you are looking at prospects it’s not just name, address and phone number, you can also see that, for instance, someone was at a conference,” says Jim Dickie of CSO Insights. “It means you have insights into things they have been doing that you could use to start a conversation or show them that you know about their business or priorities. And this can become a really good research tool for sales people so that they can more effectively engage customers and prospects.”

Social media has implications for the likes of lead qualification, competitive intelligence, the profiling of prospects and maintain up-to-date contact information, and salespeople can have access to real-time feeds on contacts, pulling information from the web and online communities to support these functions.

And these activity feeds are not only focused on people – they can also detail activity around opportunities and markets so that as information changes relating to these topics, salespeople can know about it immediately as it is automatically posted on to the activity feed. Given the value and popularity of this functionality, Gartner has predicted that within two years every sales force automation tool will embed activity feeds into their core offering.

But sales teams are also capitalising on social media to improve internal collaboration, improving interactions within the sales force, between salespeople, as well as with other departments within the business. And this collaboration is even being extended outside of the walls of the organisation to external partners and customers, to support activities such as RFPs, contract work and the building of bespoke solutions.

“One of the things we’re finding is that a lot of companies now have communities or Facebook-type architectures within their SFA systems so that they can talk to one another and post messages and files and proposals,” notes McPheat. “If you close a deal you can see it then and there in front of you and everyone can see it on their updates as well, so there is much more of a community feel as opposed to sending out an email that I’m closing this or doing that.”

Big Data

Customer data exists in many different places both inside and outside the business, and with the volume increasing at a rapid rate it presents both a challenge and an opportunity for salespeople.

“The volume of information inside of an organisation is doubling and will continue to double every 12-18 months over the course or the next couple of years,” says Stakenas. “Big Data isn’t just about the data that is coming from the internet, it is also about repurposing the ‘dark data’ within your organisation that you have not been able to get much out of in the past. With new tools and new operative analytics applications you can do different types of searches deep inside the data – you can search inside a document and search inside reams of data that you’ve had around forever.”

Christopher Cabrera, founder, president and CEO at Xactly, adds: “There is a huge opportunity for Big Data to significantly impact the modern sales department. However, many companies have yet to embrace Big Data from a sales perspective. In almost every business today, large amounts of data around every sale are captured and stored across a variety of systems, including sales performance management (SPM), CRM, finance, HR and payroll. However, in the past, it would have been time and cost prohibitive for most companies to try to derive meaningful insights from such large and diverse sets of data. The emergence of new Big Data and analytics technologies is changing that paradigm.

“Finance and sales leaders in virtually any sized organisation can now obtain Big Data-driven insights that can enable them to create stronger sales teams, optimise incentive compensation plans, better understand their best customers, and motivate improved sales behaviours. These insights can also help predict and drive future sales performance by enabling better modelling, more effective incentive planning, and more realistic sales forecasting.”

Ed Farquhar, EMEA marketing director at PROS, notes: “Typically, enterprise businesses today have somewhere between 750TB and 1000TB of data. By using Big Data applications, sales teams can confidently identify what customers want, their likelihood to purchase and, subsequently, how they would like to buy. Providing timely, personalised and relevant proposals gives sales professionals the opportunity to achieve competitive advantage and outperform in global markets.”

Analytics technologies are also on the cusp of advancements that will have enormous implications for sales teams. While professionals have traditionally worked in a ‘descriptive’ analytics environment, which can anecdotally tell you what happened (we won/lost) but won’t allow you to do anything about it, there is a shift to ‘diagnostic’ analytics, which can tell you why things happened, providing more insight alongside the hindsight. This information is not just anecdotal, because it is being tracked.

The next stage will be even more significant as ‘predictive’ analytics will enable professionals to find out what will happen next, something that will improve win rates. Potentially in a few years there will then be ‘prescriptive’ analytics which will tell us how to make certain results happen – i.e. what steps to take to improve win rates. With most sales organisations are presently between descriptive and diagnostic, there is an enormous opportunity waiting around the corner.


“By 2014, smartphones and tablets will overtake laptops as the primary device for sales force automation or sales technology by salespeople,” says Stakenas. “And in the next year most sales technology companies will have optimised their applications so that salespeople can use them from a smartphone or a tablet.”

While laptops proved cumbersome for salespeople as they sought to sell products/services in front of a customer – the start-up time alone could be frustrating – and smartphones were portable but had limitations related to screen size, the proliferation of tablets has provided reps with the perfect tool to use in a customer-facing situation. Both portable and simple to use on the fly, tablets enhance meetings with customers by improving the visualisation of complex data and sales content.

“As part of our annual Sales Performance Optimisation Study, we ask companies what technologies they are providing their salespeople,” says Jim Dickie, managing partner at CSO Insights. “About five years ago around 20% or the companies we surveyed said that they were giving salespeople access to corporate information via mobile devices – which at that time were cell phones. But the reality back then was that it was very simplistic stuff – you can check your calendar, see your contacts, see your records in the CRM system – predominantly efficiency things rather than anything to help you perform better.

“Going forward to today, in our most recent study about 45% of companies are now giving reps access to corporate systems via mobile devices, and half of those are via iPads or Android tablets. And while predominant uses are still around things like calendars and checking CRM records, now with tablets you can do presentations as well.”

Additionally, the CSO Insights research reveals that a small group (15-20%) are also emerging that also use the devices to do workflow tasks that a rep would do with the customer, such as a guided needs analysis, with the system prompting the salesperson to ask questions to the prospect based on the answers that are provided, understanding the co-requisites and prerequisites and guiding the rep to the next question to ask. This ensures that the salesperson asks all the questions in a single session versus multiple sessions.

Furthermore, because all the answers have then been collated, the sales person can then go into a “solution configuration mode” and be able to provide recommendations to the prospect based on their responses – what it would cost, when it could be delivered, how it could be implemented, and so on.

“You can really do a lot of those tasks in a single meeting with a client that before might have taken three, four or five meetings, and actually go for the close, capture the signature on the screen and move on,” says Dickie. “This is where I think we’re going to see the power – most of the CRM investment up to now has been helping reps plan for a call, or follow up on a call, but mobile is going to allow them to make not just more calls, but make really great calls.”


Over 50% of sales force automation deployments are done in the Cloud today, and this number is going to continue to increase. Stakenas describes the Cloud’s popularity: “Less  performance (because 80% of people don't need 80% of the functionality in software) for less money (because people like paying less), paid for as they use the software (because people realize they're paying for software they don't use; see above, plus 17% maintenance for what they don't use), delivered via the provider's servers (because people now know they use only 20% of their servers' capacity), which are managed by the provider's staff (because people have realized that the biggest component cost of software is people).”

Dickie adds: “In the past, if I was making a sales call and I got out there and I brought the brochures for the products I talked about but the asked for information about another product, I’m at a loss as I don’t have that with me. With Cloud Computing now I can get access to any of the materials that would be stored on corporate systems. They might be on Sharepoint or some other repository so that I can get access to the most current version of those types of things. But I can still download it. So it’s the best of both worlds – I should be able to get access to it but if not I can download and have those things resident on storage capacity on the tablet device itself so I can work when I’m sitting on an airplane and as soon as I land I’m connected just like I would be if I was back in the office.”

Richard Britton, CEO at CloudSense, adds that there are additional benefits delivered to the business in the back office.

“For example, Cloud Computing is helping to cut down the time from quote to cash, improving cash flow. It is also giving sales teams true mobility across any device with solutions like Salesforce accessible from anywhere, transforming the business into a truly mobile enterprise.

“A further benefit of the Cloud is its ability to create integrated businesses. Cloud order management solutions for example help to link the operations and sales teams, giving insight into the whole customer journey and providing a single view of the customer. The Cloud is invaluable in ensuring that data is being effectively shared between departments, which can otherwise become siloed and isolated from other areas of the business.”

Cloud SFA solutions are also appealing as applications can be procured and implemented quickly and easily, without the team having to wait for IT. Nonetheless, while there is a temptation to cut IT out of the loop, IT should be involved in making technology decisions. For reasons such as security and integration, the IT side needs to work with the business side, providing guidance and guidelines. 

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