What sales performance management tools do you need?

7th Mar 2016

While salesforce automation (SFA) systems are perfect for capturing sales activity and providing sales teams with access to information about opportunities, accounts and forecasts, they are not necessarily designed to drive sales execution excellence throughout organisations. For instance, elevating sales execution requires a focus on improving sales candidates are evaluated and assessed, and ultimately trained, things which aren’t historically part of the SFA mix.

For this reason, a growing number of organisations are now turning their attention to tools that sit within the category of sales performance management (SPM).

As the Gleansight Benchmark Report into SPM notes, SPM solutions typically come with some flavour of three or more of the following capabilities:

  • Incentive compensation management.
  • Quota management.
  • Territory management.
  • Learning management.
  • Configure price quote.
  • Hiring & onboarding.
  • Sales training technologies.
  • Sales analytics.
  • Sales enablement technologies.
  • Lead management.
  • Gamification.

This compares to SFA, which can include any/all of the following:

  • Contact management systems.
  • Opportunity management.
  • Lead tracking systems.
  • Sales reporting.
  • Sales forecasting.
  • Sales collaboration.
  • Product knowledge systems.

Tad Travis, a research director at Gartner, spoke with MyCustomer to provide some clarity about the tools and categories, and the distinctions between SFA and SPM.

“Sales performance management automates the operational processes that connect the company’s go-to-market plans with the sales execution that occurs on a day by day or week by week basis,” he explains. “Within that connection, imagine the three boxes - go-to-market on the left side, SPM in the middle and SFA on the right side as an execution system. In the middle area there is a separation between planning and enablement. And the planning is much closer to the go-to-market side, and the enablement is close to the SFA/execution side. So, SPM tools have operational and planning implications, such as compensation, but they also have training or coaching or onboarding functions that are very close to the enablement side.”

Of the many solutions that sit under the SPM umbrella, there are several that are emerging as particularly popular recently. In the Gartner paper ‘Evaluate Emerging Sales Performance Management Technologies to Improve Sales Execution’, it highlights the following as emerging tools that are noteworthy:

  • Sales training technologies. This includes continuous learning applications which use mobile apps to deliver training in short, easily digestible lessons, using the principles of interval reinforcement to improve knowledge retention. Users receive immediate feedback on their performance, as well as notifying sales managers as well, so that they can immediately assess which employees need further assistance. Sales leaders have been adopting continuous learning solutions as a valuable way to test product knowledge, market messaging and competitive positioning. Another branch of sales training technology that is gaining traction is contextual training systems that integrate with SFA systems. These include training presentations triggered by user actions and context-specific help, that can take the form of short videos or rich-text media, that can be accessed via the SFA system.
  • Sales performance monitoring tools. Deployed to improve sales process execution, these solutions use Big Data processing techniques to unite structured and unstructured sales data from multiple systems including SFA and partner relationship management systems to provide a holistic picture of sales activity.
  • Predictive and behavioural analysis tools. Used to improve how companies interview, assess and onboard candidates for sales roles, these solutions include functionality that enables comparison of interviewees against evaluation criteria, ‘goodness of fit’ profiling, performance benchmarking and the video recording of interviews for assessment.

Travis elaborates on further SPM buying trends that he is witnessing.

“It may be an operations group that is enquiring about SPM, but as we’ve seen over the last several years there is an interest in purchasing incentive compensation management (ICM) for the planning and the work of getting sales teams oriented on what they should sell and how much of it,” he continues.

“Training solutions are more about the enablement leading into execution. And for that reason, buyer interest tends to fall into the categories. There are boundaries and overlaps. But for now, we generally still see buyers asking about incentive and compensation in isolation, or training in isolation, or SFA in isolation.”

Finding the right tools

So with that in mind, how can buyers ensure that they are focusing on the tools that are most appropriate for their needs? Travis recommends that as SPM solutions are most relevant for efficiency improvements, businesses should have a full understanding of their pain points, based on where they have experienced issues with their go-to-market execution over the last couple of years, and give some thought to the effectiveness outcomes they want to achieve.

“You can go after effectiveness by better process discipline through efficiency - meaning the more you use these systems, the more efficiency you add in to your operational processes, which over time will result in better effectiveness outcomes,” says Travis. “But beyond that, if you have pain points that are related to company positioning or product knowledge or sales process execution, you can look at the training and the coaching functions because that will bring a higher level of process discipline than you’re probably already exercising. And if you bring it into a system where you can manage inputs and outputs of course you can monitor executions and get a better handle on how you’re doing on achieving the goals of the go to market plan.”

When it comes to identifying your SPM needs, Patrick Stakenas, a former Gartner research director, now president and CEO of Determine, recommends that sales leaders should evaluate the type of sales organisation that they have, what their philosophy is, and what corporate objectives they are trying to achieve – for example, are they in close mode, recover mode or acquisition mode. This will provide some initial steer for what they will then be looking for from a solution.

If you’re in growth mode, you are probably going to need more incentive compensation or territory tools.

“If you’re in growth mode, for instance, you are probably going to need less coaching tools, but you are going to need more incentive compensation or territory tools, or objective and quarter management tools,” he says. “If you are in recover mode, you are going to need more coaching tolls and you are going to need more sales training tools and appraisal management tools to help bring the sales force along. If you are in acquisition mode, you are going to need collaboration tools to bring the sales forces together. So, evaluate the type of sales force that you have, the type of environment that you’re in as a company, and then approach it with an understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish – whether you’re trying to expand territories, and be more aggressive with compensation, or trying to coach and nurture your sales reps to be better performers.”

Once that is understood, you can then start looking at the vendors and what they can offer against this.

“There are some vendors that offer a very broad functionality, and there are others that have very narrow functionality,” Stakenas continues. “But you may find that if you are in growth mode and you have a strong ICM territory management system currently in place that maybe you just need to get better utilisation out of those tools and work with the current vendors. Other companies who are just using pure SFA or CRM for sales type tools, may find that they don’t have anything, however – they are still using spreadsheets to manage compensation and they don’t have any behavioural management tools in place, so they need to go and look at it.

“So again – understand the sales force, understand the market that you serve, and then apply the functionality that best helps you get where you want to be.”

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