In the age of digital transformation, sales leaders are concerned with the accelerated rate of change to their business. Yet, at the same time, they feel compelled to expand their awareness of new technology that create opportunities for competitive advantage. However, the tremendous explosion of sales solutions must be carefully assessed to ensure they align with customer buying journeys and improve sellers’ productivity, not hinder them with more administrative work.
Fortunately, the sales operations department has control over what technologies are invested in, with varying degrees of partnership with the IT department; as well as the management of the data within these systems and the alignment and integration between them. But what’s the right path to take?
A customer relationship management (CRM) system is typically the foundation for the technology stack for organisations to measure, monitor, and enhance sales performance, but there are many other technologies that enable increased efficiencies. In fact, CRM is far from the only technology that sales operations need to have access to fully support the array of activities that fall under the scope of their responsibility.
Over the past five years, there has been a great deal of technological innovation in Sales Performance Management (SPM) and Sales Enablement (SE) solutions, but it’s not so easy to determine which sales technologies are actually improving performance.
There are such a significant number of sales solutions in the market but I categorise them in five primary areas:
- Sales Solutions that support lead generation and lead conversion
- Sales Solutions that support activity and sales process management
- Sales Solutions that support sales enablement content and training
- Sales Solutions that improve seller efficiency/ productivity
- Technology for general operations
CSO Insights’ recent report found lead generation/ lead intelligence and social selling technologies were top of the list in terms of solutions that are already in place by sales professionals. An emerging shift of investment in management technologies was also seen, including account and opportunity planning and sales methodology and workflow. This shows companies are realising that a customer relationship management (CRM) system alone won’t meet all the needs of sales teams.
Sales Technologies are Exploding, but Education is Lacking
However, an influx of new technologies come with the requirement for sales operations to change the way they are doing things. To facilitate this, training is a necessity, to ensure they are integrated effectively and used optimally in order to get the full value from the investment. This means consistent and effective content and coaching to help sales professionals adapt and understand how to incorporate new ways of working into their workflow processes. The trouble is, this isn’t happening well enough and I frequently find organisations with a tool/ training disconnect.
CSO Insights’ report corroborates my experience, finding that most organisations are not backing up the implementation of sales technologies with adequate education. Of those companies that offer training in social selling, coaching/ mentoring skills and forecast/ pipeline management, more than half answered that their process “needs a major redesign” or “needs improvement”.
The sales enablement sales trainings ratings below show that technologies related to optimising coaching and pipeline forecast management also received high rankings for current or planned usage - meaning something has to change! Expanding the amount of sales technologies may very well be warranted, but organisations must consider the number of new technologies sales professionals can realistically become proficient.
Social Selling: Needs major redesign (15%), needs improvement (41%), meets expectations (37%), exceeds expectations (7%)
Coaching/ Mentoring Skills: Needs major redesign (14%), needs improvement (41%), meets expectations (35%), exceeds expectations (10%)
Forecast/ Pipeline Management: Needs major redesign (11%), needs improvement (47%), meets expectations (35%), exceeds expectations (6%)
Organisations should also ensure that they have an integration strategy, many SPM and SE technologies are only available as point solutions rather than comprehensive tool suites, which can hinder sales operations achieving optimal performance.
What Impact Will AI Have?
AI is also set to have implications for SPM and SE technologies, although only about half on the market provide true AI-enabled capabilities and insights. However, the ones that do can radically enhance many aspects of how sales organisations operate. In one case, implementing AI-enabled technologies has resulted in double-digit increases in win rates and average deal size and decreases in sell-cycle length by half. Results such as this cannot be ignored.
This raises a few questions for sales teams. Should the company implement traditional solutions that have been in the marketplace for the past several years and then consider AI-augmented replacement versions? Or, where practical, start to leverage AI technologies now?
How to Optimise Your Sales Technology Stack
Robust SPM and SE technologies will be the only way for sales operations to refine all of the information that is/ will be available to sales organisations. To harness the power of this data, some essential tips include:
- Creating a unified vision for what a comprehensive sales optimisation technology stack looks like and ensure there is ongoing collaboration between sales operations and enablement teams.
- Understanding the technologies that will have the highest impact on sales performance and prioritising investment based on this.
- Evaluating sales team’s capacity to assimilate new technologies and work towards a time-based roadmap for implementation.
- Analysing and always re-assessing what investments are necessary to fully integrate and support the technologies required to optimise sales performance and compare this to “the cost of doing nothing”.
- Ensuring sales operations has a formal charter that covers a long-term plan for functional vision/ strategy, a technological roadmap and success metrics, which are tracked regularly.
The rapid advancements in technology and increased adoption of AI-powered technologies will not only be a driver of performance but also a key differentiator for organisations. With such a large set of responsibilities and a fixed set of people and budget to work with, sales operations leaders must continuously prioritise and re-prioritise their activities, flexing to invest in what brings the greatest payoff. Those that do so can create a larger, more positive and more sustainable impact on sales performance – the future is looking optimistic!
Richard Hilton, Managing Director EMEA at Miller Heiman Group