Tips for Navigating the Sales Technology Landscape

Deciding whether to invest in the more established sales tech platforms vs. the rapidly innovating, newer vendors is a challenging decision facing buyers this year.
Categories Articles, SaaS

This is a post written by Emily Sue Tomac, a Research Analyst at TrustRadius. It’s based off of her recent report, How To Navigate the Sales Technology Landscape.

Why is the sales tech landscape so difficult to navigate?

Over the past few years, sales technology has seen explosive development. Today the market for sales tools is fragmented and highly competitive, with many different types of tools and many vendors in each category. Because the landscape is relatively immature, there is still some debate over what the categories should be called, and whether certain categories will go from nice-to-have to need-to-have tools. Together with ongoing feature build-outs and continual re-branding, the sales technology space has become difficult for buyers to navigate.

Early adopters have already been using sales technology for a while, but based on my conversations with practitioners, many of them are ready to try something new. Deciding whether to invest in the more established sales tech platforms vs. the rapidly innovating, newer vendors is a challenging decision facing buyers this year.

How can buyers organize the options available to them?

The sales tech landscape has been broken down and “simplified” in a variety of different ways to date. Based on my research, none of these views is quite satisfactory, either because too many options are omitted—some might argue this is for the sake of simplicity, but all too often it seems to be in the interest of the content’s sponsors—or because the organizational schema doesn’t provide a robust enough picture of how the tools will actually fit into the rest of the technology stack and day to day workflow. Often, these landscapes get some things very right, but at the expense of other elements. For example, this view from VB Profiles is highly inclusive of many vendors, and uses a complex categorical view by channel and goal, but ultimately is too crowded to be a useful discovery resource, and does not show who uses the tools or how they would work within your sales process. On the other hand, this view from TOPO does a great job of linking the different steps in an SDR’s specific workflow to different technology categories, but it doesn’t help buyers figure out which vendors (other than LinkedIn) can provide the pieces they need.

In the TrustRadius taxonomy, we aim to address this issue by categorizing products across three dimensions: by end-user role, feature set, and stage of the sales process.

We’ve organized the sales process into four mini processes, tied to different teams and initiatives: Marketing/Sales Alignment, Inside Sales, Quote-to-Cash, and Sales Performance Management. Each of these areas has inspired its own sub-categories of software tools designed to automate, improve, or report on that piece of the funnel. Most of these category terms are fairly well established, but vendors are constantly shifting their brand strategy and using new buzzwords to reposition their products—which do not change in functionality as quickly as marketing tends to change their branding. To be most helpful to buyers, at the drill-down level we’ve grouped products based on similar feature sets.

Sales performance management software is most often used by sales ops and sales managers. Although there is some overlap and the landscape will continue to change, our research shows four main feature groups within SPM in 2016: sales incentive compensation management (ICM), sales gamification, sales forecasting, and sales pipeline tools.

Where should buyers start with sales performance management (SPM)?

Although your evaluation process will depend on your specific timeline and the different players involved in the buying decision, here are three high-level steps to follow if you’re thinking about incorporating new tools into your SPM program:

1) Decide on your KPI strategy. Which KPIs will you track, and will this differ between sales teams? (For example, KPIs for Account Executives may be different than KPIs for SDRs.) Will quotas and compensation be based on revenue only, or on activity metrics as well? How frequently are you planning to adjust or optimize goals and incentives, and who will own this process?

2) Determine which pieces of the sales performance management process you have today are slowing you down, or are not yet possible because you don’t have the right infrastructure in place. Is the bottleneck happening because you can’t access the data you need in a timely fashion, because you aren’t tracking the right KPIs in the first place, or because you don’t have a way to use data insights to make changes to the plan moving forward? Or, is the issue coordinating the sales pipeline with Marketing/Finance? Answering these questions will help you determine whether technology can make the biggest difference at the sales ops level, rep level, or management level.

3) Identify a tool or set of sales tools that will address those areas. Realistically, some pieces of sales performance management are still going to be done with spreadsheets, or other more general solutions that are already in place and used across departments (like an LMS, BI tool, or CPM platform). It’s important to figure out which pieces of sales technology will solve your biggest pain points, and can be implemented within your current process/sales stack without interrupting revenue generation. Often this is a concern of both reps and leadership. But, if you’re able to identify a tangible problem with sales performance that the tool will solve, it will be much easier to justify the investment and measure success post-implementation.

Get a pulse on the SPM subcategories: Sales ICM, Forecasting, Pipeline, Gamification & Suites

Based on our review of product offerings and use cases, sales incentive compensation management (ICM) seems to be the most established area of sales performance management software. It’s especially useful for very large sales organizations where smart spreadsheets are not sufficient to maintain accurate accounting. Under these circumstances, often reps are relied upon to point out mistakes in their own bonuses. Because it is only in their interest to report underpayment, miscalculated incentive payouts that are not reported can add up to a significant sum. Thus, the ROI of an ICM tool can be easier to justify than with some other types of sales tech; this may partially explain sales ICM software’s earlier development and more widespread adoption so far. Xactly Incent, IBM Cognos Incentive Compensation Management, and Callidus Commissions are three examples of well-established products in this category.

Forecasting is a very well established use case—all Sales organizations do forecasting to some extent, in order to determine quotas, evaluate pipeline health, and justify sales performance to executives and investors. However, as of yet there are fewer sales-specific tools designed for forecasting on the market. InsightSquared is an example of a product specifically for the sales performance forecasting & analytics use case; it competes against manual forecasting procedures, forecasting delivered through CRM add-on modules (think Salesforce Analytics), or sales forecasts configured via a broader business intelligence solutions like Tableau. More technical forecasts for budgeting and quarterly planning tend to be handled by sales ops, whereas sales managers tend to handle back of the envelope forecasts to check in on reps’ progress against goals and determine how much prospecting/pipeline building needs to be done. Depending on how forecasts are calculated and displayed—how long they take to pull, as well as how accessible they are to reps and managers—they can enable (or hinder) agile sales planning.

Sales pipeline point solutions seem to be cooling down relative to the other SPM software categories. This is not because pipeline features are unimportant, but because the landscape is consolidating. Most of the products with this feature set have been developed by or acquired by CRM providers, such as Stitch (owned by SugarCRM), or are part of another broader performance management solution that includes forecasting, prioritization, or deal-routing capabilities. This is likely because in order to be useful, tools for visualizing and managing the pipeline must be tightly integrated with the deal data records and/or the tools that allow salespeople to take action on deals in the pipeline. Beyond the CRM category, there is crossover with sales enablement, sales training and coaching, predictive analytics, forecasting & ICM, and inside sales platforms. Salesforce.com, Pipedrive, NetSuite CRM+, Infer (Prospect Management), Clari, KiteDesk, Velocify, InsightSquared, and Insightly are examples of crossover tools that include pipeline features.

Conversely, gamification and sales coaching/training are emerging as use cases and software categories. Increasing interest in automating and centralizing these activities may be related to the trend around sales specialization as a strategy for growth, particularly with high-velocity SDR teams that need to be onboarded quickly. Still, at this point most of the options remain relatively small. In some cases the vendor itself is still a small company (like LevelEleven, Hoopla, or Ambition, which were founded to address these areas), while in other cases the product is part of a broader suite of sales tools that has an established customer base, but these modules are not yet widely adopted (as with InsideSales.com and CallidusCloud, for example). Based on feedback from sales leaders and practitioners, “gamification” is not usually considered a bottom-line priority, and it may be more difficult to justify the expense/change management of investing in a new platform, especially since it involves cultural modification. As a result, some vendors in these categories are re-positioning as sales motivation or sales activity management solutions, rather than calling themselves gamification software. Moving forward, we expect to see more competition develop between inside sales vendors that focus on prospecting activities (emails, dialing, etc.) and sales performance management vendors that focus on analytics and motivation, since both types of tools track activity metrics and are geared towards making reps more productive. There may be increased feature overlap, acquisitions and mergers, or simply competition for budget share as these value propositions converge. Already, ToutApp and InsideSales.com are two examples of inside sales vendors that also offer gamification.

There are also vendors that offer sales performance management suites, spanning multiple areas of SPM functionality and including features I have not focused on in this post, such as territory mapping, goal tracking, sales playbooks, collaboration, etc. As the landscape matures, it will be interesting to see which categories and capabilities users consider to have the biggest impact on sales performance, and whether  point solutions or suite solutions gain more traction across sales organizations of different sizes.

Emily Sue Tomac
Emily Sue Tomac
Emily Sue Tomac is on the Research team at TrustRadius, where she covers Marketing, Sales, and other types of business software. Her writing aims to bring buyers, experts, vendors, and end-users into transparent conversation around product features, trends, and best practices. Her most recent project, a full report on How to Navigate the Sales Technology Landscape, is available to download for free.
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