Yes, 2014 was a big technology year for sales teams. We saw the launch of Salesforce’s Analytics Cloud, HubSpot’s entrance into CRM, and a flurry of new startups trying to change the way selling and forecasting gets done. Venture capitalists invested over a quarter of a billion into the industry in 2014 because they know technology that makes sales teams better means big value.
To me, the variety of new companies is as interesting as the number. “Make sales teams better” seems so simple, but it can range from more accurate forecasting for executives to greater productivity for reps. We can aim the power of data science to scoring leads and opportunities or to automating meeting prep and best practice discovery. It’s all about knowing more so we can take action and sell more.
With variety comes noise, making it difficult to distinguish megatrends that stick from clever features that fade. In 2015, technology will absolutely change selling as we know it, so here are factors I believe will drive how the space evolves:
1. Context Is King
As sales professionals, we dance for a living. When a problem comes up, we have our instant checklist: is it early or late in the quarter? Does it affect my top customers? Is this a one-off or a trend? Context drives action. We’ve seen context-aware products, like Google Now and Siri, rise above the din, and sales solutions will learn from them. Like a longtime assistant, new tools will track the needs and rhythms of the sales people they serve.
A sales manager, for example, cannot possibly know every customer who has not gotten a call in three weeks. And most of the time, who cares? But if a rep has gone three weeks without calling a customer with a pending order big enough to make or break the quarter, the manager wants to know yesterday. Context matters.
Or consider a scene happening countless times every day: reps know they need to update the customer record after a meeting. For too many reps, this still means blocking a half day at the office trying to remember details and next steps. But the same GPS-based phone the rep used to drive to the customer can recognize when the meeting is over and sense the rep walking back to the car. What a great moment to display a few simple questions the rep can answer with a tap or swipe. The result? More accurate customer data, real-time insight for corporate, and happier reps with more time for selling.
Context-awareness means practical information at the moment it is valuable. It means sales managers and reps deal with less noise and make better decisions. In 2015, the breakout sales tools will learn how salespeople operate to personalize information, suggestions, and data requests.
2. Knowing Is Good, But Doing Is Better
In 2014, sales teams were thrilled to finally see visualization applied to their sales data with tools like Tableau, Birst, Good Data, and Domo. Great-looking charts and graphs, ready to drop into PowerPoint for reporting up the chain, made us feel more on top of our business. At the same time, mobile sales productivity tools like phone-based CRM input or a LinkedIn app made it faster and easier for reps to do what they already know how to do. Do you see the same gap I do? Data and visualization help us know more. Mobile productivity helps us do more. Linking analytics and mobile productivity is a marriage made in heaven.
Sales executives and reps alike need tools combining the insight of predictive analytics with the convenience of mobile productivity. The combination is a game changer and it will take off in the new year. In 2015, execs will make better decisions on how to apply resources, have better insight into which deals to pursue, and increase their confidence about what forecast they can confidently report to the Street. Reps will know which deals are are risk, which old customers are falling through the cracks, and what action taken immediately has the best chance to close a deal. Companies that don’t embrace both pieces of the puzzle will stumble.
3. Enter the Chief Revenue Officer
The VP of Sales drives business growth, so there’s good reason that s/he’ll get a “C” added to the title in the new year. But it won’t be empty title inflation. Think back to the shift in marketing over the last decade. Before Marketing Automation, VPs of Marketing used their trusted formula: this percent on advertising, that percent on sales tools, plus a small fortune for trade shows. No one knew what moved the needle, but those brochures sure looked great. Today, we can often track a dollar of revenue to the very mouse click that started the relationship. The VP of Marketing moved from big spender to strategic conductor. Say hello to the CMO.
We are in the early innings of this evolution in sales, but it won’t happen in just one year. Like the evolution of the CMO, it will evolve over the next decade. The sales exec will take on a new profile — he’ll be data driven more than a relationship guru.
Not long ago, the VP of Sales was seen mostly as the best sales person on the team, with added skills in rallying the troops. A great VP of Sales spent enormous time on airplanes and schmoozing top customers on the golf course or over a beer convincing them to open their wallets. As a sales guy who loves time with customers, I hope this never goes away completely, but data empowers the VP of Sales to shift from a pure art to analytical rigor. With new insights and data-manipulation skill, s/he can deliver breakthrough performance both this quarter and for the long-term. Next year, we’ll see more CROs take their seat at the head table.
Selling is changing, and data availability and analysis is the spark. In 2015, data and predictive analytics will make the good great, and the great even better.