CMO

The rise of sales-tech: What you need to know

Sales technology solutions may not be as big as adtech or martech today, but they're swifting becoming a key element of the business technology lumascape. Question is, can they finally build a bridge to close the marketing and sales gap?


It was while selling B2B services at Google in the US that Chris Rothstein and his colleagues first started to see how broken a sales process could be.

“We had such great people, yet they had so many things they had to do that weren’t really helping them sell,” Rothstein says. “They either had the choice of flying blind and not understanding what activities were driving what results, or spending a lot of time on all these things that didn’t help them sell and that they didn’t like to do.”

So Rothstein and his colleagues started building a data-driven solution that would remove the tedious tasks that got in the way of selling.

They subsequently left Google to found Groove, a company that strives to take inefficiencies out of sales processes.

Today Groove is one of a growing pantheon of sales technology solutions seeking to both drive efficiency while giving salespeople better access to knowledge about their customers. And one of its biggest clients happens to be Google.

While the sales-tech stack doesn’t yet rival that which has been built out for adtech and martech, it is catching up, thanks to a rush of technology-driven solutions hitting the sales industry. But can they finally help the sales and marketing teams actually get along?

The evolution of CRM

Many of these are built on top of the last great technology-driven revolution to hit the sale industry in the 2000s – CRM. Rothstein says Groove’s goal is to fix many of the problems that CRM has created.

“A lot of sales reps feel like they are working for the CRM, rather than the other way around,” he says. “It’s a tedious thing they get no benefit from, but management gets a nicer set of reports. It really shouldn’t be that way, it should be there to assist sales, and make them better as sales people.”

That the development of sales tech has lagged marketing and advertising most likely stems from its core processes having not significantly changed with the evolution of surrounding technologies. Whilst the emergence of online advertising provided a rich data set for analysis and manipulation, the activities of sales have relied on manual data entry, and have generally failed to capture the full picture.

Read more: 6 lessons in CRM project management: What brands would do differently next time

Read more: 10 signs your CRM system needs an overhaul

However, with artificial intelligence now able to capture and comprehend the content of emails – and even phone calls – analysable sales data sources have now emerged.

For Groove, the key is in integrating the communications element of sales by automatically capturing phone calls, emails and other communications that happens between a rep and their prospect or client. This data is then used to inform the sales person as to what is working, and advise them on what steps to take next.

“What we want to do is tie these things together so that your organisation can improve, and you can deliver more value to your clients,” Rothstein says. “And we are just at the cusp of that. There are so many interesting things we could help people with. We want to do exactly what happened in marketing automation, where we can be the one top shop for basically your system to run your sales team.”

Rothstein says the predominance of cloud-based solutions is also another important piece in the puzzle.

“They all have APIs, and you can connect them and make it so for the customer it is pretty much plug-and-play,” he says.

Changing buyer behaviour

Like many of the changes that have swept the sales and marketing industry in the last decade, that these tools are now necessary speaks to the changing expectations and behaviours of buyers generally.

According to owner of B2B sales and marketing consultancy Carpe Diem, Bruce Rasmussen, over the last there or five years buyers have changed how they buy, and many sales organisations have failed to keep up.

“Seventy per cent of the time, the customer roughly knows what they want, so all the salesperson can really do is beat off everybody else,” Rasmussen says. “That is the area of low win rate, high competition, and being perceived as a commodity.

“The research coming from the Corporate Executive Board is saying that sales success is coming down to the sales people that tell buyers what to do, rather than letting the buyers figure it out for themselves. So we say you have to engage earlier.”

Hence whereas once a single sales process might have been adequate, now three might be necessary.

“There is the process for when the customer is calm, and that is all about introducing an insight to shatter their status quo,” Rasmussen says. “But if they have already had their status quo shattered, now it is the solution-selling methodology, which is to highlight the pain and build a vision of the solution. If they have got through all of that then you have to run a competitive selling methodology.”

That places a strain on both sales and marketing organisations to gather the information about what mode the prospect or client is in, to determine the relevant insights, and then to create the relevant content and offers and track their effectiveness.

Hence the rush of new providers in areas such as social selling, sales engagement, customer relationship intelligence and sales performance management, content management, and many, many more.

And many are getting active in Australia.

Up next: What the new breed of technology players is promising, plus the rise of ABM and how it's shaking up sales and marketing relationships

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The new breed

In June this year, Accenture’s Cloud First Applications lead, Andy Pattinson, jumped ship to join San Diego-based content management startup, Seismic Software, as its managing director for Australia. As with many of these new sales tech solutions, Pattinson says Seismic’s ambition is to resolve the disconnect that exists in many organisations between sales and marketing.

“Marketing produces a lot of content, but sales then doesn’t know that content is available,” he says. “If they do send it out, marketing doesn’t know who they sent it to. And if it does end up in somebody’s email box, then did they actually open the content, did they browse it, and did they understand what it was?

Seismic’s solution is to manage the return-on-investment in content from cradle to grave, building on its founders’ experience in document creation technology to provide insight back to marketers while also giving the salesperson an AI-driven roadmap for what content to use for specific customers and at different times in their sales journey.

“Based on what the organisation considers important and useful, the AI will present the next best useful piece of content to the salesperson to send to their prospect or customer,” Pattinson says. “And it will do that based on whatever metrics are important to that business.

“We fundamentally enhance the marketing automation stack by providing much more detailed analytics around the level of engagement a customer has with the content and the process. And all of that information and data goes back into the CRM, so that you begin scoring the customer more effectively as well, and seeing what activities are being performed.”

Having been involved in hundreds of CRM implementations throughout his career, Pattinson says much of the interest in sales-tech now is driven by larger organisations that have invested in CRM and are now seeking additional efficiency gains from mature investments.

“Marketing automation tools will always talk about one-to-one marketing, but sending 10,000 pieces of the same piece of content out to 10,000 people isn’t one-to-one marketing,” he says. “They want to actually send out tailored, personalised content that has relevance to that individual.”

But while technology is making great strides on closing the gap between sales and marketing, it may not be the full solution. Specialist B2B sales consultant, Peter Strohkorb, has seen many instances of organisations implementing sales technology with little actual gain.

“CEOs are more comfortable buying another piece of technology rather than undertaking a cultural change management exercise,” Strohkorb says. “And for that reason they are looking for technology to deliver an overnight miracle, which is not realistic. And the vendors are not really helping with that.”

Bringing the marketing-sales communications gap

Strohkorb believes many of the issues that exist between sales and marketing arise not through a lack of technology-driven enablement, but through poor communications.

“That is not a problem that you solve with technology,” Strohkorb says. “There are a lot of organisations that put in Yammer and Slack, but then the CEOs complain they are not being used as a collaboration tool but as a corporate Facebook.

“What actually helps is if you create a dialogue and open up the channels of communication at the coalface and get the people that have that interaction actually involved in the conversation. Because anything that is imposed from the top will be resisted.”

One areas where technology has been breaking down barriers is through better enabling the concept of account-based marketing (ABM), where sales and marketing work together to better service a small number of larger accounts with more targeted content and processes.

“We used to call it customer-centric marketing, but it’s had a bit of a renaissance because the technology is now there to do it properly,” Strohkorb says. “But it still represents that cultural change management exercise, because it brings a multidisciplinary team together for a common purpose, in a small forum.”

But while it seems to be catching the attention of Australian organisations, ABM is not so easily achieved.

Nick Dennis joined Oracle when it acquired the marketing automation tool Eloqua, and now works as presales director for the Oracle Marketing Cloud in A/NZ. He says while many organisations have ambitions of adopting account-based marketing, aside from some large companies and those who were born in the cloud era, many are struggling to make the transition.

“Most of organisations have got problems and they just can’t do the things they know they should be able to do on a day-to-day basis, probably due to having legacy platforms and tools that maybe are on-premise and not cloud-based, or are not as flexible or usable as they should be,” Dennis says.

Dennis says the critical restriction many face is they simply are not capable of capturing the data needed to make ABM work.

“If you don’t have the data you cannot provide value to that prospect, and that is what ABM is about,” Dennis says. “It is about getting a relevant message in front of those accounts that is specifically tied to an individual account. And data profiling is a key thing you need to ensure you can effective in your execution.”

Not surprisingly, a clutch of technology vendors have sprung up to support ABM directly, such as Silicon Valley-based Engagio, which provide a base platform for ABM along with measurement and orchestration tools.

And it is not alone. While the Lumascape sales-tech chart does not yet rival those from adtech and martech, it is on its way. According to Rothstein, the proliferation of tools is starting to redesign the modern salesperson to be something of a mix between a scientist and a traditional sales rep.

“There is a lot of innovation, which is awesome, and the user is winning right now,” he says. “Just doing sales now compared to three years ago, the amount of different tools you have that can reduce all these tedious activities and allow you ultimately to be incredibly effective is just tremendous.

“If anything, there are so many solutions out there that a lot of buyers fatigue right now because they have too many point solutions.”

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