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Sales Productivity: The Quick Guide to Sales Technology You Can Buy with Your Credit Card

The sales technology market is growing at breakneck pace. At last years Sales 2.0 conference, it was estimated that there are over 2000 Sales 2.0 solutions on the market. If you don’t believe those estimates, then look at the number of sales solutions listed on the Salesforce.com AppExchange. I counted 746 applications as of August 7, 2013.

There are a number of reasons for this growth:

1. Applications are solving real problems in the sales process – It can be argued that CRM applications were originally built for senior management to track and report on the activities of their sales team. There was little regard for the day-to-day life of the individual sales rep. Sales expert Dave Brock once told me: “Executives are the decision makers for a CRM purchase so the application was really built to serve them, not the individual contributors.” Sales reps viewed using their SFA as a necessary evil. Now, sales applications are being designed and built for individual sales rep productivity and solve very specific pain points that sales reps face in the sales process.

2. Applications are easy to use – Sales people don’t like any added complexity in their lives. If they can’t get an application to work simply and easily, they just walk away. As a result, many of the vendors in the space have created applications that are designed for simplicity and ease of use which in turn, leads to wider adoption.

3. Applications are integrated with CRM and email applications – The simple rule with sales people is “more clicks, less adoption”. Successful applications today tie directly to the most frequently used systems by sales reps – their CRM and/or email. As a matter of fact, Google Apps has helped lead this transformation. Smart entrepreneurs realize that sales people spend more time in their email application than their CRM. Google Apps is much easier platform for applications to integrate with and a result, many applications are being built to allow sales reps to do what they want to do and work out of their email without having to toggle back and forth.

4. Applications can be bought by credit card – Most cloud-based sales automation is affordable for the individual sales rep to purchase the solution themselves. The BYOD (bring your own device) movement has spread to the sales technology market. If management doesn’t want to invest, individual sales reps can buy it themselves.

The goal of technology is to free up sales peoples’ time to do what they do best – sell.  CSO Insights reports that sales reps only spend 37% of their time actually selling. The other time is spent in meetings/administrative tasks (13.7%), post sale tasks such as order processing and account management (18.4%), and researching and generating leads (19%). When determining what sales technology to implement, focus in on efficiency and improving the time to sell ratio.

Sales 2.0

The focus of this post is on tools and applications that the individual sales rep can buy, implement, and use themselves. I narrowed the number of applications down to those that address the core, common functions of the modern sales rep’s process. I purposely did not include CRM applications in this post. Of course, an individual can easily download a cloud-based CRM application, but on the whole, CRM is typically still a group decision.  

In order to provide some structure, I grouped the applications into four categories that represent the typical individual contributor’s sales process:

  1. Researching
  2. Prospecting  
  3. Content delivery
  4. Closing

Researching

Sales people have a number of options for prospect data.  The industry has advanced rapidly from phone books and rented lists to providing real-time demographic data such as names, phone numbers, and emails to intelligence such as up-to-date social data.

List building

The internet has made self-discovery of potential sales leads easier than ever. There are a number of applications that crowdsource lists of business contacts with full contact information. Sales reps can immediately download contacts based on target demographic parameters and begin pursuing them. There are three commonly used vendors in this space: Data.com, Netprospex, and ZoomInfo.

List building with sales intelligence

There is a new category of information provider that can provide both names and sales intelligence attached to that particular contact. Sales reps can see current, relevant data on their target prospects that allows them to craft their messaging more effectively. The data is often a mash-up of social and news sources providing a singular view into the contact. As the days of blindly “smiling and dialing” wane, sales reps want up-to-date, relevant data they can use to get the buyer’s attention. Another application of sales insight is to use these applications to track potential prospects, monitor them, and then reach out when relevant news or information warrants it. For example, a sales rep might call on companies who recently announced they are moving locations or are launching a new product. The applications to consider in this space are InsideViewOneSourceHoovers for the enterprise and Radius Intelligence for the SMB.

Sales intelligence applications

There are also a number of new applications focused solely on sales intelligence and trigger events. The sales person can track particular contacts or organizations and reach out when recent events warrant it. Applications in this space include: Nimble (follows all social interactions), HootSuite and Newsle (social monitoring), LinkedIn, and SalesLoft (job changes). NeedTagger and Socedo are two new startups that are focused on Twitter.

Prospecting

There are two critical channels for every sales person: phone and email. The third emerging channel for outreach is social.  For this post, we will focus on email and social.

Sales email solutions

Sales people live in their email application and it’s with good reason, email is one of their most important tools for attracting hard-to-reach prospects. While sales people can communicate with their prospects and customers using standard email applications, there are solutions that make email more effective and efficient. Here are some key reasons these solutions are critical:

  • Tracking opens – Sales email solutions can track opens and clicks and immediately alert sales people.  This real-time information allows sales to immediately follow up with prospects as they open their email or look at the content they have sent.  With standard email applications, prospects and customers open emails and sales never has that data.
  • Email templates – Sales people often spend too much time writing emails.  And those sales people who use templates continually use the same ones repeatedly with little or no modification and unfortunately, no relevancy.  Email templates improve productivity and effectiveness by allowing sales people to easily find and send relevant, optimized email templates.
  • Template tracking – Sales email applications track the effectiveness of these templates so sales reps know which ones work and can work to optimize those that don’t.
  • CRM integration – Email history rarely makes it into the CRM application because sales folks have to copy/paste or click between screens to transfer the information. Most applications today integrate with CRM applications to enter the activity data on their behalf.

The solutions to evaluate in this category are ToutApp, YesWare, and Contact Monkey. ClearSlide and Fileboard are applications that not only report on whether a prospect opened the email but what slides/pages they looked at in the process.

Social outreach solutions

For many markets, social has become an extremely effective third channel for communication. If you plan to add social to your mix of channels to interact with customers, then start with LinkedIn where the vast majority of b2b activity happens. Data and anecdotal evidence is showing that InMail is a becoming an increasingly viable means for reaching prospects and customers. In the InsideSales.com-Hubspot ebook, they refer to some pretty compelling data:  “You can take an email and cut and paste it into a LinkedIn message and the LinkedIn message will outperform the email with 7x response.  Even further, if you send the message by InMail, you’ll get a 33x increase in response.” InMail is messaging to people you are not connected with. As you begin to use InMail more frequently, you will have to upgrade to paid licenses because there are limits on the amount you can send. LinkedIn users have unlimited free messaging to their connections which is why it is imperative for sales reps to be routinely connecting with prospects and customers. Another interesting application for social outreach is LeadRocket. LeadRocket allows sales reps to track link opens from their social messages. For example, if a sales person sends an InMail to a prospect, they will be able to track whether the link has been opened or not.

Appointment scheduling solutions

Another waste of time for sales people is the process of scheduling appointments with their prospects or clients. The process typically involves a lot of back-and-forth between the prospect and the sales person as well as a lot of clicking between applications to find the right date and time. TimeTrade is the leader in the appointment scheduling solutions market. It allows sales reps to provide links to their calendars so prospects and customers can view the sales rep’s calendar and schedule time. Another solution was discovered by blogger Aaron Diek who figured out a Google Calendar hack that allows sales people to send a Google Calendar link to their targets who can then schedule time that works for them and synch it with their own calendars. Finally, ToutApp has a calendar scheduling feature in their email application where sales people can easily click on their calendar and insert open appointment times into their emails.

Content Delivery

Live web presentation solutions

The next stage in the selling cycle is typically the presentation or the demo. There a lot of web conferencing choices on the market. These applications allow sales people to virtually present content to their prospects. The incumbent vendors such as Citrix Go2Meeting and WebEx have been in the space for awhile and are still great web conferencing solutions. The next level of vendors to consider have created solutions that don’t require attendees to download an application to view the presentation. The sales person can send a URL and the viewer/guest can open the application directly in their web browser. Examples of vendors that provide this functionality are GlanceiMeet, and Join.MeClearSlide and Fileboard don’t require downloads either and also provide reporting on critical metrics such as which presentations are most popular or are leading to more closed business.

Content sharing solutions

In the old days, sales people shared content by attaching a pdf or a link. Content is the one of the most important tools to today’s sales rep and a number of exciting new applications provide sales with the ability to present content in a compelling and engaging way. There are a number of applications that allow sales to create their own microsites for their prospects to consume content. Instead of attaching content to email, the sales rep sends their prospects or customers to a microsite that contains written content, website URLs, video, powerpoint, etc. The applications then provide data back to the sales rep on what was consumed. Applications in this space include: BrainsharkHandshakez and Postwire.

There are applications that allow sales people to combine personalized voice and visual content to send to prospects and customers. StoryQuest allows you to add personalized voice recordings to a digital postcard containing your content. PointAcross allows you to send a powerpoint presentation with voice-over recording. 9Slides allows you to connect a video recording to your presentation to send to your prospects. Clearslide and Fileboard also fall into the content sharing application space.

Closing

The CSO Insights data presented earlier in this post showed that post close administrative tasks take up 18.4% of a sales person’s time. A large bulk of this time is spent of document creation, sharing, fax machines, and signatures. Technology exists today that helps lessen the administrative burden during the “last mile” and allows sales reps to close deals faster and painlessly.

Quote and proposal creation

The process of creating a proposal and quote can be extremely burdensome for many sales people. Thankfully, there are CPQ (contract, pricing, and quoting) applications that take the quoting process down to minutes instead of hours. These tools typically integrate seamlessly into CRM systems and allow sales people to enter information into a quote template. The vendors in the quoting and proposal space to evaluate are QuoteRoller, CallidusCloud, QuoteQuickly, and iQuoteExpress. In some cases, the process of creating a quote is not the problem, but the back-and-forth of contract management is slowing down the sales cycle. Glider is a new application designed specifically to manage the sales contract management process.

E-Signature

One of the biggest breakthroughs for sales people is e-signature. I personally remember the days of sending a fax, making sure my customer received the fax, waiting by the fax machine for the return fax and then bugging my customer if I still hadn’t seen it. E-signatures allow people to sign documents on their computer or mobile device. Once they sign the document, e-signature applications automatically forward the documents for the next signature. Basically, the signature process has been moved online and as a result, solved significant pain in the paperwork process. There are two main vendors in the space are DocuSign and Adobe EchoSign.

LinkedIn

Besides CRM, LinkedIn maybe sales reps’ most important application and as a result, it warranted it’s own section in this post. Every sales person should have two monitors on their desk. One monitor with their CRM and one with LinkedIn. We will provide an in depth look on LinkedIn tactics in an upcoming blog post. In the meantime, here are six things every sales rep should be doing right now on LinkedIN:

  1. Build and maintain a compelling profile – You will find a thorough, detailed blueprint for creating your LinkedIn profile on this post from Gerry Moran. Your profile is critical as many buyers will view your profile before they view your website.  Nathan Kienman at the recent Sales 2.0 conference in San Francisco: “80% of my prospects never looked at my website; they look at my LinkedIn profile instead.”
  2. Monitor visitors to your profile – LinkedIn allows you to see who has viewed your profile. The anonymous nature of today’s buyer makes it very difficult for sales people to know where they stand. LinkedIn provides sales with the data they need to make better decisions on who has signaled some interest and as a result, who to call next.
  3. Connect with people and join relevant groups – We won’t spend much time on this topic, but sales people should connect with anyone they have had a two-way meaningful interaction with. The bigger the network, the more powerful LinkedIn can be for the user.
  4. InMail and Messaging – See information provided earlier in the post.
  5. Monitor people and companies – Earlier in this post, we discussed sales insights applications. Most sales reps can most of their intelligence from LinkedIn by following, monitoring, and researching people and companies.
  6. Sharing content in their status updates – Sales can stay in front of their prospects without calling or emailing them by sharing compelling, relevant content in status updates. At a minimum, a sales person will be in the ‘hearts and minds” of their prospects or customers but an event better outcome is if one or more of their potential buyers give their content a “thumbs up” or share it.

This list of vendors is by no means exhaustive. Please let us know if there are any applications you personally recommend in the comments below. 

Special thanks to Miles Austin and Nancy Nardin for their recommendations.

Craig Rosenberg is a co-founder of TOPO and the author of the sales and marketing blog Funnelholic. He loves sales, marketing, and things that drive revenue. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter.

 

  • Craig, Thanks for the @ClearSlide mention!

  • Chris Snell

    Damn, this is quite a list…Good stuff.

  • Celina Guerrero

    I am familiar with many of these apps, (and used a few) but to see these options within the context of each step of sales process is very insightful and helpful. And for SMBs, this is an excellent resource that shows sales technology isn’t just for the big boys. Thank you.

    • Thanks for the feedback Celina…it’s good to know someone is out there listening!

  • Karim Hafez

    Craig you make great points and recommend many of the best applications in the market, many of which my team utilizes. The best sales people I have encountered practice their trade within the confines of a few applications to mitigate complexity. We tend to forget how difficult it actually is to close a sale. I would claim that now more than ever “content” is imperative in each of the stages you list above. However, I do find it peculiar that many of these apps are a piece of a much larger puzzle, but tout actionable data as their differentiator.

    Having one source of the truth is imperative for sustainability. In most organization’s that sell a value product that source should be the CRM. A business problem is unearthed when not going through the proper channels to adopt/deploy these applications. Organizations end up with desperate systems and dirty/fragmented data that can no longer be trusted, which is ultimately the demise of most of the applications listed in your article. The term Big Data is thrown around like a rag doll, but the buzz word is creating a space that masks the real problem. Organizations from the onset fail to create a process to balance the diligence required to evaluate a system’s fit coupled with the time required to architect the right way. When done right in a mere 4-6 months an engine to provide sales the leads they need to fill their funnel perpetually can be built. I want to be clear that you have to always add fuel to this engine and the fuel is the content. But, we are a society of impatiently wanting complete customization while expecting everything to be out of the box….Oxymoronic!

    Ask Coca-Cola why they paid Accenture millions to first integrate their legacy systems to SAP instead of migrating cold turkey. Don’t forget the two years of planning that went in prior to anything happening. When sales goes on this credit card spending spree pandora’s box of adding band-aid applications is opened.

    • Celina Guerrero

      If I may, Nimble (like Salesforce) is really a CRM which provides a hub and I can choose which apps to integrate with it based on my business needs. http://www.nimble.com/marketplace/ Choice and customization doesn’t have to mean fragmentation. It can instead provide adaptability as your business needs change.

  • Scott Miller

    Hi Craig – This is a great list. I would love to show you how Social123 is helping sales and marketers be more effective.

    • Absolutely, I have heard a lot about you. You can reach me at Craig AT topohq DOTCOM. Reach out!

  • PeterKenneth24

    Outstanding post!! Your posts are really worth reading!!

    http://vpmarketingondemand.com

  • Another great app for List Building with Sales Intelligence is Prospect Ace, it’s a Google Chrome plug-in that helps you find verified email addresses and demographic information from social profiles like LinkedIn. They don’t even need to be a connecting. Great for targeted list building. Link here: http://www.autopilothq.com/prospectace

  • I’d shamelessly add Mimiran (http:/www.mimiran.com) for CPQ + Proposals.

  • Earline Worsley1

    my company was requiring a form last year and located a business with lots of form templates . If others require it as well , here’s http://goo.gl/8tbzzv

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