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Guidelines for navigating the sales software market

Figuring out whether your organization needs sales force automation, sales enablement or sales forecasting tools can be challenging, and that's before factoring in AI.

With more than 600 software vendors to choose from, the sales software market can cause customers confusion about which products to license and how to navigate the growing, convoluted market.

The salestech industry features a variety of technologies, ranging from e-signature and scheduling software to autodialers. But amid this crowd of products, organizations can find it hard to find what they need for specific applications, whether they are for sales force automation (SFA), sales enablement, lead management or sales forecasting.

"Sometimes, there is confusion," said Tad Travis, Gartner analyst. "We are seeing an overlap and redundancy from companies that purchase sales force automation tools and then realize they need sales enablement tools."

While software tools like autodialers and e-signatures are clearly defined, products in the other spaces are broader and can create overlap. Those potential redundancies in the sales software market can lead to bloated salestech budgets and lessen ROI, analysts said.

"We see a lot of companies get to a spot where they find that the tools they've purchased aren't great at getting sales reps to sell more effectively," Travis said. "We also see some clients that have anywhere from 60 to 100 different tools in the hands of sellers."

'We have to produce an ROI'

While the reported number of vendors isn't as robust as the martech industry and its 6,000-plus vendors, navigating the sales software market is still a priority for organizations and one that is still more closely tied to ROI than is marketing, according to executives with experience licensing salestech tools.

We see a lot of companies get to a spot where they find that the tools they've purchased aren't great at getting sales reps to sell more effectively.
Tad TravisAnalyst, Gartner

For MarketSource Inc., which helps B2B and B2C organizations find the right markets to sell into, ROI is a driving factor when it looks at salestech software.

"For an outsourced sales organization, we have to produce an ROI," said Damon Joshua, SVP of commercial business at MarketSource.

About three years ago, MarketSource entered the sales software market to find tools to produce better ROI and make the selling process more efficient. After attending conferences and talking to vendors, the company settled on AI sales platform vendor InsideSales.

"We already had a dialer application, so we were looking for something more than that," Joshua said. "This was an overlay to our existing technology that allowed us to be a little more effective."

But working through those redundancies is sometimes difficult in the sales software market.

"It'd be great if sales force automation tools were really great at helping sales reps manage their day-to-day processes," Travis said. "But for the most part, they haven't done that. That's why organizations then license sales enablement tools to get closer to that day-to-day management."

Adding salestech to CRM

Meanwhile, CRM software vendors are realizing that their core products may not be enough to satisfy the needs of sales departments with different demands and industry-specific challenges. It's one of the main selling points for CRM giant Salesforce and its robust AppExchange, which has a bevy of third-party tools for sales, marketing and service that Salesforce users can license.

"The native Salesforce tool helps with tracking metrics and data, but it's not a tool that sales leaders or reps want to use day to day," said Jake Randall, VP of business operations for Okta, an identity management software vendor. Okta uses Salesforce as its CRM but also has licensed other salestech software, including AI sales vendor Clari. "When it came to automating how our sales team works, that's when we drifted away from Salesforce."

Vendors welcome third-party software applications that plug into this abundance of tools and applications, and it's also the way most organizations want to work, according to analysts.

But licensing the wrong salestech product can make management hesitant the next time a new sales application is warranted.

"A lot of companies are trying to rationalize their salestech stacks," Travis said. "They acquired too many tools and have overlapping capabilities, or more significantly, they know they've spent a lot of money and it's time to cut back."

Travis said that, of organizations surveyed by Gartner, roughly 15% of all sales software spending will be on sales enablement technology by 2021, up from less than 9% in 2016.

Adding salestech from the top

When deciding whether to license a new salestech product, organizations have taken a top-down approach by including executives, management and the reps that will be using the software tools in the decision-making, roughly in that order.

Stefano Magliole is marketing manager at Gruppo De Pasquale, a Milan, Italy-based back-office consultancy.

The firm licensed business process automation and CRM vendor Bpm'online more than two years ago to complement the organization's sales team. When Magliole sought out a new application to help the organization, he involved all levels of the organization.

"All our information was in silos, and spreading the information around was very basic," Magliole said, adding he was looking for a better way of connecting disparate sales teams, leading him to Bpm'online. "I went to the CEO to get him on board, and before doing that, I needed to give him a solution and an idea of what we were doing."

After meeting with the CEO, Magliole then went to the sales manager and, finally, end users.

"For the users, the interface was important," Magliole said. "You don't want to have people working on something you don't like."

Adding AI to the salestech stack

While searching through the sales software market and figuring out the differences among SFA, sales forecasting and sales enablement tools can be tricky, the relatively recent influx of AI and the overpromotion that sometimes comes with it also can be challenging.

"AI, in its various forms, is going to change all elements of the salestech landscape," Travis said. "Sales enablement, specifically, will use machine learning algorithms to analyze how content is being used and improve quality of content recommendations."

Sales tools will benefit from AI, but some software buyers want to see the technology mature.
While the sales software market is difficult to navigate, an AI influx could help sales reps sort out their workflow and reduce the need for many sales tools.

Organizations are also moving at different speeds in deciding how to use AI in their salestech stacks.

Magliole said that Gruppo De Pasquale has yet to look much into AI, while Randall at Okta said that some of Clari's AI capabilities have already helped Okta scale as it grows. Joshua at MarketSource said he is watching the AI space closely but wants to see the technology mature.

"AI is the best buzzword going in sales," Joshua said. "Vendors are putting AI in every piece of marketing material that they can, but AI to me, as it relates to sales, is still in its infancy stage."

At Okta, Randall said that using AI to enhance sales software tools has its advantages, as long as you're not looking to replace your sales team.

"Some tools that tout AI have this view that you don't need people," Randall said. "That's not the case."

No matter if it's AI or sales enablement your organization is looking to add, the most important consideration to adding a new application to your salestech stack is how it makes your company more successful and your data more useful.

"I don't think that the tools are the commodity," Randall said. "But being able to leverage your company's proprietary data and improve your employees work is a commodity."

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