Sales Management Tools and Trends to Watch

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It's possible to be a salesperson today and work from lead to close using technology to accelerate and guide processes. An algorithm pushes out the lead most likely to close. Collaboration materials standardize the pitch. Coaching tools encourage adoption of standardized processes. Compensation is tied to specific company goals. For the sales manager, this translates into more data to glean insights about the team, and more ways to influence them.

Most companies, however, aren’t there yet. Team members may share presentations informally. Spreadsheets stand in for compensation tools. Coaching is done haphazardly. Scrolling through LinkedIn to research prospects stands in for predictive analytics. "Our research shows that salespeople are behind the curve in adopting technology," relays Bob Kelly, chairman of the Sales Management Organization. But there are solutions. For those who are unhappy with their technology status quo, there are plenty of companies promising to transform sales through technology.

Sales Performance Management

"The vast majority of companies are still using spreadsheets to do compensation management," explains Jim Dickie, managing partner of CSO Insights, a sales-focused research firm. Incentive compensation management is about "moving out of shadow accounting, where people use Excel for sales performance management."

At its most basic level, incentive compensation management (ICM) helps companies make complicated calculations about commissions accurately. Companies are often shy about sharing just how bad things were before implementing an ICM system, but it wouldn't be unusual for a business to have single-digit decreases in its commission payouts after an implementation. Salespeople are quick to file grievances when they're underpaid, but tend to let overpayments slide, making tight controls a boon to a company's bottom line.

ICM solutions also make it easier to target commissions to goals, such as paying someone on margin instead of order size. That way, the salesperson's payouts are more closely aligned with the company's goal of maximizing profits. With ICM, compensation can also be pegged to achieving difficult tasks, such as bringing on a new client.

Xactly, an ICM software company, has focused exclusively on this area, and it's particularly successful in the midsize market, according to Gartner Research Director Patrick Stakenas. Other companies offer more of a suite solution. The Callidus Sales Cloud, for example, offers products that address all of the elements in the sales performance management space and about half of the elements in the sales effectiveness space, Stakenas estimates. Under the larger umbrella of sales performance management, he puts CallidusCloud, Synygy, IBM, and Xactly in the top category of Gartner's Magic Quadrant, indicating that these companies are leaders in their ability to execute and their completeness of vision.

In addition to ICM's solid benefits in accounting, most solutions help reduce the amount of time salespeople spend calculating their commission or filing disputes over their quarterly bonuses. But "that's not why most companies buy ICM these days," Stakenas says. "Yes, they want an efficient way to do it, but they also want to use data to set up territories and...quotas efficiently. They want to use this during the appraisal process to track a sales rep, week to week, month to month, not during a once-a-year, pass/fail review. That's where the coaching comes in."

Much has been said about gamification, but when it comes to the sales world, competition is just business as usual. Scott Eidle, Savo's director of product marketing, who spent years as a sales rep, offers a note of caution regarding the current hype surrounding gamification. "Sales teams are competitive by nature. Your best-run sales teams were doing that before they had gamification, he says, referring to the setting up of analog sales contests and leaderboards to track sales. He concedes that gamification could be helpful for corporations trying to stoke a lackluster sales force, but that ultimately the competitiveness of a sales team "goes hand-in-hand with the corporate culture."

Where gamification gets interesting for sales is when software can tie that to coaching and skills instead of just meeting quotas. "When you want to get salespeople to take their medicine, that's where the gamification comes in," notes Giles House, chief marketing officer at CallidusCloud. One of its products, sales performance management (SPM), enables managers to graphically monitor their team's performance and provide suggestions for targeted coaching sessions. "As you complete your coaching examples, you'll get rewarded points, which will affect your position on the leaderboard," House describes. One of Callidus' customers created 800 coaching reports in six months. It upped the performance of its salespeople, leading to a 10 percent increase in gross profits.

Another Callidus Sales Cloud product, MySalesGame, offers a gamified experience from start to finish, awarding points for different stages of a deal as well as points and badges for users' learning activities. It

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