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Vision 2015: The Selling of Sales Acceleration

04/23/2015 06:50 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015

Sales acceleration technology -- catalyst to the burgeoning sales revolution

The growing power of data collection and predictive analytics makes the technology behind sales acceleration the greatest tsunami impacting business today.

If you Googled the term "Sales Acceleration" back in 1999, you would have received less than 15 results. Today, there are more than 3 million. In fact, investments for sales acceleration technologies now exceed $1.2 billion, including more than $40 million of funding made within the past two months. "It's like nothing that salespeople have ever seen," says Jim Lundy, founder and CEO of Aragon Research.

According to the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD), U.S. companies spend nearly $20 billion a year on sales training alone, making it imperative that the technology created does better at helping sales understand the buyer's journey. "There is a need to empower sales teams with new business applications so they can interact cleanly and succinctly, with both clients and prospects...there is an unstoppable need for this and the industry is only going to get hotter," said Lundy.

Product development will continue to be advanced by the ongoing evolution of sales acceleration platforms; data-driven insight and predictive analytics technology are now pre-eminent and causing entire industries to move towards an accelerated sales economy.

Sales Acceleration: Executing a monumental shift in thinking

In the movie, "Moneyball," Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) tells one of his players, "I pay you to get on to first base, not get thrown out at second." This simple, radical change in thinking is similar to what sales organizations have recently discovered as the tipping point to transforming the way in which their sales staff approach customers and close the deal, despite major Hollywood movies [think Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) from the "Wolf of Wall Street" or Blake (Alec Baldwin) in "Glengarry Glen Ross"] suggesting otherwise.

A more comprehensive systemic approach to addressing customer's problems is setting the stage for companies that want to surpass their competition in today's competitive and data-driven ecosystem. The strategic opportunity for sales acceleration is to lead the intersection between marketing and sales operations. "Ironically, what's not being tracked in the discourse includes the hidden cost facing companies that aren't linking their sales acceleration to the larger pool of assets contributing to this industry," said Scott Santucci, analyst at Forrester Research.

For example, Marketing, IT and Human Resources are all attempting to provide assistance to sales in the aggregate, but these well-intentioned investments appear only as random acts of sales support. Santucci adds, "What we found, based on a study of 50 public companies, was that these random acts of sales support added up to 15.9 percent of their SG&A (selling, general and administrative) expenses. "As large as the amount is, fewer than 20 percent of those companies actually had a strategic approach to allocating those resources to investments that had a measurable contribution to revenue growth. When you look at all of the money invested to accelerate sales, the total market is well over $300 billion, yet only a fraction of that investment is directly contributing to growing the top line. Our clients who have invested the time and energy to wring out these gross inefficiencies are not only growing faster than their peers, but also becoming more profitable as well."

State of the art sales acceleration and collaboration technology is the linchpin behind this new sales approach. It increases ROI and equips all client-facing employees with the ability to consistently and systematically pursue a valuable conversation with the right set of customer stakeholders at each stage of the customer's problem-solving life cycle. This approach optimizes the return on investment of the selling system. "Previously, marketing automation did a fantastic job of bringing more science to marketing teams than they ever had before, enabling marketers to get rigorous in how they generated leads and interacted with sales teams," said Nick Hedges, CEO of Velocify, a provider of cloud-based intelligent sales automation for high-velocity selling environments. "But once that lead is handed over to the sales team, marketing automation pretty much ends. Now it is sales turn. The advent of today's sales acceleration technology is the logical progression of the marketing automation industry. This is now a massive industry and is the biggest technological disruption to hit the sales profession in the past 100 years," added Hedges.

ROI on Sales Acceleration

For greater revenue generation, many midsized to enterprise-level businesses deploy Sales Acceleration platforms. In fact, rollouts of Sales Acceleration platforms are quickly growing due to the increased ability to measure and track the impact of hosted acceleration solutions on ROI. Previously immeasurable data, like location, proximity, and social sentiment, can now be captured via mobile devices and tablets, enabling management to evaluate sales performance at a more granular level than ever before -- i.e. the number of calls made, the length of those conversations, the number of connections made, etc.

Those who recognize the value of this new data, want to use it to improve sales effectiveness. These early adopters are looking to the burgeoning sales acceleration space to deliver a competitive advantage. Early adopters of sales acceleration platforms consistently experience the following payoffs across their direct and indirect sales teams, including:

  1. Improved win rate
  2. Reduced sales cycle length
  3. Increased quota attainment
  4. Increased number of opportunities

"Our customers tell us all the time they're having more review and update meetings with their existing customers and because of that they are experiencing lower churn and greater upsell opportunities," said Doug Winter, CEO and founder of Seismic, a sales acceleration solution that delivers content in context. "When we started Seismic four years ago, we identified problems in the sales cycle and created a technology to solve those problems without realizing we were helping to define a new category. We're now at the beginning of this wave. It's now why the venture world has caught on to sales acceleration and why new companies will undoubtedly enter the market," said Winter.

Other benefits to companies that implement sales acceleration as part of their strategy include the creation of certification programs. High-performing reps exceeding quota were 14 percent more likely to work for a company with a certification program, according to SiriusDecisions.

While the biggest payoff of sales acceleration comes with greater revenue generation, other core benefits from hosted sales acceleration platforms include:

  • Fewer printed documents and/or unused files
  • Greater self-service efficiency across all sales channels
  • Better audit activities -- reduce overlap and identify gaps
  • Increased collaboration and coordination between marketing and sales

"Those companies in the sales acceleration space are able to deploy the money invested effectively and it's one of the principal reasons why this industry is able to create very attractive returns for investors," said Josh Stein, partner at DFJ Venture. "Mobile is also pushing to create a new set of sales acceleration technologies, and it's one of the reasons why we've taken such an interest."

Marketers not getting Sales Acceleration, risk hurting company revenues

The mid-2000s marked a major evolution in marketing automation with the emergence of next-generation vendors, including HubSpot, Marketo and Eloqua. Since then, marketers have begun playing a larger role in the revenue process using scalable platforms and providing buyers with personalized conversations on their own timeline.

Today, some marketing automation platforms use a SaaS model, which allows marketers to access the tools in-browser with little to no IT support. Marketers have benefited from the rapid change in automated technology; however, they've still fallen short in their capacity to assist sales.

  • A jarring HubSpot report indicated that 76 percent of content marketers still forget about sales acceleration.
  • A SiriusDecisions report found that up to 70 percent of marketing content is never used by sales teams.
  • HubSpot's 2013 State of Inbound Marketing report found only 24 percent of marketers surveyed had a defined lead handoff agreement with its sales teams.

B2B marketing writer and speaker Tony Zambito posited that marketers concentrate on the tactics of demand generation too narrowly and their efforts only address half of the buyer's story, which includes sales interaction. As such, marketers are not doing a sufficient job at understanding buying scenarios, hurting their ability at collaborating with sales.

Content marketers, copywriters, HR personnel, IT and administration that don't understand the process that follows a lead conversion are less inclined to provide salespeople with the tools they need further down the sales funnel. Failing to raise awareness with sales teams regarding the high-quality content generated by marketing continues to be a common breakdown in communication between marketing and sales. In order for sales to achieve a greater measure of influence with their customers and prospects, developing greater alignment between marketing and sales is imperative.

Sales Acceleration platforms help to manage buying cycles by making the appropriate content available and enabling sales to furnish the right content for their customer's needs. "Recently, we were able to provide one of our newest customers' sales staff with the ability to generate a sales presentation that automatically pulled relevant case studies based on qualifying information housed in Salesforce. The result is a marketing team that no longer has to maintain a 2,000-slide database and a sales team that is always telling the right message," said Winter.

Sales acceleration provides the feedback loop for marketers looking to provide better and more useful content to their sales teams. "As businesses keep getting more complex, the coordination between the functions of people and business processes must get tighter. The need for real time data takes on greater importance. It's why technology is increasingly penetrating the sales cycle, " said Stein.

Sales Acceleration Case Studies: Taking advantage of new technologies

Velocify

David Williams, four-year veteran Allstate agent, started his own personal financial agency in Rochester, N.Y., with zero customer base. Starting with one full-time employee, within six months, Williams was able to grow his business to become the No. 1 Allstate agency in New York, and eventually grow his business to five locations and twenty employees. "We adopted Velocify about three months in and it's been a key process to our success story," said Williams. "Accelerating speed-to-contact is critical when you're working a lead and I've always believed that the first person to get to the lead will have the greatest success."

Williams found Velocify's rapid prospect response and selling speed as instrumental in driving speed-to-contact. "Up to 50 percent increase in sales due to the added productivity using the Velocify platform. We saw a dramatic increase in our contact rates and the amount of people we're able to engage with on a day-to-day basis."

NewVoiceMedia

Founded in 2012, Platform Black specializes in invoice trading and supply chain finance. As a key player in the fast-emerging alternative finance marketplace, Platform Black offers solutions for businesses with turnovers ranging from $800,000 to more than $1.5 billion. In order to meet the company's ambition for providing consistent quality customer service and sales support, Platform Black realized it needed a solution that would help improve and increase the speed of call responses.

By using the NewVoiceMedia system, Platform Black accelerated the sales process with real-time reporting. Having that ability provided Platform Black with the visibility it needed to better understand call rates, lengths and timing. "At the end of every week, we track the key performance indicators and it tells us what our team is spending its time on and whether it is generating the correct results," said Lucinda Anderson, marketing manager at Platform Black. "Moreover, with NewVoiceMedia's ContactWorld, Platform Black was able make changes to call plans, routing and reporting, enabling the company to quickly and easily refine and customize the system as required."

Seismic

FORTUNE listed MassMutual Financial Group (founded in 1851) as one of the most admired life and health insurance companies in the world in 2013. Recently, MassMutual's executive Worksite Insurance Division was required to create its Employer Planning Guide using a 10-page Word document consisting of multiple complex tables. "The process took an average of three to four hours for each presentation," said Amanda Ramsey, a marketing consultant for the insurer. "I knew there had to be a better way."

After a smooth launch of Seismic in February 2013, the software successfully reduced guide production time by about 85 percent. "The time required to create a Guide dropped to under half an hour," said Ramsey. "Our account managers loved it. With Seismic, we can give salespeople flexibility while still retaining control and ensuring output of consistent, quality material that is compliance-department approved."

Takeaways - Accelerating the sales cycle

2014 saw massive infusions of venture capital funding into sales acceleration technologies, helping to close the sales automation gap. 2015 will only see the competition intensify. Companies will need to restructure their internal organization and align departments in support of customers, as they integrate sales acceleration platforms that will assist reps in facilitating better conversations and constructing real value for customers.

In today's highly competitive markets, companies that do not invest in the advancements brought about by sales acceleration platforms risk jeopardizing the following benefits:

  • Shortening the sales cycle
  • Freeing sales from more standardized training, (i.e. having sales make X amount of calls or speak to X number of customers)
  • Identifying and orchestrating the best contact strategy across the entire sales organization
  • Speeding up ramp time for new sales reps
  • Boosting revenue

In a 2014 Adobe study of more than 1,000 business-to-business sales and marketing executives across the U.S., U.K., Germany and France, less than 30 percent of companies actually implement sales acceleration solutions that allow teams to adapt to this technological evolution. Companies that don't make the effort to educate themselves on the transformative nature of sales acceleration solutions will only hurt their sales staff's ability to close more deals.

Sales acceleration remains the last frontier in business automation. It is the final piece of a comprehensive automated strategy, inclusive of marketing, human resources and customer acquisition. "If CRM is a $20 billion industry, I believe sales acceleration, in and of itself, can be an even bigger industry, which is why you're seeing so many VCs pouring money into this. Marketing automation was the tip of the iceberg and sales acceleration will be the radical and significant wave that is going to crest over the top of sales and transform it forever," said Hedges. "These are transformative technologies and there isn't a sales team on the planet that shouldn't be considering how they implement sales acceleration technology in their organization."

Adopting sales acceleration technologies allows companies to generate increased profits because the flow of information to sales and customers is optimized. For example, marketing departments have the ability to create and provide sales with more meaningful content that is contextually relevant and gives real value to the consumer. So long as people have access to Internet, user-generated content will likely increase. Already consumer expectations have evolved to a once inconceivable point, as they are armed with more product knowledge than ever before. The asymmetric information age is no longer. Both consumer and sales rep are on equal footing.

As reflected in the success stories highlighted, sales acceleration technology is the answer to the ever-growing, data-driven revolution. With sales acceleration technology, companies bridge the gap between marketing and sales. When sales and marketing departments are aligned, companies increase productivity across the board, build stronger customer relationships, cut costs, improve communication and most importantly, boost ROI.