Sales technology landscape: where are we in 2020?

While futuristic tech changes the game, sales teams are moving deals from their kitchens.

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2020’s sales stack looks a lot different than it did say, four, five years ago.

Sure things like marketing automation, email and the trusty CRM remain sales rep staples but the latest sales tools indicate we may be on the brink of a major breakthrough.

Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and the internet of things (IoT) have evolved beyond the hype cycle and into a prerequisite for competing in a challenging environment.

I took a deep dive into several reports including Nancy Nardin’s annual sales tech survey, LinkedIn’s post-outbreak State of Sales report and the latest insights from Salesforce to learn about the tech trends of the moment.

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The sales technology landscape keeps expanding

The sales tech universe is rapidly expanding: there are more categories, more tools and the promise of more intelligence than ever before.

To get a sense of just how crowded this space is, check out Nancy Nardin’s Sales Technology Landscape, a visualization of the best-in-class sales tech clustered together by category.

(By the way, Revenue Grid is part of the 2020 roster).

Nancy’s vendor list gets pretty granular and includes predictive scoring & ABM software to content repositories, prospecting tools and e-signing platforms.

That said, here’s a quick look at some of the more “general” categories that qualify as sales tech.

  • CRM
  • Account-based marketing
  • Sales & marketing automation
  • Video conferencing
  • Sales engagement
  • Sales enablement
  • Lead generation
  • Prospecting
  • Content management
  • Document automation
  • Coaching & training

As pictured in the infographic, the sales tech space is so crowded; there’s something for every niche and pain point there is.

This means sellers in every sector, from finance to e-commerce, logistics and even mining can create custom solutions via APIs and integrations.

Adoption & spending on sales tech continues to grow

Sales tech adoption is growing: more sales teams are using more tools as embracing technology is no longer optional. LinkedIn’s State of Sales 2020 found that 43% of salespeople say they use sales intelligence tools—up by 54% since 2018.

In addition to adding more tools to the tech stack, organizations are spending more on monthly subscriptions.

Per the Smart Sales report, 66% of respondents reported spending less than $150 per user per month on sales tech in 2017. In 2019, 65% spent more than $150 per seat each month.

Futurum’s 2019 B2B Digital Buyers’ Journey attributes the uptick in spending to three main factors: digital transformation, the cloud and a widespread effort to slash IT spending.

Another factor is the rise of big data, AI, cloud-native apps and the IoT. Emerging technologies, ever-growing data sets and the need to maintain a competitive edge are likely driving adoption, as well.

Virtual selling rules

The Futurum report revealed that 60% of B2B buyers said there’s no reason for reps to visit them in person, as vendor relationships can now be managed digitally with minimal effort.

77% of buyers say they’re now holding more virtual meetings than they did prior to the outbreak. While sellers can easily share content and clock-in face time from home, the move did introduce a few new challenges.

44% of sellers reported that buyers were less responsive and sales cycles were getting even longer.

According to Gartner, sellers need to adapt their strategies to the current situation.

They recommend that reps make an effort to showcase company branding during video calls to reinforce brand recall. The effort is pretty minimal–we’re talking branded Zoom backgrounds or screensavers, not company-sponsored decor.

More importantly, Gartner advises sellers to get straight to the point during virtual calls. Where small talk is great for building rapport in person or on the phone, it can feel awkward in cyberspace.

Instead, focus on providing value ASAP. Lead with customer-specific benefits to capture their attention, discuss features and answer questions.

From there, if you can segue into something more interactive like an AR demo or a screen share training session you’ll likely find it easier to keep buyers interested.

Content finally gets its due as a revenue driver

Content marketing has evolved.

Today’s blog post is a far cry from the days of keyword stuffing and sketchy SEO tactics.
It’s about using data-driven insights to build trust and loyalty with consumers, and presenting solutions that speak directly to the buyer.

Demand Gen Report’s 2020 B2B Buyer Behavior Study points toward the shift in how buyers think about content as it relates to their sales strategy.

Buyers keep getting better at researching solutions themselves, and often prefer evaluating benefits, features and pricing on their own time–no rep required.

The independent buyer has become a key bullet point in every other sales blog. You know: “the modern buyer is evolving,” and they’re becoming more “research-driven.”

Because the buyer’s journey now begins with a Google search, content become the driving force for moving deals though the pipeline–but only if it’s good stuff.

70% of participating buyers stated that content relevant to their company’s unique needs was a “very important,” part of the buying experience, while 96% said it was important that messaging reflected industry-specific challenges/needs.

That said, if the buyer feels you lack competence or don’t have their best interests at heart, earning back their trust will be a challenge.

2020 Edelman Trust Barometer found that only 40% of buyers believe the sales profession, on the whole, is trustworthy. Even worse, another 25% believe salespeople are, their words, “morally and ethically challenged.”

Sales organizations must rise to the occasion and make sure they’re sharing valuable insights that buyers can’t find anywhere else. With face-to-face meetings off the table, .

Account-targeting tools are on the rise

According to Nancy, account targeting tools are on a major growth trajectory. In fact, the benchmark report revealed that the category grew by 1175% between 2017 and 2019.

The LinkedIn report also saw growth in this area: 56% of respondents say they already use data to identify and target qualified accounts, while 49% rely on data to determine which industries and markets to pursue.

These tools are often used to support ABM strategies and help brands target buyers that check all the right boxes.

Demand generation still leads over value creation and retention

Nancy found that “top of the funnel” sales tools accounted for most sales tech investments, even though it’s more cost-effective for brands to focus on upselling existing customers.

That said, I’m not sure how meaningful this is. For example, social selling was included in the “TOFU” mix, though the strategy covers more than just prospecting.

In any case, it seems that the current crisis has shifted the focus away from demand gen, as sellers look for ways to engage buyers unable to purchase.

LinkedIn’s 2020 data revealed that organizations are starting to pay more attention to KPIs that measure long-term value like retention, attrition and satisfaction over short-term metrics like win-rate and conversions.

Survey respondents also revealed that they’re changing their tune on how rep performance should be measured.

Customer satisfaction (43%) and retention rates (40%) were rated most important, followed by two shorter-term KPIs, team quota met (37%) and individual quota met (37%).

Sellers still have trouble mastering the CRM

The Sales Tech survey also revealed that many respondents struggle with their CRM.

According to a joint report by Forrester and Salesforce, there are a few reasons for this. 57% of survey respondents reported that CRMs are at least somewhat fragmented across their organization—in other words, they’re dealing with a silo problem.

Researchers found that in many cases, departmental buyers purchased a CRM platform in isolation to solve a single business problem—which meant, eventually, you’d find multiple CRMs in one location.

While CRMs promise a unified source of interaction data, that transparency doesn’t exist when every department keeps separate records. Unfortunately, poor CRM use means brands miss multiple opportunities throughout the customer lifecycle.

With AI, machine learning, and the internet of things (IoT) inching further into the mainstream, CRM struggles and silos could turn into much bigger problems later on.

The report recommends taking the following steps to get ahead of this problem:

  • Place the customer at the center of everything you do. In other words, if you’re not practicing sales enablement yet, it’s time to hop on the bandwagon.
  • Capture as many customer insights as you can. According to Demand Gen Report, building out your customer profile is becoming more important than ever thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, as buyer journeys and behavior are changing.
  • Arm all customer-facing employees with unified CRM access. Alignment, context, communication—more sales enablement staples that set the stage for successful engagement and more efficient workflows.
  • Think outside the CRM. Despite the fact that the sales technology landscape is both very crowded and very diverse, many users still believe the CRM is the only sales tool sellers should care about.
  • Get AI on the case. Look, robots have the edge when it comes to turning massive, unrelated data sets into actual cash (well, sort of). Give your people a break and look toward AI-enabled analytics platforms, business intelligence tools and an upgraded sales and marketing stack.

What’s on the horizon for the sales technology landscape?

Because we’re in the midst of a crisis, it’s hard to imagine what’s about what’s in store for the sales landscape—or really, the world at large.

Salesforce’s Enterprise Technology Trends report revealed that IT leaders are bracing for major innovation in mobile, AI and voice suggesting that mobility and remote work is here to stay.

83% of respondents predict that the most successful organizations will transition from desktop-first to mobile-first development by 2025, and 69% believe we’ll have universal mobile standards at that point.

5G should be hitting the masses soon, which could mean mobile disruption will happen closer to 2020 than 2025.

In looking at the reports, we found that a few key themes kept showing up. Data. AI. Expert-level content.

While most organizations are aware that big data is becoming essential for doing business, it’s clear that brands need to focus on data literacy, integration and accuracy before introducing new tech to your stack.