Cracking the Sales Tech Stack Code
How to Avoid “Shiny Object Syndrome”
In an era dominated by hybrid sales models and an increasingly digital buyers’ journey, it’s tempting to look to sales technology for relief and to soothe your most acute pain points with the latest, novel systems. With an explosion of tools coming on to the market and thousands of vendors clamoring for your attention daily, it’s understandable to find yourself swimming in a sea of tech your sales team “can’t live without”. This reality may be appealing to technologists, but for B2B sales leaders, the deluge of choices can feel like a massive, endless distraction.
The sales leaders we work with regularly report their struggles navigating the sheer breadth of the solutions landscape, discerning the promise of each tech product, and knowing which ones are going to enable their teams to meet their goals. Many suffer from what we affectionately call “Shiny Object Syndrome,” or SOS. Here are the most common symptoms:
Overwhelmed: By the pressure/desire to incorporate all the new technologies into your sales tech stack because, well, the latest tech must be the best
Stuck: Between the possibility of new tech to help you reach your revenue goals – and how to incorporate the promise of tech strategically
Unsure: How to carefully vet each one and select the tools you can be confident won’t fall by the wayside
Lost: As to how to convey to IT the ROI the sales tech you believe in alongside other departments vying for finite budgets
Frustrated: That you haven’t realized the efficiency, productivity, or other improvements you were counting on because the solution wasn’t the right fit for your business
Troubled: By growing sales process complexity caused by ill-fitting, dysfunctional, or dormant technology, either because it hasn’t been well-integrated into the existing process, sellers haven’t been fully trained, and/or there hasn’t been ongoing training
Weary: From knowing the problems you’ve been trying to solve with technology persist
Can you relate? How do you assemble a tech stack that not only reduces red time but fuels your sales engine? How do you select tools that your sales team will actually use? How do you choose technology that works for them—not the other way around? Most companies cannot undertake this kind of work from a cost, time, or resource standpoint.
Whether you choose to outsource your sales processes or to build your sales tech stack yourself, here are some core considerations to keep in mind and the latest on existing and emerging tools.
Tech Should Be Last on Your List
While it seems counter-intuitive, it’s doubtful your tech stack is either the source of or solution to your sales problems. The most likely culprit lies within your sales processes. Address these, and you’ll be able to pinpoint those areas where technological solutions can move the needle.
Until you’ve developed workflow-based processes that are visible to your entire team and informed by expertise from and collaboration between instructional designers, business process engineers, and technologists, you’re likely rendering your tech stack redundant, inefficient, or even ineffective. Furthermore, if your tech tools offer a poor user interface, unclear use cases, or confusing recommendations, your sales team won’t adopt them.
To help our clients avoid these common pitfalls, we sit down, side-by-side with them and observe every step in their sales process. We document each action the salesperson makes, step-by-step and touch-by-touch, from the moment they begin their day. We watch for:
• How they prioritize their work
• What data they rely upon
• In what form they receive it
• How they interact with their sales technology
• Step-by-step, screen-by-screen, what information they access and input
• Whether the technology is working for the seller, or the seller is working for the technology
• Where the information hand-offs are
• Whether there are gaps and if so, where they are
After we assess these things, we work to create their optimal sales tech stack. What if your sellers could operate this way?
They could if you define every step in your sales process, map all your hand-offs, and evaluate the sales technologies against the sales process to identify where the tech might fit to a) automate a process, b) streamline a process to reduce “red” time), c) improve skills, and d) provide sellers with useful information.
We apply these filters when we design holistic, right-fitting processes for our clients. Only then can we assemble their ideal tech stack that both conforms to and buoys those processes.
The Right Lenses for Sales Improvement
McKinsey & Company finds that insight, agility, talent, and technology continue to be the four most important determinants of next-generation sales growth. There are three things you can do to empower a salesperson to achieve this kind of growth:
1 | Optimize the process by which they sell. You can do this by decreasing administrative tasks and empowering them to spend more time doing those things directly related to quota attainment
2 | Increase their skills and acumen through instructional design and training. There’s an entire area of sales tech dedicated to coaching, practice, and improvement
3 | Deploy sales enablement technologies. We’ll talk more about these shortly.
It’s essential for these areas to work together. If you short-circuit the first two steps, you’ll be selling your sales strategy short. But, if you approach sales improvement through these lenses and apply analytics to each, you’ll help your sales team not only hit their quotas but position them for top performance.
A strong revenue growth partner will be savvy users of technology and have both the expertise and deep experience with not only best-in-class but emerging tools.
Tech Stack Must-Haves
In sales tech today, convergence is the name of the game, with acquisitions happening industry wide. MarketSource is tracking them all so we can make studied recommendations to our customers.
That said, these are the core categories you should be thinking about right now:
Intent: These tools help increase top-of-funnel by identifying buyer intent earlier in the process. Bombora and 6Sense are the leading intent-only providers. Others, like Demandbase and Terminus, include intent as a key component of their account-based marketing platforms.
Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI tools give you the ability to be predictive and to leverage historical information to identify patterns (matching keywords) that work to increase sales. AI is fueling email, chat bots, predictive analytics, intent, and dialers.
Data (acquisition, enrichment, quality, call lists): This is the holy grail in sales, especially now that there are so many buyers (an average of nine) involved in the decision-making process. Common platforms include Zoominfo, SalesIntel, LeadIQ, and Seamless.
Outbound Prospecting: Drives efficiency in prospecting; gives you more quality conversations with buyers/prospects earlier in the buying process. Dialers such Orum, Monster Connect, and Connect & Sell fall under this category.
Skill Enhancement: These tools are great for assessing and improving skill and acumen through practice, observation, assessment, training and coaching. Some technologies available in this area include MindTickle, Commercial Tribe, Showpad, TalkMeUp, and Highspot.
Client Engagement Platforms: Besides your CRM, this is your next most essential tool. CEP software helps you manage, analyze, and optimize the customer journey by automatically sending your customers personalized messages across multiple devices and platforms. It allows you to contact customers that are more likely to buy, increases the quality of the conversation, scores customers/companies, and gives you the insight you need to spend 40-50% of your time on those that offer the biggest share of wallet to gain. It also automates the process by which your seller engages the customer. CEP tools allow you to interact with buyers using multiple channels and determine the best ways to do so. They’re also useful for coaching, as sellers can record conversations with customers then share with their manager. Tools include SalesLoft, Outreach, TalkDesk, DialSource, Revenue.io, and High Velocity Sales (a Salesforce tool).
Cadence Development and Segmentation: These tools allow you to automate the approach you take to prospect and sell. They also give you the ability to use an omnichannel approach to engage them in the mode they prefer. This is not a separate, stand-alone feature. Rather, you’ll find it within most customer engagement platforms.
So, how do you decide which configuration of these tools is right for you? To help you pinpoint mission-critical tools and think about things to look for as you evaluate them, here is the state of each sales tech essential.
Identifies individuals/ companies who are researching your kind of product or service and are interested in your topics.
This category is evolving and continues to improve. It allows you to engage your customers at the right stage in their journey. Results in more meaningful conversations.
Intent tools are becoming more prevalent because sellers recognize gauging intent is critical to catching buyers early.
1 | To identify when key personas for existing customers change jobs. Crawls CRM and social media to track their moves.
2 | To ask for customer referrals (which helps with sales initiatives).
3 | To coach salespeople during a customer conversation.
4 | To coach sales performance.
5 | To reach more people with fewer resources.
This is an evolving area that has yet to prove itself. Right now, it offers more promise than proof, but we believe these tools will eventually deliver on their promise.
This is an emerging category with great potential but that mostly offers unfulfilled promises right now. That said, it’s important to be ready when AI emerges as a proven approach to helping sales teams hit their numbers. The best approach to take now is to try as many technologies as possible and learn from your experience with them so you can implement them quickly when the time is right.
1 | To ensure data is clean and accurate.
2 | To prospect to multiple people at once.
3 | To identify other personas at a given account so sellers can prospect efficiently and accurately.
With data enrichment sources, there is a lot of bundling happening with intent, data, and AI.
These tools all interface with your CRM. Data accuracy/integrity is a big issue. You can expect 60-70% accuracy. If you’re not careful, you could compromise the integrity of your data (such as when you target people who’ve left their companies because your data is old). Make sure you have data governance in place.
On average, it takes a salesperson six to nine months to reach full productivity. Assessing and enhancing a salesperson’s skills is essential to reaching “readiness” more quickly.
Using AI to provide sellers feedback in real-time is emerging. Video calls, which became a necessity during COVID, continue to be an effective way to engage customers and prospects. There are technologies that measure a person’s eye contact with the camera, facial expressions, camera angle, pacing, patience, filler words, etc., as well as tools that allow a rep to practice their message until they get it right and share with managers and peers for feedback. Conversational Intelligence (CI) is an important feature of many platforms used to analyze video and audio conversations for coaching purposes. Tools like Gong, Chorus, ExecVision, and MindTickle leverage CI within their platforms. Mature organizations leverage CI to share best practices and provide 1:1 coaching.
From one-on-one coaching to assessment and training, there are numerous tools on the market today that can assess and enhance a salesperson’s skills and acumen. Consolidation of all these is a good best practice to follow
With the number of buyers involved in B2B sales continuing to increase, it’s important to reach the appropriate personas as early in the buying process as possible. Prospecting can be used at the top of the sales funnel when performing lead generation activities, or in the middle of the funnel when trying to cross-or up-sell to increase the share of wallet with an existing customer.
When you’re prospecting, these tools help you:
1 | Find buyers earlier in the process.
2 | Pinpoint different personas to prospect.
There are prospecting tools available to leverage social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to personalize emails to prospects. Other tools track when a contact/persona moves to another organization and allow you to ask your contacts for introductions to additional prospects.
Client Engagement Platforms
Customer engagement platforms are critical for automating your outreach to prospects and customers, ensuring a salesperson is using an omnichannel approach to engagement, and allowing reps to spend more time contacting accounts and contacts that have the greatest potential for growth.
This is a mature category with many providers. Companies in this category are adding features such as mobile capabilities, conversational intelligence, and coaching. There’s a lot of consolidation going on in this category right now.
Once the consolidation concludes, we expect there will remain two or three main products in this category. Soon, these products will have heavy integrations with AI to enable tools, such as conversational intelligence, which analyze a sales rep’s phone or email customer conversations. The tool measures their ratio of listening to talking time and creates awareness of the language they’re using so they can adjust as needed.
CATEGORY: Cadence development/
Setting cadences in your customer engagement platform is both an art and a science. Not all cadences are the same and setting up sequences is different for each sales motion.
It takes nine attempts to reach someone. These tools help you identify the combination of those attempts (social, email, etc.) that work best.
Account tiering is a common practice. Many sales teams assign tiers to their accounts from 1 to 3 based upon revenue. Best practices use a contrary principle, where Tier 1 accounts provide the greatest opportunity for growth and automate outreach attempts to spend 40% or more on those accounts with the greatest potential for increasing share of wallet. Scoring accounts in your CRM using this principle, along with setting up the proper sequences, is a great approach.
Rather than relying on your sales tech stack to be your panacea, think of it as one dial on a three-pronged machine that you can continually tweak. Don’t be afraid to try, fail quickly, and continue to try, because the more you try, the more you learn.
Learning is inherent to our process. We’ve established a culture of improvement that we call Radical Incrementalism, or realizing small improvements that yield exponential improvements across the organization. This always-on innovation cycle ensures we, and our clients, remain agile as we work toward our goals.
Radical Incrementalism is our culture of improvement, with always-on innovation cycles to ensure we remain agile, and most importantly continue to provide value to customers and our team members.
I receive between 30 and 50 emails daily from different companies suggesting I look at their sales tech products. I welcome this outreach because we’re always looking for the best options and the right niche products for our customers.
Of these thousands of options, our Innovation Center explores roughly 50 new sales technologies every year. We investigate approximately 20 of them, and between 15 to 18 per year make it to the testing phase. To make the testing cut, the product must deliver on all elements of our four-part, kick-a$$ rubric:
• Automate a process
• Increase a skill
• Foster acumen
• Eliminate waste
After this assessment, if we feel there’s a good use case, we’ll put the product through a proof-of-concept test or pilot program. We then evaluate it against pre- and post-pilot metrics, including whether it has a positive impact on sales and whether we’re able to demonstrate return on investment.
For our customers, this enables:
• Change: We practice and encourage Radical Incrementalism (which is a process, not an event)
• Engagement: We use tools that engage customers precisely where they are in their buying journeys
• Expansion: Our rigorous approach to building tech stacks for our customers helps them capture greater wallet share
• Analysis: We use science and data to help our teams be productive and profitable
• Flexibility and Efficiency: We empower our customers to be agile and thrive under any market conditions
Ready to talk?
We can help you navigate the dynamic sales tech landscape to realize these benefits and put your sales tech stack to work for you—not the other way around.
Author: Steve Bonvissuto
Steve is Vice President of Innovation at MarketSource. He is an accomplished executive with more than 30 years of experience translating strategy into results for Fortune 500 companies. Steve leads, motivates, and mentors to continuously improve the delivery of services to create more value for customers and employees.