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In an analyst perspective at the beginning of this year I wrote that sales organizations must step beyond conventional wisdom to generate the best outcomes. One such step is to invest in software that delivers immediate value to manage sales and be efficient in its operations. Our latest research on sales organizations finds that inconsistent execution (53%), scattered information (48%) and limited visibility (42%) are motivating investment to improve sales. At CompCloud, its annual conference, Xactly unveiled advances in its software to help improve the effectiveness and productivity of sales organizations. Spokespeople said the company’s sales compensation products have helped users manage US$10 billion in commissions in the past two years.
To make it easier to access critical information from its applications Xactly now supports the range of mobile devices running native Apple iOS, Android and HTML5 apps. The mobile capabilities enable users to view commission statements, track quota attainment and compare performance to team rankings. Xactly is right to advance its mobile efforts as account managers and management extensively use smartphones and tablets. Our latest research in sales finds that smartphones will be deployed to four out of five (81%) in sales and tablets to three-quarters by the end of 2015.
The company also announced the release of Xactly Quota to help management and analysts allocate quota assignments to teams. By automating the quota process and providing visibility into quota performance this application helps reduce manual effort and potential errors in those tasks. The quota management application can link with Xactly Incent to help users plan sales targets and link potential commissions to payments. They can collaborate in designing and agreeing on quotas, and the comments feature enables direct feedback. Our research finds that quota attainment is the top way to measure overall sales performance, so this feature is likely to please Xactly’s customers and increase sales. After aligning quotas and commissions, the next logical advance would be to help users manage sales forecasts to support progress toward quotas and ultimately commissions. Comparing quotas to forecasts is a top priority for sales teams, according to our research. Xactly’s products can integrate forecasts into its analytics, which is a key first step to assess to quota and potential commission. I have already written that dedicated technology enables successful forecasting.
At the conference I got to review demonstrations of its analytics and benchmarks in Xactly Insights that help provide performance metrics from all the data it collects from its customers. Such measures can be useful: Xactly released a report on performance and quotas showing that 79 percent of sales reps selling software as a service miss their quotas. These insights help provide a guideline to where a company can improve in the design of its quotas which Xactly released a new application but also where it compares in the market to others. Xactly has been able to take the aggregate of its own customers’ metrics in using their products to provide some insightful perspective on a range of compensation and time related sales metrics.
Xactly unveiled Xactly Objectives at its 2013 conference that I covered, and we named it the prestigious 2013 Technology Innovation Award winner for sales. Now the product is fully localized to support Spanish, French, German and other languages. It is easy for managers and sales reps to track progress toward their overall objectives. Having a system to identify overarching sales objectives and link them to sales compensation is important to motivate and guide personnel on a regular basis. The Xactly Objectives can be used anywhere in an organization too, which makes it appealing to any department.
Other improvements outlined at this year’s conference included more comprehensive incentive statements, analytics that can be displayed in any HTML5-compliant Web browser, flexibility in plan rules with lookup tablets and adaptations to credit allocations. Xactly continued focus on satisfying its customers through product improvements have provided it a very high customer retention rate.
Xactly continues to focus on inspiring sales management and operations to making sales more productive and generate higher level of sales. Its software is more appropriate for sales compensation and related processes than CRM or SFA applications and much better than using general-purpose spreadsheets. Our research finds that more than half of sales organizations still use spreadsheets for these purpose and that doing this undermines their ability to manage sales with accurate information. In today’s intensely competitive sales environment, Xactly is positioned to grow. Sales organizations that seek to improve these sales and compensation processes and provide the information that sales teams need both to perform well and be satisfied in their jobs should examine Xactly’s software.
CEO and Chief Research Officer
Most organizations see improving the effectiveness of sales as a way to increase productivity. Those organizations that take advantage of the latest sales applications and technology are finding themselves with a competitive advantage, but many organizations lack the time and resources to assess and deploy appropriate platforms. That’s a shame, since most sales organizations have plenty to improve in their selling, forecasting, incentives and planning according to our latest research on sales performance management. We found a high demand even for many of the basics; for instance, many organizations still use personal spreadsheets or outdated applications that are costly to manage. At the same time, marketing organizations are investing heavily to be more revenue- and sales-focused to ensure they maintain relevance and contribute to their organizations’ performance and profitability. Both sales and marketing have fixated on specific processes and how they can work better together.
Our research agenda for 2013 calls for us to examine how organizations can maximize results through new business technology, adopt dedicated applications designed for sales effectiveness and marketing, and use best practices to be faster, smarter, better and more cost-effective in operating sales.
The top three technology trends in sales are analytics, collaboration and mobility. Together with advancing technologies such as business and social collaboration, they are helping increase the flow of information to help managers coach and increase employees’ learning potential. Mobile technologies such as smartphones and tablets are becoming more common, tied to dedicated sales applications and tools that now become more accessible at any time or any place. We will conduct more research in 2013 on the growth in social and mobile sales to see how early adopters are doing and where the industry is improving with these new technologies. At the same time a lot of new software is available through cloud computing; you can rent and configure the software for your organization, reducing the need for IT resources to implement, deploy and maintain it. Advancements in dedicated sales analytics can help organizations understand performance, and help plan and predict sales, providing a path for increasing optimization and letting users more readily share information with finance and operations. We plan to conduct more research into the next generation of sales analytics and build upon our existing research, making sure that the metrics and plans adapt to the existing economic and industry environment.
Many sales organizations realize that traditional sales force automation is mostly for tracking accounts, contacts and opportunities. In 2012 many SFA providers started to expand to a broader sales performance management platform, with integrated forecasting, collaboration, document management, quotas and territory management. This new focus, along with a rapidly expanding set of dedicated applications that have evolved from sales compensation, can bring better incentives, quotas, territories and analytics. This evolution of sales application suites was evident in our 2012 Value Index for Sales Performance Management.
My personal perspective is that 2013 will be even more competitive. While sales compensation management software has been evolving over the last 15 years, it is still finding its place in increasing numbers of sales organizations. In 2013 we will assess how and where sales should be managing compensation and incentives. Many sales organizations that are still wedded to the use of spreadsheets will come to realize that the use of such outdated software impedes their ability to manage sales effectively. It’s not easy to manage forecasts and pipelines that have specific time series and change level analytics in a spreadsheet; a better approach is to use applications designed for the task, and designed not just for sales operations but for the entire sales team. Our recent research in sales forecasting finds areas of improvement that could have dramatic impact on course-correcting sales activities and moving beyond the probability of sales to the confidence of the forecast, which is probably why forecasting was the top application priority in sales according to 65 percent of sales organizations. Sales is also starting to realize the advantages of using marketing in demand generation processes, which nurtures leads into opportunities and can provide a wealth of information to help sales organizations better engage with prospects.
Sales organizations with limited resources and time need to use best practices and not waste time on technology that’s not ready for deployment or that fails to match up with the competencies of their teams. Interactive social collaboration across sales teams is a better and more effective practice than a myriad of emails. In addition, the use of product information management through all channels of sales and marketing is essential, but our product information management benchmark found significant roomimprovement as organizations work to ensure proper representation and highest customer satisfaction. Our assessment of PIM vendors finds many addressing these needs and delivering benefits for sales.
As the configuration, pricing and quote (CPQ) process gets more automated, sales organizations find better consistency in their business processes, including in the fundamentals of contract management. Sales organizations have significant room to improve in supporting non-direct channels and ensuring that data and processes are aligned to the overall sales target. As marketing gets its act together on demand generation, the scoring and qualification of contacts for their true interest through a lead nurturing processes that include behavior, demographic and relevance will help identify the right opportunities for sales to act upon. Sales organizations need to address technology best practices and use analytics and metrics that can be harvested from modeling and planning methods in order to increase the quality of their results. I expect that big data and predictive analytics also will make inroads with innovative sales teams in 2013.
What’s old is still new with sales, and improving upon forecasting, compensation, coaching, collaboration and learning will be job one for those that really want to drive excellence. Applying talent management process with adapting the existing sales team and hiring the right team members, and help ensure that everyone contributes to the business of sales. The rapid increase in the use of smartphones and tablets in sales is leading to a new generation of applications and technology that can better meet sales teams’ needs. I expect to see more reengineering of marketing and sales processes, improving leads and materials and using automation to enhance the quality of leads and move beyond just the process of passing a quantity of useless leads. Finance organizations can also demonstrate their commitment to improvement in sales processes by offering to help argue the business case that delivers the benefits they care most about, which is profitability.
Being more timely and proactive in sales is the mantra for 2013. Those organizations that are prepared to use technology to those ends will be the ones that maximize their potential and retain sales teams that can contribute to financial profitability and customer satisfaction.
CEO & Chief Research Officer