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Most people in business management admit that sales is more an art than a science. Organizations have long struggled to find the right mix to improve its effectiveness, and few get the most out of available technology. For many the default is still to use sales force automation (SFA) and spreadsheets to manage processes and try to increase the productivity of sales staff. In our view they should take a holistic approach to sales processes from contact to close and support everything from sales forecasting to pipeline management to compensation with applications designed for these purposes. Those in sales operations need to apply analytics to understand and fine-tune sales activities. Those in sales management need applications that can help recruit, engage and retain the best talent. Even more than elsewhere in business, in sales people matter, and the organizations that most empower their teams are likely to get the best results. Optimizing people and processes requires a balance of information and technology to support the various needs of the sales organization.
Our research in this critical area of business during 2015 will examine applications designed to provide effective execution in sales processes. These applications cover a strikingly wide range of areas including deal management, forecasting, quota and territory, compensation and commissions, product information management, planning and tracking, learning and competency, coaching and objectives, contract automation and configure-price-quote. All rely on information and thus on technology to help people learn from and act on it. In today’s digital world the consistency and quality of product information is more critical than ever and more complex as digital assets such as images and video can make the difference in proposing and closing a sale. Analytics software can increase insights to improve sales execution and outcomes. Sophisticated techniques such as predictive analytics and data discovery can exploit the ever growing volumes now classified as big data. This trend has driven us to engage in new benchmark research for 2015 on next-generation sales analytics to advance knowledge of best practices and methods being adopted by innovative organizations. It will investigate new methods for using analytics to advance modeling and planning that can help sales groups recognize and respond to fast-changing trends and realize their potential. The need for improvement is clear in our next-generation business planning research, in which fewer than half of organizations said they are satisfied with their sales and operations planning (43%) and sales forecasting (47%).
Our research in sales compensation management explores the motivation and impact of commissions and rewards on sales performance. Sales compensation is very important to almost three-quarters (73%) of organizations, but more than one-third have impediments that are motivating management to consider further investments in sales compensation. Leading the list are inconsistent execution in sales, cited by three out of five organizations, and lack of sales effectiveness in almost half of organizations. These and other issues can be addressed by adopting dedicated applications for sales compensation, especially to replace spreadsheets, which almost two-thirds that use them said make it difficult to manage sales commissions efficiently. Managing sales compensation effectively also requires commitment, as I have written, and investing in capable software should be part of that commitment. Used properly it can provide a return in terms of the resources and time saved and improvement in the sales process. Our research finds other benefits of a dedicated sales compensation approach, most often aligning the sales force to business strategy and goals and increasing confidence in achieving the forecast.
Our recent benchmark research on recurring revenue reveals advantages in automatically billing for subscriptions for products and services on a repeating basis. However, the recurring revenue model requires the ability to manage a variety of services that customers can change at short notice and be billed for correctly and promptly. Managing recurring revenue is easier with a dedicated application that links the complete order-to-cash process. These applications also support not just the transactions but the full cycle of interactions with customers, which is the largest challenge for 55 percent of organizations, according to this research.
There also are new tools to help sales professionals improve their own campaigns using demand generation techniques that previously were available only in marketing. They can target prospects, schedule interactions and provide information that matters to prospects. This directly empowers individual sales reps to develop leads for the sales pipeline to achieve their quotas, which in turn can improve the accuracy of the sales forecast. The tools also can be used by teams. Half (53%) of participants in our sales forecasting research said that the forecast is a collaborative and team effort; that even more (57%) said the forecasting process is unreliable shows the need for improvement.
Another technology that can make a difference for sales people and processes is mobile technology, which can facilitate completion of tasks through smartphones and tablets. These portable tools can provide information and updates to sales people on the go. Our research in sales finds adoption booming; for example, tablets are now being used in 43 percent of sales organizations, and almost another one-third (31%) plan to deploy more or plan to start using them. Improvement in mobile applications designed for sales should drive growth even faster.
Mobile technology also can boost another innovative technology – collaboration, which is a natural part of the sales process. New methods for social collaboration are going beyond mimicking consumer social media to relevance in sales. For instance, using collaboration for coaching or gamification for earning badges and awards can spur sales people to compete and improve; these methods are being evaluated or planned for use in one-third and one-quarter of organizations, respectively, according to our sales compensation research. In the end collaboration is about improving the relevance of actions and the quality of decision-making. Collaboration can help improve the execution of any sales activity.
The nature and means of sales are changing, and sales organizations must change with them or be left behind. In pursuit of innovation they must make investments in technology to help them adapt. Cloud computing makes it simpler and more affordable for sales groups to onboard and use applications rapidly. In 2015 Ventana Research will explore further the use of all these innovative technologies in the context of what Sales needs to be successful. In addition we will undertake new research on the next generation of product information management and how it can empower sales through digital commerce by providing complete, consistent product information at all interaction points.
Sales organizations must face the realization that old processes such as merely managing accounts, contacts and opportunities and general-purpose tools such as sales force automation are not sufficient to optimize the execution and efficiency of sales activities. Better tools and processes can shift the focus from manual chores to value-adding work. For example, contract automation can save significant time every week that can be devoted to pursuing more deals. Sales departments must find ways to elevate the level of customer engagement and satisfaction that in turn drive more sales. In 2015 all involved in sales, from the front lines to operations to executives, must step up their game. Analytics can help them measure sales performance in various ways, from quota and revenue attainment (important in almost two-thirds of organizations) to building processes for continuous and sustainable improvement. We should not forget that sales is a team sport that requires leadership and coaching as well as finding and motivating talent.
Our Sales Research Agenda for 2015 will span the areas that matter most to the in-person and digital selling of products and services. We will provide insights and best practices that can help organizations select technology investments and gain fast time to value from them. Please follow as we strive to bring you information and guidance that can make the difference in your sales efforts.
CEO and Chief Research Officer
Big data has become a big deal as the technology industry has invested tens of billions of dollars to create the next generation of databases and data processing. After the accompanying flood of new categories and marketing terminology from vendors, most in the IT community are now beginning to understand the potential of big data. Ventana Research thoroughly covered the evolving state of the big data and information optimization sector in 2014 and will continue this research in 2015 and beyond. As it progresses the importance of making big data systems interoperate with existing enterprise and information architecture along with digital transformation strategiesbecomes critical. Done properly companies can take advantage of big data innovations to optimize their established business processes and execute new business strategies. But just deploying big data and applying analytics to understand it is just the beginning. Innovative organizations must go beyond the usual exploratory and root-cause analyses through applied analytic discovery and other techniques. This of course requires them to develop competencies in information management for big data.
Among big data technologies, the open source Hadoop has been commercialized by now established providers including Cloudera, Hortonworks and MapR and made available in the cloud through platforms such as Qubole, which received a Ventana Research Technology Innovation Award in 2014. Other big data technologies are growing as well; for example, use of in-memory and specialized databases also is growing like Hadoop in more than 40 percent of organizations, according to our big data integration benchmark research. These technologies have been integrated into databases or what I call hybrid big data appliances like those from IBM, Oracle, SAP and Teradata that bring the power of Hadoop to the RDBMS and exploit in-memory processing to perform ever faster computing. When placed into hosted and cloud environments these appliances can virtualize big data processing. Another new provider, Splice Machine, brings the power of SQL processing in a scalable approach that uses Hadoop in a cloud-based approach; it received a Ventana Research Technology Leadership Award last year. Likewise advances in NoSQL approaches help organizations process and utilize semistructured information along with other information and blend them with analytics as Datawatch does. These examples show that disruptive technologies still have the potential to revolutionize our approaches to managing information.
Our firm also explores what we call information optimization, which assesses techniques for gaining full value from business information. Big data is one of these when used effectively in an enterprise information architecture. In this context the “data lake” analogy is not helpful in representing the full scope of big data, suggesting simply a container like a data marts or data warehouse. With big data, taking an architectural approach is critical. This viewpoint is evident in our 2014 Ventana Research Technology Innovation Award in Information Management to Teradata for its Unified Data Architecture. Another award winner, Software AG, blends big data and information optimization using its real-time and in-memory processing technologies.
Businesses need to process data in rapid cycles, many in real time and what we call operational intelligence, which utilizes events and streams and provides the ability to sense and respond immediately to issues and opportunities in organizations that adapt to a data-driven culture. Our operational intelligence research finds that monitoring, alerting and notification are the top use cases for deployment, in more than half of organizations. Also machine data can help businesses optimize not just IT processes but business processes that help govern and control the security of data in the enterprise. This imperative is evident in the dramatic growth of suppliers such as Splunk, Sumo Logic and Savi Technology, all of which won Ventana Research Technology Innovation awards for how they process machine and business data in large volumes at rapid velocity.
Another increasing trend in big data is presenting it in ways that ordinary users can understand quickly. Discovery and advanced visualization is not enough for business users who are not trained to interpret these presentations. Some vendors can present locationand geospatial data on maps that are easier to understand. At the other end of the user spectrum data scientists and analysts need more robust analytic and discovery tools, including predictive analytics, which is a priority for many organizations, according toour big data analytics research. In 2015 we will examine the next generation of predictive analytics in new benchmark research. But there is more work to do to present insights from information that are easy to understand. Some analytics vendors are telling stories by linking pages of content, but these narratives don’t as yet help individuals assess and act. Most analytics tools can’t match the simple functionality of Microsoft PowerPoint, placing descriptive titles, bullets and recommendations on a page with a graphic that represents something important to these business professional who reads it. Deeper insights may come from advances in machine learning and cognitive computing that have arrived on the market and bring more science to analytics.
So we strong potential for the outputs of big data, but they don’t arrive just by loading data into these new computing environments. Pragmatic and experienced professionals realize that information management processes do not disappear. A key one in this area is data preparation, which helps ready data sets for processing into big data environments. Preparing data is the second-most important task for 46 percent of organizations in our big data integration research. A second is data integration, which some new tools can automate. This can enable lines of business and IT to work together on big data integration, as 41 percent of organizations in our research are planning to do. To address this need a new generation of technologies came into their own in 2014 including those that received Ventana Research Technology Innovation Awards like Paxata and Tamr but also Trifacta.
Yet another area to watch is the convergence of big data and cloud computing. The proliferation of data sources in the cloud forces organizations to managed and integrate data from a variety of cloud and Internet sources, hence the rise of information as a service for business needs. Ventana Research Technology Innovation Award winner DataSift provides information as a service to blend social media data with other big data and analytics. Such techniques require more flexible environments for integration that can operate anywhere at any time. Dell Boomi, MuleSoft, SnapLogic and others now challenge established data integration providers such as Informatica and others including IBM, Oracle and SAP. Advances in master data management, data governance, data quality and integration backbones, and Informatica and Information Builders help provide better consistency of any type of big data for any business purpose. In addition our research finds that data security is critical for big data in 61 percent of organizations; only 14 percent said that is very adequate in their organization.
There is no doubt that big data is now widespread; almost 80 percent of organizations in our information optimization research, for example, will be using it some form by the end of 2015. This is partly due to increased use across the lines of business; our research on next-generation customer analytics in 2014 shows that it is important to improving understanding customers in 60 percent of organizations, is being used in one-fifth of organizations and will be in 46 percent by the end of this year. Similarly our next-generation finance analytics research in 2014 finds big data important to 37 percent of organizations, with 13 percent using it today and 42 percent planning to by the end of 2015. And we have already measured how it will impact human capital management and HR and where organizations are leveraging it in this area of importance.
I invite you to download and peruse our big data agenda for 2015. We will examine how organizations can instrument information optimization processes that use big data and pass this guidance along. We will explore big data’s role in sales and product areas and produce new research on data and analytics in the cloud. Our research will uncover best practices that innovative organizations use not only to prepare and integrate big data but also more tightly unify it with analytics and operations across enterprise and cloud computing environments. For many organizations taking on this challenge and seeking its benefits will require new information platforms and methods to access and provide information as part of their big data deployments. (Getting consistent information across the enterprise is the top benefit of big data integration according to 39 percent of organizations.) We expect 2015 to be a big year for big data and information optimization. I look forward to providing more insights and information about big data and helping everyone get the most from their time and investments in it.
CEO and Chief Research Officer