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It should be no surprise for those who work in sales that increasing outcomes collectively is not always easy. Sales teams and individuals work under pressure to perform at high levels,VRValueIndexLogo selling more than they did in the previous period or more than the person who previously had responsibility for a territory. Today’s economic and competitive environments demand that everyone work not just faster but smarter in their sales efforts. To excel in this environment requires not just wise use of time but prioritization of the activities and tasks that contribute to achieving the quota and forecast. In the past, sales organizations often resisted adopting new technology, but it’s time for them to realize that tools are available to facilitate better sales performance. As I outlined in the overview of our business and technology research agenda for this year, the sales department has a ripe opportunity to get smarter in how it operates. This is the essential point of our research practice in sales applications and technology: Our methodical benchmark research examines applications and technology best practices and benefits for sales organizations, and we assess the vendors and products in this market through our Value Index ratings. We will start 2014 with the latest release of our Value Index on Sales Performance Management, which will help sales management evaluate products to assist in improving performance of the organization.

Technology advances in sales applications and technology in the last several years have given those who use them an advantage. vr_SF12_10_reliance_on_spreadsheets_undermines_efficiencyFor example, mobile technology enables sales organizations to quickly access metrics from sales analytics; these can be shared to help the whole team meet their objectives. But these improvements first require willingness to change, to go beyond the conventional wisdom of using sales force automation (SFA) for more than defining and tracking accounts, contacts and opportunities. Those who continue to use spreadsheets to manage sales performance will be even less efficient and fall further behind those who use more capable tools. Our latest benchmark research in sales forecasting shows that more than half (59%) still use spreadsheets to manage sales forecasts; doing so wastes time and prevents immediate access to critical information. It also finds that the process is not reliable and data is not accurate in more than half of organizations.

The imperative to provide the best possible customer experience, which my colleague Richard Snow outlines in his customer engagement agenda, indirectly impacts sales. Both require high-quality and relevant product information whether it comes from sales interactions, e-commerce or websites. Both customer service and sales can benefit from the organization creating a single repository of all product information managed centrally. Tools for product information management (PIM) utilize master data management methods that enable product teams in businesses to define, administer and publish this critical information to those who need it, including Sales. Our research shows that the use of dedicated PIM technology has helped almost half (47%) of organizations  eliminate errors and mistakes and that 90 percent of those that use a single system gain competitive advantage through faster time to market. This year a significant transformation of where PIM and commerce software will converge further to help provide the information in the shape and form required even as it is required across smartphones and tablets. Our new Value Index on Product Information Management for 2014 will assess progress of vendors and their investments in products to help you determine which ones can best meet your needs.

Just as quality information is critical, so is the ability to use analytics to build metrics that can provide immediate visibility into the progress of sales. Depending on periodic reports and dashboards doesn’t work in the accelerated pace of business today. Mature organizations are using predictive analytics and data mining of big data repositories to extract previously inaccessible insights; this can be critical for large sales organizations that sell large volumes of products. We will assess the advances in sales analytics in a new benchmark to determine how they have facilitated change in sales operations and increased efficiency in their processes. We already found in 2013 through our benchmark research in location analytics are helping provide a competitive edge on the ability to sell effectively in a territory but also how they are designed and optimized to achieve specific quotas. A new generation of sales analytics are advancing and accessible through mobile technology. In addition our 2014 Value Index in Mobile Business Intelligence assessed 16 vendors of business intelligence tools on their ability to provide best in class accessibility through across smartphones and tablets.

These advances and others provide for sales organizations a variety of applications and tools that can be used by sales executives, management, operations managers and account representatives. Sales organizations also need improvement in other areas including learning and coaching, compensation and incentives, forecasting, setting objectives, activity tracking, recognition and rewards. In 2014 we will conduct new research on next-generation technologies such as social collaboration for coaching and improving skills and on mobile devices to track and assess sales efforts. Better use of coaching and playbooks can help everyone in sales find and apply best practices or the right sales assets to use in communicating with prospects. On another front, industry pundits and vendors are buzzing about gamification in motivating sales, this is nothing new, and there are practical ways of having contests and leader boards for the sales team or individual quotas.  

Our new benchmark research coming out in 2014 examines the automation of compensation plans and incentives for sales. New vr_SF12_07_impediments_in_sales_motivate_investmenttools make them readily accessible at any time to help sales reps and managers determine progress toward targets; these offer an automated way to escape the silos of spreadsheets and documents. We will also assess the state of vendors and products in the Value Index for Sales Compensation in 2014. In a related area it is also critical to optimize the effectiveness of sales quotas and align them to territory management, which can help maximize the potential of sales organizations. Also marketing and sales can align their efforts through use of demand generation to ensure the tracking of inbound and outbound marketing feeds into business processes through nurturing of dialogue and interactions. And in 2013 we saw significant improvement to integrate configuration, pricing and quote (CPQ) management into the deal process and the SFA aspects of opportunities.

I’ll say again that all of this change means we cannot depend on conventional wisdom that says you can just use SFA and personal productivity tools to understand and improve sales performance. Our research has found that impediments such as inconsistent execution (53%), scattered information (48%) and limited visibility (42%) are motivating technology investments. Analytics help to develop metrics for performance and planning, and the use of big data to mine and harvest information assets, can help. Moving to applications that automate interaction among sales teams can help achieve a common set of goals.

Our benchmark research in various aspects of sales continues toVentana_Research_Benchmark_Research_Logo find significant opportunities for organizational improvement through better tools. Applications are easier to access and use from the cloud or on mobile technology. Dedicated software can help interconnect sales with the other lines of business. For example, a dedicated approach to sales and operations planning can help ensure that the forecast and planning process connects sales, operations and finance. In the area of talent management that my colleague covers that can enhance the range of key employees activities for sales including recruiting, onboarding to learning, performance and career planning, which can be done more effectively through collaboration between sales and HR. Many providers of sales applications are beginning to advance in this area to directly help sales be as efficient as possible.

Making sales people and processes more efficient and effective in using technology built for its particular purposes is critical to ensure the best outcomes. Sales will need to think beyond conventional wisdom and examine what is needed to be effective from sales management, manager and operations but also down to how help every account manager be as efficient as possible. Sales should also explore building alliances with finance and IT to see where faster investments can accelerate the potential to achieve the sales targets and revenue expectations of the organization. Use our sales-related research and assessments of applications and technology across vendors to learn where your opportunities may lie.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO & Chief Research Officer

Organizations succeed through continuous planning to achieve high levels of performance. For most organizations planning is not an easy process to conduct. Planning software is typically designed for only a few people in the process, such as analysts, or organizations might use spreadsheets, which are not designed for business planning across an organization. Most technologies only allow you to examine the past and not plan for the future. For decades organizations have tried to focus planning on driving better results through higher participation, but they have usually failed, as technology has not advanced enough to support this business need.

Tidemark has been working to help organizations plan and perform more VR_2012_TechAward_Winner_Logoeffectively across business, including finance and operational areas. My colleague Robert Kugel a year ago analyzed the launch of the company. Last fall it came to market with generally available applications that operate across the web and mobile technology. They are designed for business but also illustrate my point about business leading the way to cloud computing. Ventana Research awarded Tidemark our 2012 Technology Innovation Award for Finance, as the company’s efforts make finance more effective and smarter in business planning operations. Tidemark’s focus on the user experience engages users with easy–to-read metrics. The software’s ability to update the plan and let users collaborate has gained it attention from organizations looking for a better approach to planning. Early customers such as Acosta, Chuck E. Cheese’s and G&K have validated its premise of a smarter way for organizations to manage performance through analytics and planning designed for everyone in business.

Using dedicated applications to support a business process like planning is a smart idea. Our recent research into business planning vr_bti_br_whats_important_in_choosing_technologyfound that organizations that use dedicated applications report a level of accuracy of 86 percent, compared to those using spreadsheets at 60 percent. Increasing the accuracy of the plan was the top item (47%) where change could improve the value of the financial and business planning process. More importantly, 82 percent of organizations using dedicated applications indicate they have all or most of the numbers for aligning performance through planning, compared with 39 percent of those using spreadsheets. Businesses struggle to blend planning and business analytics. Integrated business planning that encompasses every department should be available for any range of customer, operational, financial, HR, sales and revenue-related needs.

Tidemark focuses on usability, which our research into business technology innovation found to be very important in 64 percent of organizations, higher than any other evaluation criteria. Its metrics and planning processes are easy for people to read, view and understand, unlike today’s typical mashup of email messages, presentations and spreadsheets, or attempts to push a set of standard charts into a dashboard view, which I have already said to be pathetic.

The new Spring 2013 release is the company’s next major product milestone. It introduces the ability to present analytics and metrics in what the company calls Tidemark Storylines – visual business-focused infographics that are dynamically created to interpret and present information about the business in a past, present and future approach that I have not seen in a product to date. Beyond this tool to help inform business and provide better methods to interpret the data, Tidemark has enhanced the business modeling capabilities that make this all possible, and this is what business analysts will love about the product. By using driver-based planning and other important approaches, the application can help provide a unified view of actual and plan data along with business charts to let users examine what changes are needed or envision what-if scenarios. Addressing one of my personal rants over the last decade, the software’s English statements on the analysis and analytic computations (metric or key indicator) make it easier to understand what you are examining, and you can change a statement to drive the presentation of the analytics. Tidemark’s focus on the visual presentation of business analytics goes well beyond that of the majority of technology suppliers in the market today. It takes only a couple of minutes of seeing the application to understand how the intuitive and interactive charts tell the business story and don’t just present the numbers.

This new release provides advancements in collaboration, vr_ngbi_br_benefits_realized_from_collaborative_biwith annotation and collaborative methods built in as part of the application. For years IT analysts have failed to understand that collaboration is the essence of what people do every day to drive improvement, and what those held accountable for business actually need. Our technology innovation research found collaboration to be the second most important priority after analytics, and having collaboration embedded within applications was the preferred method in 43 percent of organizations, over use of Microsoft Office or standalone tools. Tidemark provides collaboration within the context of the analytics and plan. It is able to integrate a range of comments or a document relevant to the analytics. It can securely store content to help with the need for disclosures, or any level of secured document storage, through a partnership with Box. Our recent research into next-generation business intelligence found that by using collaborative methods, organizations improve decision-making and have better communications than those that do not. I would assume that every organization would like these types of benefits for their business.

The next largest advancement is in how Tidemark allows for rapid configuration to make the application quick to deploy and use for a wide range of analytics and planning needs, no matter how strategic or operational they might be for an organization. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach; the Tidemark application can be adapted easily for any business process or planning needs.

vr_bti_br_technology_innovation_prioritiesAs organizations begin to realize the drawbacks of using spreadsheets and legacy applications not designed for the planning and performance processes, they will find that almost half (47%) can get to the details faster with dedicated applications compared to those that use spreadsheets alone (21%) or those that use spreadsheets with other applications (16%).  Respondents in our recent benchmark research in business technology innovation ranked business analytics their top priority (39%), in part for their importance in business planning. As organizations look at how to get better at strategic and long-range planning, they need to ensure they spend the right amount of time, as my colleague eloquently points out.

Tidemark partners with Workday to provide its products integrated with Workday’s HR and accounting applications that operate in the cloud, which are rapidly replacing on-premises ERP implementations. Tidemark also takes advantage of big data related to unstructured content using new technologies like its partner Cloudera.

Just investing in business analytics to analyze the past is not sufficient for achieving higher levels of performance. Without planning it is hard to determine what business should do to improve. Tidemark uses cloud computing and mobile technology in a unique way to advance business planning across the enterprise, and is worth your time to evaluate. Tidemark provides a strong foundation, but it should provide easier access for people to try the application for a short period of time, as I believe that once organizations try it, many will become customers. Tidemark can help meet organizations’ planning and performance needs and determine how a business can reach its full potential with its new and innovative release.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO & Chief Research Officer

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