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It’s clear that sales organizations need to be efficient, but many are unaware of critical applications they could deploy to establish sales excellence. In my recent analysis, “Sales Organizations Need a Swift Technology Kick”, I outlined why sales departments have to look beyond using sales force automation (SFA) and spreadsheets andexamine dedicated applications for improving productivity and effectiveness. Our benchmark research in sales applications found a new set of application priorities in sales organizations that you should assess to determine how well your sales efforts match up to others’. Also, in most cases, we found the prioritization and needs of sales organizations are not aligned, resulting in wasted time and likely creating a lack of access to accurate information for sales management and operations.

The top application priority in 68 percent of sales organizations is forecasting and pipeline management. This should be no surprise, as the pipeline and forecast determine the volume and velocity of sales activities and impact the potential revenue from those activities. But in most organizations, Sales is not efficient in creating the sales pipeline from the sales opportunity records in the SFA application, which can help manage sales on a daily and weekly basis. Managers need to monitor and coach against a pipeline but also protect against bloating or leakage of deals in the pipeline, which can indicate higher than actual revenue potential. From the pipeline, managers can consolidate and analyze a sales forecast for the entire sales organization to determine the potential revenue from sales territories and across customers and products; this is critical information to determine the demand and potential value of customer relationships. We will be benchmarking sales forecasting again in 2012 to update what we have done in past years, evaluating the importance of having a process and dedicated applications to support it, not only for Sales but for Operations and Finance, too.

After the pipeline, the next application priority is sales analytics (in 47 percent of sales organizations), which can provide better insight into sales activities. It requires having the data, metrics and indicators to guide the right actions. Unfortunately, almost half of organizations use spreadsheets for sales analytics, though they admit that the use of them makes it difficult to manage sales. It should be no surprise that 64 percent of sales organizations plan to improve their existing processes to correct the current high level of manual effort. Our benchmark research on sales analytics found that data-related activities are the most time-consuming. Deploying sales analytics applications that reduce the time it takes to get analytics ready is critical, and so is using tools that provide the right types of visualization and interactivity. Many such applications provide a library of performance metrics; but few are advancing to true sales analytics including people, process and risk metrics that can help you perform root-cause analysis and diagnostics. Just having performance metrics and indicators is insufficient to reduce the risk of not achieving your sales potential. Every sales organization should build and use a library of key sales indicators.

As you consider sales analytics, you should also address planning and tracking, which is a priority in 39 percent of sales organizations. What-if and scenario analyses can help determine best paths forward for optimizing sales resources and results which requires some deeper level of modeling and analytic sophistication. And as sales organizations get smarter, they can start to apply advanced methods such as predictive analytics to give better foresight into the future based on current and past behavior.

Collaboration is a priority for 63 percent of sales organizations. This technology has evolved to include social media capabilities, encouraging interaction and knowledge sharing across the Internet. This social collaboration is a way to bring the people and process of sales forecasting and analytics together in a team-based effort. Our benchmark research found that broadcasting, wall posting and application sharing are a few of the top priorities in social collaboration for sales. Collaborative methods can also bring disparate applications to a common point of dialogue across sales forecasting and analytics, involving SFA data that might be used for creating and tracking accounts, contacts and opportunities. Since the forecast and pipeline are potential places for dialogue on ideas for improvement or exploration of new revenue opportunities, social collaboration can help reduce the time to determine the path forward.

If you have not examined the advancements in sales pipeline and forecasting or what is possible with sales analytics, you better get started as your competition is mostly likely already doing so. In my next analysis on sales applications, I will assess the need for key applications such as sales compensation and commissions, territory and coaching. These applications can further increase the confidence of your sales team when they see your organization is committed to help them achieve their full potential. If you are focused on sales excellence and use applications and technology to do so, I look forward to hearing about your efforts, and hearing your suggestions about how our best practices and research can help you be smarter and more engaged with your sales organization!

Regards,

Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer

NICE Systems last week announced an agreement to acquire Merced Systems, a provider of business applications for customer service and sales organizations. This acquisition slipped by with little fanfare, but it marks a significant milestone for NICE, a major provider of applications and technology for call centers and a player in their evolution into multichannel contact centers. Building on a good 2010, as my colleague Richard Snow noted, NICE expects to reach almost $800 million of revenue in 2011, which would make it one of the largest companies in its segment. NICE has made multiple acquisitions to build its software portfolio, including purchases of Actimize, CyberTech, eGlue and others mentioned below. It recently won our 2011 Ventana Research Leadership Award in the contact center category with its customer deployment at Alliance Data. NICE Systems plans to have Merced Systems as a foundation of its enterprise systems and a complement to its contact center workforce optimization offering. This purchase builds on its other acquisitions, including FizzBack recently and IEX and Performix in 2006, which helped NICE establish its customer service and back office agent performance management software. That area has not grown as quickly as NICE would like, mostly due to marketing that was not aggressive enough in attracting customers. NICE recently rebranded its NICE SmartCenter for helping agents, as Richard noted, and is leveraging its assets into the back office, which he also assessed. Our benchmark research on contact center technology found that companies’ priorities for future investments match up well with NICE Systems’ focuses on expanding customer service agent applications and analytics applications.

Merced Systems brings to the deal a strong foundation based on analytics and metrics: areas we have benchmarked in the contact center and sales among others. While software for customer service and contact centers motivated this acquisition, NICE Systems plans to expand into sales organizations through Merced’s sales performance management. In agent performance management NICE and eight competitors all have comparable ratings in our Value Index for Agent Performance Management. NICE is rated near the top, but it has struggled in its marketing and sales. This is part of why it needs to retain Merced’s team to continue its market momentum. On the sales side, with a smaller number of dedicated providers, Merced ranked in the middle of the Value Index for Sales Performance Management but is part of a significantly larger organization worldwide with access to a large number of organizations using NICE.

Customers of Merced Systems should look for affirmation that NICE Systems will include their needs in its product roadmap before they make further purchases and deployments. They should look for continued operations of Merced as an entity and availability of its applications. Potential purchasers should restrain themselves to ensure the Merced products they are examining are part of the future NICE enterprise portfolio as the company evolves its application architecture. Existing NICE customers will find a new portfolio in agent performance management and sales performance management, which appear to put NICE’s existing performance management applications at risk or position them to receive lower priority. On another front it will be interesting to see if NICE will continue distributing Merced Systems’ new analytics offering built on an OEM of MicroStrategy, with which the company has built applications that also operate on smartphones and tablets.

NICE Systems made a wise investment in acquiring Merced Systems, especially at the price it paid (approximately $150 million and $20 million in cash), considering the company’s profitability, growth, products and customer success. Now NICE must retain Merced’s key people and grow its investment in the newly acquired company. NICE can extend its current reach to grow its business significantly, pending effective investments in marketing and sales. 

Regards,

Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer

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