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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

Sales organizations and individuals strive to reach their quotas and get paid the maximum commissions for their performance. In support of these goals, software vendor Xactly offers a suite of VR_leadershipwinnerapplications for sales performance management that operates in the cloud computing environment. An example of its success is receiving our recent 2013 Leadership Award in sales excellence for work by its customer Zuora. This achievement builds on its 2012 Leadership Award with customer GlobalEnglishMy last analysis of Xactly discussed its applications running on mobile technology including the Apple iPad, which answers the needs of sales people who prefer to use mobile technology. Xactly signed its 500th customer in late 2012, a milestone demonstrating its adoption by companies looking to improve sales.

I stopped in at its annual conference, CompCloud 2013, where it showed a range of advances in its core products Xactly Explorer and Xactly Territory Management, but what caught my attention was the introduction of Xactly Objectives and its innovative approach to simplify the user experience in defining, tracking and achieving objectives, which also can be linked to incentives not just in sales but anywhere in an organization. The application addresses the need for timely guidance and direction from managers to employees; that is a key aspect of  human capital management, as my colleague Stephan Millard outlined it for 2013. Xactly’s unique approach integrates to-do lists and objectives from worker to manager, who then can link them to incentives and bonuses; this facilitates motivating people to perform well. The idea of pay for performance has been a mantra in sales compensation for some time, and Xactly Objectives provides a viable way to accomplish it with an approach to help manage people and individuals manage to their objectives on a routine basis. While annual performance reviews might not go away anytime soon, lines of business need to manage performance weekly and monthly, which is easier when they can use incentives to stimulate higher performance.

vr_sales_preferred_accessMy analysis of the application shows that it covers the practical aspects of defining and supporting workers’ to-do lists and links them to individual and departmental objectives. Xactly Objectives shows progress and team members in visual form, which helps users engage more readily, and includes notification reminders such as the number of days left to achieve specific objectives. Xactly’s deployment in the cloud also matches the preference of 41 percent of sales organizations in our research. Xactly’s applications, and especially Objectives, also provide ease of use, which is the number-one evaluation criterion for purchase consideration in 73 percent of sales organizations and for 77 percent of participants in our human capital management research. Similarly the ability for individual sales reps to review progress to goals is one of the five most important capabilities according to our research. The Xactly Objectives application can add significant value to sales as well as the rest of the organization.

In the last year Xactly has worked to interoperate and integrate data with sales force automation systems from Salesforce, Oracle and even SAP so customers can work across applications used in their sales processes. Xactly also provides a rich set of analytics and reporting to help guide sales people in understanding how to reach their quotas and commissions. Xactly also previewed Insights, a benchmarking service that it has built from metrics in more than 500 companies that use its applications, to indicate where companies can improve their sales processes.

The introduction of Xactly Objectives demonstrates the SPM_VentanaResearch2012_SPMHotVendorexpanding nature of sales performance management, as outlined in my research agenda for 2013. It indicates why we see Xactly as a key application provider for sales and a Hot Vendor according to our 2012 Value Index on Sales Performance Management. Expanding its applications and integrating them all in its suite is the right approach as sales performance management continues to be red-hot with applications. I am happy to see that sales applications are getting smarter, as I hoped they will, and Xactly is expanding rapidly to meet the broader range of needs in sales and across the organization.

I expect that Xactly will find interest in its focus on objectives in customer service, field service, marketing and others departments, supported by its ease of use. Our research finds that in sales departments alone, 27 percent are looking to deploy new applications by the end of 2015 and that doing so is important to 83 percent of organizations. Other approaches in the market are either more closely aligned to HR and performance reviews or are trying to emphasize social collaboration rather than enabling workers and managers to define and achieve objectives. I believe that Xactly has some work ahead to make the application engage people in roles higher up the organizational chart, and it needs to add more collaborative capabilities, but for a first release Objectives offers much of what organizations should have in their standard portfolio of applications for gaining better productivity and performance that is directly aligned to the objectives of the organization.

I think those in management and finance roles will like to have visibility into objectives, and most will welcome having pay for performance, incentives and bonuses more tightly aligned with the direction of the organization and directly linked to daily, weekly and monthly activities. If you are serious about getting the most out of your workforce, having a defined method to use objectives that link achievement to incentives can be a useful management tool. In that perspective, Xactly Objectives should be on your list of applications to consider.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO & Chief Research Officer

Mark Smith – Twitter

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