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Few sales organizations realize their full potential, partly because they don’t execute well. We urge organizations to move beyond conventional wisdom in how they think about executing sales processes and have placed methods for making improvement to sales execution at the center of our research on sales in 2014. In our recent research on sales forecasting almost half (44%) of sales organizations said they have impediments that are motivating management to consider further investment in sales technology, and the most common of those is inconsistent execution (for 53%). Many sales organizations don’t use training in a consistent manner and fail to automate processes to gain efficiency.
Software provider Qvidian specializes in sales execution and has applications operating in a cloud environment and on mobile technology that help optimize sales processes and increase productivity of sales teams. The company has 15 years of experience in developing sales playbooks and proposal software, and more than 1,200 customers now use its applications in the cloud. Qvidian makes it a point to be adaptive in meeting the variety of needs of sales organizations across industries and sizes.
Its Sales Playbooks provide digital guidance to help users achieve the best results in an efficient manner. One of the products’ focuses is to make sales processes repeatable, which is critical to optimizing revenue across quotas and territories. The playbook approach also supports what we call collaborative coaching, which our recent research shows is a top focus for improving collaboration in the sales forecasting process. Qvidian’s approach can automate and guide the sales process.
The company also has introduced mobile support for its Sales Playbooks. Our research finds a need for that, as more than half (51%) of organizations already use tablets and another quarter (26%) plan to deploy them in the next 18 months. Qvidian supports its playbooks on the Apple iPad, which currently is the most widely used tablet in sales organizations. To further streamline the use of playbooks, Qvidian has user and functional integration with salesforce.com’s sales force automation software. The tight linkage enables triggering of actions based on rules for certain conditions. Qvidian’s independent approach to sales processes and systems fills a void in the SFA and CRM markets; its playbooks can run on any application commonly used in sales.
To know where improvement is needed and how achieve it, companies need insights derived from analytics applied to data from sales processes. Qvidian Sales Analytics enables users to create and track metrics and indicators that can point out inefficiencies to be addressed through coaching and guidance and to establish repeatability. Analytics is consistently rated by sales professionals in our research as the top new technology to help improve sales efforts. Qvidian’s sales analytics help managers identify where sales reps are not following the mandated process and suggest ways to help through using a playbook or a series of steps that are known to provide better results.
Qvidian offers other applications to help sales people be more efficient in the tedious tasks of preparing necessary documents and information. Qvidian Proposal Automation can help a sales organization deliver consistent proposals. Proposal Automation also helps standardize requests for proposal and suggests responses that have been proven accurate and effective. It also helps add consistency to sales presentations by quickly generating useful slides. Professionals typically spend large amounts of time on tasks such as these that automation can make repeatable and consistent across a sales organization.
Qvidian’s customers range from large well-known brand names such as Aon, Office Depot and Prudential to smaller sales teams in technology companies such as inContact and Splunk. Making its sales applications available through cloud computing enables sales groups to deploy and use its software with little IT intervention and helps sales teams be self-sufficient in their sales processes. While many sales organizations still believe that sales force automation will address all their needs, we find that applications like those from Qvidian can help them operate more effectively and improve overall execution of sales processes. We recommend evaluating Qvidian if your organization is seeking to maximize sales productivity and gain consistent execution on the road to optimal results.
CEO & Chief Research Officer
Sales forecasting is an essential process for most businesses. It helps guide the efforts not only of the sales function but also of finance, operations, manufacturing and customer service. Our recently released sales forecasting benchmark research reveals significant insights and best practices that can help companies optimize the effectiveness of this process. I recently wrote that most sales organizations need to make significant changes to the way they do sales forecasting. In that analyst perspective, I examined aspects of technology that can make sales forecasting a much more efficient process than it is in most organizations that use software not designed for sales forecasting.
This research finds much indecision about making changes to improve the technology for sales forecasting. Half of organizations do not plan to change their vendor for sales forecasting in the next 12 to 18 months, and only 10 percent plan to change, although 8 percent will upgrade to the current vendor’s latest version. For organizations that are planning to change vendors, the most common reason is to speed up the forecasting process (54%); fully half of this group are not satisfied with their current product’s functionality. A substantial number of organizations are dissatisfied with their tools because data gets outdated quickly: One in four ranked this first. This discontent likely reflects the more rapid flow and greater volume of data organizations accumulate today and issues derived from the use of tools like spreadsheets into which people copy and paste data with no direct link to its sources. Yet the pace of business has accelerated along with the mass of data, and sales groups feel pressure to have timely forecasts; this challenge is another reason for improving the tools in use.
Organizations use desktop spreadsheets for many activities, and while they are easily accessible, spreadsheets are not designed for sales forecasting. Nevertheless the research shows that they are the most commonly used tool for sales forecasting (by 29%); sales force automation (SFA) ranked second, an increase from our past research. The third-most common tool used is analytics and business intelligence (BI, 10%). A range of planning and forecasting applications are used by 16 percent of organizations. Most of this technology was not designed to meet the specific needs of sales forecasting.
It is not surprising that fewer than one-quarter (24%) of the sales organizations primarily using spreadsheets for sales forecasting are satisfied with their process. Our analysis shows a correlation between spreadsheet use and lack of confidence in the information for sales forecasting: Fewer than one in three organizations relying primarily on spreadsheets (32%) are confident or very confident in the quality of their forecast. Moreover, more than half (59%) said that reliance on using spreadsheets makes it difficult to manage the sales forecast efficiently. Yet despite the evidence that spreadsheets have negative effects on sales forecasting, only 38 percent of heavy spreadsheet users are planning to change their forecasting process in the next 12 to 18 months, fewer than users of SFA (48%) and business intelligence tools (53%). When such an important process as the sales forecast is left to tools not designed for the process, risk increases that sales people will not have visibility into their information, let alone timely knowledge of progress and the source of issues that should be addressed.
On the other hand, the research finds that two in five (40%) organizations use dedicated tools for sales forecasting. Most that do are rather new to the technology; three in 10 have been using it for more than a year, and 10 percent more began in the last year. Currently dedicated sales forecasting software is deployed mostly to users on the front lines of sales: 42 percent of front-line sales managers and 41 percent of the front-line sales team have it available. Those that use dedicated sales forecasting technology find value in it: More than one-fifth (22%) of them said it has improved significantly the outcomes of sales activities and processes, and half (51%) indicated it has improved outcomes slightly. Larger organizations use such applications much more often than smaller ones: More than half (54%) of very large companies that use one have been doing so for more than a year, as have 46 percent of large companies. Another 29 percent of the very large started using a dedicated application in the last year, so nearly four out of five of this size of organization have dedicated software. But more than one-fifth of participants said they have no plans to deploy dedicated software. Asked why, most (58%) said they do not know, which indicates a lack of awareness of the technology and its advantages. One-fourth more (24%) said deploying it will not have a positive impact on business, which indicates a lack of understanding of its benefits. Dedicated applications can contribute to more accurate sales forecasts, but we find that many organizations aren’t prepared to implement them or do not understand why they should.
Our analysis finds good reasons for using dedicated technology. Sales forecasting requires a team effort that involves account managers who track the sales pipeline, operations people and analysts who manage the process and sales managers who approve it and contribute information and metrics. According to our research the most important capabilities for the sales team in the process are to collaborate within the team to improve the sales forecast (selected by 53%), to compare quotas to the sales forecast (47%) and to perform account-level forecasting (40%). These activities make it possible for sales management to compare changes to the forecast, collaborate to address changes and determine actions, and take advantage of operating conditions in sales. The sales operations group processes the sales forecast, from preparing data through presenting the forecast to sales management, and we find that doing so takes a significant amount of time for this essential sales support team – time that could be spent better in applying a range of analytics to the forecast. Sales managers and management have their own priorities, which makes it important to profile the users of sales forecasting and align software capabilities to their roles and responsibilities. Making notations on why the forecast has changed and providing coaching based on the forecast are examples of tasks required to support the sales forecast process that are particularly difficult to do using a desktop spreadsheet.
Overall our research finds a developing movement to adopt more useful technology for supporting the sales forecasting process. For organizations planning to change, most (40%) are going to use software as a service (SaaS), which is convenient as this cloud-based approach has the lightest burden to install, configure and manage the technology. Nearly as many (35%) plan to use the on-premises approach, which could distract sales from its primary mission and the processes designed to support it. Being able to operate on mobile technology likely will spur adoption as more than half (59%) of participants indicated that mobile technology will help improve the accuracy and timeliness of sales forecasting. We urge organizations to use dedicated software for sales forecasting as a way to improve the outcomes of their sales efforts. Those that do not invest in such software will continue to face impediments in the sales process and risk not achieving the best possible outcomes.
CEO & Chief Research Officer