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Sales software report: SFA, analytics on the rise, Excel use falls

Sarah Blanchette, Contributor

Amid an increase in the use of sales force automation and a decrease in the use of Excel, organizations are quickly realizing the need for sales analytics, according to a recent sales benchmark report by Ventana Research Inc.

The San Ramon, Calif.-based research firm examined the sales performance management of a wide variety of participatory organizations, measuring the levels of maturity, trends and best practices in sales performance management.

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The report was based on an online survey of 233 qualified participants who are in some way involved in sales, conducted from July to October 2011. A range of industries was surveyed, with the majority of companies, 80%, located in North America. Ventana conducted a similar study three years ago.

The report found that increasing revenue was, not surprisingly, the most important sales management priority. A far second was to improve the efficiency of sales processes, then to align the sales force to business strategy.

However, Smith was surprised to see that sales analytics had become increasingly important for participants, with 97% stating they believe it is important or very important, and 64% saying that they plan to improve sales analytics in 2012. Also, participants listed the importance of forecasting and managing the sales pipeline. However, Smith warned, “Sales forecasting is important but it is important to stay on top of applications on a weekly basis.”

Additionally, there was a significant decrease in the use of Microsoft Office’s Excel spreadsheets in sales, according to the report, down from 60% in 2008 to 50% in 2011. Use of Sales force automation rose from 42% in 2008 to 67% in 2011.

The report also found that organizations are looking toward the future of emerging technologies to enhance their sales performance management. Sixty-seven percent surveyed deployed smartphones to employees and 17% used tablets in sales.

In 2012, Smith believes that collaboration technologies will play a larger role in sales performance management. According to the report, 28% of organizations use Twitter for broadcasting and 27% employ Facebook’s wall postings.

“Sales organizations realize that they need to collaborate and share information, because it is not just one person who makes the sale; it’s the team,” Smith said. “If you’re working on a sales deal, you want to be able to collaborate on that sales deal.”

Despite the use of emerging technology, only 15% of the organizations surveyed have reached their highest innovation level. Organizations were measured in four categories: people, processes, information and technology.

“Scattered information is holding organizations back,” Smith said. “In sales, every hour counts. Every hour salespeople aren’t selling and are doing administrative work instead hurts the company.”

Contributing to the lack of innovation may be the fact that, according to the report, 37% of participants believe that their organization does not need new applications to improve sales-related activities.

“There is an awareness challenge,” Smith said, “but you have the other two-thirds that realize they’re important.”

To achieve sales performance management success, Smith recommends a balanced approach, which includes constant self-improvement.

“You need to say, ‘What are we doing and what do we need to improve our portfolio? Are there short or long term things we can do to improve?’… You have to keep making improvements every quarter.”


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