After years of bucking the rigid requirements of sales force automation platforms that helped managers track them but often didn't help them make sales, a new generation of sales enablement tools is being embraced by b-to-b sales staffs.
Such SFA tools come in a variety of types and styles—and to some extent bleed over into the latest generation of lead-focused marketing automation tools. And they tend to come to market as one-off solutions rather than comprehensive suites or platforms, in part because they are so situation- dependent. (Some work for inside reps; others, for national sales; and still others, for regional field teams.)
These products “are not for managing sales but for helping salespeople in the act of selling by enhancing their productivity,” said Joe Galvin, VP-research director at sales and marketing advisory firm Sirius Decisions.
“With [traditional SFA] tools, we know what sales costs and we know what they did. It's what happens in between—the notion of selling—where these new productivity tools really make a difference,“ Galvin said.
In a series of reports on this area, Galvin has detailed this new generation of tools, focusing on four key areas: external data, prospect development, knowledge management and sales enablement. These sales-and-marketing-specific tools, which can often be bought as software-as-a-service applications at an affordable $40 to $50 per month per salesperson, can be augmented with the savvy use of such public tools as Twitter or LinkedIn, Galvin said.
The applications also add some important new metrics to the marketing and sales process, such as tracking not only the number but the quality of marketing outreaches and sales calls, or measuring the speed at which teams respond to customer RFPs.
The same productivity focus is occurring on the marketing automation side. Just last week, Marketo released a new version of its software that aims to let marketers set up and run campaigns in a more natural way, counting less on flow charts and more on how they typically converse with customers.
Market Lead Management 3.0 includes a variety of new function- alities, including improved user targeting, real-time alerts, progressive profiling and deeper integration with Salesforce.com CRM. But it is Marketo's “softer” improvements in making the marketing automation and lead-generation process more conversational that will have the biggest impact on users, Marketo CEO Phil Fernandez said.
“Virtually every other product that has been built in this space has you draw a flow chart to script out the conversation with the customer. First you do this, then that and then that,” Fernandez said. “We think that's a fallacy—that you can script out what a buyer's going to do. Rather, you need to think about all the different ways you can listen to a customer put them all in context.”
Supporting this more conversational approach, which Marketo first introduced last year, are improvements to the platform's user interface, lead scoring/nurturing capabilities and sales hand-off capabilities to make the process of generating leads and turning them into sales better reflect how marketers really work, Fernandez said.
B-to-b search firm Enquiro uses Marketo to track leads in its business, using the typical incentives of white papers and webinars to attract registrations. It uses the Marketo tool to score the leads and help automate followups, said Enqurio Director of Marketing Andrew Spoeth.
“With a relatively small sales force, it's almost impossible to follow-up on all our leads. But by aggregating data and scoring leads, we can pick off the more valuable or sales-ready ones,” Spoeth said, noting that lead scoring helps, but marketing and sales savvy is still required to make things truly efficient. “At the end of the day, each prospect is a real person, and they will make their own path. No two prospects are exactly alike.”
With all this information available at the fingertips of marketing and sales today, though, some degree of automation is imperative, Fernandez added. “[Marketing] interactions today happen in volume,” he said. “If you're not applying automation, that can bury an organization.”