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Driven newsletter archive

Issue 17. February 10, 2020

Can sale stech save your bacon? Only if you do this… 

This week’s issue of Driven focuses on another single topic:

  • Think sales tech will help you make your number? Don’t bet on it, unless you do this first…

Reading time

Your estimated reading time is about 6 minutes.


Think sales tech will help you make your number? Don’t bet on it, unless you do this first…

Can sales technology help save your bacon? Will it enable your company to achieve revenue-growth expectations over the next few years?

Maybe so. But there’s also a good chance that sales tech won’t help you much at all.

Why it matters

A foray into new sales technology could waste precious time and money. That may happen if you choose the wrong tech for your needs. Or if you don’t use your chosen technologies effectively.

The risk is especially high if you’re in a new role as revenue leader.

You’re just getting your bearings. You want to do something visible, something that makes a real difference. You want to show results fast.

In this situation, you may be tempted to pull the trigger before you’ve taken proper aim. Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction, you tell yourself.

In this article, you’ll read about findings from a recent survey on the fast-growing use of sales technologies.

You’ll also read my suggestions to avoid missteps as you choose sales tech for your company.

Why the risk of wasting time and money?

The number, variety, and usage of sales tech applications have all exploded in the past 5 years. Yet average sales performance and productivity have not improved.


I don’t know for sure. But I have some theories. Stay with me.

Use of sales tech has grown fast in the past 2 years

The number of sales tech applications has blossomed from about 300 in the middle of the past decade to more than 3,000 in 2019.

At the same time, the number of categories of sales tech applications has grown from a handful to 26 or more. (The number of categories depends on whose taxonomy you use.)

Spending on sales tech software has increased across companies of all sizes.

In 2017, two-thirds of survey respondents spent less than $150 per user per month on sales tech. In 2019, the proportion reversed. Now two-thirds spend more than $150 per user per month.

These numbers come from the recent 2019 Sales Tech Benchmark Survey from Nancy Nardin at Smart Selling Tools.

A caution about survey findings

Nardin’s survey is interesting, comprehensive, and useful.

But I offer one caution. It doesn’t share the total number of survey respondents. So we don’t know if the study represents 60 companies or 600.

The report tells us the percentage of respondents by industry segment, but not by company size.

We’re left to wonder: Do the 9.3% of respondents from Financial Services represent 6 companies or 60? And are these companies big or small?

With this lack of detail, it’s hard to know how accurately the survey represents the full market.

It’s early days for sales tech

In some categories of sales tech, year-over-year percentage growth is in 3 digits.

This very fast acceleration is possible because penetration rates are still low.

The following graphic shows the percentage of respondents who said they use each of 26 categories of sales tech in 2017 and 2019.

At the left end of the scale is CRM, at roughly 75% usage in 2019.

At the right end are applications for presentations, video selling, and buyer portals.

Usage rates for these 3 categories ranged between about 17% and 19% in 2019.

Toward the center of the horizontal axis, the highest 2019 usage rates are for these 4 categories:

  • Sales enablement (about 40%)
  • Sales performance and compensation (about 37%)
  • Prospect engagement applications (about 35%)
  • Advanced forecasting and deal review (about 32%)

With all this new tech, how do we explain stubbornly low average sales performance?

Why does average sales productivity remain low, despite the fast growth of sales tech?

Maybe it’s because of the low penetration of sales tech.

It’s also possible that sales productivity is improving, but the results aren’t visible yet.

Maybe improvements will appear in the next annual studies from CSO Insights and others.

Both explanations may be accurate. But another feels more compelling.

I’m guessing it’s because tech that improves sales execution is only recently coming into use.

2 ways of thinking about sales tech

Twenty-six categories of sales technologies can be confusing and overwhelming.

Nardin tries to help by grouping her 26 categories into 4 clusters.

She allocates 20 tech categories to each of 3 areas of the sales funnel.

In her classification, 4 sales tech categories address the top of the funnel. Eleven focus on the middle of the funnel, and 5 on the bottom.

Nardin puts another 4 sales tech categories in a group she calls Management and reporting.

Nardin’s organization of sales tech is neat, logical, and helpful.

Is a weak sales pipeline among your main revenue challenges? Nardin’s chart directs you toward the 5 categories of tech that help deliver more leads at the top of the sales funnel.

I think an alternate way of classifying sales tech offers another useful perspective.

I suggest we distinguish between sales tech for administration and tech for execution, as in the chart below.

(I borrowed this idea from Driven subscriber Kevin Bock of J2K Technology.)

This chart still uses Nardin’s 26 categories of sales tech. But it organizes them differently.

Sales technologies for administration appear to the left. These categories help improve sales efficiency. They enable sales teams to get more done faster and with less effort. Or they provide management insight through data and analytics.

Tech categories that improve sales execution appear on the right. These categories help reps close deals.

Which does your organization need more?  Administration or execution?

CRMs top the list of administrative technologies. They are databases, systems of record. And most do little to help sales reps.

The remaining 10 categories in the group to the left help…

  • Improve sales reporting
  • Make administrative tasks more efficient.

Your company may well benefit from technologies that improve the efficiency of your sales operations.

But to improve sales effectiveness, you need tech that delivers more than efficiency.

To help close deals, choose tech that improves sales execution

Too many vendors of B2B products and services throw their sales reps to the lions. They offer little or no effective sales onboarding, training, or coaching.

For such organizations, use of well-chosen technologies helps boost close rates.

Your first risk in choosing sales tech? Misreading your needs

It’s easy to think you need the wrong kind of sales tech for your situation.

Revenue leaders, Kevin Bock observes, often have a personal bias toward sales administration or execution. It’s usually one or the other. That’s because they’re likely to be stronger in one set of skills than the other.

Leaders who favor sales adminsitration are likely to favor administrative systems over execution systems. And vice-versa.

Your board of directors and c-suite executives may push you toward administrative systems rather than execution systems. For example, they may urgently want a system that improves the accuracy of revenue forecasts.

That’s important for the whole company. And of course you need to listen to these important groups.

Even so, I urge you to recognize potential sources of bias and try to think past them. You’ll own the decision and its consequences, not your board or your c-suite.

Your board and c-suite may be blind to the benefits of sales execution tech. Maybe that’s because they have little experience in selling.

You may not be thinking about ways sales tech can help improve your close rates. Maybe that’s because tech for sales execution is so new.

But sales execution systems may be exactly the tech you need most.

Be clear about what problems you’re trying to solve

Stop and think hard before you assume some new category of sales tech offers the right fix.

Which of several potential constraints are putting the brakes on your growth?

What bottlenecks in your revenue-growth machine should you try to eliminate first?

Are your sales reps doing enough prospecting?

Are they doing the right kinds of outreach?

Are they calling on the right accounts?

Are they spending the right amount of time researching accounts?

Are they missing opportunities your competitors often find first?

When they connect with a prospect, do they say the right things?

Do they consistently use the right sales process or methodology?

Do they present the right content to the right people at the right time?

Until you’ve answered questions like these and many more, you risk choosing the wrong sales tech for your needs.

If that happens, you add an expensive distraction for you and your revenue team. And you risk damaging your credibility as a decision maker.

Dig deeper

2019 Sales Tech Benchmark Survey. Smart Selling Technology. 2019. [Downloadable PDF. 71 pages. No charge.]


Please share

If you find value in this week’s edition, please share it with friends and colleagues who may be interested. They can go here for their own copy of future editions.

Have a great week! 

​​Dave Vranicar 


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