How AI is Consolidating the Sales Technology Portfolio and What Growth Leaders Need to Do About it
An ongoing analysis by the Revenue Enablement Institute seeks to identify the 100 technologies that are enabling and transforming the 21st Century Commercial Model. Individually, over 90% of the platforms identified and chosen from over 3,000 are enabled by advanced analytics, AI, and Machine Learning. Collectively, they are fast becoming the core components of a “Revenue Operating System” that turns legacy investments in CRM, digital marketing infrastructure, and the customer data they create into selling outcomes that grow revenues, enterprise value, and profits. This foreshadows a Copernican revolution in sales technology where the lines between traditional software categories blur to truly support the selling process and transform selling to become more data driven, digital and measurable.
In the short term this revolution is forcing business leaders to reimagine their technology stacks and go-to-market models around platforms that aggregate, orchestrate, and deploy customer engagement data rather than CRM as an administrative system of record.. Sales leaders are reconfiguring their technology portfolios in ways that create value by optimizing resource allocation, directing revenue teams, enabling selling channels, measuring, and motivating performance, and personalizing pricing and offerings. This process will be painful but necessary because the current sales portfolio of most B2B firms has 20 or more independent solutions. And that number is growing. Many of the sales enablement and operations leaders we talk to cannot name them all, much less add up their total per user cost. And the revenue teams that must use them on a daily basis are faced with dealing with too many disconnected “panes of glass” and “tool fatigue”.
This “Copernican revolution” will also spark a wave of consolidation, mergers, and acquisitions in the sales and marketing technology sectors.
One immediate area we see this happening is the rapid convergence of sales enablement (sales guidance), sales readiness (sales training), and sales engagement (aka data-driven selling for lack of a better description). A big underlying reason the sales enablement, readiness and engagement categories are converging is because they fundamentally support the same selling workflow and run on the same content and data.
- Over the last decade these capabilities have expanded and overlapped because they support the same fundamental day-to-day selling activities – target, prioritize, prepare, engage, follow up, report, and repeat.
- These platforms also use the same content – sales playbooks, training content, product content, and selling content – to prepare for meetings, practice the skills needed on the call, and communicate with the clients before, during and after calls.
- And they also increasingly use the same data to run – all three activities are informed by customer engagement and seller activity data. Much of this data is now drawn from actual presentations and conversations – via zoom call recordings or practice demo presentations by reps.
The convergence has been brought to a tipping point with the introduction of AI in sales, combined with the dramatic shift to virtual selling, and the emergence of massive new customer engagement, activity, and conversational intelligence data sets. In the past few years, there has been an explosion in sales engagement data that has become available to analytics teams from first party systems, email, calendars, third party sources, recorded sales conversations (via Zoom, Teams) and contactless selling platforms (like chatbots). For example, the number of Zoom calls recorded has gone up thirty fold since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic began. And AI is increasingly being used to mine all this data to help reps make better decisions and help managers to evaluate training needs, selling priorities, and seller performance.
Like any transformation, there will be winners and losers in the Copernican revolution in selling technology. And the benefits and enlightenment it yields will not come without a cost.
One challenge senior growth leaders must pay is dealing with confusion about the convergence sales enablement, readiness, and engagement they try to incorporate them into their selling models. The sales technology portfolio has expanded to include over twenty or more solutions. The features and capabilities of many of these platforms now overlap considerably. And their roadmaps all converge on the same fundamental north star – data-driven selling. The messaging and vocabulary being introduced to describe increasingly nuanced differences between overlapping capabilities are often indecipherable and tend to complicate matters more than they simplify.
On a practical level, the traditional category boundaries used to demarcate solution purchasing criteria, operational ownership, application, and feature sets have blurred. Analysts lack the vocabulary or frameworks to properly describe what is going on. Traditional category and “quadrant” based structures for assessing software solutions fail to fully describe what the software does, nor can they communicate the implications of this convergence on sales operations and enablement.
But these are transitory phenomenon. Senior growth leaders must take several steps to navigate these transitory changes to reimagine their selling technology portfolios and transform their commercial models.
They must provide “top down” guidance to their sales operations and enablement teams to help them reimagine their selling technology portfolios to enable a Revenue Operating System. This means providing them strategic and financial criteria to help them evaluate, consolidate, and evolve their growth technology portfolios. This requires a “top down” roadmap for building a “Revenue Operating System” that generates more growth and profits from selling assets – which include data, technology, content, and owned selling channel infrastructure.
Rethink the capital investment model for sales to reflect the new economics of field selling and generate more scale and leverage from their large investments in selling infrastructure. This means reconfiguring the fixed investment in sales to include more training and technology and less travel and real estate.
Reengineer their selling architecture to adjust territories, incentives, engagement models, roles, and customer engagement cadences to generate higher returns on their revenue teams, and the technology and data infrastructure assets that support them.
Make bets on a handful of platform partners they can invest in for the long haul. As capabilities converge, and solutions merge, only a few players will provide the technical and analytics backbone for the 21st Century model. Growth leaders should align with a few partners who have the capabilities, capital, willingness, and vision to go on the journey with them. Likely candidates to be included in this short list are:
- A combined entity to support sales enablement, readiness, and engagement as described above.
- A partner to support data driven allocation, optimization, measurement, and management of sales resources.
- A “revenue operating system” that can aggregate, harmonize, and distribute customer insights from many sources to the entire sales, marketing, and service team, in real time.
- A response management partner that can organize, architect, target, assemble and distribute information and content to every customer facing employee.
You can learn more about the convergence of the sales and marketing stack, and the Copernican revolution in sales by getting the complete 21st Century Commercial Model analysis, which provides a blueprint for transforming your selling model to become more digital, data-driven and accountable. Please reach out to me if you want a copy.