The last time sales teams were offered real change in their tech offerings was back in the early 2000s, when cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) systems came into vogue.
That technology permanently shifted the way sales teams operated.
More than 20 years later, sales professionals are on the verge of another groundshift, this time to sales automation tools. Evidence suggests there will be increased adoption of this software and, similar to CRM, it will change how sales teams prospect and engage with leads.
“Early adopters of sales automation consistently report increases in customer-facing time, higher customer satisfaction, efficiency improvements of 10 to 15 percent, and sales uplift potential of up to 10 percent,” management consulting firm McKinsey & Company reported in 2020.
The Value of Sales Automation
Automation brings greater efficiency to sales operations and gives reps more time to spend on prospecting and engaging with potential customers. Combined with high-quality data, automation can also raise insights that humans would not be able to match at scale.
“The right tech can automate sales activity to boost productivity, provide sales insights to drive pipeline and deal acceleration, and finally enable sales users to operate with greater impact and deliver a better customer experience,” says Carlos Doughty, founder and CEO of MarTech Alliance.
A Hinge Research Institute study indicated that greater sales automation adoption is a characteristic of high-growth firms, which it defines as businesses that have a compound annual growth rate of 20 percent or greater over a three-year period.
“High-growth firms are much more likely (26.2 percent vs. 16.6 percent) to have a highly mature marketing and sales automation strategy in place,” the study says. “No-growth firms are much more likely to have little or no automation strategy and few tools at their disposal.”
Source: High Growth Study 2021, published by the Hinge Research Institute.
Types of Sales Automation Tools
The reach of this technology is widespread. A variety of sales tools can be automated, including:
- Lead routing, which sends qualified leads to the appropriate sales rep or team based on various criteria, such as number of employees, revenue, or technologies used.
- Data orchestration, which cleans and enriches data from various sources and feeds them into sales workflows.
- Sales dialers that prioritize prospects showing the most interest in a product and automatically log calls in the CRM.
- Intent data that tracks spikes in online interest in specific topics, which companies can use to find the most interested prospects or, conversely, customers at risk of dropping a product.
- Email sequences that remind prospects of upcoming meetings, deliver personalized content, or send documents to sign.
- Conversation intelligence services, which can automatically transcribe sales calls, analyze them, and look for keywords that may indicate a prospect is closer to buying.
CRMs Set the Stage (a Long Time Ago)
It was CRM — the bastion of sales technology — that led to opportunities opening up for sales automation.
But over the two decades that CRMs have ruled the sales jungle, a lot of data in these systems has become outdated, irrelevant, or just plain wrong. Companies got acquired, new investment was raised, and people quit their jobs, all of which created plenty of dirty data.
“CRM users on the front lines can’t serve modern customers using only core CRM,” the research firm Forrester said in a 2020 report.
Business leaders have come to learn that without high-quality data, a CRM is just a record system, cataloging and monitoring transactions. Now companies need their CRM to be a system of insight, which is possible through better data and automated workflows triggered by that information.
Factors Pushing Greater Sales Automation Adoption
Today, the value of sales automation is driving greater use of these tools. Consider these factors:
Underserved Market Demands More
Sales technology has been slower to grow than marketing tech — by recent counts, sales tech solutions number about 1,000 compared to 8,000+ MarTech products.
That gap has led to pent-up demand from sales teams who need technology’s help, says Henry Schuck, founder and CEO at ZoomInfo.
“You look across the ecosystem of fast-growing technology companies and you find a lot of companies focused on the developer, on the IT or engineering professional. But you don’t find many focused on the salesperson,” Schuck says. “Meanwhile, a sales team exists in every company. Every company needs to find new customers and grow, but these professionals have been largely left to fend for themselves. We’re changing that by arming them with the data, technology, and intelligence they need to do their jobs in a digital, effective, and efficient way.”
Young Sales Executives Expect to Sell Digitally
As a younger generation of sales executives starts to ascend, they bring with them expectations of how to run revenue teams. As a result, those new execs who got accustomed to using sales tech early in their careers want their reps to use it, too.
“Today I meet professionals who are 35 or 40 years old who tell me they’ve never worked at a company that doesn’t have ZoomInfo as part of the standard set of tools,” Schuck says. “These people are now getting into senior sales and leadership roles at all sorts of companies, so they expect their sales teams to be using digital tools and technologies to go to market … it’s this new generation of business leaders that is driving adoption.”
The Pandemic Forced Sales Teams to Adjust
When COVID-19 hit, sales teams got spun upside down. Business travel and face-to-face meetings came to a halt. All sales essentially became inside sales.
“Sales tech has become more important than ever,” Doughty says. “This was a trend already playing out pre-pandemic, but naturally in a world without in-person [meetings], digital selling excellence became critical. Without face-to-face meetings and events, sales professionals needed — and continue to need — a new way to sell.”
Time to Evaluate Sales Automation Tools
Long touted as the path toward digital transformation for many businesses, CRM tools came up short once the data in them stagnated.
CRM isn’t going away, but increased sales automation adoption is positioned to give the software a vital boost as sellers seek more insight from their data and systems.
“Sales organizations must adjust their ways of working as well as their technology platforms to ensure that sales reps and automation solutions work hand in hand,” McKinsey wrote.
Leaders who haven’t already done so should evaluate the potential of sales automation, including sales and engagement products from ZoomInfo.