2015 was a busy year for sales technologies in terms of innovation. The sales stack is growing strong, and I added 40 new companies to my Inside Sales Landscape (see below).
We also saw validation from the financial community and incumbents that the sales stack is real. InsideSales.com and Apptus officially became pure play Unicorns, and VC funding reached a record high with 65 funding rounds representing $ 1.6 billion.
Through its Ventures arm, Salesforce has been particularly active, participating in nine funding rounds, including InsideSales.com and Apptus. it also acquired Quote and Proposal provider Steelbrick for $ 360 million. LinkedIn bought Fliptop and Refresh.io, bringing its acquisition count in the space to five.
Between new companies, interest from VCs, and validation by existing players of high valuations, I expect 2016 to be another year of growth and innovation for the inside sales tech industry. Here are some of the trends I see for 2016:
Artificial intelligence will rescue email
Email continues to be a prominent channel, but its continued volume growth is creating new challenges. Cluttered mailboxes translate into overwhelmed prospects, less likely to open or respond to solicitation emails. Vendors are turning to artificial intelligence. Crystal has introduced a solution to tailor the content and tone of emails based on recipients’ personalities. Conversica offers an Intelligent Assistant that automates the early engagement phase using two-way personalized email conversations. I expect to see continued innovation to tackle email efficiency and effectiveness.
Continued experiments with social
Social networks, while essential tools for prospecting and distributing content, are used carefully when it comes to reaching out to prospects and customers. LinkedIn inMail is used sparsely, and organizations are still trying to figure out what is appropriate and how to avoid a social media backlash. However, the promise of being able to communicate with potential buyers using social networks is too big to be ignored. I expect continued experimentation on this front with companies such as Socedo using analytics to find relevant leads and engage with them.
New channels for B2B sales
Voice and email continue to be the prevalent channels for engaging and prospecting, but new channels are being explored. Historically used for e-commerce, video is now being explored for B2B sales. It is safe to predict that the popularity of messaging applications will add this style of communication to the mix of channels used. Already, companies are experimenting with text SMS. You should expect a better coverage of these emerging channels in a future iteration of my landscape.
Multichannel orchestration will replace desktop unification
The integration of email and call management into a unified desktop application has been an important trend. In 2015, we saw a shift in the approach to enable multi-touch, multi-channel engagement. The core capability has become to orchestrate communications across channels and over time. Often referred to as “cadence,” a concept pioneered by SalesLoft, this new technology schedules the desired series of communication attempts across channels and sends reminders to sales reps. It not only automates these sequences but tracks them, providing insights on what works and what doesn’t. While desktop unification was technology-driven, multichannel sales orchestration ties into a trend in larger organizations to define and enforce sales playbooks and processes for inside sales teams.
With increased volumes, time and priority management have become bigger issues. Inside sales reps need to allocate the best time slots to call someone to outbound activities and defer the others. Although time blocking has become a best practice, I am unaware of solutions to help manage it. Prioritization of activities seems to be the sweet spot for predictive technologies. Industry veteran InsideSales.com has snapped up C9 to put predictions at the heart of its platform.
Expansion of data sources
Four trends are driving inside sales departments to use expanded sources of data and insights:
- Prospect research continues to steal more than 20% of sales reps’ time, according to CSO Insights.
- News insights can be uncovered from the Internet and social networks. There is no shortage of innovation: One fourth of the companies added to this last version of my landscape are within the data and sales intelligence layer.
- Inside selling is used more frequently for larger projects or sales situations involving numerous stakeholders and requiring deeper intelligence.
- Predictive Analytics are more effective when patterns can be correlated with a rich set of customer data.
We’re seeing a plethora of solutions. Also, many providers are buying information from each other. So, for many companies, the only way to evaluate options is to try them. With such a breadth of possibilities, many companies are adopting a portfolio approach for their data providers. They continuously review their existing solutions and test new ones, keeping several that, together, provide them with the best combination.
Expansion in role
Most inside sales organizations continue to focus on lead development and prospecting. However, the point at which the opportunity is handed over to a sales rep keeps being pushed. Also, the envelope of what can be sold remotely without the involvement of field reps continues to expand. These increased responsibilities are putting additional pressure on inside sales departments to hire the right talents and train them.
Inside sales roles have also become entry positions into the sales profession for millennials. To attract talent, organizations need to offer growth and promotion opportunities to these new hires. That translates into higher levels of churn. LinkedIn shared that it has a 60% churn in its inside sales organization, mostly due to promotions to other roles.
These trends are making training, coaching, and development a vital element of inside sales. It is first and foremost an organizational and human challenge, but technology will play an important enabling role.
With so many trends on deck, 2016 will be a fun year.