When Salesforce.com was launched in 2000, it revolutionized the software industry and the cloud movement was born. While the motto was ‘the end of software’, back in those days the company was also all redefining CRM /SFA (sales force automation). The Salesforce promise was its application was designed for and to help sales people be more effective. A message that resonated with sales leaders since Clarify and Siebel were basically sales management reporting applications masquerading as CRM platforms.
As this $5 Billion company grew, it changed from a SaaS application provider to a platform provider. For good reason, platforms have stronger staying power in a rapidly evolving market. As more application vendors build on Force.com, the platform becomes sticker and revenue more predictable. It’s a nice business to be in.
In that transformation to a platform provider, Salesforce opened the door to upstart competitors that could seed its demise. That door is their SFA/CRM application. The very application that was built for sales people has not kept up with the needs of sales. Today’s complaints about the application sound haunting familiar to those made about Clarify and Siebel over a decade ago: Cumbersome, not intuitive, problematic reliability, and difficult to customize.
Not good considering the state of sales performance. Accenture’s latest report – Powering Profitable Sales Growth – points out that in 2014, “just six in 10 (59%) sales representatives are expected to achieve his/her quota, down from 67% in 2013.” That costs companies, according to Accenture and CSO Insights, 3.2 percent in potential revenue.
Contributing to the decline is sales performance is that “only 51 percent of sales organizations use a formal step-by-step selling process, only eight percent have a formal sales methodology implemented, sales teams spend less than 40 percent of their time selling, and less than 20 percent use analytics to spot cross-sell opportunities or at-risk customers.
Recapturing this potential revenue requires a combination of training, technology-enabled sales tools and better use of data and analytics. “The combination of mobility, the cloud, sales analytics and cutting-edge content management has created a new opportunity to enhance the performance of the average sales performer,” said Robert Wollan, global managing director, Accenture Strategy, Sales & Customer Service. “This opportunity is being missed, and companies need to improve their focus on the right combination of these resources to help improve competitiveness and deliver higher sales and margins.”
An opportunity that Salesforce, SAP, Oracle and Microsoft have missed as each diversified, broadly, its focus and mission. Walking through that open door is a handful of upstart competitors like Pipeliner CRM and Base.
Pipeliner CRM has three guiding principles: Flexibility, simplicity, and visualization. According to Eric Quanstrom, CMO, "People absorb visual information 60,000 times faster than tired, tabular data. It is through our highly graphical interface that much of the complexity in sales data is eliminated.” Unlike the majority of SaaS applications vendors, this new breed of CRM vendors use growth-hacking techniques to rapidly evolve their products to meet their users changing needs and usage behaviors.
That doesn’t mean the Cloud application is functionally lightweight. It supports multiple configurable pipelines where users can do things like: set up a sales pipeline for better lead management and nurturing, a business development pipeline for managing partner or channel recruitment, and a “market influencer” pipeline for tracking and managing customer evangelists and advocates. Managing multiple pipelines more accurately reflects how organization’s value chains work and their linkages to revenue generation.
Sales performance is enabled by providing visual analytics and eliminating as much data entry as possible, as Pipeliner CRM does with their Buying Center. New to CRM, this feature pops a visual face onto the organization salespeople sell into. “No salesperson works as an island. Our app has built-in ways for every member of the sales team to be on the same page, which includes being able to quickly spot the budget holders, gatekeepers, influencers, and other roles are in every deal,” said Quanstrom.
Baked into the application are robust predictive analytics that provide out-of-the-box intelligence on deals, sales opportunities, lead management, sales time utilization, and automated alerts to help employees, in any department, focus on the right things. Quanstrom calls it the “See it. Zero in. Do it.” model .
No full-time administrator is needed since the application is maintained through internal crowd-sourced administration features. By eliminating time-consuming complexity with drag-and-drop ease as well as lots of customer data entry through APIs with over 40 applications like accounting and marketing automation applications, Pipeliner CRM enables companies to set up their system to mirror their actual sales methodology and evolve it to stay in lock step with company change.
Another competitor is Base which positions itself as an intelligent sales productivity platform. A web and mobile application focused on functionality that understands the context of what a sales person is doing. The application’s goal is to be ‘one-stop’ and offers functionality Sales need to manage the lifecycle of a lead and do their jobs, from email through analytics and performance coaching.
What’s striking about Base is the user-interface; think consumer–grade user experience meets enterprise application. All functionality is mobile native, from lead scoring, analytics to sales opportunity bottleneck and sales call / territory visit mapping. Uzi Shmilovici, Base’s CEO and founder, started the company to raise the bar in how sales teams are enabled and managed. The problem he wants to eliminate is that Sales typically logs into seven systems to get the information they need to do their jobs well.
His first rule was that everything must be visual, fast, intuitive and easy to use. The second rule was it must support a company’s workflow processes while also enabling real-time, in-the-deal coaching to improve each sales person’s productivity based on their unique strengths and weakness.
Both companies are young and have raised enough money and paying customers to prove there is a huge unmet need in the marketplace. With their eyes set on market share and the growing dissatisfaction with Sales Cloud, these and other upstarts could turn Salesforce’s strength in their Achilles heel.
That is the price for leaving the door open, Salesforce.
First posted in my Forbes Blog.