If you’d been around salespeople as recently as the 1990s, you might have heard a top rep brag, “Just give me a phone and a roll of quarters, and I can make money.” Thirty years ago, having a silver tongue and access to the right people was about all it took. Companies invested in field reps with the style and skill to sell ice to Eskimos. Their tech stack consisted of a phone, a Rolodex and a company credit card.
Today, that’s all changed. A skillful and tenacious rep still makes a significant difference. But the competitive edge rests with one’s tech stack and all the insight and control it can provide. If you’re slow to adopt new technology, your goal attainment could drop 12% year-over-year. If your tech stack is up-to-date, however, your ability to achieve goals could rise as much as 11%.
In many respects, the tech stack gave birth to the growth of inside sales. It did so by putting more customer data, analytics, sales resources and leads at the inside sales rep’s fingertips.
The inside sales rep’s keyboard command center delivers powerful tools for monitoring the status of prospects and setting sales strategies:
- Lead management software helps reps manage the sales pipeline.
- Sales enablement tools provide access to sales materials.
- Customer relationship management (CRM) systems allow reps and managers to monitor the progress of every lead, opportunity and deal in the making.
- Content management and automation tools give reps easy access to videos, whitepapers, presentations, competitive literature, blogs and more.
- Forecasting and predictive analytics help management set expectations and gain insights on customers and high-value prospects.
- Configure price quote software even optimizes the pricing and quoting process.
But where does the tech stack go from here?
Where Is Inside Sales Technology Going?
The best way to determine where we’re going is to understand where we’ve been. The earliest changes began with efforts to digitize traditional tools and techniques. Personal digital assistants (PDAs) mobilized the desktop Rolodex and calendar, spreadsheets and database management tools. Also, contact management software helped reps begin to organize their customer records.
But the leap forward came with CRM—even though most reps found updating their records so cumbersome and time-consuming that weaning them off notebooks and scraps of paper was next to impossible. Still, with time came refinements. CRM systems became more intuitive and mobile, and today are credited with boosting sales, productivity and forecasting accuracy by double digits while shortening sales cycles by as much as 14%.
With the mainstreaming of CRM, the rise of Big Data and advances in machine learning, automation and analytics, the race was on. It turns out that technology is a bit like potato chips. No one can stop with just one. In the last nine years, Scott Brinker’s Marketing Technology Landscape grew from 150 to more than 8,000 resources.
Today, sales and marketing departments have enough technology to cobble together massive systems to collect, organize, manage, analyze and forecast sales—without ever leaving the office.
To the future belongs the task of managing the beast with a tech stack that is better integrated, more automated and a whole lot smarter.
More Time for Selling
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: most reps spend only about a third of their time selling. This one statistic best captures the problem with the tech stack: It may be powerful, but it can bury a sales rep in administrative tasks.
The systems of the future won’t only carry out the inside sales rep’s requests; they will bring more value by monitoring the rep’s work and anticipating the next steps.
Imagine: As a rep finishes a call, the system automatically updates all records and follows through on the next steps. Integration is so tight that all tools perform as one system. Without a single request from the rep, follow-up emails are sent, and links to relevant articles or other content are included. Also, marketing and sales campaign sequences are updated, and, if needed, pricing and quotes are provided.
All this will happen while the rep is on to the next call in the queue.
A Greater Focus on Insights
While a certain amount of data is already obtained automatically, imagine a future when all inside sales reps will have every conversation with a lead, prospect or client automatically captured, transcribed, integrated into the system and analyzed.
Reps will no longer be responsible for collecting data, updating systems or even running analytics. When they are not selling, they can review their sales metrics, identify their winning practices and continue to improve their selling strategies.
Future automation won’t merely make a rep’s job easier; it will add value to the job.
Understanding Best Practices for Better Onboarding and Training
Future automation won’t only add value for the individual reps; the data that systems will capture and analyze will revolutionize training and onboarding.
Today, on average, a new hire will spend ten weeks doing training and onboarding exercises but can’t be expected to be fully productive for almost a year.
Now image a time in the not-so-distant future when the selling strategies and best practices of every member of the sales team are collectively analyzed and turned into training tools for new reps and coaching programs for anyone who needs additional help.
Smarter Systems Are the Common Denominator
Of course, all this value-added functionality is the result of inside sales tech stacks becoming a whole lot smarter. In the next few years, we can expect sales-based AI to grow almost 140% and a whopping 70% of a customer’s experience to be driven by AI and machine learning. Systems will collect enough data to understand customers’ needs and automate a rep’s more mundane tasks.
Although the tech stacks of the future will be bigger and more complex than ever, in many ways, they won’t feel so imposing. Automation, integration and AI will insulate reps from the technology and return their focus to their primary objective — selling.