The Business of Sales Research Agenda for 2012

Investing wisely in sales-related people and processes is a key to business success. In 2012, helping sales staff perform at their highest levels should be a top priority for management. That may take some effort, according to our benchmark research, which indicates that only 14 percent of sales organizations operate at the highest level of innovation and competitiveness. In recent years, most organizations merely discussed moving beyond using only their sales force automation application and Microsoft Office for improving sales efficiency. Now sales organizations can move beyond systems that were designed decades ago, thanks to the availability of a broad range of applications to support sales activities and processes. In fact dozens of new types of sales applications are available to help sales focus on selling, which creates another issue. Where should sales organizations focus their limited resources and budgets?

Ventana Research intends to provide guidance here. We have identified important overall business trends identified, including big data, business analytics, business collaboration, cloud computing, mobile technology and social media; all of these areas offer new competitive opportunities for improving sales efficiency and effectiveness. For example, the use of sales analytics puts 17 percent of sales organizations at the Innovative level of maturity in the Ventana Research Sales Analytics benchmark research. These organizations benefit from daily and weekly metrics about the pipeline and forecasting, quotas and the performance of account reps. As well renting sales applications through cloud computing has become the preferred practice in 41 percent of sales organizations, compared to 25 percent that purchase them in an on-premises, according to the Ventana Research Sales Performance Management benchmark research. In mobile technology, 67 percent of sales staffs use smartphones today, 17 percent use tablets, and 30 percent plan to expand their existing deployments, according to our research. In the area of collaboration, having people broadcast and post their needs to help in the sales process is a top priority in more than one-quarter of sales teams, compared to legacy methods of electronic mail and instant messaging. 

Our upcoming research aims to help your sales organization turn these business technology advancements to your sales advantage. Ventana’s 2012 research agenda on the business of sales will focus on three key areas at the intersection of people, processes, information and technology: improving the potential of the sales organization, establishing dedicated methods to manage sales and accelerating time to sales readiness. 

In the area of improving potential, we will look at the use of social and collaborative technology to coach and guide sales. We will examine the use of mobile applications accessible from smartphones and tablets. And we will assess the use of product information management to help configure deals and price them efficiently. Each of these address the need to improve access for sales to the applications that can help improve the potential of achieving revenue targets.

Establishing dedicated methods to manage sales requires many sales organizations to improve compensation and incentives that influence sales reps’ performance. Sales forecasting was identified as the most important application for 65 percent of sales organizations in our research, yet most are still using spreadsheets, which we found to impede the management of sales. Instead, sales forecasting should be a team-based business process that incorporates management of the pipeline. Sales analytics and metrics can help optimize activities and processes in key management categories including people, performance, process and risk. Our research found that 86 percent of organizations want to have simpler sales analytics, but most struggle with the difficulty of building and maintaining silos of one-off spreadsheets and presentations. Managing sales can be much easier with targeted applications that can assist managers with oversight and guidance.

Finally, accelerating time to sales readiness is important because many organizations perform tasks that take two to 10 times longer than necessary, and they often wait for long periods to get the information they need. Organizations can use SFA as a source of information for the operational and performance needs of sales, but a best practice is to use integration tools. Cloud computing can reduce IT challenges and resources while providing ready access to applications and information. Providing information through mobile and social media also can improve sales readiness and make it easier to respond to sales opportunities. Scattered information was rated as the most significant impediment in 58 percent of sales organizations, indicating the importance of improving the management and use of information.

Our research agenda will examine applications that focus on sales, considering the broad range of analytics, assets, channel, coaching, commission, forecasting, incentives, leads, learning, objectives, performance, pipeline, planning, pricing, promotion, proposal, quoting, quota, reporting, rewards, sales force automation and territory. In addition, our Ventana Research Value Index methodology again will assess vendors and their suites of applications and tools in sales performance management. Our newly released benchmark on sales applications and technology uncovered the priorities of organizations in applications as well as new technology trends, and we have previously released research on sales analyticsbusiness and sales data in the cloud and total compensation management. The next benchmark we’re conducting is in the area of product information management, and it will be followed by sales forecasting

I believe that 2012 will be a critical year for sales operations teams, which have to perform more tasks faster and more effectively than ever before. Only 39 percent of sales organizations have any confidence in their organizations’ ability to manage sales operations and performance, indicating a significant opportunity for improvement. Utilizing new applications and software that can handle analytics and planning for tasks in sales will be essential in helping sales staffs utilize their time efficiently. Simplifying access to applications through mobile technology and enabling sales people to work collaboratively and socially should be key priorities for sales executives. 

Sales cannot overachieve without making investments that target the culture and environment that sales executives want to establish. Our research will help them understand the best practices that can save time and money while reducing the risk of failing to achieve maximum results.


Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer

Visier Is a New Force in Workforce Analytics

In the last year some software vendors have been developing a new generation of workforce analytics that leaves pie and bar charts behind in their dashboards and reports in favor of a more intuitive approach. One such company, Visier,is now demonstrating such a fresh approach, which exemplifies what business analytics in general and especially those used to optimize and understand the workforce should look like. I spent time at the HR Technology Conference and Expo in Las Vegas this week reviewing the software and talking with the development team to learn about the company and its products.

Visier’s software has visualization and interactivity features that change the way users understand pertinent information and expose underlying root-cause issues that they should address. Visier Workforce Analytics includes defined workforce metrics and indicators that can help users examine their workforce processes to determine where to recruit talent and how to retain it. It guides managers in HR, finance and operations to look at areas where an organization can apply performance and compensation techniques to ensure they keep the talent they have and avoid the cost and time of replacing trained staff – an expense most organizations overlook. Our recent workforce analytics benchmark research found the time from onboarding to job proficiency to be the most important metric in 77 percent of organizations, followed by time to hire (67%); both indicate the importance of quickly getting new hires contributing to the organization. That issue can be minimized if the organization focuses on retaining talent that also requires insight on compensation and incentives to gain insight on pay for performance methods that require analytics as found in our total compensation management benchmark and performance appraisals and review data that needs to be accessible as we found in our performance management benchmark.

Using this application is simple and requires no help from IT resources. This is a significant benefit in light of our research, which found that for half of organizations the worst impediment in the workforce analytics process is information that is not actionable. The Visier software also makes it easy to notify others about key findings in the workforce analytics, which enables more collaboration, a capability that 56 percent of organizations desire.

The product guides users through check, assess, explore and review steps that help streamline the stages in using analytics to improve business. The analytics are processed in ways that help you understand what is really going on in your workforce, such as providing indicators of underlying issues that contribute to problems with people, processes and performance. It shows how these key indicators are calculated across metrics and where improvements are needed. In addition you can create what-if scenarios and set thresholds or warnings for tolerance levels that can provide notifications if performance does not fall within them. The software also provides advanced clustering that makes it easy to see problems that underlie the analytics.

Seeing is believing, and the business-quality charting and visualization set Visier Workforce Analytics apart. Many products have long just presented bar and pie charts and called it analytics, even though they did not show users where to focus and what to do. Visier’s visualization of analytics makes it simple to understand and act upon information.

The largest challenge for Visier is not the sophistication or experience of its product; it’s marketing the product as a tool to help organizations save time, decrease costs and also discover opportunities for improvement. Visier’s analytics and visualization are unique, and the better the company explains them to the market, the faster it will find customers for this approach to business analytics. It could see significant growth if it can break the spreadsheet logjam and show potential customers how fast they can go from silos of data and reports to a better set of workforce analytics. Providing direct access to demonstrations on the Internet would help, too. I would love to see the application available on a tablet so management could use it to do reviews, and I expect this will come in the future.

Visier has set a workforce analytics challenge for talent management and human capital management providers that do not deliver the accessibility and usability that users require. Our workforce analytics research found that only 30 percent of organizations are satisfied with their existing software, even fewer with their existing process – and not coincidentally that the majority of organizations (62%) use spreadsheets for this purpose. These facts suggest a bright future for Visier, thanks to its visual approach that will help change how we think and work with workforce analytics and thereby help businesses become more efficient and effective in talent management.


Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer