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

MarkLogic Revs Up Information Applications with New Energy and Leadership

At this year’s user conference, it was clear that change is afoot at MarkLogic, whose technology platform enables users to access information more easily accessible within applications and devices. Last month the board of directors appointed a new CEO, Ken Bado, created the new position of chief marketing officer (CMO) and named a head of global services and alliances, all within three weeks. The Silicon Valley software company has been growing in the last several years but appears not fast enough for its board members. There have been a lot of advancements since my in-depth analysis in 2010 and at last years conference.

I had a chance to meet with MarkLogic’s new executives, who have extensive experience in operating large-scale technology organizations; they said they will reset some priorities to ensure it can meet its goal of being a half-billion-dollar company in five years. In our conversation they emphasized building a better and larger community for developers and launching more viral communications about their technology. I agree that MarkLogic needs to expand and be more consistent in use of its own technology for providing information to the industry; it also needs to make it easier for customers to onboard and try the technology, which provides the ability to assemble and deploy what we call information applications. Moving in this direction, already MarkLogic has started to supply more information and examples to its developer community and announced support for deployments to Amazon EC2, which it didn’t from my opinion communicate well over the last year.

To its user conference the company brought customers in publishing and government who have been using its products to meet a growing demand for access to and searching of information within both the enterprise and the Internet. Numerous customer presentations discussed applications built on MarkLogic Server 4.2, which was announced last fall. Our benchmark research on information applications and underlying platforms for them found that only 11 percent of organizations are very satisfied with their existing efforts in this area. The conference sessions suggest users are making progress using the MarkLogic technology to handle huge volumes of data and large-scale information management deployments; some are integrating MarkLogic Server with Hadoop to take advantage of that open source community. The interfacing to Hadoop is something my colleague has been researching in great detail. In fact MarkLogic is accessing petabytes of content that is indexed and accessible through its search methods to its XML information store. Early information about its next major release indicates it will be able to store more binaries and content. The use of XML and Xquery, along with interfacing to SQL, is adding versatility to the platform’s ability to integrate semistructured information across the enterprise. Our research confirms that SQL and XML are the top two standards that more than 55 percent of organizations must interface to in providing an information platform for assembling applications.

I think MarkLogic has been too secretive about the upcoming major release and not specific enough on its roadmap even to its customers. But its conference keynotes did offer some information. Jason Monberg, VP of product management, discussed three types of usage of its technology, which he called enterprise intelligence, situational awareness and information applications. They cover the bulk of how customers are using or integrating its technology. His discussion outlined a range of what is possible but was short on what capabilities are new or are being improved. It appears that the company is struggling with what to call these customer accomplishments, but the key point is that the applications are information-centric. Ron Avnur, VP of engineering, discussed what will be the three technological pillars of its next major release: a shared-nothing architecture, concurrency and indexing, along with clustering and integration with Hadoop. My conclusion is that this is an information infrastructure that can adapt to existing architectures in the enterprise for the purpose of building information applications.

One of the big challenges for MarkLogic in regard to technology and integration is how to support mobility in smartphones and tablet computers. Many potential customers and partners are adopting such products, and MarkLogic needs to lay out a clear product roadmap across the disparate Apple, Google Android, HP webOS, Microsoft Mobile and RIM platforms. The buzz at the user conference showed that customers and partners are demanding more from MarkLogic in this area, and the new executives seem to understand that they need to respond. Our research in information applications confirms the importance of supporting the gamut of mobile devices for access to information.

For the future, the company has to make its server easier to manage in terms of the information life cycle and storage and able to manage the large-scale distributed demands for data. Our research into information applications found little confidence among business people that their organization’s current skills and resources can meet the demands for information internally and even less confidence in providing it to customers and consumers.  MarkLogic and other technology providers in this area should realize that for potential customers inclined to consider others than IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP, the drivers are to increase workforce productivity, improve operational efficiency and gain a competitive advantage. Making it simpler to assemble and use information applications can support these goals, and thus they should make this a priority.

MarkLogic has enlisted consulting firms to help reach more users, but according to our research not many organizations want to hand off this responsibility; 42 percent want business analysts to work with IT to build new systems, and only 7 percent want to work with consultants, while 36 percent prefer building in IT and 15 percent would purchase packages. MarkLogic will have to be careful not to slow the time to value in getting applications deployed by pushing lengthy consulting engagements but rather deliver them in an iterative approach based on revision.

Despite the challenges, MarkLogic has a large opportunity for growth, as competing larger vendors like IBM, Oracle and SAP are focused on middleware and IT’s agenda, paying less attention to helping lines of business get the information-centric applications they desire. The point of information applications is to get the information you need, both inside and outside of the enterprise, to be better informed; they can provide direct access to the value chain of consumers, customers and suppliers, and that’s what business people want.


Mark Smith – CEO & EVP Research