We all live in a very fast-changing world and salespeople are not an exception. They feel stressed to close more deals and shorten their sales cycle, but at the same time we load them with a lot of other tasks. They need to learn a variety of tools (often as self-education), keep up extensive reports, track their activities and so on, which leaves them very little time left for actual sales (Gartner says it is less than 30% of their time).
Thus, I would say that the biggest challenge for salespeople is being able to focus on sales itself.
And again, let me be clear here, we are talking about salespeople, not sales managers. As for sales managers, I think that their challenge is slightly different. Their challenge mainly is their level of trust to the pipeline. If I am a sales manager my main question is: “Can I be sure that at the end of the quarter we’re going to fulfill these numbers? Is it safe for me to bring that forecast to my CEO?” Simply determining whether or not these numbers can be trusted is often a matter of incredible stress and time. That is why people are investing huge amounts into sales automation tools and processes. That is why we all spend so much time on pipeline meetings. All this leads to a very simple question – do I really have a forecast I can trust? Will we make it?
If someone or something could guarantee with 100% accuracy that whatever I see in my pipeline report would be the figures at the end of the quarter, that would be magic.
Well, of course, Salesforce automation helps. Otherwise, it would not be the multi-billion industry as it is. People are seeing a huge return on investment through Salesforce automation, though I personally think that sales automation helps sales managers more than it helps salespeople. For salespeople, it simply represents a reporting tool to get better data reports to managers.
Because the problem facing salespeople is to find enough time to focus on the right things, the best CRM should be as invisible as possible. The need to use CRM should not eat their time! Instead, CRM should help them to save their time.
Thus, in my view,
– When it comes to collecting the data, CRM is the best when it’s truly invisible. Listening, recording, and taking automatic, intelligent actions is a huge part of that process.
– And when it comes to interactions with CRM, I think that the best CRM is an actionable tool which tells you what to do instead of simply giving you a report.
Despite all of the predictions over the last decade, I would say email is not dead. Yes, there are also messengers for short communications in chats and other platforms, but email is very much alive. I would say, “Email is dead. Long live email.” And having said that, look at people, look at us, look at yourself. We all live in our Inbox and Calendar because we do everything through communications, like we always will. A big chunk of our communication stays in email. Yes, we do talk to people in real life. Yes, we do talk to them over the phone, though, less and less. We prefer short messages and we prefer email. Take a look at kids, they don’t call each other, they text each other. So, once they grow up and enter the workforce, they’re going to be doing the same. Many of them already do. They don’t call. They send messages. And, when it comes to something more serious than just short messages, we have email. That is why, since people live in emails, and so many things are happening in emails, it’s really vital to connect that email to Salesforce automation, so things which are happening there can be automatically tracked.
All sales teams are different in their own way, even within the same company. In order to automate diverse teams with similar tools, a successful CRM must be fine-tuned, unique, and personalized. That’s why every CRM deployment is a bit bumpy at first. It takes time to dial in each feature to the perfect level. Only when everything is customized just right would I call it “smart.” It’s easy to overly complicate things during the implementation process, but you may also lose very important details if you try to oversimplify.
I am absolutely sure that without a deep and extensive connection between CRM and email people wouldn’t see the full value in the product. They would see that it’s just more work for them to conduct CRM but it doesn’t give them anything back, since they still do their job somewhere else. And often – it is Inbox, not CRM.
Let’s take a look on it from another angle. There are ton of routines we force our sales reps to do, but some of those are very mechanical and repetitive, which means it could easily be automated. A “smart” automation would identify and automate as much of such steps, as possible. This automation can free salespeople from the need of doing things manually and provide them with valuable extra time to focus on something that they could do, which IT infrastructure could not do. This is what I call “smart automation.”
As I’ve already mentioned, I truly believe that a CRM should be actionable. Imagine if you have a CRM where you, as a sales rep look in, and that CRM tells you, “Hey you are 60% towards your yearly quota. You’ll have a great chance to fulfill it because your pipeline looks healthy. To fulfill your yearly plans, today you need to email five new leads, focus on three follow-ups, send a couple of quotas, and, btw, here are all these leads and opps you need to focus on today”. Assuming the CRM suggests the right actions, salespeople simply default to the CRM, doing whatever the CRM suggests. By freeing up time from decision making, salespeople are able to focus on important tasks again, meeting or even exceeding their quota.
For me, an actionable CRM is an observant one. It observes what’s going on, then provides intelligent suggestions to help fulfill company goals. This is very different from the traditional CRM many of us use today. What we see in traditional CRM automation is sales managers invent and then “hardcode” in CRM some processes which salespeople are forced to follow. It does not help them to sell, it does help managers to control. Whereas a traditional CRM might force salespeople to take very specific actions, a modern, actionable CRM astutely provides hints and suggestions to help drive success.
My view on AI in the sales process is like in Elvis Presley’s song, I would say, “Wise man say only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you.” That’s so true.
Yes, AI is a very popular term right now. In all of the industries there’s so much talk about AI and so much enthusiasm about AI. We need to understand one important thing though – AI works the best when it has a lot of data to process and to build the predictions or answers based on. Having that said, AI in sales is not AI in chess or in Go games. It’s not AI when analyzing pictures and deciding what is in the picture. Unlike in these examples, when it comes to the sales process you simply cannot generalize all the data collected from various sources and feed it to a neural network. Dog is dog on whatever picture we process and checkmate is checkmate whoever played a chess game. But the sales process is so unique on every single team, that you cannot generalize here. Which is why we really need to be accurate with introducing AI in the sales process. We need to walk before we run. Sometimes the best AI is accomplishing something as simple as providing statistical observation to guide future actions. Once we can observe a successful, repeatable routine, AI could be aptly applied. And what is helpful in one team may be absolutely not applicable for another and vice versa. This is the approach we’re taking with AI elements in our product. We really pay a lot of attention to each team’s specific and tune our AI conclusions and suggestions to every particular case.
But long story short – I am absolutely confident AI may and will bring tons of value for salespeople.
Well, I would say that an immediate value is just to get your data fully synchronized and be better armed for customer-facing discussions.
As for sync. Say, you live in your Inbox, you live in the Calendar, you live on the phone – that’s how you communicate with your clients. Your contacts are in your Salesforce, on your cellphone, and in your Exchange. Once you have Salesforce and Inbox tightly connected, your contacts are synchronized between your CRM, your Exchange and your cellphone – you’re better prepared because you don’t spend time searching for a contact. You do not get over-booked or double-booked because your calendars are in sync. You do not spend time on recording activities back to CRM since emails are getting tracked automatically.
In addition to synchronizing your data, you’ll also be better armed for customer-facing discussions. Any time you receive or type an email, you’ll see insights coming from CRM, see the status of opportunity, see who else is involved, know if there are any open cases, and see all recent interactions.
As a result, SmartCloud Connect increases the adoption of Salesforce itself, which is often being used invisibly in the background. Managers then see their employees sending emails, tracking data, and being active users, which promotes sales and a more productive business environment.
Let me rephrase here. I would put it this way, “What businesses rely on Calendar and Inbox in these processes? You tell me. If you respond to yourself with “Yeah, my business actually heavily relies on Inbox, we do things through emails and in meetings,” then my answer to that is that there is definitely synergy. There is definitely value in connecting your Inbox and your Exchange to your Salesforce. SmartCloud Connect can undoubtedly help. Plus, also keep in mind that SmartCloud Connect not only connects to Salesforce, it may be connected to any other system, like ERP or accounting system or document management system, etc. This can greatly increase the value of integration. Imagine if I’m exchanging an email with someone, I can see not only the status of the opportunity but also the status of invoice coming from Quickbooks or my files which are associated with this account and residing in Sharepoint or in Dropbox. Realistically, any business which relies on communication in email could synergize with what Smartcloud Connect is doing, and greatly benefit from it.
Before I answer this question, I must explain that SmartCloud Connect has three main layers: data synchronization, a UI component and the “smartness” of SmartCloud Connect. We definitely plan to improve on each layer. In data sync, we will be extending the ability to auto-synchronize the data. We will be applying AI tactics and strategies here to be smart about auto-sync. We’ll be determining what data needs to be synchronized and what doesn’t. I believe Smartcloud Connect is the best solution on the market which synchronizes Inbox, Calendar and Salesforce the right way, as it should be. But the sky is the only limit, and we hit so many corner cases through our customer base that we definitely improve the data sync engine and we make it better.
In our next layer, which is UI, I would say that we will be again focusing on vertical scenarios and specifics which are coming from our customers as well as market trends. Marketing scenarios, Service, HR, E-commerce, etc.
On the other hand, because of our close relationships with Microsoft, we are very quickly adopting everything which becomes available. Microsoft constantly improves the technology on which SmartCloud Connect is built (as you know, it’s fully cloud-based and there is nothing to deploy) and we react on such improvements immediately. Just to give you an example, as soon as Microsoft introduced the ability to have the add-on in Outlook on iOS devices, we were the first, and I believe the only one, even up to date, which provided that ability in SmartCloud Connect. Right now, we are seeing an improvement in Microsoft technology for Android and we will pick it up as well. They are promising a ton of improvements for Mac users, and again we are with them even before they release because of our partnership and early access to what is upcoming.
The third layer, which may be the most interesting, revolves around intelligence. There are a ton of things involved with this layer. We at Invisible.io truly believe that CRM system is the smartest sales rep in each company just because it knows it all. Whether recent, or older data, CRM knows way more than any other salespeople in the company – it is just stored there! Now, on the other end, we have Exchange or Gmail, our email server. And that server not only “knows it all,” but it knows every single, little detail. Because all the conversations are actually there and it’s again recorded in the history. The only “small” problem is that we don’t use such experience. No one asks CRM and Inbox what they would advise to do, based on their experience and based on everything which has happened in the history. We’re set to close that gap with our SmartCloud Connect. Now, when SmartCloud Connect is in place and it connects CRM with Inbox, Exchange, or Gmail, we uncover the tremendous power of data. Using the data which is in the CRM, we can analyze the past, analyze a pipeline, and see what we have won, what we have lost, and how that happened through various email conversations. CRM can use that information and relate it to a current pipeline. It will analyze the conversations and make suggestions based on prior successes. There is a ton of potential value sitting here and we are already digging actively to find more and more use cases to automate. We are applying AI and ML in addition to simple statistical observations. This is what we’re the most passionate about, and that’s where you can expect a lot of announcements and updates from us next year. Thank you!