March 12, 2021
March 12, 2021
For world-class sales development teams, sales engagement platforms that efficiently deliver high-quality interactions have become table stakes.
Sales engagement is overwhelmingly named by sales leaders as their top priority. These interactions between sales reps and buyers/customers are focused on the quality and volume of activity as they look to drive higher conversion rates and larger average deal sizes.
Sales engagement is such a high priority that 90% of sales leaders plan to invest in technologies and methodologies to help their sellers engage effectively with prospects and customers.
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Until recently, only a handful of startups have played an outsized role in developing innovative products and driving adoption, primarily with early adopter sales organizations. However, over the past few years, sales development technology vendors and sales technology vendors have been creating applications that enable sellers to deliver high-quality sales engagement at scale. In fact, sales engagement technology has become table stakes for sales teams in the technology industry.
We believe this category is having its breakout moment as evidenced by three market dynamics:
Sales engagement consists of the various interactions (digital, in-person, phone and so on) that sellers have with prospects and customers. This technology enables sales departments to efficiently deliver high-quality interactions with prospects and customers at scale.
The following figure shows the major segments that make up the sales engagement technology stack. The most important part of the stack — the sales engagement platform — sits between the CRM and the rest of stack. It acts as the management console for the engagement process while sending activity data back to the CRM.
CRM is fundamentally an internal application that houses and organizes data. Until Salesforce’s announcement of the Einstein High Velocity Sales Cloud, the CRM vendors have not been perceived as sufficiently supporting sales engagement, thus requiring companies to invest in stand-alone sales engagement applications rather than using the CRM itself for these functions.
The sales engagement category consists of five key segments. Some of these are standalone tools or solutions while others are features of other applications.
Channels. Channels are the sales delivery mechanisms for engaging with prospects and customers. They include a number of technologies such as dialers, texting, sales email, video, web conferencing, direct mail, chat, LinkedIn, other social media and more.
Content and messaging recommendations. This technology makes real-time recommendations accessible to reps during execution. For example, email templates or presentation decks provide content that sellers should use. Real-time wikis might provide instant answers to buyers’ questions. Technologies include knowledge management and content management. Much of this functionality is included with sales enablement applications that provide solutions for onboarding and training.
Optimization. Optimization provides in-depth analysis of sales engagement execution, which can be followed by data-driven automated suggestions. Technologies include conversation and meeting intelligence, both of which record and analyze the conversations.
Sales activity automation. Sales activity automation is becoming more proactive by executing mundane activities without human intervention. For example, instead of sales reps sending their initial proposals to the finance team, the system may do this automatically.
Sales engagement platforms. These platforms serve as a single interface to plan, execute, track, measure and optimize interactions between sales teams and customers across multiple touches and channels. This kind of platform is the key driver of growth in the sales engagement technology market.
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The sales engagement platform is a single interface to efficiently plan, execute, track, measure and optimize interactions between sales and customers across multiple touches and channels. As a segment, the sales engagement platform has seen the fastest growth rates of all the technology in the overall sales engagement category.
Three data points from the 2017 TOPO Sales Development Technology Benchmark Report highlight the importance of sales engagement platforms:
The explosive growth of sales engagement platforms can be attributed to their success with sales development organizations, the team responsible for prospecting or following up on leads to schedule qualified meetings for sales. For world-class sales development teams, the sales engagement platform has become table stakes.
Because of this, our analysts rank sales engagement platforms as a Level 1 technology (along with CRM, contact data and LinkedIn). Level 1 technologies are considered mandatory purchases for sales development teams of all sizes.
A number of key drivers have contributed to the rise of sales engagement platforms:
Our analysts estimate that the top platforms are getting 60%+ daily active users. Daily active users are calculated by dividing the total number of users by the number that log in to the application and complete at least one action.
In comparison, traditional enterprise software gets 10% to 20% daily active users. The take-away from this data is that sales engagement platforms are a preferred user interface (UI) for reps. With that kind of stickiness, vendors have been able to continually add features that traditionally reside in other applications and, as a result, the amount of rep activity continues to grow in the platform at the expense of these other applications, including the CRM.
The reason reps spend all day in these platforms is that it provides value to them. They can communicate with customers and get instant gratification with the results (e.g., email replies, forwards, opens).
The most popular sales engagement platforms are built around email capabilities. And in today’s digital world, sales communications center around email, which is the most efficient and effective method for connecting to prospects at scale.
For example, outbound touch patterns are typically created around email sends. Touch-pattern design starts when the emails will be sent (for example, on days 1, 3, 7 and 14). Everything else is set up to support the email campaign.
According to the TOPO SDR Benchmark Report, 80% of world-class sales development representatives teams use at least three channels and deliver at least 15.5 touches per contact. These touches are organized into patterns that specify the touches, when they are delivered and the messaging for each. Sales engagement platforms allow organizations to build, execute and evaluate these touch patterns.
Reaching out to prospects/customers is increasingly complex. Outbound communications are multithreaded, that is, reps need to reach the array of stakeholders involved in the purchase of their solution. The messaging and approach is differentiated based on the stakeholder.
For example, the touch pattern to a manager-level prospect might be a 16-touch campaign focused on tactical challenges (such as the pains of managing a particular solution). Meanwhile, the touch pattern to an executive might be a six-touch campaign focused on the strategic value of the solution and include a direct mail price and an executive-to-executive email, followed by highly customized emails and calls.
The best sales communications are complicated: multichannel, multitouch and individualized to the buyer. This approach requires automation not just to execute but also to use data to figure out what works and then to improve effectiveness across the board, from current reps to onboarding.
Most sales engagement platform vendors started as sales email applications. More recently, many vendors have added dialing capabilities.
If the phone fails to deliver, it is changed out immediately. Dialing out of the sales engagement platforms has worked. Customers have adopted the phone feature, and the potential for sales engagement platforms as true multichannel tools has been realized.
Platform vendors do not have to directly support all the features required to round out the sales engagement platform. That’s why a robust partner is needed to fill out the channels they don’t support directly like direct mail, chat, and other key integrations such as sales intelligence and conversational intelligence.
The leading platform vendors are successfully creating their partnership ecosystem, filling in the gaps and allowing sales to continue to use a single engagement interface.
To understand what a sales engagement platform is, it’s helpful to break down the element.
The following factors provide a significant upgrade from the status quo.
Outreach and SalesLoft are the dominant players in the sales engagement platform market. TOPO estimates that at least one of these two vendors is considered in 85% of sales engagement application purchases.
Other vendors include:
Salesforce's sales engagement platform product, Einstein High Velocity Sales Cloud, not only validates the sales engagement category, but with its mass distribution channel, promises to accelerate customer adoption.
Salesforce’s solution includes a number of key features:
We believe sales engagement will become a multibillion-dollar market. Today, the technology has a relatively small footprint in sales, but that promises to change as sales engagement platforms continue to add features and functionality designed specifically for closing sales reps.
There are two key areas of the sales engagement platforms that resonate with sales:
The platforms are adding new features and filling gaps via partnerships to support engagement in the actual sales process. Some of these features include:
Next-best actions is the ability for technology to make recommendations based on previous activity is the future of engagement. For example, when a product demonstration is completed, a system should recommend what to offer or do next based on analysis of the prospect’s previous activity, the conversation, and data from similar buyers and patterns. This is the promise of AI. The real impact will come in future iterations of the platform.
In addition to expanding into the closing sales function, we forecast a number of other changes, including:
Optimizing the customer success/customer marketing process is becoming a strategic imperative. Customer success and account management have similar needs to sales development such as the need to design, execute and optimize their communications with customers at scale.
One trend in the data has been customers seeing higher conversion rates from their sales engagement platform than their marketing sends. A seemingly personal webinar invite will convert better than a send from a general email address.
The B2B chat market is seeing exponential growth led by one of the hottest vendors in martech/salestech: Drift. Marketing wants higher conversion from its web traffic, and sales wants another channel to engage. As chat continues to grow, its integration into the platform is critical. Today, it is used as a one-to-one channel but soon chatbots will handle some of the engagement automatically.
While not entirely pain-free, organizations can switch prospecting tools, especially when they are used primarily for email prospecting. They become harder to rip out when the platforms start to integrate internal business processes. For example, the software might alert a security engineer to send a security document as a follow up from a sales presentation,
The biggest drain on sales rep productivity is clicking and typing. The promise of the voice assistant is to use voice to tackle the mundane tasks of updating the CRM, conversation transcription and proactive recommendations. Voice assistants are here now via Salesforce and Tact.ai. The technology is a work-in-progress — as it improves, sales reps will free up even more time to engage.
There are two parts to the sales engagement category: quantity and quality. Quantity is being addressed today; quality will be next.
The conversational and meeting intelligence markets are major steps in the right direction, but there is obviously a lot of potential, for example, with Microsoft Dynamics. The majority of the narrative has been around the Salesforce ecosystem while Microsoft has been building features to enable sales to deliver valuable engagement. Its Dynamics release will have conversational intelligence and notes analysis. It will also create talking points based on past interactions and will recommend when to reach back out and what to say.
Today, actions are based on static workflows or processes. The platforms will be able to expand their ability to make credible recommendations based on the buyer’s activity matched against the larger dataset.
There are many applications that are the preferred UIs for sales reps including Slack, email, LinkedIn, etc. CRM vendors are allowing sales reps to work as they prefer and are focused on owning the data.
CRM will become the data repository for all activity — marketing, sales, customer service, finance, product — and provide the end-to-end visibility. Sales engagement platforms will continue to be a preferred UI, and this preference will only grow with added functionality and integrations.
Given these dynamics, we expect to see accelerating growth in the sales engagement market. From an end-user perspective, delivering a high-quality experience to customers at scale is the No. 1 priority in sales organizations today.
From a vendor perspective, we are seeing innovation and rapid adoption as a fundamental component of the sales tech stack. Sales engagement will continue to be a key area of focus for our analyst team.
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