Connected digital technologies are bringing a transformation in how enterprises interact with their customers, and the sales profession is right in the vanguard of these huge changes. Several key changes in the nature of selling are reflected in new features that CRM giant Salesforce is adding to Sales Cloud, its flagship sales automation platform, and which it unveiled yesterday to coincide with the London leg of its World Tour conference series.
Delivered either as part of the top-tier Sales Cloud Unlimited package, or as add-ons to the next tier Enterprise edition, the new features include various new AI-powered recommendations, intelligent workflow automation, call coaching and insights based on digital recording and transcription of calls and meetings, self-service subscription processes, and industry-specific revenue management dashboards. There is also a Slack for Sales Cloud package to connect sales processes into the Slack messaging app. During the day, I sat down with Ketan Karkhanis, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Sales Cloud, to discuss how these various features reflect the changes customers have been seeing in how their sales teams work with customers.
Before I get to that, it's worth noting that Salesforce wasn't the only CRM vendor with product news yesterday. Microsoft announced a new app called Viva Sales, which connects from CRM apps into Teams, Outlook and Office. This maps to some of the same trends mentioned above, using the Teams messaging platform and underlying AI capabilities from Microsoft 365 to help automate sales workflows and provide intelligent recommendations and reminders. It will come with out-of-the-box integration to Salesforce as well as Microsoft Dynamics 365, with public preview due next month and general availability following later in the year. I'll have more to say on that in 'My take' below.
Adapting to virtual sales calls
All this change has been bewildering for B2B sales professionals, who "have lost all their tools of trade," says Karkhanis. Instead of building relationships in traditional face-to-face environments, they've had to adapt to virtual encounters, and yet the tools haven't kept pace. This week's announcements aim to fill that gap, as he explains:
Can you imagine every virtual call — you're doing five, six a day — taking notes, transcribing, uploading, updating, and because you're taking notes, you're not truly connecting with the person?
Now imagine all of that getting auto transcribed for you and auto updated in your CRM, so you don't have to do that. [With] sentiment analysis, keyword detection, what words were spoken on the call, was a competitor mentioned? And then having that corpus of intelligence integrated with your opportunity, so that you and your team can truly understand, what did the customer say? And how do we respond to that? How do we look at that?
Collecting all this information is much more in tune with a new type of customer relationship, which demands the sales person fulfil more of a trusted advisor role. But rather than relying on the intuition of personal selling, it requires a data-driven approach. He goes on:
It actually lets you serve and connect with your customer much better, because nothing's lost. You are truly hearing what they've said. You're truly connecting. And customers are demanding that trusted adviser relationship. Customers are demanding that consultative approach to selling.
Much like the return to the office, the customer buying journey is becoming hybrid. Even when meetings go back to face-to-face encounters, digital remains an important dimension, for example because in-person meetings often need to bring in other participants remotely. This means the digital tools can continue the work of transcribing, analyzing and automatically suggesting information and actions to help make progress.
Changing sales relationships
This is just as well, since another pressure on sales leaders is that they're being asked to grow revenue for their organization without adding extra costs. Harnessing digital tools helps them achieve these goals, as Karkhanis comments:
What we are seeing for the sales world specifically is a massive demand for digitization — which is sales rep productivity, which is efficiency. Every CRO, every sales leader, every sales manager right now is facing economic headwinds, disruptions, a lot of challenges, and yet, they need to achieve predictable growth. They need to be able to maximize selling capacity without adding headcount.
But it's not just about efficiency. The sales relationship with prospects and customers is also transitioning away from a focus on one-time transactions to an ongoing lifecycle. The customer remains digitally connected to the vendor throughout the lifetime of the product or service — and increasingly, some or all of the purchase happens as an ongoing subscription rather than paying for everything upfront in a single transaction. The seller therefore has to become a trusted advisor not just until the deal is done, but has to remain engaged with the customer long after. Karkhanis says:
The sales fashion and perception has moved away from transaction-oriented to ... relationship-centered. Now, in a completely digital world, building, maintaining, nurturing and blossoming relationships, if you may, takes a lot of work. And that's where technology comes into play.
Focusing on outcomes
As a consequence, customers expect a joined-up experience across all of the touchpoints they have with a vendor. The sales team has to have all the information in front of them about the customer's activity, from marketing contacts and self-service purchases to outstanding issues with customer service. He elaborates:
They're all the same person, and you need to have insights, you need to have workflow that ties together their entire buying journey ... It's not about just sales, or just service, or just marketing. It's about connecting the entire customer 360, from sales to service to marketing to all the other aspects of their customer lifetime with you ...
So when the same customer who did a B2B transaction with you then went and purchased a subscription, completely self-service, all that insight and that customer profile is available.
The final element is a new emphasis on business outcomes. The ongoing engagement with the customer, along with the data that can be gathered about their experience throughout the customer lifecycle, means that sales isn't just about closing the deal. It's now about helping the customer achieve their goals. Karkhanis says:
In my list of what's changed about sales, we talked about moving from transaction- to relationship-centered. We talked about moving away from intuition to data driven. The most important thing for me is moving away from deal value to business outcomes.
That changes the mindset, because you're not just trying to maximize deal value. You're trying to maximize business outcomes for your customer.
Several important trends are highlighted in this set of announcements from Sales Cloud. First of all there's the digitization of the sales meeting. A few years back I had a conversation with venture capitalist and early Salesforce investor Gordon Ritter about a phenomenon he calls coaching networks, which essentially is about using AI to analyze human behavior and then feed the learnings back to people to help them work smarter. A core element here is making a digital copy of conversations and encounters that happen in the real world so that machines can then do the hard work of extracting and recording all the key information, leaving humans to focus on what they do best. This is now being delivered.
Then there's the whole transition from one-off sales to ongoing relationships, which essentially is taking the lessons learned from SaaS vendors, who were among the first to experience the impact of a continuous digital connection to their customers, and applying it to everything. I call this the XaaS Effect, where XaaS stands for Everything-as-a-Service. Key elements here are the rise of subscription relationships, becoming more of a trusted advisor rather than simply closing deals, and a focus on customer success measured in terms of business outcomes.
And finally, there's the need to make sure this all happens in a joined-up way across the entire enterprise, which is where collaboration tools such as Slack and Teams become so important, underpinned by intelligent workflow automation. The deep connection into Slack is how Salesforce caters for this, but the advent of Viva Sales from Microsoft provides an intriguing alternative for customers that are already standardized on Microsoft for collaboration. Mary Jo Foley on ZDNet provides a good overview of Viva Sales, describing it as a companion app for Teams that Microsoft officials claim "turns Microsoft 365 into a smart sales assistant." Many Salesforce customers use Microsoft 365, and a good few have probably been musing whether to adopt Slack now that it's becoming so tightly integrated with Salesforce. Perhaps Viva Sales is designed to give them pause for thought, but it's not clear to me that it makes sense to bring another AI platform into the mix alongside Salesforce's own.