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State of sales - why sales organizations must embrace connection

Zoe Koven Profile picture for user Zoe Koven September 12, 2022
Many sales leaders realize that connection is the name of the game — but they’re just not sure how to get there. Zoe Koven of Zendesk explores the challenges of conversational CRM.

Illustration of a social network. Social contacts of people connected by nodes and lines © GorSo - Shutterstock
(© GorSo - Shutterstock)

If the past few years have taught sales organizations anything, it’s that disruption is the norm. A global pandemic, pervasive supply chain problems, and runaway inflation have left many companies scrambling as sales teams suddenly needed to work remotely and customer loyalty became a quaint idea of the past.

So while immense change has been foisted on businesses around the world, many of these companies managed to survive — and sometimes even thrive — in a world turned upside down. Yet these same businesses now struggle to chart a path forward in a landscape that has been irretrievably altered.

In fact, Zendesk’s recent State of Sales report found that businesses understand that transforming how their sales teams work will be key to remaining competitive, but also that charting a clear path forward poses a formidable challenge. 

Your sales tech stack can be a strength — or a crippling weakness

Here’s the thing about the sales tech stack — robust customer relationship management systems that integrate seamlessly with other productivity tools can play a huge role in driving long-term business success. And on the surface, IT leaders seem to be embracing game-changing tech — after all, on average, their teams are using 4.7 sales tools.

There’s just one little problem with that — sales leaders in those same companies report resistance to adopting the powerful capabilities of modern CRMs. So while the tools are available, just a little more than a quarter of those sales teams use predictive analytics, for example. And to make matters worse, only about a fifth of sales teams actually use their CRM’s pipeline management features. Even fewer teams take advantage of third-party integrations.

Instead they fall back on manual solutions. As one CTO explained to Zendesk:

Every department knows how to build a solution in Excel; it may not be efficient, but they can do what they need to do to solve their problem; teams can think in those terms [of what’s possible in Excel]. Their attitude is, ‘Give me a solution, let me extract that data so I can put it in Excel and do what I want to do.’

Yet despite ample evidence of low adoption rates of CRM tools, businesses plan to add even more sales tools to their tech stacks. That’s a recipe for confusion, inefficiency, and wasted resources.

Teams need to be connected, but that’s easier said than done

Meanwhile, 72% of leaders acknowledged that to beat the competition, sales teams need to take full advantage of their tech stack while operating cross-functionally. However, here again the research pointed to some troubling trends.

While modern CRM systems offer ample opportunities to connect sales teams with their counterparts in customer support and marketing, just 35% of companies surveyed are actively integrating sales and support data to get a full picture of the customer journey. That stands in stark contrast to the two-thirds of respondents who recognize that not integrating data means missed opportunities. As one sales leader in the US retail market said:

The key benefit of a CRM tool is company-wide visibility, company-wide transparency. The company can see what is going on — where the business is, where the problems are, and where the opportunities are. Everyone wants to sell more products, and if everyone can see what is going on, everyone can work together to grease those wheels.

That visibility and transparency, while powerful, currently seems to be out of reach for many businesses. Although this is a fixable issue, companies must first make it a priority.

Conversational CRM is the future, but few companies understand it

With customer expectations on the rise — a trend that has been gaining steam over the past two decades — businesses face buyers who expect personalization. They don’t want to repeat themselves or be treated like just another transaction.

This is where the conversational CRM methodology comes into play. In this way of working — which includes conversational sales and conversational service — the customer journey lives in an ongoing conversation. Once again the research found responses that are at odds with each other. While 78% of leaders indicate that conversational sales will be vital to their success in the near future, just 27% have CRMs that support this way of working, and only 20% plan to add those features.

Perhaps one factor in the discrepancy between what leaders say is important and what’s actually happening on the ground is that a large percentage have heard of conversational sales — 85% — but a much smaller number (35%) believe that they have an adequate understanding of it.

Where do businesses go from here?

If there’s an overarching theme that can be found in the research, it’s that IT and sales leaders have to reconcile what they think is happening in their sales organizations and what’s actually happening. That means taking a step back and asking some hard questions — is it a wise decision to add more sales tools to an already robust tech stack?

With nearly a third of sales teams reporting that they feel overwhelmed all or almost all of the time, will adding complexity make the situation worse? Or should companies take stock, simplify their sales tools, and focus on helping their teams make the best use out of what they already have at their disposal?

For sales leaders, simplifying the tech stack stands as an easy win. Coupled with connecting sales and support teams — ensuring that critical customer data is available to all — and identifying quick integrations to boost efficiency, leaders can cut through the noise and achieve better results.

In short, the hoary adage about the need to enact digital transformation remains as relevant as ever. And companies that fail to grasp the urgency of transforming their sales organizations or hesitate to take the necessary steps to get there will fall behind their more visionary counterparts. As one CTO for a mid-size company in finserv said:

When looking at our organization, the CRM is becoming a central repository of info of all the interactions we have as an organization: interactions, meetings, documents, reporting, onboarding materials for clients and vendors, and regulatory compliance. It is a single pane of glass that can incorporate all of this info into one place without having to visit underlying systems if you didn’t need to. That’s the holy grail, but not the current state. We’re not there yet, but we’re confident that we will get there.

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