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Table of contents
- What is sales intelligence?
- How sales intelligence software works
- Benefits of sales intelligence software
- Four categories of sales intelligence software
- Choosing the best sales intelligence software for your business
The modern sales cycle is long, complicated, and driven by decision-making groups with conflicting priorities. If you’re shopping for sales intelligence software, you’re probably looking for insight that will help you reach buyers more effectively and create revenue faster. Admirable on both counts, but the sales intelligence vertical is still young and undefined; vendors are still vying for marketing dominance and struggling to establish a standard definition of both the technology vertical and the business best practice(s). It can be extremely difficult for first-time buyers to compare sales intelligence solutions and decide what’s right for their business.
This guide will help you better understand what sales intelligence software can offer, how your business can use it, and how to narrow your search. We’ll also highlight a sales intelligence case study and some of the leading solutions in four different categories. If you’re ready to compare the best sales intelligence software options, put your requirements in the form at the top of the page. One of our Technology Advisors will reach out with a list of hand-picked vendors that suit your needs.
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What is sales intelligence?
If you run a Google search for “sales intelligence,” you’ll find an assortment of list-building and B2B data wholesalers. While these firms do represent a form of sales intelligence, they aren’t the complete picture. Generally speaking, sales intelligence can refer to any insight, data, or automation that improves the sales process. It is the contact record and the body of contextual information surrounding the contact record, such as purchase history, current contracts, business objectives, even digital body language. Sales intelligence can also be found in the data surrounding your pipeline stages and follow-up activities. In other words, it’s not just information about your prospects and leads; it’s also about your efficiency as a sales unit.
Just as the market has allowed for a broad interpretation of the term, it has also given rise to a broad array of technology vendors — each offering a different solution for a different job role and/or business objective. Most research has shown positive correlations between sales intelligence tools, revenue, efficiency, and win rates. According to Forrester, companies that support their sales teams with sales intelligence see almost 35 percent more leads in their pipeline.
How sales intelligence software works
Sales intelligence tools can take many different forms (which we’ll get to in a moment), but they all share a common aim: to increase lead quantity and quality — quantity by tapping social streams and directories for new leads, quality by segmenting those leads based on their data profiles and suggesting follow-up activities.
Michael Berger, Director of Product Marketing at Marketo, suggests that a good sales intelligence tool should address “three Ps:”
- Provide intelligence about true prospects
- Prioritize follow-up activities
- Present a prospect’s interests to the sales rep
Sales intelligence isn’t a single tool so much as a pervasive approach that affects multiple data systems. A lead profile is captured and tracked through a marketing automation platform, transferred to the sales rep’s CRM, and analyzed using business intelligence.
In its simplest form, sales intelligence can be a built-in feature of CRM software. The CRM may use social integrations or other connectors to pull in data and provide a 360-degree view of each prospect and lead (Nimble’s “intelligent relationship platform” is a great example of this).
In other cases, a business may use a BI application such as LiveHive or Tableau to translate prospect data into sales insights: Based on what we’re seeing in the buyer journey, attending a webinar is correlated with middle-funnel interest.
Finally, there are a handful of standalone SI applications that focus on building and managing an accurate database of sales-ready contacts. Examples include Zoominfo, InsideView, and Discoverorg. LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator has been a wild card in this category, surpassing traditional platforms in popularity as a new source for lead data, even before companies have a consistent strategy to use it.
Benefits of sales intelligence software
Beyond and before revenue, there are a number of ways sales intelligence tools can help your team improve their efforts.
Many sales intelligence tools help sales reps track leads through the pipeline and prioritize follow-ups based on sales stage or level of qualification. Instead of wasting time blindly calling cold leads, your team can focus on the most valuable, most promising deals.
Sales intelligence provides the contextual and behavioral data necessary to speak to each prospect’s unique challenges and objectives and steer clear of the assembly line approach. That means initial follow-ups and subsequent consultations will be more rewarding for both parties.
Faster lead-to-close times
The average B2B purchase decision takes long enough on its own; it doesn’t help when salespeople press a hard sell too early in the process and inadvertently turn buyers away. With the right sales intelligence tools, you can separate the inquiries from the MQLs, and the undecided MQLs from the qualified, ready-to-buy sales opportunities. If you start by targeting the right buyers in the first place, it will take less time, on average, to close deals.
Where it provides higher-level analysis of revenue, revenue channels, and departmental workflows, sales intelligence can give decision-makers (CFOs, CROs, CMOs, etc.) the insights necessary to make informed decisions about their business. That starts with basic analytical inferences and moves into forecasting and strategy development, which, in turn, create additional revenue.
While the potential value of sales intelligence software is clear, the software market is anything but. To help you sort through the menagerie of products, services, platforms, and vendors that has materialized over the past few years, we’ll break things down into four categories: data enrichment and maintenance, sales reporting and forecasting, pipeline management, and behavioral analysis.
Four categories of sales intelligence software
1. Data enrichment and maintenance
As lead generation found its place in the digital world, the CRM database quickly became the most important tool for B2B sales. A number of sales intelligence vendors now offer services designed to help you clean or supplement your lead data or add new contacts entirely. These vendors all use different terminology and bill their services differently to distinguish themselves among competitors, but the focus is always, in some way, on your sales database.
The benefit of working with these vendors is that you can cut down on wasted sales efforts by targeting buyers with the highest potential and purging unqualified, unmatched leads from your programs. According to a 2015 study by Integrate, 40 percent of all B2B leads suffer from poor data quality.3
While many providers offer a web-based platform or customer portal, your evaluation process should focus more on services than “features,” per se. Here are some examples of common services found in this category of sales intelligence:
Adding new firmographic and/or demographic data points to your existing contact profile. Many of these services pull from a central directory or parse social data from the web.
Delivering lists of cold leads that match a few of your basic targeting criteria. These leads will not be “qualified” or aware of your brand, so expect high attrition.
Checking your contact profiles for information accuracy. Data verification vendors may use an outbound calling team or automated processes to verify phone numbers, email addresses, and names.
Similar to data verification and sometimes used synonymously. Data scrubbing may also include a “deduplication” component that removes redundant entries from your database.
Although less directly associated, some lead generation providers label themselves as a “sales intelligence” service, since they directly serve the needs of client sales teams. Here, you’ll get varying levels of qualified, warm leads that match your criteria. TechnologyAdvice is one of the top lead generation providers in the B2B technology space.
As you can see, the term “sales intelligence” is used quite liberally among data service providers. No one knows your leads better than your own sales reps, but a small boost in pipeline and productivity can be just enough to give you a competitive edge.
Leading Vendors: Experian, Netprospex, Reachforce, Datanyze
2. Sales reporting and forecasting
In this category, you’ll see a lot of overlap between “sales intelligence” software and traditional business intelligence software. In fact, many business intelligence vendors offer dedicated dashboards and analytical tools for sales use. Other vendors have built entire platforms dedicated to monitoring and reporting on sales data.
The focus here is less on client/prospect-level data and more on high-level insights that support decision-making. For example, if your average deal size for leads that originate in search and social is lower than other channels, you may need to sit down with marketing and discuss ways to improve inbound lead quality. Or if your forecast for Q4 predicts a shortage in revenue for the year, you might decide to comb through your database and identify cold leads that warrant a second follow-up.
The modus operandi of business intelligence has always been to mine raw data and derive actionable intelligence. The same applies here, just with a unique focus on sales.
Here are some of the most common features you’ll see in this category of sales intelligence:
- Real-time, interactive dashboards
- Data import/export
- Data mining
- CRM integration
- Sales forecasting
- Predictive modeling/analytics
- Performance management
- Pre-built reports (for common sales metrics like revenue, cost-per-lead, win rate, time-to-close)
- Custom reporting (drag and drop your own metrics from different data sources and build a custom chart of dashboard)
3. Pipeline management
Pipeline management solutions are designed to help your sales team stay organized, efficient, and prioritize development activities based on the unique characteristics of each lead. As they say, work smarter, not harder. Instead of rushing as many leads as possible through your pipeline, these tools will help you focus on the best opportunities or the ones at risk for churn.
That may not mean you may close more opportunities, but it will mean less slip through the cracks, and the ones you do close will provide more value. Think of pipeline management solutions as a kind of project management platform for your sales team — designed to keep them on track with tasks, schedules, assets, and communication and keep your throughput moving. Again, since these solutions focus on improving the sales process through insight and automation, they are a type of sales intelligence.
If you decide to implement a pipeline management solution, make sure you choose a vendor that offers plenty of customization options. If the reporting and automation features don’t match your existing sales workflows, you could be dealing with more hassle than improvement. Many CRMs offer their own built-in pipeline management tools, although these will be more limited in scope than a best-of-breed application.
Common features of pipeline management tools include:
- Sales activity management
- Custom fields and custom workflows
- Lead tracking
- Goal setting
- Task management and scheduling
- Reports and dashboards
- Email integration
- CRM integration
4. Behavioral analytics
Our final category of sales intelligence software revolves around client and lead-level analytics — tracking the actions of specific customers, leads, and prospects to identify new opportunities faster. Software tools that serve this function typically use a mix of firmographics and behavioral data to either determine a lead’s qualification level or point out upsell and cross-sell potentials. Some in the industry refer to this as “prescriptive analytics.”
Interestingly enough, a great deal of this type of “sales intelligence” is collecting during the marketing-owned portion of the buyer’s journey, but it is nonetheless important for sales reps to have access. When they can see beyond name, company, and email address down to qualitative data about the buyer’s journey, salespeople will be much better equipped to start meaningful conversations and speak directly to each buyer’s needs.
At the crux of behavioral sales intelligence sits the integrated CRM/marketing automation suite — one of the most powerful inventions to have graced the B2B stage in decades. This integrated systems lets marketers log behavioral data about about prospects during inbound campaigns and the nurture process, then pass that data to sales when the prospect becomes an MQL (marketing qualified lead). There are also standalone tools that help sales reps track and analyze lead behavior after the handoff.
Common features to look for in this category include:
- Lead scoring
- Automated follow-ups/email automation
- Engagement analytics (email opens, link clicks, page views, etc.)
- Call tracking
- Scheduling and task management
Choosing the best sales intelligence software for your business
The sales intelligence software market is one of the younger and more difficult markets to navigate for a first-time buyer. Luckily, we’ve compiled product information, reviews, case studies, features lists, video walkthroughs, and research articles on leading sales intelligence solutions to make the buying process more straightforward for decision-makers like you.
If you’re curious about any of the products or services listed in this guide, we’d love to talk to you. Call one of our in-house specialists for a free consultation, or use the Product Selection Tool at the top of the page to get a custom recommendation based on your industry and desired features.
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