What is sales software?

Sales Software solutions help agents win new relationships more effectively and at a lower cost. Many organizations have already realized that paper-based methods, spreadsheets, and multiple, non-integrated systems are completely inadequate tools for managing sales operations. Instead, they’ve turned to modern sales software that improves not only their efficiency, but their revenue as well.

Perhaps more than any other department, the sales department is responsible for supporting and growing a company’s bottom line, but there are a number of challenges that make this difficult. Sales representatives struggle with finding quality leads, personalizing their pitches, following up with hundreds of prospects per week, and staying on the cutting edge of knowledge about their company’s products and services. At a higher level, executive leaders struggle to make data-driven decisions and keep an eye on team performance. This guide will walk readers through the different kinds of software available to sales departments, examine current industry trends, and provide a case study of a market-leading solution.

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Market Overview

Every sales director wants to bring in more revenue and expand their company’s customer base, but they don’t always know how to equip their teams for success. A recent study by CSO Insights revealed that 75 percent of CSOs shoot for at least five percent revenue growth during the year, but roughly half of them are worried they will fail.1 This fear isn’t unrealistic, since there are a lot of inherent problems in the average sales force:

  • No centralized knowledge management: About one-third of sales representatives say their company’s organizational approach makes it difficult to find the right sales materials when they need them. Without a centralized system for storing product information, contracts, customer documents, etc., salespeople are left fumbling through shared network drives or three-ring binders with 47 tabs. This means they’re less prepared to answer questions, quickly offer the best solution, and move from closing conversations to order placement.
  • Failure to collaborate between departments: Sales representatives don’t usually start their day by cold-calling random numbers from the phone book; they relies heavily on groundwork laid by other departments, like referrals from the customer service department or leads generated by marketing campaigns. But these departments don’t always work in harmony. According to a 2012 report by MarketingSherpa, 73 percent of all B2B leads are not sales-ready, which means only a small percentage of leads from marketing departments are high-quality leads that convert into customers. Furthermore, only about 18 percent of CSOs tell customer service representatives to take advantage of upsell and cross-sell opportunities.

The best sales software help sales teams overcome these challenges and others by creating visibility between departments, centralizing data, automating workflows, and empowering representatives to sell smarter. And of course, when you give your sales force tools for success, you position the whole company for success.

The software market for sales departments is fairly broad, ranging from best-of-breed solutions for specific tasks like pipeline management and proposals, all the way up to enterprise sales suites. Your needs will vary depending on the type of systems you already have in place and the team you’re buying for, whether it be a small business sales team, an enterprise sales force, or a network of channel partners. Here are some of the most common types of software used by sales departments.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

A good CRM system is often the cornerstone of a sales department. In fact, any solution without a CRM component or CRM integration wouldn’t really make sense for sales. Whether you’re selling products, renewing contracts, or setting up new deals, everything hinges on the customer relationship. CRM Magazine reported last year that about 83 percent of sales organizations are now using CRM technology. The overall market, according to Gartner, is worth more than $20 billion and still expanding.

There are many different kinds of CRMs a business can implement. Less expensive, cloud-based solutions give small and medium-sized businesses access to basic contact and pipeline management tools. Enterprise systems — though more expensive and challenging to implement — offer greater end-to-end usability through integrations, partner developer networks, and add-on marketplaces. Buyers in specialized fields can select from various industry-specific solutions like real estate, non-profit, and financial services CRMs. A good solution, at minimum, will offer the following core features:

  • Account/Contact Management
  • Opportunity Management
  • Sales Pipelines
  • Price Quoting
  • Workflow Automation
  • Calendars and Task Management
  • File Management
  • Collaboration tools
  • Sales Forecasting
  • Reporting
  • Mobile applications/Mobility
Leading Solutions: Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Netsuite, SugarCRMZoho

Business Intelligence (BI)

Business intelligence software uses analytical tools to transform raw data into actionable insight. In a sales department, it’s the difference between blindly trying to sell a lot of products and selling the right products to the right customers at the right time. As the customer journey creates increasingly fragmented data across new marketing channels and various touchpoints, many sales-focused companies are implementing BI tools to address their “big data” challenges and stay ahead of competitors. The worldwide business intelligence and analytics software market was worth over $14 billion in 2013 — almost as much as the far more established CRM market.

BI provides insight on both successful deals and deals lost so businesses can learn from mistakes and successes and continuously improve their tactics. Representatives can use analytical tools to determine which accounts and products are the most profitable and prioritize accordingly. Upper management can track larger patterns in the customer base or even use BI for team performance management to push representatives to higher levels of excellence.

Many CRMs offer their own BI features, but they typically aren’t as sophisticated as those found in a separate, bolt-on solution. In either case, a BI tool is only as useful as the data that feeds into it, and that data almost always comes from another proprietary system, be it a CRM, an ERP, or even an HR system.

Here are some of the most common features found in business intelligence software:

  • Data Mining
  • Predictive Analytics
  • Automatic Notifications (triggered by events, such as purchase patterns)
  • Real-time Reporting
  • Benchmarking and Performance Management
  • Profitability Analysis
  • Modeling/”What-If” Scenarios
  • Data Visualization Tools
  • Data Governance (deduplication, scrubbing, etc.)
Leading Solutions: Tableau, GoodData, LiveHive, Sisense, Birst

Marketing Automation (MA)

Sales departments aren’t known for directly participating in marketing, but competitive companies know the value of collaboration between the two departments. After all, where do sales representatives get their leads from? That’s right: marketing campaigns. That’s why marketing automation (MA) software is one of the most common solutions implemented in tandem with CRM. The two technologies have a symbiotic relationship: marketing campaigns pull prospects in through strategic engagement and curated content; some of those prospects become leads; and those leads, given the right treatment, can generate new deals and convert into customers. Along the way, the CRM database stores their contact information, personal details, and firmographics data, building a foundation for a well-managed, long-term relationship. Some studies claim that using marketing automation to nurture leads can lead to an almost fivefold increase in qualified leads and a 53 percent higher conversion rate.

Some CRMs let sales representatives access their own basic automation tools to interact with prospects and customers, such as mass emailing, automated follow-ups, or the ability to pull leads from completed web forms. More advanced MA tactics like custom drip campaigns and autoresponders usually require a dedicated platform. These platforms range from basic email campaign managers to sophisticated enterprise systems for multi-channel marketing.

Here are some of the common features available in most standalone MA platforms:

  • Email Campaigns
  • Auto-Responders
  • Templates and Editing Tools
  • Drip Programs
  • A/B Testing
  • Lead Management
  • Social Marketing Campaigns
  • Landing Page Builders
  • SEO and Content Management Tools
  • Reporting and Analytics
Leading Solutions: HubSpot, Marketo, Act-On, Pardot, Salesfusion

What are some trends in sales software?

There are a number of trends currently shaping the sales software market. Factoring these trends into your buying decision will help you select products that offer the most long-term value. Here are a few of the most prominent:


Cloud technology has made strong inroads in almost every business IT vertical, and sales software is no exception. Cloud solutions are hosted on a remote server and accessed via web applications, which means they require very little IT maintenance. It also means they can save businesses thousands of dollars in upfront expenses through a software-as-a-service (SaaS) pricing models. Unlike on-premise software, SaaS is licensed on a monthly subscription basis — typically based on the number of users. In 2013, cloud solutions accounted for 41 percent of all CRM purchases.4 That percentage will likely continue to rise as companies realize the advantages of virtual infrastructure and pay-as-you-go pricing.


As the need for anytime access to software increases, vendors are increasingly directing their efforts to mobile development. Many modern sales solutions — whether CRM, business intelligence, or marketing automation — give users access to back-end systems, communication tools, and customer data from their mobile devices. That can mean a native application for a particular device platform (iOS, Android, Windows Phone), or a basic mobile web interface that optimizes for smaller displays and touch navigation. The International Data Corporation (IDC) estimated that the mobile worker population will reach 1.3 billion some time this year7, which means mobility in business software will soon shift from a luxury to a prerequisite.

Social Integration

In recent years, social media has transformed the way businesses interact with their customers. Instead of waiting passively at the other end of a phone line or on the other side of a POS counter, brands can now court their target audiences online in a personally engaging way. According to a recent HubSpot survey, 84 percent of consumers expect brands to have a presence on Facebook, and 64 percent expect the same for Twitter. Not only that, but 73 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to buy from a brand that responds to them on social media.8 Sales software that integrates with social media (such as Social CRM lets businesses sell products, conduct marketing campaigns, deliver service solutions, and capture valuable data in a way that’s more personal than ever before.

Case Study: Grant Thornton

Solution: Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online

Grant Thornton International is a network of professional consulting firms that provide assurance, tax, and advisory services to public and private businesses. Grant Thornton is headquartered in London, but operates in over 130 countries and has a combined global revenue of almost $5 billion.10 Some of their biggest competitors include Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young, and KPMG.

Before Microsoft Dynamics, GT was using a variety of disparate systems to manage customers, but they lacked important visibility into contacts, accounts, and influencers across the enterprise. As a result, their agents were having trouble keeping up with client interactions and finding cross-sell and upsell opportunities, which meant business was stagnating.

Now, GT firms in the U.S. Canada, and Germany are using Microsoft Dynamics CRM for sales force and marketing automation, and to make data-driven decisions about large accounts and territories. Account managers use system data to identify account strengths and weaknesses and develop a plan to pursue apparent opportunities, especially where competitors might be serving their clients.

About a year after implementation, Grant Thornton reported a number of measurable benefits, including:

  • A 450 percent increase in the number of opportunities they manage
  • A 39 percent increase in deals won
  • A 36 percent increase in average deal size
  • Agents can now work on the go with native mobile apps for tablets and smartphones
  • “Inside View” feature provides valuable data on leveraging existing relationships
  • Ability to develop custom account plans from directly inside the system
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