All jokes aside, it’s a confusing time for sales professionals trying to find tools that can help them sell to buyers who just don’t behave like they used to.
Recently my colleague Ryan Bonnici forwarded over a friend's comments regarding a somewhat unusual take on the rapidly evolving market of sales acceleration tools. The “market guide,” published by technology industry analyst firm Gartner, seems to mix up sales engagement with sales enablement by listing sales enablement software vendors in the sales engagement guide.
To be fair, these two markets—and several others related to the sales process in the age of digital transformation—have quickly evolved over the past few years to support the new methods necessary to effectively sell to buyers who behave very differently; no longer engaging in traditional ways but rather preferring to make purchasing decisions based on information gathered from peers, colleagues, independent research, and reviews.
With a reasonably rigid approach to software market definitions, it's not surprising that Gartner would have a hard time keeping up with both seller offerings and buyer needs. If the market definitions don’t match the current buyers’ needs nor reflect current seller offerings, then they are not useful in supporting effective purchasing decisions. In a real-time, analyst-supported taxonomy like G2’s, we are afforded the flexibility to keep up with changing buyer needs and seller offerings in a number of ways: making multiple updates to both categories and products within categories; breaking out existing categories; or even quickly adding new categories as the market changes. In fact, everything about the G2 marketplace is optimized to end the confusion over software selection and help B2B buyers find the “right” solution to their business problems.
How G2 categorizes sales tools
The terms sales acceleration, sales enablement, and sales engagement probably do seem confusing; publishing a guide to sales engagement built around what we’d categorize as sales enablement tools, while confusing to buyers, is not a surprise. If a buyer is looking to purchase sales enablement software, they don’t want or need to see a guide that list sales engagement solutions. Let’s see if I can add some clarity to the sales markets based on G2’s interpretation of sales software categorization and definitions. There are generally three types of sales tools: those that help you manage forecasting and opportunities; those that make you more productive; and those that make you more effective. In some cases there is an overlap of a few features across various solutions, which I’ll try to point out as I break out the three areas into markets (or categories, as G2 refers to them).
The tools to manage forecasting and opportunities, including contacts and customer records, are called sales force automation (SFA) solutions (or CRM software). SFA as a category is now over 20 years old, and many of the solutions are feature-rich and highly evolved to suit the digital age. In recent years, leading SFA vendors have adapted their automation features using embedded artificial intelligence (AI) to add productivity enhancements, with some similarities in functionality to other new sales tools. For the sake of brevity, since SFA is well known and reasonably well understood, I will focus the rest of the post on the other two areas, sales productivity and sales effectiveness.
In a recent buyer behavior survey (G2, Apr 2019, N=1,362), 45% of respondents reported they “usually engage a sales professional only when we have made a purchasing decision.” Additionally, 30% of survey participants responded that peers and colleagues/professional networks were the most influential factor in their purchasing decision, while only 3% of respondents indicated the vendor salesperson. B2B sales has never been easy, but with the explosion of ways for buyers to connect to peers, search for non-vendor-sponsored content, and find reviews from people who have used the product in question, sales professionals need all of the help data and technology can provide. These new solutions, offering a mix of productivity gains and significant advantages in effectiveness, tend to fall into two larger categories, sales acceleration and sales intelligence.
Sales intelligence vs. sales acceleration
Per G2's categorization, sales intelligence software “helps companies use internal and external data to increase sales and improve sales processes.” Enhancing prospect and customer profiles with additional data provides everything from connections and networking to firmagraphics. These tools often integrate with other tools like SFA to provide a broader picture of opportunities. Many provide analytics functionality (or integrate with other analytics tools) to help the sales team understand the data and make it more actionable. Sales intelligence software—and the data they provide—form the foundation of a modern sales process. Many companies also enrich the data even more with buyer behavior insights by using buyer intent data tools.
Sales acceleration software includes a variety of categories that improve both sales productivity and sales effectiveness. Solutions focus on solving various business problems, including onboarding new sales personnel, providing training or ongoing coaching, and managing quotas and compensation. Others are for tracking email or outbound calls. However, most of the innovation and change in sales acceleration exists in the sales enablement, sales engagement, and conversation intelligence software categories.
Conversation intelligence software supports sales coaching and training by using machine learning to extract insights from recorded sales calls. The software records, transcribes, archives, and analyzes conversations to provide sales representatives and sales managers with development tools to encourage knowledge sharing, improve overall sales processes, and optimize performance and pipelines.
|View the latest Conversation Intelligence report.|
Clearing up the confusion: sales engagement vs. sales enablement
The two categories in question related to the Gartner guide, sales engagement and sales enablement, sound similar, but in functionality are quite different. The simple way to think of the two categories is that sales engagement software focuses on helping sales representatives create personalized sales journeys with prospects and customers by automating various methods of communication and interaction into a single, cohesive platform. The automation makes the sales team more productive and the ability to manage all interactions enhances effectiveness. Sales enablement software, meanwhile, focuses on finding the right content and other sales assets, sharing those assets with prospects, and tracking engagement with the content. In general then, enablement is more related to increasing productivity while tracking content engagement can make the team more effective. The software in each category may include additional features like workflows and task tracking in sales engagement and the ability to create content in sales enablement. There is no overlap in category definitions, as you can see from the detailed descriptions on G2.com. For a more detailed look at the two markets, see below:
|View the latest Sales Engagement report.|
|View the latest Sales Enablement report.|
Let G2 help you find the right sales software
Managing the complexities of B2B sales in the current business environment is difficult, and sales representatives need to leverage all the tools available to them to gain competitive advantage. Admittedly, picking the “right” tool for each job isn't always easy. But using the detailed categorization on G2 can help buyers find their best-fit solution.