Consider the case of Interactive Intelligence, a global leader of cloud services for customer engagement, communications and collaboration.
Prior to 2015, explains Paul Weber, Chief Business Officer and SVP North America Sales, “we were quite successful in driving CRM adoption and seeing that data that populated our sales forecast, but sensed we weren’t optimizing the information in terms of managing the pipeline and coaching our reps.” Weber’s team of 75 sellers had long been condition to mandatory CRM data entry, enforced in part by the fact that weekly 1:1 meetings with their managers took place entirely inside the platform. Weber half-jokes, “so if there was nothing entered into the CRM, the meeting had no agenda and content” — not an enjoyable outcome for either party.
Creating a Win-Win for Interactive Intelligence
Still, the company recognized that its high CRM adoption rate was benefitting sales managers in terms of visibility into reps’ activities, but the native forecasting tool in the platform didn’t provide interpretive or prescriptive guidance. It could also easily come across as a chore from the perspective of individual contributors — something they had to do to please their bosses, rather than spend valuable time actually selling. “What we needed,” Weber explains, “was a way to more efficiently collect and interpret incoming data related to live opportunities in our sales pipeline.”
Weber deployed a solution that layered machine learning technology and analytics over the company’s CRM, and that also offered the promise of data cleansing and enhanced sales rep productivity. He admits, “I’m not a huge gadget guy and don’t fall in love with technologies easily,” but was immediately struck by improvements in how it assisted both management and individual contributor personnel. “Our benchmark goal for deployment was to create a measurable way to move the right deals through our pipeline faster,” he explains. Deploying the solution in phases over most of 2015, the company leveraged a number of relevant technology trends baked into the product:
→ Sales mobility, which empowers reps and managers to accomplish any selling task, anywhere, anytime, on any device
→ Speech analytics, which Weber says, “literally allows our reps to open a mobile app, log in via thumbprint, and dictate their meeting notes while leaving their buyer’s facility”
→ Predictive sales forecasting, which analyzes past CRM-based deals in order to anticipate which current opportunities are more or less likely to close
Before long, the company’s sales and executive leadership “were receiving more and better data we could use to guide our sellers than we were pulling out of the CRM system itself,” says Weber. “The valuable win-win emerging from the technology deployment created better opportunities for reps to maximize their workday productivity, and for us managers to more effectively coach them around the most promising opportunities.” To the latter point, Weber explains that at any given time he as a sales leader is exposed to perhaps 50 live deals that are in play. The solution provides highly accurate scoring around whichones are in danger of slipping out of the cycle or destined for low margin results, as well as which ones reveal opportunities for acceleration and up-selling — all based on past results as analyzed by the machine learning engine.
“Being a great seller means not being slowed down by administrative tasks, even when management truly needs them,” Weber says. Interactive Intelligence has discovered a way to eliminate the tension inherent in enterprise CRM data collection, and is seeing both reps and managers accelerate the best deals through their pipeline as a result.
Weber adds that Millennial-aged sellers naturally take to the mobile app and speech recognition format very easily, which helps the company appeal to candidates more effectively as they hire new reps.
Has the investment paid off? Weber explains that the roll-out is too new to formally measure results, but “we’re already convinced that the forecasting module is increasing our ability to more effectively manage our forecast accuracy and sales pipeline.” Moving into 2016, when the company plans to roll out higher-volume, mid-market solutions, he says that the guidance provided by such automation promises to benefit the firm even more measurably.