Master the trends that close the deal. Over 3,100 global sales professionals reveal what sets top sales teams apart in the second annual “State of Sales report.” Spoiler alert: Winners go beyond short-term sales metrics to strengthen customer relationships. Join Salesforce exec and former Gartner analyst Rob DeSisto as he maps this new landscape of opportunity.  

 
 
 
 

Kevin Micalizzi: Thank you for joining the Quotable Podcast. Before we get started, the best way for you to keep up with all things Quotable is by subscribing to our biweekly newsletter at Quotable.com/subscribe. Today we’ll be discussing the state of sales with Rob DeSisto. Rob is a former Gartner VP, and he’s been a distinguished analyst for 18 years, currently the chief value officer at Salesforce. Welcome, Rob. 

 

Rob DeSisto: Thanks, Kevin. It’s great to be here. 

 

Micalizzi: So Rob, for those who aren’t familiar with your work, would you share a little bit about yourself, what you’ve done at Gartner as well as what you’re doing at Salesforce? 

 

DeSisto: Yeah. One of my primary focuses at Gartner was to help both VP of sales and sales operational executives really develop a strategy in how to best use technology to boost their revenue efforts. So over the 18 years, I had dialogued with roughly — I think around 11,400 inquiries. Those are calls I would have with clients on their strategy. They would cover globally, ranging from EMEA to Asia to North America, all industries, all sizes of companies. 

It’s very important —— and I can’t wait to get to the report today — that when you think of strategies and so forth, you really have to focus on the specific needs of that sales organization because they differ extensively as you deal with them in different industry segments and geographies. 

 

Micalizzi: And we’re definitely excited to dig into the report. Before we do that, I’m Kevin Micalizzi. I’m filling in for Tim Clarke. I’m the product marketing senior manager at Salesforce, and I’m also the executive producer of the Quotable Podcast. 

I’m joined today by our guest host, Lynne Zaledonis, VP of product marketing at Salesforce. Welcome, Lynne. 

 

Lynne Zaledonis: Thank you so much, Kevin. And thank you, Rob, for being here. Looking forward to learning more. 

 

Micalizzi: So Rob, let’s jump right into this. This is the second year Salesforce Research has produced the “State of Sales Report.” Would you share a little bit about how you guys approached this study? 

 

DeSisto: Well, first of all, there was 3,100 global sales professionals. And those professionals ranged from actual salespeople carrying a bag to their managers through to executives. 

And there were a few things we wanted to get to the bottom of. One is how these sales organizations set their objectives, how they measured their progress against those objectives and then, lastly, how they could use technology to help accelerate them to achieving those objectives. So the report really focused on those, I would say, three primary areas.  

 

Zaledonis: So if we could summarize the biggest surprise oraha moment you got out of this report, Rob, what would you say it was?

 

DeSisto: Yeah, I think the biggest thing for me was how much the emphasis has gone towards the customer. We say that and it sounds nice, and CRM has been around for a long time; but what was most astounding to me was that the emphasis on the top objective that people or sales organizations were focused on was the customer experience and relationship. 

And that’s above and beyond the typical pipeline and lead management and all those other salesy type things that you would expect — was we’re seeing this big movement to where there’s a connection between how do our salespeople develop a relationship with a customer to attain those other objectives that they traditionally focused on. So I think that the number of sales organizations that have really shifted their thinking in that direction was probably the biggest thing that really stood out for me. 

 

Micalizzi: In taking a look at the report, Rob, one thing that really stood out to me was just the change in how we’re measuring our key performance indicators — our KPIs —— for sales. Would you talk a little bit about what you guys discovered? 

 

DeSisto: Yeah, when you look at … for example, on the KPI side of it, we’re now trying to focus more things that look at customer satisfaction, experience — in other words, the relationship that the customer has with sales. 

How strong is it? Obviously, at the end of the day, you have to hit a certain number. There’s a certain quota. All of that’s not going to go away. But when you look beyond this month’s business or this quarter’s book of business and understand that the total value of that customer over 12 months, 16 months, 18 months and outward, it’s really going to be based on the relationship. 

So they’re looking at KPIs that are really more focused on activity-building, relationship-building type of things that a rep can do with their customers that yield mid-term to longer-term benefit versus that quarterly-to-quarterly viewpoint. So I think the KPIs are stretched a little bit. They’re looking at things like Net Promoter Scores and other elements that typically really weren’t part of the vernacular for sales.  

 

Zaledonis: So that’s interesting, Rob. Having carried a bag myself, that was something I always focused on in my role: being a trusted advisor, really building relationships. But what about all of our customers out there and all of our listeners to this podcast who are more transactional or a small business? Is this still important to them? And did you find that in the survey? 

 

DeSisto: Well, yeah. Let’s talk about small business. That’s a great example. I’ll use a personal example. We all drive cars. 

And I know personally I have two options to have my car serviced if there’s something wrong. I can either go, for example, to a dealership who may or may not know me, or I can go to the person that I’ve dealt with for the last 20 years I’ve owned automobiles — a garage that I trust down the street. More likely than not, I’m going to go to the local garage because they know me really well. I trust them. I trust that they’re going to recommend things that are going to make sense for me. 

That is exactly the sort of challenge. If we look at the dealership representing more of that large-enterprise view, they’re trying to figure out how they can grab that relationship that that small company already has with me. So when we think of SMBs, it’s really been more of their value statement that they have that relationship with a customer, that they can treat them more on a relationship basis. 

So when we talk about trusted advisor and so forth, I do believe solidly that it’s applicable from the highest end to the lowest end type organization. And quite frankly, we’ve seen better success from SMBs over time than the large companies, who have kind of struggled because there’s so much more data and so much more information that they have to deal with. 

 

Zaledonis: That’s great insight, Rob. And I like the personal story — it makes it really relatable. Yeah, that’s interesting. 

 

Micalizzi: So Rob, I’d love to ask — I want to shift gears just a little bit. We’ve talked about how traditional measures aren’t going away, but really looking at the entire customer relationship has become part of that long-term vision. There are so many things we’re asking sales practitioners/sales reps to do right now, and that just seems to constantly increase. es, some new technology resources to help them, but I think productivity is taking a huge hit. 

On the Quotable side, I know we’ve done a lot with a day in the life of a sales rep. So I’m really curious in looking at that: What kind of things did you find on the productivity side that would help our listeners? 

 

DeSisto: Well, I think one of the biggest elements of productivity, quite frankly … when I’d look at sales and technology, I’d use … I believe it was 2007 when the iPhone came out. 

That was the major shift in providing productivity to the reps — and we’ve only seen that accelerate — which is salespeople tend to be, unless of course you’re an inside salesperson, mobile. And even inside salespeople, when they go home at night or when they travel from the office to their home, they are also mobile. So everybody has this sense of mobile need. 

And what we found was that 80% of sales teams say that they’ve become more focused on providing customers with real-time response and feedback over the past 12–18 months, and that was made possible over mobility because mobile — again, not only are the salespeople constantly connected as are their customers, as well. 

And the idea that you can provide them information where they need it in the context of where they need it, whether it’s in a sales call, walking from a sales call, like I said, going home from the office if you’re on, for example, a commuter type arrangement, on a train or something, this idea that you’re constantly connected — connected to my customers, connected to the company — that’s a real productivity change. 

What we found with the leading sales organizations is that originally people thought of mobile — sales organizations — was “Let me just provide opportunities and leads and that kind of stuff on my device,” where some of the true value of mobile is to leverage it to collaborate not just with a customer but with the other members of my company that could be supporting the customer. 

And this is all proven out when we look at Twitter and Facebook and all these other social tools that people are using their phones for. Now we’re seeing the salespeople using their phone to be more productive with their customers. So when you can combine mobility, and you combine it with the element of social collaboration, it really has a big effect on how reps can be more productive. 

 

Zaledonis: Yeah. You know, you’re almost giving me the chills. You’re thinking about being connected all the time, right? It’s a little bit hard to get away. 

And it’s a lot of time reps spend on administrative tasks, according to the survey, and not as much time selling. We talked about mobile. You talked about social. Are there other technologies that are helping to solve this problem of productivity? 

 

DeSisto: Yeah. That’s a great point, Lynne. Let’s get down to what reps actually hate. What reps don’t want to do is spend the whole day logging emails and logging meetings and all this other stuff into their so-called salesforce automation system. 

That’s old-world thinking and, quite frankly, is a non-value activity. Do I really want my reps spending time logging stuff versus selling? So one of the things that we’ve seen with new breaking technologies is the ability to, for example, have reps send emails and do meetings and have those transactions be automated and logged for them. A huge step in getting them out of that administrator business, if you would. 

On the phone — in other words, the traditional model — is I spend all day selling, and then I go back to my laptop and log everything. Again, if I’m doing things on a more incremental basis and the phone is collecting information for me, again, I’m reducing that admin burden on the rep. There is no question — very clear in the results in the survey — that heads of sales and sales-ops people want their people selling, not sitting on a computer entering information in a sales system. 

And I think that element of being able to automatically log activities or incrementally capture activities on a phone and have it logged for you are two very big points that came out in the report. 

 

Zaledonis: Yeah, it makes sense: trying to get the most out of your reps so that they can be those trusted advisors and put the customer in the center. But it seems to me that probably that shift or that change of businesses probably needs to happen in more than just technology applications. 

I imagine there are some processes that probably need to change or perhaps even corporate cultures. Can you talk to me about what your survey found for people that weren’t there yet, weren’t putting the customer in the center of the business? 

 

DeSisto: Yeah, it’s interesting. I often look at it. The survey, even my experience, is that when you have a VP of sales, for example, who is run by the numbers … 

And what I mean by “run by the numbers” is that their only concern is forecasts, is pipeline, and anything else beyond that is kind of a necessary method to get to those means of being successful there. When you’re very numbers driven, you tend to focus a lot on data, collecting data. Less focused on what I would call more the art of selling, which is, “how do I equip my salespeople with the skills and the measurements to develop the solid relationships?” because at the end of the day people buy off people. 

And if your salespeople aren’t adequately trained and focused on how to anticipate customer needs … In other words, no customer is interested in somebody going in there and telling them something they already know. So how do I get my salespeople to move beyond their comfort zone to really engage — understand, for example, what’s going to help promote my customer’s career? What’s going to help improve their business? 

And coming in there with that knowledge, that’s hard work. That’s research. But I’d rather them do that than spend an extra two hours plugging into the forecast their numbers or trying to fudge it to make their managers think that they’re going to be successful at the end of the quarter. So that separation and that thought starts at the top. So do I want my salespeople working as much on the art of selling as I’ve traditionally had them on what we call the science of selling? 

And that shift is one of the clear shifts we’ve seen with high performers. 

 

Micalizzi: So if we take that shift mindset and we look at … I know a lot of our listeners are either in the middle of or frantically planning for 2017. What are some concrete things they can do based on this research? And I’m thinking the most … what’s the most important thing they can tackle with this whole shift to focus on customer experience? 

 

DeSisto: Well, I think that there’s a few things. One is, I think — the biggest thing is,are we going to shift ourselves, again, from this pure numbers, traditional sales metrics approach to one that has us focusing more on the customer? And there’s a couple of clear things that the research tells us that business buyers expect from salespeople. 

So if we look at it this way, what I’m describing is: What are the needs of the buyer which the salespeople are selling to in 2017? So a couple of key points. They — the buyer, that is — expects an intimate knowledge of the product or service that’s being offered. They don’t want to be sold to. They want to be advised on how these services or products are going to help them. 

They want the salespeople to really invest in the relationship, not just when it’s time for renewal or when I’m a little low in the quarter and I need business to generate. They’re looking to see “Is this salesperson … I’m going to have two salespeople in front of me. Does one have a clear understanding of my market versus the other?” That can make or break a situation right from the beginning. And I think the other thing is that every customer has a buying process. 

I know many salespeople like to … er, sales organizations institute their selling process. But understanding how the customer wants to buy and then being adaptive through that buying process — because, in many cases, they’re in control. Ultimately they’re the ones that are going to sign the order or cut the check or whatever. So “How do I align my own selling motion with the buyer’s process?” is a big element and gets us right back to this notion of being customer-focused and connected to the customer which we started the podcast on.   

 

Zaledonis: Yeah, and maybe we can even be a little bit more specific for the listeners, too. In the report, you talk about a blueprint for sales. Can you talk about this framework? Maybe the listeners could actually use your blueprint to improve their sales in the coming year. 

 

DeSisto: Yeah. Well, I think that many of the elements of the blueprint, like I mentioned, was focused back on some of the issues I’d mentioned on what the customer would look for. 

So if I flip it around, I guess to your point, what I would say is that you would have your salespeople have intimate knowledge of products and services, meaning that they not just understand the data sheet but they really understand how it’s going to have an impact on the customer. Don’t try to sell them products they don’t need. So in many cases, to try to increase the order and so forth, you tend to try to shove stuff in there that you can take out later. 

Really, sell them — start with their needs, and try to meet with those needs the service and products you have. Understanding the existing relationship, meaning if you’re a new rep … In many cases, as we know, there’s a big turnover in sales organizations. So really do the legwork to understand the relationship, not just what was ordered in the past. And that may mean a lot of different discussions. That may be a lot of internal and external discussions. 

But getting on top of the relationship is important. Obviously along with that is the market, and the market meaning the market not that you play in as a salesperson — the market the customer plays in. And really understanding and putting yourself in their shoes as if you were working for them, helping them achieve their goals. And I think the biggest thing is we get all wired up into these complex selling methodologies and complexity and stages and activities. 

And I think what we’ve noticed is simplification is probably more important, which is get back to the heart of selling. It’s funny: If I took the best salespeople that are from the 1950s and supplanted them to now, you know what? They’d probably still be the best salespeople because, even though they didn’t have any technology in the ’50s, they knew how to develop a relationship. They knew how to go with a customer. They were just feeling them back then. 

But it comes back to the point that technology is a piece of everything, but it really comes down to selling. It’s how good you develop that relationship with the customer. That’s been the case forever. Not something new. It’s just now we’re trying to scale it. And when you try to scale it, you’re going to see much more — as this report indicated—- top-down focus on how do I get 80%, 85% of my reps acting that way instead of the 5 or 10%?

 

Zaledonis: Yeah. No, for sure. And I love that analogy of doing a Back to the Future and transplanting a sales rep into today’s world because, for as long as I’ve had my career, people have always said that people buy for technology and they buy because of the person. And that’s 50% of the reason why some of the deals get across the line is the relationship that you’ve built. But it’s hard to keep that in mind, right? People get desperate — it’s the end of the quarter. So keeping things simple, putting that framework together, is probably a great best practice for people to follow. 

But one other thing I noticed when you were talking — and I think I have my sales hat on because I used to be a salesperson myself — is this idea of putting the customer in the center can’t just be my responsibility as the rep. Right? What is the role the enterprise has? I’m thinking the customer-service team, the marketing team. How do you get the entire enterprise behind putting the customer at the center? 

 

DeSisto: Right, I think .… And that’s a key point because one of the things that we found also in the report was the fact that high-performing sales organizations had a clear edge in their alignment with those other organizations, whether it be service and/or marketing, so to speak.    

And one of the reasons that we’ve seen that alignment happen, that we also asked a question or looked into: that the influence of the sales organization has increased. Therefore, with the ability to influence the behavior or collaboration of these other groups — whether it be marketing and the standpoint of helping build content and demand-creation campaigns that actually have true meaning and value for the sales organization, or whether it’s the service organization that is providing early warnings back to salespeople on potential customer issues or, even more than early warnings, figuring out potential opportunities that could be followed up on — that alignment, that 360-view you often hear of the customer is, again, not a new concept. 

I think what’s somewhat new is sales having a much stronger influence on how that strategy gets set and implemented. And with that, the companies who have done it well, again, according to our research, shows that they’ve significantly done better than those that haven’t [seen] alignment from those other departments. 

 

Zaledonis: Talk to me a little bit more about that sales influence. I thought that was really interesting: that more than ever sales has a stronger influence in the business. 

What does that mean for the business? What does that mean for the sales organization? It sounds like a positive thing. 

 

DeSisto: Yeah, it is a positive thing. As you know, as anybody that’s spent time with any company that sells products, the head of sales obviously has significant power in the sense that they’re the ones that are bringing in the money that funds everything else. So if they don’t hit their numbers, then you’re going to have some type of reduction in force. 

Or if they really hit their numbers, everybody benefits and the company grows. However, I think that the difference is that yes, they’ve had that level of — let’s call it power or influence. 

The difference now is what we’re seeing is a lot of the more forward-thinking heads of sales are not just trying to leverage the fact that they’re the money generating out of the company but also providing their vision, meaning [that] getting the mindshare of marketing and/or service and helping them figure out and wanting to be a willing participant in developing the 360-degree view of the customer. 

In other words, it’s not just about “Okay, you’re going to help me make my number. I need this information.” It’s more about now the head of sales saying, “I’m all onboard and really helping us as a company developing a better experience and relationship with our customers because I believe that’s a sustainable competitive advantage if we do it right.” And therefore, they’re taking time, and their people are now being allowed to take time, to figure out the appropriate strategy to get there. 

The issue has always been that sales organizations don’t have the time to help work with these other groups on alignment. And now we’re seeing that these heads of sales figured out that yes, they do have an influence, and they want to use that influence in a more productive way. And that productive way is to allocate a level of investment towards building that 360-degree view and looking at the bigger picture of the relationship of experience with the customer. 

 

Micalizzi: With better alignment and a better view of the customer, it does put companies in a better position. But there is so much information available to sales, marketing, service now. What technology changes are you seeing to drive that personalization at scale to help the reps sell smarter? 

 

DeSisto: Well, interestingly enough, there’s a couple of dimensions to this. 

And I’ll break it down this way: When we look at reporting and analytics, there’s been a clear — what I would say “maturity” — that we’ve seen over the last 10, maybe 15 years that this report actually, really demonstrates, which is when we look at data, there are four stages that you would typically go through. The first thing you want to know is what happened? And that’s your typical operational report. 

It’s a rearview window looking backwards as to how things happened — so in other words, not how they happened but what happened: “I achieved this forecast,” “I did these sales activities,” or whatever. The next phase is whyhy did those things happen? So in other words, we’ve got all the results. Now what were the things that went into generating those results? That moves us into analytics. 

And that’s important because that allows us to have a feedback mechanism as to for the good outcomes we want to do these things; for the bad outcomes, we don’t want to do these things. The third level is what will happen? So I’ve gone now from what happened, why did it happen. Now I want to know what will happen. This says that of everything that’s gone on, if I continue on these certain paths, here are the likely outcomes. 

So it’s given me the opportunity to look into the future based on all of that data that you just mentioned. And then the fourth step — and this is where we get into artificial intelligence [and] AI — is not just “What will happen?” but “What can I do to change the outcome?” So when we move along that spectrum of an operational report to analytics, through analytics, a little bit of AI to complete AI, the clear shift in movement to leveraging and harnessing that data you talk about is that technology path. 

And our research showed that the “What will happen?” and “What can I do to change the outcome?” — those are small, fast-growing opportunities because the technology has finally caught up with sales. Analytics has been there forever. AI has been there forever — 30, 40 years. I was involved in it early in my career. However, the difference is now those technologies are now accessible, digestible for sales organizations. 

I don’t have to hire big-data scientists or I don’t have to invest a lot in tweaking an analytical model. That’s the major shift, and the big frontier that we’re going to start seeing over the next two years is that this technology now allows you to harness and get after all that data without having to make these big investments in personnel to leverage it. 

 

Zaledonis: That’s amazing, Rob, and I’m so excited about the topic of artificial intelligence. 

And of course, we’re getting to this hot topic right at the end of our call, when we’re at time. I think we’re going to have to have Rob back just to talk about this major shift — 

 

Micalizzi: Agree. 

 

Zaledonis:  in sales for artificial intelligence. That would be a great ’nother call. I’m sure our listeners would like that. And so in closing, what did we miss? What closing thought do you want to leave with the listeners to help them be more productive in the coming year? 

 

DeSisto: Well, I think the most interesting thing is that if you looked at and did a time slice of the 30 or so minutes we were on the call, I would probably say 15% or less was anything about technology. 

And I think the key point that I would make in my experience at Gartner: What I often say is I could take two companies using the same technology. One would be incredibly successful, and the other one would be failing miserably on the same application from the same provider. The difference [being] is that the one that was successful looked at and considered all of the issues that we talked about earlier, which is objectives and metrics and customer focus and all of those, taking away the administration burden.  

Looking at it from that viewpoint, those are the ones that really get the value out of their sales organizations versus “I’m just trying to get a forecast out,” or “I’m just trying to get my contacts down,” or whatever the case may be. Those are the ones that typically don’t end up seeing the value. So I think the big point is that it really isn’t about technology, and hopefully this podcast will prove that. It’s about those other things that, in that “State of Sales Report,” you’ll see are the real differentiators. 

 

Micalizzi: Such a great thought to close on. Thank you so much for joining us today, Rob. 

 

DeSisto: No problem. 

 

Micalizzi: Thank you for joining us to co-host today, Lynne. 

 

DeSisto: Thank you so much, Kevin. And thanks a lot, Rob, for sharing your insights. 

 

Micalizzi: And thank you to everyone listening in. Like what you hear? Please take a minute to give us a five-star rating and feedback on the Quotable Podcast. Thank you. 

 
 
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