For my first 20 years I was in sales, not much changed. But over the last five to 10 years, things have changed pretty significantly, and honestly, I think we're headed for even more dramatic changes.
One of the biggest changes is expectations for growth. There's always been pressure for growth, but the pressures today are unprecedented. You have to grow fast, and I mean fast, or the board will look to replace leaders. The expectation is for unicorn-type growth if you took any investor money. A 20 percent growth rate might be fine for a lifestyle business, or a family business, but not if you have investors.
Another big change is that sales are no longer driven by sales forecasting alone. The scope of sales is broader. Now we have the revenue-generation cycle, which is that whole marketing cycle before the sales cycle in the middle, and then extended to the customer service organization after prospects become customers. Sales operations is a newly emerged idea for orchestrating technology across these functions, such as marketing automation systems, CRM systems, and customer service systems.
This wider perspective is particularly important in today's world of subscription models because there has to be a lot of analysis around churn in order to minimize it. Why did someone churn? How are we upselling products? How successful are we at sustaining our revenue and growing our revenue in our customer base?
It’s all a lot more complex, and you need to bring in insights from across the buyer and customer journeys.
I don't think you can because it would take a lot longer to accomplish, and as I said earlier, either leaders inside organizations or investors outside organizations just don't have the patience for that.
At the same time, because of the shift to more customer-centric business models, there’s been a big shift from a singular focus on internal numbers, metrics, and processes. Internal metrics are still important, but the more successful organizations are more driven from the outside looking in, from the perspective of your customer. This means they are looking closely at data coming in from the outside—third parties—and you really need a cloud infrastructure to be able to securely and effectively absorb, process, and use that data.
That’s why an integrated SaaS suite is valuable. It does one incredibly powerful thing for you—it brings all that data together that you need to answer those complex questions.
Then you don't have to waste time taking silos of data, bringing them together, and then either writing your own application or buying some application that pulls all that data together.
First, they become more valuable over time. The more data you collect the more meaningful the insights become, and then you can start to more reliably predict the future. This gives you more control and helps you get ahead of potential problems.
Second, you can just get going with optimizing your data faster. If you don't have an integrated SaaS cloud platform, you're going to waste time on the plumbing as opposed to capturing and validating and analyzing the data—the things that really make a difference. You can really compress the cycle quickly once you get started.
Finally, these integrated platforms support the process-oriented thinking that’s a big part of this new expanded view of sales from marketing to post-sales.
Data gives us the ability to quickly see where process gaps or bottlenecks might exist along the end-to-end customer journey that might be holding back growth, and then we can address them.
It’s a lot more effective and less costly to fix a process than to push more leads through to make up for the ones getting stuck.
I think the marketing, sales, and customer success functions will grow closer and more single-minded as they share more data because I have seen what a big impact this can have.
When I was VP of Sales at a mid-size enterprise, we needed to revitalize growth, and we recognized that we had a small penetration rate in our existing customer base. We did analysis, and we shifted our focus. We took our growth rate from single digits back up to 30 percent by focusing on landing seven-figure transactions from that customer base.
The catalyst for this successful strategy came from our sales operation folks bringing information to my attention. It allowed for meaningful conversations about not just the sales strategy, but the entire go-to market strategy.
People and functions need to be aligned on strategy to achieve growth goals, but they can’t be if technology isn’t similarly aligned. An integrated suite of cloud-based business applications is the key to achieving this alignment because it enables collaborative problem-solving and strategy development using reliable data.
To learn how Oracle’s suite of enterprise cloud applications leverages advanced technology to help organizations grow, visit oracle.com/applications.
Tony Esposito is a partner and co-founder of High Tide Advisors and has more than 30 years of experience in sales leadership and strategy development, including the roles of Chief Revenue Officer and VP of Worldwide Sales. We recently talked to him about how sales are changing and the technology choices that growth-focused sales organizations are using.