What is Sales Tech? Definition, Examples and Trends – Spiceworks News and Insights

Sales tech is evolving just as fast as its martech counterpart, but what are the practitioners telling us? The recent Sales Tech Benchmark Survey revealed much about usage and growth trends, and we’ve compiled the ten most notable points from the report, specially curated from a chat between Nancy Nardin from Smart Selling Tools and MarTech Advisor editor-in-chief, Chitra Iyer.
Image Courtesy SmartsellingtoolsOpens a new window
Sales automation, sales tech and sales enablement are all terms that have seen increasing popularity in the last decade. What is sales tech and how does it differ from sales automation and sales enablement? Sales tech is defined as a set of tools that help accelerate and enhance sales productivity by enabling sales reps to use their time and customer intelligence as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Sales automation, on the other hand, is a subset of sales tech, wherein repetitive and mundane tasks can be automated for higher efficiency and more optimal use of the sales person’s time. Sales enablement is also a subset of sales tech which has become increasingly popular as we recognize the power of content as a tool in B2B marketing and sales; and as we get better at leveraging technology to help with buyer engagement through their journey. Sales enablement is often defined as the process and tools that enables the sales force with the right content at the right time to help engage and nurture the prospect through the buyers’ journey.
Nancy Nardin, who runs Smart Selling ToolsOpens a new window , has spoken at length to MarTech Advisor on smart sales tech that can help drive revenue on the Talking Stack podcastOpens a new window earlier in 2019, based on her experiences of putting together an annual compilation of the sales tech vendor landscapeOpens a new window , much like it’s famed martech counterpart. Like the latter, sales tech has been growing steadily in both – the number of categories, the number of tools and vendors within each category, and the overall adoption of more categories and tools by users.
To track the major trends in sales tech, Nancy also executes an annual survey, the findings of which are shared with the industry in the form of the annual Sales Tech Benchmark ReportOpens a new window . In an exclusive chat with MarTech Advisor, Nancy Nardin takes us through the trends revealed by the latest release of the report, and shares her own interpretation of what each trend implies and why.
Before we get into it, Nancy also reminds us that the sales tech vendor landscape is aligned to what she calls the‘sales tech hierarchy of needs’, which includes:
Nancy recommends reading the sales tech vendor landscape from left to right, noticing the red ‘need categories’ as you go. Each category of sales tech tools maps to a specific need on the sales tech ‘hierarchy of needs’. It’s up to you to decide what’s most important for you at a given point of time!
Now, let’s explore some details on each of these 10 sales tech 2020 trendsOpens a new window :
The number of tools has increased by about 10% since 2018, and there are now 570 sales tools under 43 categories. Nancy says that while new sales tech companies are launching at the rate of every other week, consolidation and closures are keeping the overall growth rate in the number of sales tools from rising faster. “Categorization has always been the toughest part and it’s getting more difficult as many stand-alone solutions are adding functionality on a path toward being broader platforms”.
Says Nancy, “Our 2017 research identified 4 pillars of a sales stack, that is, 4 solutions used by a clear margin above the others. These were:
The remaining 22 solution categories we surveyed for were used by less than 22% of respondents. In 2019 however, there are 10 solutions used by 47% or more of the respondents. Perhaps more telling is that all but 5 solutions were used by more than 22% of respondents”. This indicates a growing adoption of a larger swathe of sales tech tools across a range of categories – and an increasing maturity of the space.
Of all the stats the survey revealed, Nancy herself was most surprised by the jump in per-user monthly spending compared to earlier years.In 2017, 2/3 of respondents spent $150 or less per user, per month. In 2019 that flipped. 2/3 of respondents now spend $150 or more per user per month, clearly seeing more value in the investment and also ensuring more users within the organization have access to these tools to drive productivity”.
Even though CRM is the most prevalent or deployed sales tech tools across the maximum number of respondents, it remains at the lower end of the spectrum for ‘satisfaction and perceived value’ score. Even though none of the tools were rated below 7, the reality is that 22 other categories got picked ahead of CRM on these metrics. Nancy explains why. “People struggle with CRM. They have high hopes for it only to realize that there are obstacles to success. For one, CRM solutions require customization if they are to truly be effective for each unique organization. Some of the more popular CRM solutions like Salesforce are incredibly powerful, but that power comes with complexity. To drive home that point, doing a LinkedIn search for people with CRM administrators in their title displayed 445,000 results”.
A focus on top-of-the-funnel tools indicates a focus on ‘nurturing’ a prospect purposefully, engaging with them through their journey, starting at the top. As Nancy points out, “Marketing organizations hold a good chunk of the budget for sales tools and they start with tools that connect marketing activities to the sales funnel. So, this growth at the top-of-funnel makes sense. Top-of-funnel is also a favorite of sales leaders since you can’t close deals that haven’t entered the pipeline. It’s a natural place to start”.
The idea of social selling was bandied about quite a lot a few years ago but never quite became as mainstream or institutionalized in the sales organization as one would have liked to see. Are things changing now, and why? Nancy’s explanation for this growth of interest in social selling lies in prioritizing engagement as a precursor to conversion. “It’s harder than ever to get prospects to engage with salespeople. You have 6 times the number of SDRs who each can make 10 times the number of calls and send 100 times the number of emails than what has been possible in the past. Buyers are shutting down, ignoring emails, and refusing to answer the phone. Social selling is a great way to connect with buyers in a meaningful way”.
The use of account targeting tools from 2017 to 2019 grew a whopping 1175% from 4% to 51%. This was the largest jump we see in the study. Why has this category evolved and what’s contributing to the growth?  According to Nancy, “Account targeting has always been a part of prioritizing sales efforts (for enterprise B2B sellers) but it’s often relegated to static spreadsheet salespeople refer to periodically. The spike in adoption is likely due to a combination of the advent of purchase intent data, the innovative solution developments at companies like ZoomInfo (Powered by DiscoverOrg), and TechTarget, and the need to use sales capacity more strategically” offers Nancy.  Ziff Davis B2B too made several acquisitions in the B2B demand gen and value-based account targeting space in 2019, most notable being the recent acquisition of B2B tech marketplace and community Spiceworks.
Sales enablement tools, which help manage and leverage content to engage and convert prospects (especially in the B2B context) grew by 5X. What does that say about the use of the content, the larger enabling environment around content creation and personalization of content experiences, and sales embracing content as a real way to drive value in the consideration phase? Once again, says Nancy, marketing organizations have led the way. “MarTech Advisor knows better than anyone, that content is king. It’s also a very expensive endeavor. If the content isn’t ‘findable’, ‘trackable’, or ‘measurable’, it’s of questionable value. That means it’s unknown. There’s also a huge push to be more relevant to each buyer persona due to the difficulty of getting buyers to engage. Companies are recognizing that sales enablement solutions are helping to drive higher lead and prospect engagement”.
When it comes to sales tech investments, we see top-of-funnel (TOFU) tools at the top, followed by middle-of-funnel (MOFU) and bottom-of-funnel (BOFU) tools. In spite of all that we hear about the need to retain, engage and optimize lifetime value by creating value, does this imply that the focus remains on TOFU and lead/demand gen over conversions, value creation and retention?
Nancy says, “The short answer is ‘yes’. That focus is driven by the traditional focus on generating new business and building new pipeline. My guess is that we’ll see the need to optimize customer-lifetime-value become more of a focus for marketing & sales as profitability rises to equal importance as booked revenue”.
We also see that close to 40% of the respondents don’t use any management and reporting tools that help approach conversion and retention more strategically – even though the 4 areas of management and reporting tools all witnessed good growth, and ‘renewal/ revenue management’ witnessed a 6X growth. What can we infer from this about management and sales leadership priorities? Nancy feels that “Sales ops and sales leaders still rely on the inherent capabilities of their CRM system to provide the reporting they need. They have cobbled together reporting using CRM and spreadsheets. And it’s difficult to break away from that familiarity”.
So, those were the top trends we spotted in the survey findings from the Sales Tech Benchmark Report 2019! I end by asking Nancy about the top priorities that sales and business leaders should be thinking about if they want to succeed in the inevitable ‘experience-driven’ economy in 2020 and beyond.
“Interesting that you bring up the ‘experience-driven’ economy,” says Nancy. “Experience is increasingly becoming a differentiation in sales. Differentiating on product alone is difficult. Absent of product differentiation, price becomes the deciding factor. While a good price is of interest to buyers and is often what they revert to in the end due to lack of product differentiation, buyers are inherently swayed by their experience with the seller. Their experience during the purchase process, in good part, determines their confidence in obtaining the promised value. This is what selling is all about. Sellers need the rest of their organization to put the right processes and culture in place to ensure that buyer experience is at the forefront”.
And of course, sales tech is an important enabler for sales and marketing teams to bring that experience alive. Will CRM be at the center of that sales tech ecosystem? In an exclusive feature for MTA, Duncan Stockdill, CEO of CapsuleOpens a new window , a SaaS CRM platform, shared his major predictions for sales tech for 2019 and beyond. These included:
We hope you enjoyed these trends based on the findings from the Sales Tech Benchmark Report 2019, Nancy Nardin’s expert commentary, and those bonus trends from Duncan’s April’19 piece. Tell us what your favorite sales tech tools are and why, on LinkedInOpens a new window or TwitterOpens a new window !

Consulting Editor, Spiceworks Ziff Davis
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