Adam Lashinsky is on assignment. Heather Clancy is a contributing editor at Fortune.
Salesforce and its brethren in the sales force automation world have done a darn good job selling sales managers on the benefits of their software. Big companies will spend an estimated $29 billion on systems for tracking customer relationships in 2016. That’s more than for any other business application category.
But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a quota-carrying sales representative who loves updating contact databases regularly, especially when he or she could be closing a deal. That’s one reason you’re hearing Salesforce and rivals like Bullhorn and SugarCRM talk about new features that automate these tasks through artificial intelligence and data analysis.
“Now you can prescribe the right course of action,” says Bullhorn CEO Art Papas. “I wouldn’t call this big data—we’re not looking through the Library of Congress. But we’re looking for the mini data of interactions, coming up with clues that would otherwise go unnoticed.”
There are already add-on apps that offer these sorts of insights such as LiveHive, which captures contact info for sales prospects, or ToutApp and Yesware, which track who is opening emails and other campaign materials. None of them is meant to replace customer relationship management (CRM) systems from the big five: Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, and IBM.
In most cases, they’re intended to complement them.
Dave McDermott, director of sales enablement for staffing agency Kelly Services, uses sales performance analysis software from another sales software startup, LevelEleven, to identify best practices and motivate his team. Salespeople receive metrics such as close rates and how they perform vis-à-vis their peers. “CRM tools are great with providing indicators, but they’re not so great at giving you predictors, at encouraging someone on the team to be successful,” McDermott notes. “Our focus is on helping them move there.”
Other apps that nudge sales teams toward a quicker close? Here are three more companies that have my attention (listed in alphabetical order):
- Brainshark, which uses video evaluations to help managers offer feedback.
- ClearSlide, which identifies which sales prospects are actually viewing pitch videos and presentations so teams can prioritize.
- Spiro Technologies, which sells a mobile app that acts as a virtual coach. (You can pick different “personalities” ranging from a pushy mother to a surfer dude.)
Here’s hoping this sort of software doesn’t turn into just another excuse for procrastination.
BITS AND BYTES
Verizon’s name stands out among Yahoo potential bidders. Many of the roughly 40 companies interested in buying pieces of the Internet company, including Fortune‘s parent Time Inc., have opted not to submit formal bids, according to several reports. With today’s bid deadline looming, telecommunications giant Verizon—which bought AOL in 2015 and is looking to build its digital advertising services—looks like the most promising suitor. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)
Europe antitrust regulators close in on Google. The Internet giant already faces charges related to its comparison shopping services in Europe. Now the European Commission is nearing the end of its formal investigation into how Google licenses its mobile operating system software, Android. A so-called “statement of objections” could be issued within a week. (Fortune)
Wall Street scrutinizes stock grants. The practice of using stock-based compensation to reward workers isn’t anything new, and tech companies have historically been more liberal than most. But the expense associated with stock grants isn’t often considered carefully in quarterly results, a practice that may be changing, reports The Wall Street Journal. Among companies that face closer scrutiny during the next wave of financial reports: Twitter, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Alibaba, and Workday. (Wall Street Journal)
Amazon takes on Netflix with standalone streaming video service. The massive e-commerce retailer is introducing a monthly service that costs $9, one dollar less than what rival Netflix charges. Videos previously were a “perk” enjoyed by Prime membership subscribers. (Wall Street Journal)
Bill Gates urges America to invest more in R&D. While countries like South Korea and China have increased their budgets for technological innovation, U.S. spending has “essentially flatlined.” That doesn’t bode well for the future, Gates argues in a Reuters editorial. (Fortune, Reuters)
Japanese quakes trigger Sony plant closures. The electronics company is assessing damage from deadly earthquakes in the southern part of the country. Operations in Nagasaki and Kyushu, which make image sensors for the Apple iPhone, were suspended indefinitely. (Fortune)
Is Intel’s stock massively undervalued? The chipmaker’s next quarterly financial report, due Tuesday, is likely to disappoint analysts due to lackluster personal computer sales industrywide, reports Barrons. But Intel’s investments in data center and embedded computing technologies could rekindle the company’s growth engine by the end of this year. (Barrons)
GoDaddy’s tech chief heads for Google. Elissa Murphy, who was executive vice president of the company’s cloud business group, is leaving officially in mid-May. She led GoDaddy’s recent expansion into cloud services for small businesses. Her role at Google was not disclosed. (Fortune)
Indian outsourcer will fight $940 million judgement. A jury in Wisconsin last week approved a nearly $1 billion fine for Tata Consultancy Services. The case centered on whether the services company’s American subsidiary improperly used intellectual property of Epic Systems, a healthcare software company. (Bloomberg)
Internet of clothing is coming through huge label deal. Your clothes are going online. Avery Dennison, a packaging and labeling giant that puts labels onto products from brands like Nike, Adidas, and Hugo Boss, has struck a deal with “Facebook for things” firm Evrythng to create unique web identities for at least 10 billion pieces of apparel over the next three years.
That means consumers and retailers will be able to do things such as check the authenticity or manufacturing history of a shirt, participate in various after-sales loyalty schemes or recycling programs, connect with third-party apps, see exclusive smartphone content, and reorder products. Fortune contributor David Meyer reports on the logistics of this far-reaching alliance.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
U.S. promotes plan to get 1.5 billion more people online by David Z. Morris
Ray Kurzweil thinks solar tech will dominate energy within 12 years
by David Z. Morris
Amazon cloud partners face tricky proposition by Barb Darrow
GameStop launches independent game publishing venture
by John Gaudiosi
IBM claims big customers for video services by Barb Darrow
ONE MORE THING
Canada’s prime minister is kind of a nerd, and that’s a good thing. For a politician, Justin Trudeau sure knows a lot about quantum computing, as he proved to a crowd last Friday. (Fortune)