Automation and analytics are all the rage.
This essay originally appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Sign up here.
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 crm , SAP sap , Oracle orcl , Microsoft msft , and IBM 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.