Updated: Apr 30
One positive thing we got from this pandemic is the mainstreaming of stunning interactive online visualizations. It was here before, but Covid has made advanced business intelligence (BI) reporting commonplace. Beautiful graphics with informative hover-overs allow you to see what’s going on. Drill down. Roll up. Zoom in. Zoom out. Animate. Color-code. Slice. Dice. Pivot. It’s informative, accessible with a click, and now we have all seen the power of these graphics.
One reason for so many visualizations is that the software that builds these (and there are many options available) are so easy to set up. Underscoring this point, a friend told me that his company recently hired a junior Salesforce administrator with no programming experience. Using just Youtube tutorials, in under two weeks she taught herself and built a suite of BI reports on their Salesforce CRM data. My friend extolled the success, “The sales team and management love the new sales dashboard. It is all powered by Tableau, and we can easily customize it to meet our needs.”
Further underscoring how important these BI visualizations are, we reflect on Salesforce’s (mid 2019) $16 billion acquisition of BI juggernaut Tableau. Two years+ into that acquisition Salesforce rolled out an integrated offering of Tableau and what was formerly called Salesforce Einstein Analytics in a new product—Tableau CRM. This is best-in-class BI reporting.
If a vendor is mostly offering proprietary BI, then they are not offering anything that special. And they are not going to be able to do it as well as businesses that specialize in general purpose BI.
All this leaves us perplexed about the continued success and future of proprietary sales dashboard vendors. You can identify these vendors by their websites touting revenue operations, pipeline inspection, and improved forecasts. They usually show simple graphics, big fonts, and pretty charts. Almost all of them also tout artificial intelligence (AI) but if you look at what they are providing, it is a little bit of predictive analytics (for current quarter) and a lot of backward-looking BI reporting.
With all this capability available through other BI applications, and natively available (and customizable) in Salesforce, how can these vendors compete? If a vendor is mostly offering proprietary BI, then they are not offering anything that special. And they are not going to be able to do it as well as businesses that specialize in general purpose BI.
Given the advent of Tableau CRM, does the world really need yet another proprietary sales dashboard?
Many of these sales BI vendors started by providing predictive sales analytics (which is why they often tout their AI). But they branched out to provide extensive BI reporting—because they could, it is a lot easier to get right than forecasts, and to add value when their analytics fell short.
These vendors have delivered compellingly simple BI reports that help sales leaders understand what happened. Some of this is quite useful. But in doing so, these AI businesses have lost their way. They have deemphasized their predictive analytics and morphed into BI vendors.
But given the advent of Tableau CRM, does the world really need yet another proprietary sales dashboard?
The morphing from AI to BI is a simplification of course. These vendors also provide a forecasting framework allowing you to get forecast rollups and drill-downs by sales hierarchy. Helpful? Maybe. But if you have a manual rollup/drill-down forecasting process that delivered inaccurate predictions; how does automating that process help? You will certainly get inaccurate forecasts faster. But if this is what you want for forecasting, you can already create forecast views by management level in your CRM system. So, what do these dashboard/forecasting frameworks provide that you don’t already have?
There is also a more insidious issue. BI reports are very useful to see what has happened. But they don’t tell you much about what will happen in the future. For that, these vendors provide deal scores. This is what they refer as "AI". These scores use a variety of signals (like sales stage, forecast category, close date, number of meetings, and email frequency, reciprocity, and sentiment) that are of increasing importance toward the end of a sales cycle, to predict what will close in the current quarter.
But doesn't your sales team already have a good idea about this anyway? We are reminded of the joke about the definition of a consultant: someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time.
Most of those signals are not predictive after the current quarter. So, beyond the current quarter, these vendors provide rollups summarizing how much pipeline coverage you have compared to your longer-term plan. Those summaries ignore the quality and nature of the underlying opportunities or that you will have new opportunities start between now and the end of your planning period. Ask yourself “Can we really use this to know if we will meet our plan next quarter, this year?" We've backtested this and find that coverage is very weakly predictive and highly volatile. More important, if you are falling short, can these summaries show you what you need to do to meet the plan?
There has been a lot of money thrown at these companies. Some have had a good run, but how can they compete with a general purpose, easily customizable BI solution?
We note Salesforce’s 2021 $28 billion acquisition of Slack. What we said about BI and Salesforce/Tableau CRM can similarly be said about messaging and Slack.
On the other hand, there are a lot of vendors providing significant differentiated value to sales teams. We think that these categories are interesting:
Software that tells you what to do to sell more. These products look at what you are doing, and then apply predictive analytics to diagnose what you should do more of and less of. Examples include intelligent speech/text analysis and sales optimization.
Software that automates your workflow so you can sell more. These products automatically capture information that should be in your CRM but your users are too busy to enter. Examples include intelligent writeback of critical data to your CRM.
As for us? Funnelcast is in that first camp (optimization). We analyze what you have been doing to tell you what to expect and how to improve things. Of course, we do offer BI reporting (on our unique predictive analytics metrics); but we stay away from rollups and drill-downs that you can get with CRM reporting or with a BI product like Tableau or Microsoft PowerBI.
We don’t see a need for yet another proprietary sales dashboard. So, we will stick to our knitting and continue to enhance our predictive analytics. We will wait to see what additional capabilities these proprietary sales dashboard vendors provide. Many of them have already introduced proprietary messaging and collaboration capabilities (deal rooms) to differentiate their offering. But we note Salesforce’s 2021 $28 billion acquisition of Slack. What we said about BI and Salesforce/Tableau can similarly be said about messaging and Slack.