10 Types of Sales Tools You Must Know in 2021

Succeeding in sales in the 21st century is not an easy job. In addition to needing empathy, grit, and drive, you also need to know your potential and existing customers intimately to be relevant in every touchpoint.

Sales professionals who rely on sales technology outperform their peers. In this article, we'll introduce you to the ten sales software categories we think are the most important for you to be aquatinted with.

What are sales tools?

Sales tools refer to digital tools used by sales professional to make their work easier. Sales tool categories include customer relationship management (CRM), sales intelligence, sales acceleration, sales gamification, sales analytics, video conferencing, e-signature, account-based marketing, marketing automation, and customer service softwares.

The X factor for closing (the right) deals

Sales tools help salespeople understand which prospects are most likely to be successful with their product or service, when to reach out to those prospects, and what they should be talking about with them. They save time on tedious and time-consuming administrative tasks, and can focus on what matters the most: providing value for people and businesses.

Another reason for investing in sales technology is that employees lately have started to demand modern tools for their organization. This means that companies using conservative or old-fashioned sales methods not only risk losing sales, but even seeing their best sales talent leave them. According to LinkedIn’s State of Sales 2020, 47 percent of sales professionals say they use sales tech every day to close more deals.

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10 need-to-know sales tools categories

  1. CRM software
  2. Sales intelligence
  3. Sales acceleration software
  4. Sales gamification
  5. Sales analytics software
  6. Video conferencing software
  7. e-signature and document tracking
  8. Account-based marketing software
  9. Marketing automation software
  10. Customer service software

CRM software

As the name suggests, a CRM software (customer relationship management software) is a system for managing your relationships with your customers. It helps you keep track of existing customers, enhance customer relationships, improve customer retention, stay on top of sales and marketing efforts, automate communication.

For most companies, a CRM is the first and usually the most extensive investment they make in terms of sales technology. CRM adoption alone has grown 113 percent since 2016, with 65 percent of sales professionals reporting that they use CRM applications in 2020, according to LinkedIn’s State of Sales 2020.

Due to the advancements in technology and ultra-competitive markets, CRMs have matured into complex, multi-tiered support systems. From providing real-time updates to executing advanced lead scoring and automating repetitive tasks, CRM software now offers countless features that help salespeople optimize their sales processes.

Today most CRM solutions are SaaS platforms where you pay on a per-user, per-month basis. On-premise installations are seldom needed, as users can access most CRMs online in their internet browser. Some vendors charge a flat monthly fee for a set number of users, but require larger packages or extra fees for additional users.

What's new

A CRM is often the first investment into sales technology that a company makes. The CRM space is a crowded one, yet there are clear leaders in different segments: Salesforce for enterprise, Pipedrive for small and medium-sized companies.

Picking the right platform is an important decision, since you will probably want to integrate it with other apps and platforms as you grow—make sure you pick one that won’t limit you down the road. Luckily most vendors have seen UI facelifts in recent years, improving the user experience drastically to before. 

Things to consider when choosing your CRM system

There’s a lot to think about when choosing your organization’s CRM software. On the one hand, there are large vendors, such as Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics, attempting to build ecosystems incorporating app marketplaces. On the other hand, the CRM market has seen an increase in vendors. Pipedrive is one of the drivers in this space, offering affordable, easy-to-use solutions over the past few years. To make the choice a little easier, we’ve listed ten vendors we’ve identified as strong options.

>> Discover 10 smart CRM solutions

Sales intelligence and sales prospecting

Sales intelligence refers to a wide range of technologies that help salespeople find, monitor, and understand information on prospects’ and existing clients’ daily business.

Sales intelligence software allows salespeople to conduct pointed searches for companies using a specific set of real-time data-points, including firmographics, technographics, and buying signals. There are two parts to the sales intelligence market: 1) company data, and 2) contact data.

The technology is increasingly becoming essential to most salespeople. Sales intelligence tool have shown the largest increase in usage, jumping from 28% to 43% in 2020, according to LinkedIn's report.

Sales intelligence software includes more than just vendors providing phone numbers and emails. Sales intelligence is about the contextual information surrounding these contacts, such as purchase history, current contracts, business objectives, and digital footprints.

The average buying process now includes nearly seven people. Modern salespeople have to be relevant in every touch point, in order to build consensus among a larger group of stakeholders. Sales intelligence helps salespeople know precisely who they should be talking with, what they should be talking about, and when they should reach out to them. All relevant information must be in front of them when they’re having that conversation.

In short, sales intelligence eliminates the previously manual process of locating the relevant insights you need, while verifying them for accuracy and giving you a complete overview of every prospect. Most tools come with notification features, alerting the users of organizational changes that can open up a window of opportunity, or informing them of when a new company falls into the description of their ideal customer profile.

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What's new

In sales intelligence, local data plays a critical role, which makes the category more fragmented geographically than others. Legislation such as GDPR makes Europe, for example, a more challenging market to have contact information on. At the same time, there is a lot of consolidation in the space, as with DiscoverOrg’s recent acquisition of another major player, Zoominfo.

New datasets will constantly emerge, which will make prospecting more effective and specialized. Intent data is one new example, as well as industry-specific data sources such as real estate data, credit ratings, or vehicle information.

A young and evolving vertical

As already mentioned, the sales intelligence vertical is still young and relatively undefined. This makes it far from easy for first-time buyers to compare sales intelligence solutions and decide which one is right for their business. To help you narrow down the search, we’ve listed ten powerful sales intelligence tools.

>> Discover 10 smart sales intelligence and sales prospecting

Sales acceleration software

Sales acceleration is a strategic initiative to have more sales conversations, shorten the sales cycle, and/or close more deals. Sales acceleration software aims to speed up sales by automating administrative tasks and streamlining sales processes.

Speed without control is doomed to fail. Hence, sales acceleration technology helps salespeople improve both efficiency and effectiveness with better engagement and organization through the entire sales ecosystem. This is similar to, but slightly different from, the goal of sales enablement software, which focuses more on sales behavior and equipping salespeople with quality materials, quality opportunities, and best practices. Some vendors do, however, use these terms interchangeably.

Some people even argue that sales acceleration is more of an umbrella term for all tools that help B2B sales reps find the right companies to approach and/or enable sales outreach. Coaching tools, email tracking software, tools for predictive analytics, sales engagement software, and outbound sales dialers, to name some, then all belong to this category of technology.

While vendors in most of these categories use the term “sales acceleration” somewhere in their value proposition, vendors that use this label as their primary categorization have instead bundled multiple feature sets together from across these categories.

Sales acceleration tools first grew popular in high-volume markets such as the U.S. and the U.K. The technology is predicted to win more ground also in smaller markets in the coming years as a result of the increasing difficulties for salespeople to reach prospects all over.

What's new

Sales acceleration is another category where global leaders, such as SalesLoft and Outreach, are starting to emerge. We expect to see continuous innovation in this area, since engaging with prospects through traditional methods is getting harder each year.

Vendors seem to believe in a systematic, multi-channel approach, where you cover all bases to get attention from the right buyers. Minimizing human effort through automation is a key part of keeping outreach efforts manageable.

As the sales acceleration market consists of a wide range of tools with a broad variety of features, finding the right one for your organization is like looking for a needle in a haystack. To make the search easier for you, we’ve listed ten comprehensive sales acceleration tools.

>> Discover 10 smart sales acceleration software

Sales gamification software

Chances are you’re already using sales gamification to some extent in your business: try and find a sales team that never ran a sales competition to boost activity. By adding competitions and recognition, sales gamification software aims to boost motivation and sales performance to get the most from sales teams.

Sales gamification software allows sales managers to choose which metrics their team will be judged by, and the tool will rank employees based on their success against those metrics. Most tools offer ranking displays with employees’ scores in real-time, based on data pulled from the team’s CRM system. Stack-ranked leaderboards are the most common and most traditional form of sales team competition, but some software allows for more complex team games, one-on-one challenges, and mini-games for working on individual skills and performance goals.

By making the data available company-wide, you amplify the competitive spirit between reps and engage them in a play-to-win culture. You also allow sales reps to see which metrics they are hitting and which ones they’re behind on, hopefully encouraging them to put more work into the sales tasks they need to improve the most.

Sales departments aren’t the only ones using gamification software. Many vendors include features that make them work just as well for enhancing employee performances in customer support and human resources.

Two important considerations for prospective buyers are, a) there’s such a thing as too much when it comes to gamification in sales, and b) the administration required from sales manager to keep the competitions running must be justified by the winnings from improved company culture and sales results.

What's new

As salespeople are competitive by nature, there’s a natural need for a gamified element to sales. We expect gamification to be further embedded into existing sales processes and other categories of sales tools, such as CRMs. Don’t be surprised if companies in this space get acquired by larger players from other categories in the near future.

We’ve also seen a rising interest in coaching elements being introduced into these gamification platforms, where suggestions are provided based on the insights in these platforms.

>> Discover 10 smart sales gamification tools

Sales analytics software

Sales analytics software is a term used to describe tools and systems that enable sales professionals and managers to effectively track, evaluate, and enhance the performance of their sales activities, while predicting trends and results, and finding relevant insights. They provide sales managers with a granular view, breaking sales down into understandable pieces when reviewing where salespeople, products, and campaigns are performing the best, and where they should improve.

In the age of big data, sales analytics has become an important part of every sales report. Instead of manually gathering analytics through a tangle of spreadsheets, sales analytics software allows sales managers to access it systematically in one place.

Sales analytics systems are usually implemented on top of CRMs, and use algorithms based on existing data to reveal insights, though some serve as both the CRM system of record as well as the analytics tool itself.

The adoption of sales analytics software is growing rapidly throughout the business world. In the past, mainly larger enterprises took advantage of this type of technology. Thanks to the rise of SalesOps roles in small and medium-sized businesses, the adoption of sales analytic tools has grown in this segment lately.

What's new

Every year, sales and marketing becomes even more data-driven than before. This trend suggests there will be more and more players and innovation happening in the sales analytics category.

In addition to just analyzing data and coming up with recommendations, there seems to be a new category with Sales Operations specifically in mind. These platforms seem to take a more holistic approach in helping cater to all the needs of the SalesOps function.

>> Discover 10 smart sales analytics software

Video conferencing software and remote selling tools

More and more sales organizations are running online meetings to demo and/or share their offerings. While it’s easier to build trust with someone you meet face-to-face, the benefits of online meetings are obvious.

Video conferencing software helps reduce hiccups in communication for remote employees, potential prospects, or outside stakeholders, regardless of travel capability. You can use them for check-ins, large conference calls, external meetings, and presentations.

Many tools offer additional features outside of video conferencing itself, providing file sharing, white-boarding and screen sharing tools, an option for simple audio calling without video, and call recording features. Some vendors offer integrations with marketing automation and CRM software to sync critical business data into relevant conferences and allow for streamlined follow-up communications and updates to contact accounts.

Incumbents such as Skype and WebEx have seen an increase in new solutions competing over market shares recently. Many of the latest solutions on the market are cloud- or application-based offerings that will work on supported hardware devices. And, several top web conferencing software tools offer a free trial.

Due to the sheer abundance of video conferencing software available today, finding the right one for your needs can be both time consuming and stressful. Below you will find a list of the ten best video conferencing software to consider.

What's new

Up until recently, video conferencing technology has been a punchline of many jokes amongst salespeople, due to unstable connections and poor audio and video quality. Fortunately, the vendors in this space have raised the capital and developed their tools to the standard users expect.

There are plenty of strong alternatives in the space, and we have seen many salespeople with a couple of different options at hand based on varying needs and prospect preferences. Similarly to CRMs, expect clear segment leaders to emerge more clearly based on different business models and standards.

>> Discover 10 smart tools for video conferencing

E-signature and document tracking

In a nutshell, an e-signature is a digital way of putting pen to paper. E-signature and document tracking software provide users with the ability to securely collect signatures on electronic records, such as sales contracts and proposals.

This type of software helps streamline administrative tasks and reduce overhead by providing a single, unified view of each contract’s processes. An additional benefit of e-signature technology is that it allows for a paperless office. The sheer amount of space that paper documents and files take up is problematic on several levels.

Many solutions focusing in this area offer the possibility to track in real-time when and how a prospect interacts with a specific document. Some salespeople call up the decision-maker when they receive a notification about a prospect opening up a proposal. While this is still perfectly fine outside of the EU, salespeople selling to prospects based in any of the union’s member states have to take the new GDPR restrictions into account before they turn on any tracking feature. GDPR requires you to have previous consent to track a persons email activity before you do so.

The majority of e-signature and document tracking platforms provide users with notifications for critical dates that affect a contract, such as the cut-off date for contract renewal. Some more low-end services only offer templates that allow users to create and store their contracts. Other more advanced software provide tools for creating and managing contracts electronically and automating the digital management of a contract throughout its lifecycle. Many vendors integrate with third-party applications such as CRMs.

What's new

Early movers in the space focused mainly on offering a digital signature alternative to the traditional hand-written process, but lately vendors focus a lot more on collaboration throughout: chat capabilities, document tracking, predictive analytics, and so on. Expect all document-related collaboration to soon happen within the proposal software itself, to ensure a speedier process.

In addition, as larger players switch to e-signatures, expect stronger security protocols for enterprise tools—emerging technologies such as blockchain are the facilitators here.

Lately, the market has started to see more e-signature and document tracking solutions pointed for sales teams. These tools can be useful also for sending out any sales and marketing collateral. To help you find the right vendor for your needs, we have collected ten top tools in this category.

>> Discover 10 smart tools for e-signature and document tracking

Download The Beginner's Handbook to Account-Based Marketing

Account-based marketing software

Account-based marketing (ABM) technology gives marketers the ability to build scalable, personalized marketing campaigns, measure their results against a set of key performance indicators, and prove revenue contribution. Adopting the account-based marketing method means concentrating on specific high-value customers with highly targeted, personalized campaigns, basing the targeting and marketing message on particular attributes of an account.

The account-based marketing strategy is all about shifting your focus from high volumes of prospects to highly targeted accounts that are a perfect fit for your product or service.

Account-based marketing software realigns the marketing and sales departments differently from general branding, for example, through allowing users to craft personalized buying journeys. Users can offer tailored paths for visitors to take when they come to their homepage, making them more likely to navigate through them.

ABM is making a strong comeback

The term account-based marketing was first introduced in the 90s; however, this method becomes useful only when supported by the right combination of tools and process. Hence, the method only recently took off thanks to the last years’ upswing of account-based marketing software vendors.

To succeed with the account-based marketing strategy, you need to have an efficient inbound methodology. With a clearly defined target audience, marketing departments can better categorize and evaluate leads and move them further along the sales process. It also allows content marketers to create content that speaks to the specific pain points of the right target accounts.

What's new

Account-based marketing is one of the harder categories to define: some vendors focus on account data to help focus your campaigns, others on engaging with companies once you have a list ready. At the end of the day, all of these software providers are potential vendors for account based marketers, according to their needs and business situation.

We expect to see clearer holistic account-based marketing solutions moving forward, as well as specialization in specific industries, such as Jabmo with manufacturers.

>> Discover 10 smart tools for account-based marketing

Marketing automation software

Every sale starts in one of two ways: either the seller finds the buyer, or the buyer is seeking the seller. Marketing automation and lead generation tools aim to encourage the latter.

This type of software allows companies to streamline marketing workflows and optimize their marketing strategy by automating marketing tasks such as email marketing, social media posts, and lead generation. These activities build up a rich database of contacts through conversions, particularly when a person exchanges her contact details and possibly information about the business they work for in exchange for the valuable content from your company.

Once a new contact reaches the marketing automation platform, the tool should help marketers qualify and prioritize these leads and nurture them to a sales-ready stage. Marketing departments are usually the most frequent users of marketing automation. However, it’s essential for sales teams to understand the functions of this automation too, as solutions like these are also applicable in sales.

A vital component of this software is the provision of analytics features to measure the impact of an entire campaign across segments and channels. These features measure the impact of campaigns on marketing team KPIs, campaign ROI, and the impact of campaigns on company revenue.

A word of warning, marketing automation is not a solution you can “set and forget.” While this software helps marketing team automate many tasks, they don’t make human skills redundant. Consistently manually monitoring workflow automation is imperative to reflect to keep your messaging up to date. Don’t fall into the common pitfalls of “over-automating.”

What's new

While a CRM is often the first sales technology investment, marketing automation is a close second, and a staple for most modern sales teams. The largest providers are nowadays extensions of a core CRM, or also provide CRM functionality themselves.

Interestingly, a current trend in marketing seems to be increasing the amount of non-gated content published. While easier to read, as a marketer you will still need gated content pieces to acquire contact information and get people into your marketing database.

To spend more time focusing on creative solutions while increasing your close rate and improving the quality of your leads, we’ve listed ten powerful tools you should know about.

>> Discover 10 smart marketing automation tools

Customer service software

Customer service tools help a business manage inbound and outbound communications across multiple channels, efficiently deliver service, and resolve issues. Help desk, live chat, social customer service, and complaint management software, to name some, belong in this category. With this type of technology, users can track all customer requests and better understand their response time thanks to built-in analytics functions.

While there is no all-encompassing definition of customer service software, most vendors include features such as call-routing, analytic dashboards, auto-attendance, and case management. Many tools allow users to get notified when one of their key accounts sends in a request.

Vendors in the live chat segment offering in-app chat features have grown more popular lately, as they allow users to deliver more real-time customer support and turn chat discussions into real sales opportunities. Many tools in this segment are building applications such as chat bots that aim to qualify new leads and booking new meetings for the salespeople’s calendars. Since most of these bots are using machine learning, they are getting better every day, thanks to the new data that they collect.

What's new

In this category, we’ve included both customer engagement solutions as well as customer success platforms for following and managing the customer relationships. We believe these will slowly merge to offer holistic CRM-like capabilities that capitalize on an overall contact database within the enterprise—some large vendors (FreshSales, ZenDesk) already have these types of offerings.

The space is highly competitive, with huge ad spends and transparent, low-barrier-to-entry business models being the norm. We expect even further consolidation in the coming years.

An increasingly popular type of software

In the past, only companies with a large number of customer inquiries have taken advantage of customer service and support ticket systems. Companies with a smaller number of customers tended to still use email and phone as their primary tools to handle customer support. With the rapid development of technology, customer service solutions have become more affordable, and the adoption of this type of tools have grown across all business segments.

The hundreds of different customer service software available to choose from vary by scale, industry use, platform type, compatibility, and features. To make it easier for you to select the right tool for your business, we’ve listed ten powerful tools in this category.

>> Discover 10 smart tools for customer service software

Topics: Sales Tools

Erika Granath

Vainu's Content Marketing Manager. Grew up next to Sweden's largest cookie factory. Love cookies (of course), ping pong tournaments and word jokes.