Year in Review: Hottest Sales Tools and Tech Trends from 2021

Year in Review: Hottest Sales Tools and Tech Trends from 2021

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Some of you may know that I’m a huge sales tech enthusiast. Over the past 6 years, I’ve been following thousands of tools and SaaS startups in this space. 

As a result, 3 years ago we put together the biggest catalog of sales tools featuring proven resources to help our fellow SDRs, AEs, and sales leaders up their game.

Yet, a lot has changed in B2B sales since 2017. That’s why we’ve decided to update the catalog adding 350 new tools (making it a total of 750 tools) across 16 new categories

Here is a rundown of the most interesting ones, plus some of the sales tech trends we’ve discovered along the way.

Let’s start with the new and exciting software categories that have recently emerged or gained momentum.

Emerging tech trends in sales

Last year, many reputable sources weighed in on what to expect in 2021. For example, Forbes highlighted virtual selling, data insights, and personalized, meaningful engagement. And the LinkedIn report fell in line with it to a great extent.

These and many other trends had a significant impact on the sales tech ecosystem, bringing a number of new software categories to the spotlight. Here are some of my top picks.

Rapport Building

As a big believer in the “humanization” of sales communications, I’m excited to see more solutions helping salespeople build rapport and connect with their prospects on a personal level.

These tools act as virtual sales assistants collecting information about the prospects across the web in one place. Having this sort of data at hand, makes it easier for sales reps to build rapport while giving demos and on phone calls with the prospects. Intro and Warmly are the most interesting tools in this category.

 

Warm Intros

Nothing beats a referral when it comes to cold outreach. That is the main reason why one of our top-performing outbound playbooks involves connecting with a non-decision maker first to have them point you in the right direction (which I’ve shared along with other creative tactics during the recent webinar).

Luckily, your prospect’s colleagues aren’t the only source of referral. This is where sales tools offering warm intros come into play, making the process of getting referred to the right person a ton easier! 

These are basically communities where sales people share their leads and connections with other salespeople who can use those contacts as referrals. For my money, CoSell gets the title of Most Interesting Tool in this category right now.

Product-Led CRM

A CRM is the backbone of any sales organization. These are the tools we’ve all been using for decades. Yet, I can’t say that this category has seen many innovations until recently. 

The introduction of the so-called “product-led CRM” has been the first significant shift in this category since 2017. The main problem with the traditional CRM systems is that more and more companies use them as a data storage which makes it harder for salespeople to find the right information among thousands of records and siloed data. This even led to the drop in CRM adoption (especially among the SaaS and software sales teams).

This is where product-led CRMs come in. They integrate with warehouses, marketing tools, product analytics platforms, billing data, data integration tools, etc., to provide a unified view of a lead or customer. This means there is no need to jump between different tools and systems. 

More importantly, they also help prioritize MQLs and PQLs based on behavioral and product-usage data, so salespeople can engage with leads who are more likely to convert. My top picks in this category are Endgame, HeadsUp, Correlated, and Calixa.

AI-Powered Email Composers

The use of AI in sales isn’t new. We’ve witnessed its widespread adoption over the past few years (being the fastest-growing sales tech category according to Salesforce). 

However, the development of GTP-3 — a revolutionary language prediction model by OpenAI — unlocked new possibilities for salespeople. It enabled sales reps to easily generate custom email copy and follow-ups with just a click. So, in a matter of months, a whole new software category was born. And Reply has been at the forefront of innovation with our AI Sales Email Assistant

Other notable tools in this category are CopyAI, Flowrite and Lavender are the most interesting ones.

Email Warm-Up

As more teams turn to cold outreach automation, the competition for the prospect’s inbox has never been as fierce. Plus, spam filters have become much smarter. That is why it’s practically impossible to imagine getting started with cold outreach without using email warm-up. 

Simply put, this is an automated and effective way to grow your sender reputation and ensure high deliverability for your campaigns. Of all standalone tools, Warmbox.ai is one of my favorites.

Yet, deliverability is a far more complex issue that goes beyond sender reputation. And I'm happy to see some all-in-one solutions emerge in this space. A good case in point is Folderly. The tool offers inbox placement monitoring, DNS settings fix, spam filters check, content analysis, advanced warm-up with automatically generated senders, and a dedicated email deliverability team.

However, there’s one more trend here — email warm-up capabilities have basically become a must-have for any sales engagement platform out there. After all, being able to handle all aspects of your outreach without switching between multiple tools makes the life of an SDR so much easier! That is why we’ve recently added the Email Warm-Up tool to our product offering too.

Conversation Recording

Don’t get me wrong, recording sales calls is a standard practice for many teams. This is how we learn while getting better at what we do. Yet, with the rise of virtual sales and video calls, this hasn’t been as easy. On top of that, processing and making sense of the recorded conversations isn’t always easy.

That’s why I’m thrilled to see this category of sales evolve to cater to the current needs of sales teams. Modern conversation recording tools help sales people capture Zoom calls and convert speech into text, making the information easy to search and use, and the sales reps — more productive. 

In my opinion, Grain, Milk Video and Fireflies are the most promising tools in this category. I am also pretty sure that some of these tools will eventually transition into the conversation intelligence category.

Product Demo

Virtual product demos is another category driven by the global shift to remote work (and sales specifically). These tools help you create personalized product tours without providing prospects with direct access to your software. 

So far, I’ve seen the highest adoption of these tools among enterprise sales teams. But if you’re willing to explore this opportunity, Walnut and Navattic are definitely worth your attention.

Action Plan Software

You might have heard about sales tools offering guidance and next best action based on the prospect’s activity. Yet, no matter how good those AI algorithms are, there’s no guarantee that you’re seeing eye to eye with the prospect.

This is where action plan software comes in. A relatively new trend, it aims to help you create interactive mutual action plans and ensure that both you and the prospect are on the same page. In this regard, Outreach has been a pioneer announcing its new feature called Outreach Success Plans at the latest Unleash event. Other noteworthy tools in this category are Recapped.io and Accord.

Revenue Intelligence

Revenue intelligence has been all the rage lately, officially declared a “core to a go-to-market tech stack” by Forrester. And admittedly, I get what the hype is all about.

Revenue Intelligence tools enable sales teams to analyze the conversations and activities across all channels like emails, CRM notes, etc., helping you get actionable insights into historical data and predict whether or not the deal will close. Isn’t that a perfect example of working smarter, not harder? 

So far, Clari and People.ai have established themselves as the market leaders. It’s also worth mentioning that both of them have snagged $150M and $100M in funding this year respectively, surpassing $1B valuation 🔥. So I can’t wait to see where they will be heading in 2022.

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The rise of personalization at scale

AI and automation have already changed the way we prospect and sell forever, helping us put tons of things like email outreach, LinkedIn outreach, software integrations etc., on autopilot. 

Since millions of companies have adopted tools like Reply, outreach automation is no longer a competitive advantage. Everyone can find 1000 prospects, write an email sequence, upload the list of contacts to their SEP, and run multichannel campaigns. That’s why the most innovative and creative salespeople keep pushing things forward. And I’m happy to consider myself one of them.

Namely, one of the ways to set yourself apart from the competition without giving up on automation is through personalization at scale. Simply put, this approach allows you to build tailored campaigns and customize your outreach messages for each prospect individually while doing so in bulk. Here are some of the ways (and tools) to implement this tactic.

  1. Personalized First Lines at Scale
    Similar to the email composers, such tools use AI to generate highly personalized intro lines for every prospect on the list based on the data you feed to them. Quicklines and Warmer are the most interesting ones I know.
  2. Personalized Videos at Scale
    Millions of salespeople around the world use Vidyard and Loom to record 1-on-1 personalized videos for their outreach. Yet, it takes at least 5-10 minutes per video, which is why we mostly use this approach at the later stages of the sales process or for top-priority leads. 

    Image source

    But what if you could use AI to generate personalized videos at scale? Simply upload the list of prospects with data fields like {{FirstName}}, {{Company}} that could be used as variables for voice and lip syncing on a video. Synthesia is currently one of the leaders here with Rephrase.ai being another cool startup in this category.

  3. Personalized Cold Calls at Scale
    This one is the hardest outreach activity to be automated, because cold calls happen in real time. Yet, there’s already an app for that too! Tools like Orum will call up to 10 contacts at once, talk to them, and, if any of the prospects express interest, instantly connect them with a human sales rep.
  4. Personalized Visuals at Scale
    I’ve recently covered this category, including some of my top software picks. So, I will just say that Hyperise and Bannerbear seem to be the most interesting ones so far.As a subcategory here, it’s also worth mentioning Vidu, a tool that allows you to create personalized GIFs at scale.
  5. Personalized Websites at Scale
    There are tools that allow you to dynamically tailor your website experiences to each prospect. This is another category where Hyperise really shines. Other must-try tools here are Mutiny and Intellimize.

Noteworthy findings and honorable mentions

Sales tech is an incredibly dynamic market. So if I haven’t mentioned some of the software categories earlier, it doesn’t mean that nothing at all happened there. Let’s go through some of the most interesting news and products in this field.

  • Nothing has really happened in lead generation recently. One interesting trend though is that ZoomInfo is making a shift toward the revenue acceleration niche rather than being just a data provider. The company has acquired a bunch of cool startups, the most recent one being Chorus (a $500M valuation company!). So it seems that ZoomInfo is seriously determined to unify as many sales tools in a single platform as possible.
  • Technographics and sales intelligence tools represent a relatively mature category, which still hasn’t gained a wide adoption. The main roadblock here is that it might be hard to incorporate them into your sales stack. Yet, the category is developing, giving us more subcategories, e.g., job changes listening software. Tools like UserGems or SifData can notify you about the prospect’s job changes, which you can use as a reason for outreach or personalization snippets.
  • Another established software category, email finders has demonstrated a noteworthy trend. The smartest tools have been adding email search on LinkedIn and email sending capabilities on top of their core functionality. The latter has led to a crossover between email finder and outreach tool as a cheaper and lightweight (although somewhat limited) solution for early stage startups and individuals.
  • In addition to the new CRM subcategory I’ve mentioned above, there’s also a micro-trend you should be aware of — data-driven, spreadsheet-like CRM tools that can be easily adjusted to meet your company’s unique needs. Notable examples are Attio and Folk.
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  • LinkedIn automation has recently turned into a battleground. The social network seems to have declared war on automation tools and outreachers, toughening their limits and mercilessly blocking their profiles. So I’m really curious to see who will win. So far, Expandi seems to be a strong leader in this category. 
  • Last but not least, conversation intelligence tools deserve to be in my rundown simply because they give data nerds like myself the ability to become amazing salespeople thanks to AI and science. Gong is currently the rockstar of the category with Refract and Jiminny catching up. Another outstanding company, Chorus has been purchased by ZoomInfo for $575M, which further proves that such tools are currently in demand.

Key trends shaping the B2B sales industry

  1. Market leaders remain the same. Salesforce, HubSpot, Freshworks, Zendesk, Zoom, DocuSign, and ZoomInfo are the biggest SaaS companies in the sales category. They keep growing and increasing their market cap. Interesting observation: Judging by ZoomInfo’s recent acquisitions, the company is aiming to become a powerful sales and revenue intelligence platform and might soon be competing with Salesforce and HubSpot.
  2. More unicorns emerge in the sales market. Those include Gong, Chorus, Outreach, SalesLoft, Drift, PandaDoc, Seismic, Clari, People.ai, XANT, and Highspot. This means that we will see even more software acquisitions, as these companies have to keep growing and report to their VCs. In fact, Outreach and SalesLoft have already started this process expanding to the revenue intelligence field with their recent purchases of Canopy and InStereo respectively.
  3. We’re about to witness the rise of non-sales led growth tactics. Over the past 30 years there was only one option to grow a SaaS company — sales-led GTM (go-to-market) strategy. This means that companies had to hire more marketers, SDRs, and salespeople to grow their revenue. Yet, Gen Y and Gen Z people don’t want to interact with salespeople. So we will soon see more companies adopt non-sales led GTM strategies, e.g., product-led, community-led, marketing-led, customer-led ones.
  4. The rise of AI, no-code and low-code tools. I’ve talked about this trend along with some of the most interesting categories and tools in a previous blog post.
  5. RevOps and Revenue Acceleration Platforms are taking off. Here is one interesting trend in SaaS sales: The average customer acquisition cost keeps climbing each year (probably because of the competition). As a result, businesses will need more and more money to bring a new customer onboard. This means if a SaaS company can’t increase its LTV, it may even lose money onboarding that customer. That’s why sales, marketing, and customer success leaders strive to align their efforts, creating unified revenue teams to unlock new growth possibilities. As a result, we can expect to see a new software category emerge soon — the revenue acceleration platforms. Drift, Outreach, SalesLoft, ZoomInfo, ringDNA have already started moving in this direction.

That’s pretty much it! We’ll see what the future holds for the sales industry. But I will keep an eye open for the new trends and useful tools to share with you next year 😉

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