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AI sales forecasting tools soothe sales-marketing rivalries

Sales forecasting vendors such as Clari extend reach into enterprise marketing, leveling the data and, with AI, solving an old problem: conflicting numbers on quarterly forecasts.

The time-honored marketing-versus-sales measuring contest of picking whose quarterly forecast numbers are right is going away, as revenue operations vendors add AI sales forecasting tools and combine marketing and sales data into one reporting set.

This is crucial for companies such as tech startups living quarter to quarter and reporting to financial backers every three months. And it's one popular market for Clari, a vendor of B2B revenue forecasting software that recently released Clari for Marketing.

Clari's tool finds and captures sales and contact data, and it predicts potential business activity by scanning email and other business apps, logging it into CRM customer records and handing the formerly lost leads over to the marketing staff to build a pipeline.

Such data sharing and leveling makes for more complete and accurate quarterly forecasts. More importantly, AI sales forecasting tools are changing the culture of some companies, creating new collaboration between departments that might have been rivals or at least separated before, said Dana Therrien, service director of sales operations strategies at SiriusDecisions in Wilton, Conn.

"The innovations in these technologies are crumbling the old silos," Therrien said. "The technology has advanced faster than our ability to reorganize and rethink how we collaborate with one another."  

Alteryx buys, not builds

Phillip Jones, vice president, sales operations at AlteryxPhillip Jones

One would think that Clari customer Alteryx, a self-service analytics software vendor, could build an effective forecasting tool on its own platform. Technically, the company has the capacity to do it, said Phillip Jones,  sales operations vice president at Alteryx, based in Irvine, Calif., but it would distract the company from improving its existing product line. So, Alteryx added Clari to its Salesforce instance.

Building more in-depth forecasts with an automated tool has saved Alteryx one full-time employee previously devoted to collecting data from the vendor's operations, updating it weekly and analyzing it. On a more subjective note discussing ROI for the software, Jones said it just makes the run-up to financial meetings and the meetings themselves go more smoothly.

"I've had decades in sales ops of just grinding it out, week after week and sometimes weekends, trying to pull together spreadsheets in all different formats from all around the world, so I can hit that forecast deadline," Jones said. "Invariably, you get to the meeting where everyone's reviewing those spreadsheets. They're still arguing over the data and looking at me like, 'What went wrong?' To have a product like this that will make all of that go away, I'm just thrilled. It gives you back a lot of time."

Outgrowing native CRM AI tools

The technology has advanced faster than our ability to reorganize and rethink how we collaborate with one another.
Dana TherrienService director of sales operations strategies at SiriusDecisions

Companies, Therrien said, can outgrow the native AI tools that come standard with CRM systems, because they're often rudimentary and don't provide enough value to their sales operations. That's when they start considering adding AI sales forecasting tools such as Clari and its peers, some of which include InsideSales.com, SalesLoft, Aviso and Outreach.

"I equate [CRM] to the plumbing of the organization; they offer some fixtures on their own," Therrien said. "Think of the plumbing in a house. You can put lots of different fixtures on that."

Clari's AI tool provides different insights from native Salesforce AI, because Salesforce uses a relational database model, said Cornelius Willis, chief marketing officer at Clari, based in Sunnyvale, Calif. But Clari uses a time series database, popular in the IoT sector.

"Without that, trying to do predictions with AI is like looking at the fossil record and trying to figure out what happened or what will happen," Willis said.

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