Predicting how sales professionals will use technology isn’t easy, as Gartner Inc. analyst Tad Travis admitted in a presentation at Salesforce.com’s annual Dreamforce conference this week.

Travis recently estimated that by 2020, 40% of sales organizations would rely mostly on digital technology to automate their sales operations. “I think we’re already close to this number,” he said.

He also said he recently estimated that by 2017, half of large B2B selling organizations would be using predictive analytics software—technology that predicts the likelihood that prospective customers will buy a particular product or respond to a particular marketing campaign.

“Maybe it’s going to be later than 2017,” he admitted lightheartedly as an overhead screen playfully presented his image upside down in a crystal ball.

Nonetheless, Travis, who is a research director and analyst specializing in customer relationationship management technology and strategies, said there’s no doubt sales reps need more help in effectively selling—and there is a growing base of cloud-based technology to help them do so. “Sales reps need information in their hands deeper than they can get by themselves,” he said.

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He noted several examples:

FirstRain, which provides on desktop software and mobile apps various types of information that a sales rep should know about her clients, such as legal and regulatory issues facing their industry for which they might need software or services;

WalkMe, which provides online tools designed to train sales reps in how to launch and use such software tools as live chat, enterprise resourcing planning systems, and CRM software. Companies use ERP software to organize inventory and financial records;

Qstream Inc., which offers software designed to manage the performance of sales reps according to their market area, enabling reps as well as managers to see how their performance compares with that of others.

These and other software applications also can help reps and sales managers figure out what works and what doesn’t work in efforts to win additional business from new or existing customers. Sales organizations “can really build big data sets … [that] show where holdups occurred with stalled contracts,” and point them to the most effective sales techniques as well as the targeted customers most likely to buy.

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