A Plethora Of Data

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As a bit of a preface, I’m a tremendous fan of the artwork of Theodor Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss. Over the years, I’ve acquired a number of his pieces. One of my favorites is “A Plethora of Cats.”

Readers of the blog, also, know that I’m a huge fan of data. A sales people and leaders, we are fortunate to have more data than we have ever had access to in the past–and some of it is actually useful and informative.

We have a Plethora Of Data……

Despite the increasing availability of data, I usually find we ignore it or don’t know how to leverage it. When I meet with managers, I ask them, “What data do you use to monitor performance?” They say the obligatory answers, “We look at forecast data, pipeline data, YTD quota performance, and so forth. We have huge amounts of data we use….”

Then I ask, “Can you show me one of the reports that you find most useful?”

This is when things get interesting. One of four things happens.

  1. They open an excel spreadsheet. It’s months out of date, it’s been extracted from their CRM systems or something provided by Sales Ops.
  2. They open a standard report in their CRM system, not the most useful but it’s been created for them, it’s the one they are used to, having used it for years. Often, I ask them to add some data to the report to make it more useful, they look at me, “Do you mean I can modify these reports…..”
  3. Alternatively, when I ask for a standard report that I know is in the CRM system, they respond, “Is that in the system? How do I find it….””
  4. They reply, “I don’t know how to get that report, I’ll have to ask someone to get it for you……”

Then, I dive in deeper, “How do you use this data to understand performance? How do you incorporate it into coaching and developing your people?”

At this point, they usually start waving their arms around, I’ve learned the more they wave their arms, the less they actually understand what they are saying. Usually, their answers focus around a couple of numbers/data points. It’s usually something like:

  1. You don’t have enough activities (you name it–calls, emails, meetings, proposals).
  2. You aren’t going to make your forecast.
  3. You don’t have enough in your pipeline.
  4. You are behind your YTD quota.

And their coaching is, “Do more!”

Too often, they are looking at the wrong data, in accurate data, or they are missing important pieces of data, as a result, they have an incorrect assessment of the issues that impact performance.

Alternatively, they are managing to the numbers and failing do understand what’s driving the numbers or what they mean.

So despite this Plethora of Data, we don’t leverage it as well as we could. We miss huge opportunities to understand and drive performance.

What do we do about this? Some thoughts:

  1. Recognize the key data elements critical for understanding performance. Despite the plethora of data, there are usually a small number of key data elements needed to monitor performance, understanding where things might be going off. These may vary, based on the job role and responsibility, but understand the handful of key data elements to track. What you might track for a SDR is different than what you might look at for a channel manager, an account manager, a sales specialist.
  2. As much as possible, bias the data to leading indicators, rather than trailing indicators. For example, orders/revenue are trailing indicators. However, it’s critical to understand the linkage of the leading and trailing indicators. For example, activity levels are meaningless, if you don’t understand the direct linkage to the trailing indicators. Pipeline health is impossible to determine unless you know the linkage to orders and revenue. To understand these, you have to work the numbers backwards, starting with the trailing indicators, then understanding the relationships to the preceding indicators. For example, in our company a key metric is the number of high impact conversations we have with prospects a week. Each person has a different number (currently my number is 6). We determine the number by working backwards from our individual quotas, our win rates, deal values, back through our qualification rates, back though the number or these conversations that we need to have. As a result, if I’m not having at least 6 of the right types of conversations every week, I know that I won’t generate enough pipeline over the coming 6 months, and in 18 months, I’ll be missing my quota goals.
  3. Keep the number of key indicators to a minimum. We don’t need a lot of indicators to track performance, we only need a few key indicators. For example, in our company, there are about 4 key leading indicators we track, as well as YTD quota performance (the only trailing indicator).
  4. Recognize you don’t manage to the numbers, but the numbers alert you to a potential problem. We have to get under the numbers to understand what’s causing them. If a person has an unhealthy pipeline, we don’t help the person by saying, “You need to get 3X coverage!” (Which, most of the time is incorrect.). Instead, we have to understand what’s happening, why, what might be done differently, how we improve it, how we tilt the pipeline dynamics in their favor.
  5. As we drill down into the data, we may find it useful to look at other data, things that give us deeper insight into specific issues, opportunities. Things that help us understand what’s really happening and why. That’s why the Plethora of Data is helpful, it enables us to have a richer understanding of what is happening and why it may be happening.
  6. Know how to access the data, know how to analyze it. I perform a bit of a sadistic test with managers when we start diving into the data. I ask them to bring up the reports using the tools like CRM or reporting/analytic tools they may have. Sadly, the majority are clueless in knowing how to do this. If managers can’t leverage the tools to help them and their productivity, why do we expect our people to use them–but if they don’t use them, we don’t get the data. (It’s a terrible, vicious circle.)
  7. Do it yourself! Too often, we rely on sales ops or some other group to develop the reports we need. Unfortunately, we may not get the reports we need–we get those sales ops thinks we need–or we don’t understand what we are looking at. In workshops, I ask the managers to develop an initial reports themselves. My purpose isn’t to frustrate them, but 1) Have them think about what they really want to see; 2) Force them to get familiar with the tools so they might see data they might leverage; 3) Get them more comfortable with modifying reports, so they are more useful for their own purposes. After they have started getting more comfortable with developing their own reports, they can work with sales ops to refine and clean them up. But the act of experimenting and “doing it yourself,” is critical to gaining better understanding of the reports and data available.
  8. Coach your people, leveraging the reports/data, help them understand the data and how they use it themselves.
  9. Understand the key performance leverage points for each person, focus your coaching on that area, until they master it. Then move to the next, then the next….. We developed the Sales Execution Framework (SEF) as a tool for managers and sales people to leverage key data elements in understanding and driving performance improvement.

We have a Plethora of Data, some of it is useful. It becomes useful when we understand what critical data we need and we take the time to understand what it means.

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