In an age of evolving customer and sales channel demands, decisions based on data interpretation are replacing instinct as selling professionals look to make smarter choices across nearly every aspect of the sales process. Sales organizations are tapping the richness of data to illuminate strategies for customer engagement, sales enablement, resource allocation, and even sales team deployment.
Sales planning and forecasting have traditionally been a manual process. Despite the well understood competitive advantages of data-driven business, it’s remarkable how frequently sales teams still use archaic means to separate the signal from the noise. Siloed across disparate systems and sources, data is gathered and compiled using spreadsheets and workbooks. The problems that arise from these technological limitations are only further exacerbated and amplified when organizations experience more difficult times, like the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in now with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Real-time cloud analytics and business intelligence (A&BI) tools allow sales organizations to instantaneously achieve insight on risk, efficiency, and selling models. Avenues to expedite existing customer relationships, as well as new opportunities, emerge when data, technology, and human curiosity are leveraged together – the trifecta of collective intelligence.
Better analytics improves decisions
Aberdeen Research reports that 74 percent of companies, according to a recent survey, are able to produce more accurate sales planning forecasts using analytics. Survey respondents indicated that more sales reps meet quota and achieve a higher win-rate by way of such analysis.
However, using analytics platforms to unravel datasets is mostly handled by experts. These tools, which crunch and manipulate datasets, are typically technical and time-consuming. While the potential to produce results is dramatically better with A&BI solutions, they are not optimized for use by unsophisticated, non-technical users.
Managed solutions provider Onepath recently surveyed managers and executives regarding their use of data to drive decisions. More than half indicated their companies are prone to making decisions without an A&BI tool that would harm their business. However, 57 percent said they simply do not have the right people in place to use these systems, and nearly two-thirds said they need more training to make better use of analytics.
The result is all-to-familiar for sales teams. They are locked out of the quick analysis they need to do their job more effectively, and when they do get the final tracking and performance metrics, they lack visibility into the underlying assumptions in the data that produced them.
Tools should be the guide, not the obstacle
When sales performance goals aren’t met or forecasting is inaccurate, the implications ripple through an organization. In fact, it is becoming more and more common for c-suite executives to get involved in sales in an effort to more accurately understand and capitalize on market and customer trends.
They see misinterpreted data, like idle inventory, unavailable resources, and tied-up capital, that could be invested more productively in the business. This collaborative trend among sales and high-level decision-makers demonstrates the true value of data-driven sales planning and forecasting.
Shifting the dynamic toward collaboration requires more than a change in mindset. Sigma Computing’s Julie Lemieux is focused on designing software to ensure its features break down the walls to data analytics and make business intelligence accessible to anyone who has questions that data can answer. “As data becomes a thread that is woven through business decisions across departments, everyone needs to have real access,” Lemieux states.
This kind of thinking is crucial if sales professionals are to realize the benefits of collective intelligence. Lemieux describes an interface that is ‘human-centered’ and familiar as the pathway to having more voices enter the data conversation. For example, where collaboration is concerned the ability to map data relationships and add linked data to documents is important when working across departments and teams.
This means that sales experts need access to tools that can easily perform the most complex queries without writing SQL. Analytics workspaces that are conducive to sharing make it possible to circulate information – without extracts – among teams, departments, or entire organizations to spotlight important data blocks and worksheets. Interfaces with visual badges and a range of visualizations support data democratization, which basically imparts broad and open access to the data itself.
Data-driven products and services
While software solutions are self-evidently digital in nature, other digital products and services are also emerging for which sales are rapidly expanding. Whether subscription-based, such as SaaS, or consumption-based services, such as cloud services, value accrues over time as customers typically grow their usage profile once they experience the benefits and get locked in due to contracts and selling models.
Support for buying processes enhances the customer experience and adds value to the customer’s buying journey. For instance, providing data-derived insights to customers can help sales reps cross-sell additional solutions, and better quantify the ongoing value of customer purchases. Sales organizations can also use data and analytics to define competitive differentiation by comparing and contrasting offerings and results against alternatives.
Dashboards are typically the starting point to many other questions. The key is instant data access that does not require heavy lifting or assistance from specially trained personnel. This is not to say that analytics solutions should not offer SQL authoring capabilities for SQL lovers, or full JSON support with parsing options, but A&BI tools must be accessible for sales teams to be successful. Exploration functions and visualization features must be intuitive.
Sales execution with confidence
For example, rental platform Zumper has deployed A&BI capabilities across their sales and marketing teams to perform hands-on A/B tests to determine the behavior of visitors to their online service based on the traffic into and out of their site. By examining traffic data in a log table, removing organic traffic, and pointing the data platform at the joins, they are able to derive clearer insight. The product team at Zumper uses analytics to look at customer conversion information.
In another example, sales managers at a global provider of maritime software for cargo operations and vessel performance, use analytics and BI to hone compensation plans for sales reps based on performance metrics. The product marketing, product management, and sales operations departments collaborate to merge data across all their systems so they can respond more effectively to evolving markets.
These organizations execute their sales strategy with confidence. They have decided not to settle for the old way of doing things, nor analytics that produce basic tables and charts that are rigid in interpretation and simply do not offer room for real human insight. Advanced data visualizations provide a clearer picture that allows sales teams to make quick decisions about exactly what is needed to advance a deal or provide value to customers.
Sales organizations know the complexity of their jobs better than anyone. They should be the ones crunching the numbers and interpreting the results to close more deals and identify the weaknesses and opportunities in their overall work. This demands collaborative, approachable tools so that the sales process can be structured for repeatable success.