How (and why) to get your salespeople working with data

Introduction

In this post, we’ll make an industry-agnostic case for encouraging your salespeople to routinely leverage data insights, and for investing in their development as analytical thinkers. More practically, we will explain why and how EVERYONE in a sales team should be strong in accessing and working with data.

To help, we’ll lay out a few examples where “inserting data” into the sales cycle improves the bottom line. We’ll share simple steps to help get you on the path to a data-driven salesforce!

Getting over the mental hurdle that sales is just about relationships

If you ask salespeople what makes them most successful, you’ll get answers like: 

“I’m great at building rapport--my clients love me!” 
“I communicate well.” 
“I know my clients better than anyone.”
“I’m persuasive, and I’m tenacious in my follow-ups.” 

It’s true that the best sales professionals have excellent communication skills, tireless work ethics, and generally adept at building and maintaining relationships, but these qualities alone are not enough anymore. In the digital age, those who can combine solid relationship management skills with the ability to find, analyze, and act on data insights are better equipped for success.

Said otherwise: your smooth-talking, casanova salespeople --like Vin Diesel’s character in the movie Boiler Room-- are realizing that more is required of them. 

After all, McKinsey research tells us that companies who leverage data insights in their sales organizations are 23X more likely to acquire new customers than their peers [who don’t], and are 6X more likely to retain their customers. 

What does “working with data” mean, for sales teams?

If you believe your sales team is already data-driven because they’re comfortable users of your customer relationship management (CRM) software, we wrote this blog with exactly you in mind!

Salesforce, Hubspot, and other CRM tools can be great for reporting and staying up-to-date on deal size, close and renewal dates, managing communications with individual contacts, and other deal-specific bits of information. However, they all fall short when it comes to unlocking more nuanced information about your customers and prospects. Your best customer insights and transactional data is not in Salesforce, Hubspot, or [probably] even in an Excel document. 

Beyond the actual use of data insights to bolster your sales team’s behaviors and processes, another benefit of becoming more “data literate” is the improved level of collaboration that will happen between your salespeople and other departments. 

Rather than saying “we think product X isn’t selling because of Y,” you want your sales team member to say “we’re seeing Y and Z over the last 60 days with these 20 customers, which is a strong indication of why X isn’t selling right now.”  

Below are some specific examples of where tapping into a BI (business intelligence) tool for sales insights can make a huge difference in acquiring and retaining customers: 

  1. Who isn’t buying? Which of your customers are transacting less frequently month-over-month, and how quickly are you able to identify flailing relationships before they become unfixable?
  2. Funnel health. How quickly are your reps responding to inbound leads? What does the cadence of their follow-up activity look like? Who’s falling through cracks in the funnel, and what’s to be learned from their behavior?
  3. Deal-to-campaign tracking. Just knowing that you’ve won a deal isn’t as useful as understanding its exact origin. Help improve your marketing and lead generation teams by regularly reporting-back on campaign performance. 
  4. Cross-and-Up selling. Data is incredibly powerful - Amazon credits 35% of its sales to automated cross-selling, and 64% of e-commerce companies use BI tools to automate up-selling of their products. 
  5. Prospecting tool integrations. Do your salespeople and SDRs use LinkedIn Sales Navigator to connect with potential customers? Would you want to understand if they’re using it efficiently? Tableau, for instance, gives you in-depth insights into how well those efforts are working (see below). 

“I’ve got an ops person or analyst doing that already” 

Great! If you’ve got a Sales Ops person [or team] that your team relies on for insights, then you’re conceptually bought-in on the power of data.. Why not extend that logic, and empower your whole team to be self-sufficient? Here’s why:

What we’ve seen is that if your salespeople rely exclusively on Sales Ops - which is usually just one or two people - for their ongoing data needs, the following two problems happen:

  1. Your salespeople wait too long to get reports after they submit their tickets. Speed, especially in competitive sales environments, is crucial to both short and long term success.
  2. If your Sales Ops people generate reports on a recurring basis, they likely aren’t adapting queries alongside the constantly-evolving nature of each salesperson’s unique set of clients/prospects. Stale data isn’t tremendously valuable. 

By enabling your individual salespeople to work with their BI tools on their own, you unlock their potential to make quicker data-driven decisions. In a profession where success is often judged on a weekly basis, efficiency gains should be a priority.

On the topic of ensuring that customer insights remain relevant, no one knows a prospect/client better than their individual sales rep. Using that logic, if your reps know what data to look for AND know how to find it and use it, your chances of uncovering actionable insights go up. 

3 steps to build a “data culture” inside your sales organization

Let’s first cover what you don’t need to do to build a better culture around using data within your sales team: 

  1. You don’t need to hire new data analysts/scientists or expensive outside consultants. Your existing team, regardless of what that looks like, is absolutely capable of inciting incremental [yet impactful] change. 
  2. You don’t need to enroll anyone in expensive training courses that require time out of work, or that take 3 months to complete. We’re not suggesting each salesperson should be a data scientist. 

Now, here’s what you can do to start building a team-wide data-driven sales mentality:

  1. Democratize your company’s BI tools, and be sure that your salespeople have access to your various data repositories. As with most things, progress starts with access
  2. Incentivize and promote “wins using data” amongst your sales team, and let the rest of your organization know about those wins, too. Positive reinforcement is conducive widespread buy-in. 
  3. Develop and invest in your salespeople’s analytical skills, and do so without taking too much of their time. A good salesperson spends as much time as possible interacting with prospects and clients, so you need to be clever with how you approach “training” them. 

In most organizations, sales teams are siloed off from the rest of the company. Salespeople often feel like a different [and often harsher] set of rules are applied to them; that they’re viewed more transactionally than colleagues from other departments. As a result, it’s hard for companies to build a long-lasting, genuinely positive sales culture full of loyal salespeople. It’s the profession with the highest employee turnover rate for a reason. 

The three steps laid out above not only work to develop more-efficient, better-performing sales professionals, but they also function to help salespeople feel like their company sees them as a strategic lever within the business. Salespeople rarely feel like they’re being invested in, so the simple act of including them in your data strategy will help you earn their trust, respect, and commitment. 

Closing

We're NOT recommending that your salespeople should replace your data analysts, or that you shouldn’t have a formal data team (you definitely should, if you can). We’re also not suggesting that your salespeople should replace Sales Ops. In fact, what we are proposing would free Sales Ops up to be more strategic and proactive. 

What we ARE saying is that by building a strong data skills foundation across your WHOLE sales team will bring huge dividends. Making relatively small and targeted investments in some of your most important employees - the ones who bring in revenue - will have an enormous impact.

Take Action!

After reading all this, you might want to ask - OK, so what's the best way to make this happen?

If what we’ve laid out above resonates with you, you might be interested in Enki. We've designed the most efficient way for any professional or team to be data fluent, with no time out of work. Sales is no exception.

And your exec team might be interested in thinking more broadly about how to create an exceptional data culture, then we suggest you read our article: 5 steps to create a data culture

If you’re interested in learning more about how we at Enki can help quickly up-skill your sales team, please reach out to will@enki.com.


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