Are Analytics for Sales a Technology Overkill?

Sales 2.0 technology

by Joanne Black

Oh, how I hate paperwork. Most salespeople feel the same way. We just want to spend time with our clients and close deals. It has been tough enough for organizations to get salespeople to use CRM and provide data. Now sales teams are also being asked to review data and trust analytics.

This sounded like technology overkill to me, until I heard Mike Moorman, managing principal of ZS Associates, speak at the Sales 2.0 Conference. By the end of his presentation, I understood that predictive and prescriptive analytics can enable salespeople to do their job with precision. The ability to predict a buyer’s behavior? What salesperson wouldn’t like that?

Mike had my attention. If a tool can help me identify and close more deals, then I’m willing to keep an open mind.  But analytics aren’t my forte, so I sat down for a lengthy conversation with Mike, who set me straight on the different types of analytics and the power to predict customer behavior.

Here’s what I learned…

The Future of Sales Beckons

Traditional diagnostics report what has already happened – increases in market share, sales, productivity, or lead generation and conversion. This paints a picture of past performance, and companies try to tease out possible reasons some sales teams or individual reps have performed better than others. They try to infer why they’re seeing a specific trend. This is useful information for diagnosing problems, but it doesn’t always tell us how to correct those problems in the future.

By contrast, predictive and prescriptive analytics provide insights about what we should do going forward. This data helps sales leaders answer questions such as:

  • What’s the optimal size of my sales force?
  • What’s the best way to deploy my people?
  • What are the optimal territories for us to target?
  • What are the best accounts to target?
  • What is each prospect’s propensity to buy?

But that’s not all, folks…

Predictive and prescriptive analytics also sort through decisions we could make and highlight the best solution. This doesn’t just help sales leaders make optimal decisions. It also enables individual sales reps to optimize their performance by answering such questions as:

  • Which accounts should I call on first?
  • What are my priorities?
  • What is my message or value proposition with a specific account?
  • Should I engage face to face or on other channels?
  • What should I send to each unique buyer – an email, research report, video?

“Buyers today are more complex, and salespeople are trying to find the way through complexity,” Mike told me. “Analytics pave the way.”

Getting Started on Your Analytics Journey

This all sounds great in theory, but what does it look like in practice?

“The analytics journey can be intimidating,” says Mike. “Many companies aren’t rooted in an analytics orientation toward decision making. They’ve relied on past experience and intuition. Now they may need to transform their processes, people, and systems to capitalize on analytics.”

Here are Mike’s recommendations for how to get started.

  1. Start small but strategically. The key is to keep analytics simple and focused. As Mike puts it, “Start by determining the most important problems you’re trying to solve and then decide on your analytics priorities – rather than going on a fishing expedition.”Identify a handful of priorities where analytics can make a significant impact. Begin with analytics for leadership decisions – sizing, territories, who to hire. Also use analytics for targeting – helping sales reps determine which accounts to visit and with what message.
  2. Get the team on board. Salespeople will require change management. “The company suddenly gives them analytics they’re supposed to use, which sounds like a lot of work,” says Mike. “The key is to drive adoption. Salespeople need guidance and must believe that using the analytics will improve their own performance.”Be sure to validate analytics tools before you roll them out to the sales team. Get peers talking about how they successfully used the data to close deals. Help everyone understand that analytics will get them to their goals, not just create paperwork and slow down sales productivity.
  3. Bring marketing into the mix. Align sales and marketing using analytics. “Historically, sales and marketing activities weren’t tightly integrated,” says Mike. “Analytics bridge the gap between digital marketing and sales activities.”Any company’s goal is to provide a cohesive customer experience, which means the teams in charge of communicating with customers – marketing and sales – need to be on the same page. Analytics provide that common operating picture that ensures each customer experiences coordinated communications across all sales and marketing channels.

Strike a Balance Between Data and Selling Skills

The problem with big data is that it’s big. The more information you collect, the less useful it becomes – because someone has to make sense of it all.

Analytics can bolster the sales process, provide insights into buyers, and help organizations better engage customers. And, since most organizations are moving towards predictive analytics – or will be soon – sales leaders and their teams will need to make more fact-based decisions just to stay competitive. But analytics are not the be-all, end-all for sales. It’s still people who drive the sales process, not technology. This means selling skills and relationship-building still matter as much as ever.

Analytics help us get to our buyers earlier in the sales cycle, but then it’s up to smart, strategic sales pros to interpret and use that data. We have incredible tools today for research, and it would be foolish not to use them. But don’t forget that people still seal the deal.

Joanne Black cold calling Sales 2.0Joanne Black is America’s leading authority on referral selling – the only business-development strategy proven to convert prospects into clients more than 50 percent of the time. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of NO MORE COLD CALLING™: The Breakthrough System That Will Leave Your Competition in the Dust and Pick Up the Damn Phone!: How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal. Learn more at www.NoMoreColdCalling.com, or follow Joanne on Twitter @ReferralSales, LinkedIn, Google+, and Facebook.

About Sales 2.0
The Sales 2.0 Conference is the number-one industry event devoted to excellence in leveraging Sales 2.0 technology solutions. The Sales 2.0 Conference focuses on the challenges and concerns of B2B sales and marketing executives.

[Top image via Flickr / Neil]

About Lisa

Editorial Director at SellingPower.com.
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