For as long as there have been salespeople, there has been data to analyze about the process they use to bring in business. The only issue has been how effective leaders are at drawing conclusions from that data.

All too often, companies don’t make effective use of the information available to them from their sales teams. They fail to generate the most relevant data points… or they focus on information that is familiar to them but less than meaningful. These common mistakes result in, among other things, the dreaded “garbage in, garbage out” sales forecast. So: How can you as a sales leader use data to support both the organization and the sales team? Here are four questions that will help you to do just that.

Question One: Do you have a sales process? This may sound like an obvious requirement, but most organizations we work with do not have a sales process! If you start breaking down data without a systematic process in place for generating sales, the data you come up with isn’t going to do you a lot of good. Note that a sales process gives people the steps they need to follow, from start to finish, to create revenue for your organization. Every company has a slightly different process; you can think of the data generated by the various steps of your sales process as being like an MRI. When it’s done properly, that kind of comprehensive scan is going to tell you what you need to know about the internal workings of your sales team. But to be useful, the analysis must line up with a functioning sales process!

Question Two: Have you identified your expectations? What are your expectations for each of the phases of your sales process? Break the process into its constituent parts: lead development, also known as prospecting; qualification; and then fulfillment and servicing the account. These three phases can also be understood, in the enterprise world, as land, expand, and renew. So. What are the specific outcomes you want to see within each of those three areas? What are the behaviors that make those outcomes possible? What are the departmental benchmarks – meaning what are your time-bound goals for behaviors that will land new business, expand existing business, and renew relationships with your best customers? Once you know that, you can break it down. What are the team benchmarks? What are the individual benchmarks? Set specific expectations. Hopefully, you’ve overlaid some competitive information, and you are meeting or exceeding the relevant industry benchmarks as you work with your team to identify the right goals. Once you have set the expectations, you will have something to compare the relevant real-world data to. (See Question Three.)

Question Three: Are you measuring the right stuff? Get meaningful data. Specifically, make sure you are getting data that connects to a specific step of your sales process. Make sure you are using your CRM system as a source of actionable business intelligence… not as a demonstration of compliance on the part of your salespeople. Make sure you are tracking leading indicators (activities that predictably generate revenue, such as having an initial voice-to-voice conversation with a decision maker) not just lagging indicators (activities that connect to revenue that has already been generated, such as filing a signed contract). Often, leaders spend too much time on lagging indicators and not enough in leading indicators. Identify the leading indicators that spotlight the effectiveness of a particular step of your sales process (such as the number of times a salesperson begins a discussion about the budget). Use that data to strategize improvement. What specific tools, resources, and behaviors will help everyone ensure the needle is moving in the right direction? How will you share the data in a way that inspires salespeople to monitor – and control – their own behavior?

Question Four: Are you looking at a problem… or a symptom? This is perhaps the most important question of all. Is the data you’re examining pointing you toward an actual problem, or is it identifying the inevitable result of some underlying issue that you haven’t yet addressed? Sometimes, what seems obvious about a sales team’s needs isn’t obvious at all. Let me give you an example: Often, companies will look at their presentation-to-close ratio, realize that it’s low, and then self-diagnose based on that. They’ll say to themselves, “Okay, we need some help; we need to get better at delivering our presentations.” They think that’s the right response to what the data is telling them. But time after time, we find that’s not the problem.  When we do some digging, what we generally uncover is that they have a poor qualification process. The majority of those people they’re presenting to, they shouldn’t have been presenting to in the first place. They had no opportunity to win. Remember: There is a time to step back and get some help in assessing what the data is really telling you.

New technologies in CRM, in artificial intelligence, voice intelligence, and in any number of other areas are giving us all access to much deeper analyses than we could have made just a few years ago. As sales leaders, we can get the right data up on the dashboard… we can use that data intelligently… and as a result of what we learn, we can do a better and better job of leading our teams and our organizations in the direction they need to go. That starts with asking ourselves the four questions I’ve shared here – so we can avoid the all-too-common mistake of trying to land the plane without an instrument panel!

Interested in learning more about how you can utilize technology and data to inform your organization’s sales process? Learn why Sandler partnered with Gong to bring a measurable, data-driven approach to sales learning programs.

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