The Science of Sales: How Insights are Transforming the Sales Process

Information and the insights that can be derived from data is changing the world in almost every conceivable way. There are many components to this transformation but the most basic are our new abilities to capture massive amounts of data instantly, using new, more powerful tools to analyze that data. The combination allows us to learn, understand and eventually master a growing field of subjects. There are very few industries that are exempt from this kind of change and the sales industry is no exception. Data and analytics is already changing how sellers sell and we are barely at the beginning of this transformation. We call this this trend the ‘science of sales.’

Great sales execution used to be about grit, determination and focus. Those qualities are still important but there is a new entrant for sales success — utilizing data and the insights it provides to fine-tune every aspect of your customer interactions. This is something that marketing has understood for years now. Marketing went through an analytics transformation 6 or 7 years ago when marketing automation platforms became mainstream. The idea was to track marketing campaigns and the elusive marketing lead with increasing precision. The logic is simple. If you can track and analyze your marketing leads, you can start to predict where you will find more revenue. Wonderful stuff if you are a consumer business or something very transactional where contact from a sales professional is unnecessary. In B2B environments, those leads would eventually get handed to the sales organization, relying on sellers more as artists than data scientists. This is all changing with the ability to analyze leads and results much deeper into the sales process.  

The implication is that sales professionals and the sales process itself needs to change. More efficient processes, the ability to capture engagement data, and the reinvention of communication techniques are all the foundation of a new generation of sales professionals and a modern sales process. No more flying blind. One of the key trends leading this change is the type of data that is now available, real-time for the individual seller. It is based on external observations about your prospects — engagement data based on your prospects’ behaviors.  This is quite different from the internally-focused data, like demographics and actions that has historically been stored in CRM systems.

So how do you get in front of this trend? There are 3 basic steps every organization needs to take in order to build greater intelligence into their sales process.  

1. Clean your database

You must think of your contact database (probably within your CRM) as the core of your sales intelligence. If it’s a mess of old contacts and out-of-date information you are guaranteeing a slower sales process and a demoralized sales team. Your reps cost you real money in terms of the time they spend trying to work with contacts. It only makes sense that you spend the time and effort to make sure they have the best data possible. Secure a data validation firm to verify phone and email before any outbound calling campaign begins. An external administrative resource will cost far less and be more efficient than your reps. Keep your reps on the phones talking to real prospects and closing deals.  

Clean contacts are the foundation for the next step which is implementing engagement scoring on your leads. As your sales reps interact with your leads, they will get some responses in the form of open messages, read content, perhaps even a reply. Those activities are an indication of their interest and need to be tracked and reported. High activity levels correlates with those prospects who are most likely to close. Conversely, low engagement aligns with those least likely to close. As a sales manager, you need to use that information to guide the daily activities of the sales team.

2. Unify your messaging

A data-driven sales process is not only about who opened your email and who didn’t, or who clicked and who didn’t. At the core, a data-driven sales process surfaces insights about the best time to reach your customer, or their communication channel preferences, or the issue related to your product that interests them most. And, it allows for flexibility and control of the content and messaging that is delivered to prospects.  

The goal is to measure results. To do so, the messaging and content must be consistent so you can understand the impact, what works and what doesn’t, then make incremental improvements. This task can be simple and fun. We have customers that encourage their sales reps to create their own messages. They track  results and the sales rep with the best results is rewarded. The organization rolls out the most successful messaging to the team and the process repeats itself, driving more prospects to the content that works best. New sales reps ramp quickly as they have the cadence and content that works from day-one. No more reinventing the wheel.

In larger organizations, this content might also come from your marketing team or a sales enablement team. Both of those scenarios are great as long as you are achieving the objective of standardizing the content. This approach has an additional benefit of allowing marketing to participate and measure their content in the last mile of the sales process. This will allow collaboration in new and productive ways which will benefit the organization and revenue goals.

3. Align your communication processes

Once you have a messaging and content strategy, it’s important to determine how you are going to communicate that information with your prospects in a way that engages and converts. This goes beyond the channel used to communicate with your prospects. Whether you use email, phone, or chat to open a conversation, random processes hurt your results the same way random messaging does.  

A structured communication process doesn’t need to be complicated or rigid. The hardest part is making sure that whatever sales cadence you use is executed consistently across all sales reps and all contacts. And that there’s enough variation built into the process to allow your reps to flex when needed.  

There might be a preset number of emails and associated calls or voicemails specifically created for each prospect profile, with specific timing for each delivery and different versions of content and offers tailored to the prospect’s needs and your systems should be built to support that process. Ideally, you have some type of automation tool to make this easier on your reps and a disciplined approach (automated even) to record all this activity data into your CRM system. This serves as the basis of the engagement index for the prospect.  

The key is standardizing on the approach and then perhaps implementing some automation. Here is more on sales communication strategies.

Bringing it all together

These changes are not difficult and can be done incrementally. Start cleaning your data and contacts a hundred or a thousand at a time. Have a quick team meeting to select a small number of messages that you think are working and have the rest of the team start using them.  Create a simple workflow of five emails and three phone calls to every lead and get the team to commit to doing it and perhaps providing some fun incentives (dinner reward, etc.) for those that do. You might already be doing some of this now. The next step however is the most important part. You have to track the effectiveness of all of these actions and then analyze the data as it starts to flow in. Again you will likely need some tools to help you do this effectively but the rewards are substantial and continuous. The business environment does not stand still.  It is constantly evolving. What you think is working today may not work tomorrow. A data-driven sales process allows you to deal with reality and adapt into a sales organization that stands the test of time.

Conrad Bayer works with early stage enterprise software companies to provide guidance, insight, and leadership to grow the business and build shareholder value. Conrad also possesses a broad range of skills focused on understanding enterprise customers and the engineering background to deliver great software products. Additionally, he has successfully created an enterprise software company which was acquired by Microsoft in 2005 and is currently the CEO and Co-Founder of Tellwise, a communication platform which delivers quality insights to help salespeople sell smarter.

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