Starting my career in sales, I always heard that sales is a “numbers game.” The more people you call on the more conversations you have, the more you are on top of your numbers, the more likely you are to succeed.
I felt like I may have missed the good old days; when the only number you had to hit was quota. You hit your number or you didn’t. Those that hit their number were handsomely rewarded, perhaps with a Cadillac el Dorado, or at the very least, a set of steak knives. Those that didn’t, well they got third prize. Ouch! (Hint: Coffee is for closers, if you need to find out what third prize was.)
Now in sales, like the rest of the business, data is everywhere. No longer are just the big numbers used to make decisions. As more and more data is captured about every aspect of the sales process, the data are used for a much more granular analysis.
With the transition to a numbers-driven sales environment, the rise of business intelligence (BI) tools and the emergence of data visualization, sales people and sales managers have a deluge of info. Sales people are given a report of their territory, customer purchase history report, a prospect list with scoring, and loads of other data. With all this data, the assumption is that they have all the answers to any problem that’s preventing them from being successful.
Ok, I have all this info, now what?
But have sales leaders truly given them answers to anything at all? As a sales manager, my mantra with operations-oriented people is this, “The numbers don’t tell you the answer, they tell you the question.”
Don’t get me wrong. Sales operations are critical; they provide immense value to the sales team. But, life isn’t the same as an ideal scenario. Ops folks: How often have you created a cool report that goes untouched by sales people?
Sure, maybe one or two reps have time to utilize it, but most sales people don’t have time to stop, analyze that report, dig into the context and background, and derive a conclusion. The data must be dissected down into an actionable item, and that takes time. And time is a sales person’s most precious resource.
Knowledge is not power. At least, not until that knowledge is applied.
There is a weird, alien-like group of sales people that can do all that analysis and still have time to build rapport, connect with customers and provide value in a sales cycle, then close when it is time. But, those are not the usual characteristics that are valued when filling out a job description for salesperson.
So, in this age of data, under the guise of giving sales people tools to better do their job, we are asking sales people to do activities that are not inherent to them.
If you had all that information, along with your best sales person, your best pricer, your best buyer, your best financial person, your best product person and planned for each sales call, how amazing would that be? They would be able to utilize the data to uncover some great questions then derive an action plan based on what they have discovered.
But that is not a realistic environment. So, how can we recreate an atmosphere where sales people are given answers and action plans instead of data and questions?
Well until recently, that was not possible. However, with the advances in artificial intelligence (AI), the line between data giving us only questions and data giving us actionable answers is starting to blur. With AI, that analysis that would take numerous people and time to build a consensus is available directly at a salesperson’s fingertips, in real time.
We no longer must give sales people piles of information, we can give them simple answers to very complex questions and allow them to focus on selling.