The New Imperative for High-Performing Sales Teams

Not too long ago, successful selling was all about power suits, firm handshakes, a persuasive attitude and gut instinct. Winning new business required personal charm, intuitive knowledge and a sixth sense for spotting the right opportunities. Since then, the underlying map to sales success has changed dramatically. Data is crowding out charm and “gut-feel” as a rep’s key tools, and a new breed of sales heroes is in the making. Today, the rock stars of any sales team are the reps who rely on data instead of intuition, and tools instead of tales. 

Data and sales analytics have become the new GPS guiding sales reps to success. And while the change may be daunting, adapting to it is imperative. According to Aberdeen Group, best-in-class sales organizations are 80% more effective at using data and analytics to cut guesswork and support sales best practices. Moreover, organizations using sales engagement analytics have a 36% higher lead conversion rate, as well as an 18% shorter sales cycle.

Data is only as valuable as the decisions it enables

The flood of data now flowing into sales departments across the globe has the potential to transform average sales reps into top performers. But there’s a gap between the possibilities data brings and the reality it creates. Data is only as valuable as an organization’s ability to translate it into actionable insights and recommendations. Endless columns and rows of numbers are intimidating and difficult, if not impossible, to read by non-expert sales professionals. That’s where data visualization comes in. By turning large quantities of data into meaningful and quickly-relatable insights, data visualization has become the best translator for a data-driven sales team.

With graphic representations, it’s easy to see where there’s room for improvement, where time should be spent, and where opportunity is low and investment should be minimized. A visualization of the sales pipeline, for instance, enables salespeople to easily tailor their approach to individual leads depending on the specific stage they’ve reached in the purchase process. Aberdeen Group reports that organizations that use visual data discovery get analytics into the hands of 48% more of their employees, compared to those who rely solely on managed reporting and dashboards.

By providing visibility into the past, data and analytics, paired with rich data visualizations, help the sales force glean insights into the future. Today, this is essential to improving performance and achieving sales greatness.

The perks of being a data-driven sales rep

Better customer knowledge. Data and sales analytics tools enable salespeople to know their leads and prospects better than ever. All the interactions that a potential customer has had with their brand, along with all the information culled about his interests and preferences, are transformed into data. So, by the time a data-driven sales rep makes that first phone call or sends the first e-mail, he’s already familiar with the lead’s level of interest, where he is in the journey, his challenges, needs and unique buying behavior.

A personalized approach. High-performing sales reps know that each lead is unique, and that their approach should reflect that. One way to do this is by personalizing their message. For instance, using data analytics tools, an automotive insurer learned that customers seeking a new policy began their buying journey 60 days (and logged 15 signals each) before receiving their first quote. The marketing and sales team then used this information to tailor the tone and timing of their approach. According to a recent Mckinsey survey, such a personalized strategy can deliver 5 to 8 times the return on investment on marketing expenditure, and can lift sales by 10 percent or more.

Armed with a deep understanding of the customer’s challenges and needs, data-driven sales reps close more deals faster. Aberdeen Group findings reveal that analytically grounded sales teams average 2.1 times the annual growth in deal size/contract value.

Increased sales productivity. The benefits to reps don’t end there. With data-enabled processes in place, specialized knowledge becomes more readily available. Also, the integration of data from different sources reduces search times, helping reps track down information more quickly. They can then put their focus where it’s needed most: on applying results. Mobile apps also affect productivity by providing salespeople with instant access to key information about clients and prospects, enabling them to accelerate sales and manage customers and opportunities while on the go.

Data and analytics help sales managers supercharge their sales teams

The success of a high-performing sales team is as much about its members as it is about its leader. A data-driven sales team needs a leader who knows how to harness the power of data and analytics to increase sales efficiency, motivate reps, and optimize sales processes. Using data and analytics to identify spots where best practices might be more fully drawn upon, or gaps more quickly filled, helps make this optimization possible.

More efficient onboarding and ramp-up. Data is also a powerful ally when it comes to maximizing the performance of new members of the sales team. With a firm grasp of the performance data behind the various approaches salespeople have taken in their customer interactions, sales leaders can efficiently enroll new reps on the path to success. For instance, sales managers can turn to the patterns revealed by data analytics to discover which approaches worked in the past and which didn’t, and from there provide new sales reps with tangible advice for each real-life scenario they might encounter: a discontent customer on the verge of leaving; upsell or cross-sell opportunities; and so on.

Improved team performance. Sales analytics tools help sales managers identify their best performers as well as the main drivers of sales success. They can then use this information to nurture and replicate high-performing sales behaviors. Data also provides sales managers with a detailed roadmap that pinpoints where reps need to improve and where their strengths may lie, so they can easily tailor their coaching sessions accordingly. Aberdeen Group finds that using sales analytics tools makes best-in-class organizations 67% more effective at predicting high-growth-potential reps, and 2.6 times as effective at identifying traits and behaviors of top performers.

Compensation effectiveness. Data is essential to understanding the performance of a sales compensation plan: is it aligned with strategy? Is it motivating the right behaviors? What changes might make it more effective? Based on these key metrics, sales managers can decide whether the plan is performing as expected or leading to problems they need to address. For example, an analysis of goal-setting effectiveness may show that salespeople in a given segment – perhaps in terms of geography, product, or customer profile –consistently over- or underperform their goals. These findings may in turn lead to new opportunities, inspiring, for instance, improvements to the accuracy of the goal-setting methodology itself. Moreover, operational analytics can quickly detect recurring data issues. These can be addressed before more data is sent for incentive compensation processing. The timing here is crucial: it could prevent losses in productivity downstream due to confusion or frustration in the field.

Optimized territories. Data is intrinsic to territory optimization. Analytics help sales managers make better-informed decisions and ensure that territories are balanced and perform to their potential. Looking at key workload metrics such as number of accounts, sales rep location, lead distribution, revenue, and revenue potential, sales leaders can immediately spot unbalanced territories. Data and analytics also reveal whether there is too much workload for individual salespeople, or not enough to keep them busy.

This increasing rigor, efficiency, and insight into the selling process wouldn’t be possible without data and analytics. Used well and continually developed, they have the power to transform sales organizations from the ground up.

Guide to Using Sales Analytics to Improve Sales Performance

Sales analytics adopters report improved quota attainment, higher customer retention rate, and more deals. Read this guide to discover how to efficiently use sales analytics.

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