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Sales Intelligence–It’s About Connecting The Dots

by David Brock on June 5th, 2011

OK, before I start, let’s get all the comments about Sales Intelligence being an oxymoron out of the way.

Actually sales intelligence is critical, there’s an interesting conversation about this at Focus.com, you should weigh in with your views.  I think too many people get sales intelligence wrong–too many focus on the data.  Effective sales intelligence is really about the questions—it’s about the insight we are trying to gather, the models we are trying to test, the assumptions or alternatives we want to consider.

Data–information is meaningless, unless, we have a context in which to interpret that information.  If we don’t understand the significance of that data and what it means to the customer, then it is meaningless.  If we aren’t asking different questions about our customer and their businesses, if we aren’t looking for different insights, or to test new ideas; then we aren’t creating value for our customers–we’re just trying to look intelligent by regurgitating what we have read, but without understanding what it means.

As sales people, we can look at a series of the latest financial reports, press releases about new products our customers are launching, organizational changes, all sorts of data that is readily available through a wide variety of resources.  But that data is meaningless unless we have a context in which to interpret or apply meaning to it.  To make the data meaningful, we have to connect the dots between the value our solutions can create for our customers and the data that we can find about the customer.  Can we see things in their financial reports that indicate a potential area where we can help them, can we review the investor presentations to see where our solutions might help accelerate their ability to achieve their goals, do we see things going on in their world, that we can possibly have an impact on?  Are there things that are happening with their competitors that will have an impact on our customers?  Are there changes in the industry, things happening in their community that are meaningful to our customers?

There are always clues, there’s always so much available–for every company public or private–that give us ideas.  They may just be a starting point, but they enable us to be more insightful as we talk to customers.  They allow us to move beyond the meaningless questions–those that show we haven’t done our homework.  They allow us to more quickly understand the issues our customers are facing and begin to have discussions on the things most important to them.

“But Dave,  the stuff I sell isn’t ever going to appear in a financial report.  It’s never going to be part of a press release on new products.  How do I use the information I can get from research to have those ‘impactful’ conversations with my customer?”  This is a great question–it’s not easy.  Often, what we do is buried so low in the organization, that it is difficult to see how public data can address what we do. But I’m reminded of the old story, “for the loss of a horseshoe, a kingdom was lost.”

Every person, every function in an organization is tied in some way to the organization’s overall goals, priorities and strategies—it’s our job as sales people to figure that out.  How to the maintenance people impact productivity, sales and profit growth?  How does the shipping department impact operational efficiency?  What does the receptionist do to help improve customer service?  This is where connecting the dots is so critical–and sometimes difficult.  How can we relate the strategic objective of operational efficiency to a group of design engineers, or quality improvement to a call center?

If we understand the data, if we understand our customers’ businesses, if we understand the problems our solutions help customers solve–it’s always possible to connect the dots.  All you need to do is connect them enough to engage the customer in a conversation about her specific issues.  It’s a starting point for the conversation.  Asking the right questions, drilling down, understanding what the customer wants to achieve requires much more work.

There is an overwhelming amount of data available about all our customers and prospects.  Too many sales people don’t take the time to look at it—it’s the ultimate sign of disrespect for the customers–they clearly demonstrate they don’t care about the customer enough to understand their business.  Good sales people research before they meet with the customer.  Great sales people go further–they connect all the dots, they go beyond the data and look at real meaning.Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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