In Samuel Coleridge’s The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, there’s a famous line, “Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.”
Today, we seem to face the same thing in selling, except now it’s data. We have more ability to collect data, about customers, about the performance of our marketing initiatives, about the performance of our sales people. We have terabytes of data we’ve never been able to collect, we’ve technology platforms and tools that enable us to leverage this data in very powerful ways.
One would think the availability of this data, implementing these tools would drive huge advances in our abilities to engage customers in meaningful ways and to drive sales performance.
But the data (hmmmm) shows exactly the opposite thing. Year over year, we see significant declines in sales performance. Year over year, we see more customers opting for rep-free buying experiences.
It causes one to think, “If we have so much more data around every aspect of our customers’ buying activities and our sales performance, why aren’t we seeing huge increases in performance? Why aren’t we seeing huge increases in our abilities to effectively engage our customers?”
We live in an ocean of data, yet we seem to be dying of “thirst.”
The suppliers of these tools all present data about how data is the solution to sales performance. Inevitably, they show that top performers are top performers because of their use of the data. For example, they discuss how top performers use data for research and understanding their customers, for targeting the right customers, and so forth.
Well yes, but isn’t that what top performers have always done? Haven’t top performers always leveraged everything they could to more effectively engage customers? Go back decades, before much of the data was as easily available, top performers did research, getting what data they could. Top performers analyzed their customers, they analyzed their own performance, they leveraged this in ways that helped them perform. So, it’s less about the data–since the same data is available to everyone, but the real issue is how effectively we use the data.
These “analyses” represent those “Duhhh” observations. Top performers consistently use everything they can to engage customers more effectively and to drive higher levels of performance, productivity, effectiveness. They use data, they engage customers differently, they create value in every interaction, they are disciplined in how they use their time, the build trust and confidence with everyone they engage. Attributing top performance to data and their use of data represents only part of what these people do, not the entirety of what drives success.
Too many vendors attribute the top performance to the data, missing the point of how top performers work differently. And somehow, they make the leap to, “If you use data, you will be a top performer……”
We are overwhelmed with data, yet performance is much worse and getting worse. So it’s not just about the data.
Despite the availability of data, there are too many that simply aren’t using it. Some ignore it, mistakenly relying on their past experience and instincts. There are too many that don’t know how to use it, they don’t understand what the data means and how to leverage it to drive better results. Then there are some that use it, but don’t perform because they miss the other elements that drive performance.
I spend a lot of time with sales managers looking at data. I ask questions about win rates, deal sizes, sales cycles, prospecting outcomes, account growth/share, market growth/share, business justification, seller performance analysis. When I start talking about the data and the insights they provide, they look at me with their eyes crossed, confused. If I had a nickel for every time I asked to see a pipeline report, I’d have lot’s of nickels. The typical response is, “I don’t know how to pull it up….can you help me?”
For those that can get it and recognize the pipeline is weak, when I ask, “What are the top things you need to do to create a healthy pipeline?” Virtually universally, the answer is, “They need to do more prospecting, we need 3X pipeline…..” But when I says, “Your win rate is 17%,, what if you could get it to 30 or 40%. You probably have enough opportunities, you just aren’t winning enough of those opportunities….”
Again, their eyes cross, they just know what they’ve always done, if they don’t have enough opportunities, more prospecting. If they aren’t getting enough leads, more emails/calls/social.
And the data continues to show declining performance, which drives the same behaviors.
With sellers, it’s a bigger challenge. They have lots of data about their customers and their businesses. They know the interactions a customer may have had at the website, they know what pages customers have hit on, what white papers have been downloaded. They have conversational intelligence which talks about their question/listen ratio and all sorts of other things. But does the availability of that data change their behaviors? They keep doing the same thing, when they engage a customer, they ask 2-3 discovery questions with an agenda, immediately pitching their products.
There is huge amounts of data that speaks to customer business challenges, strategies, market performance. There is huge amount of data about industry performance. And while technologies make that data easily accessible, our people have no training in business acumen and how to have business conversations with their customers—and those are the conversations their customers crave.
Data, data, everywhere……
For data to be meaningful, we have to know how to use it. We have to be able to understand what it means. We have to translate that into appropriate actions. What does the data tell us about seller performance, what does it mean, what do we need to do to coach people on performance?
What does the data tell us about the customer, what does it mean, how do we leverage it in having high impact conversations with our customers?
But, even more important, we have to question the data, we have to ask, “What caused these results–this data? What would we change to improve the results?”
The secret to sales success, organizationally or individually, isn’t data, it’s how we learn, what we do, and how we change based on the data we see.
In reality, it’s not the absence of data that most impacts our performance, it’s our inability to understand and leverage the data that we have.
More data isn’t the answer–though that’s what the technology vendors would like you to believe. Hold your suppliers accountable for helping you understand what the data means, how to question the data, how to leverage the data to drive performance. If they can’t/won’t do this, than more data just isn’t helpful.