We are at the inception of a massive industry change in sales.
One that is so massive and disruptive it will rival and surpass the last major change in sales, which was the introduction of Software as a Service and the uprooting of traditional Enterprise install-base sales of a decade and a half ago. If you havent read our Joey story of what really makes the future amazing sales rep, head over here now.
If you remember the SAAS (r)evolution you’ll also remember that there were many victims in that battle and countless changes in the sales process that continue to affect us today. The SAAS evolution was so massive and disruptive to the sales process it completely changed the way sales organizations go-to-market and left many companies struggling to come up with cloud strategies and sales process for to survive in the new environment.
Salesforce became a billion dollar company by redefining how business was delivered and introduced a sales concept that was replicated by innovative cloud based software and services companies, a strategy that would leave many traditional software companies in the dust and struggling to compete, practically overnight. Even today legacy software companies still struggle with producing “cloud ready” applications and are rewriting decades old software in an effort compete with the software solutions born out of the cloud and revising archaic sales processes in an effort to compete and survive.
I would go so far and say that the innovation, or at least the popularity of solution based selling, was a direct result of the impact that the SAAS software solutions had on Enterprise software sales. No longer could enterprise sales organizations rely on relationships alone or count the sheer complexity of moving to a competitive solution because it would be too painful to “rip and replace” with something different. SAAS taught us that we needed to know our product intimately, understand our customer, and utilize new sales processes to be competitive in the new cloud marketplace.
We followed that recipe, yet still 15 years later we are still implementing solution based selling techniques and tools and revising our go to markets plans based on a market that is already shifting in a new direction.
The advent of data driven sales will affect everything about how we structure and implement sales strategy today and move us toward the process of creating new business and go-to-market strategies that are focused on the data driven buyer, as well as have us rethink the competency how much we understand about our prospecting and forecasting reliability.
Forecasting in an of itself is set for a major change, one that moves away from the intuitive aggregation of people data and toward data driven predictability and reliability.
Every area of your sales engine will be impacted because the need is relevant and the technology is in place.
You might say we already use a ton of data in our sales process and your right! In my 17+ years of business development and sales experience, we produced a ton of data and most of it was data pushed into some CRM system, but very little relevant data came out. Here’s the dirty secret, in sales we guess A LOT, so much so that we really never know completely why a forecast missed or why were targeting a specific customer, or comprehensively understand why two customers with the same exact need could have dramatically different outcomes.
Most of our data went directly into some CRM system, and most of that data that was delivered back was metrics based churn and burn data that had a low practicality to the day to day job of producing revenue. None of that important data was every analyzed or combined with say, marketing, and support data to give us a better view into what the data is actually telling us about our prospects and customers which are a shame because the data is all there.
Analyst’s say that sales reps only spend ⅓ of their time selling, the rest of their time is spent in administrative capacities, travel, or meetings, essentially on selling activities.
The most frustrating part of being in revenue leadership was understanding the why’s and How’s of the business and trying to understand and produce in limited time in a stressful environment.
Why did we lose that deal?
Why did we win that customer?
Why did we miss last quarter’s forecast when our pipeline was so healthy?
How are we going to make forecast next quarter?
How are we going to close X company?
How does our product really compare to X?
A sales organization’s time is spent on selling and any deviation outside of that requiring administrative research only hampers the sales organization’s ability to produce numbers at the end of the day. So while sales have a gigantic sales stack of relevant sales intelligence tools they generally still falls back on guesswork and intuition to run the sales cycles and while sifting through limited amounts of marketing lead intelligence produced during the sales cycle. Even more frustrating to sales is that most intelligence happens at the very front of the sales cycle and drops off significantly as the prospect progresses due to marketings investment in lead producing tools.
The issue with marketing as the sole business intelligence engine supplying sales is that almost every organization has adopted a process where intelligence is gathered at the beginning of the sales lifecycle and drops off after the initial stages. Marketing is there to produce leads which they do in abundance and sales is there to follow up and decide where their time is best spent.
Professional animus develops when sales interpret the lead quality is low and marketing fails sales is not following up on leads, often produced by lack of an intelligent view by the sales force. Marketing may have utilized every analytical approach in securing the lead and why that lead is great, but if sales do not see any detail it turns into just another lead.
The Ying Yang between sales and marketing is endless, and the end result is a sale having a very low understanding of the lead practicality and the return to intuitive based selling.
What Data Science can teach us.
Data Analysis has been around as long as mathematics although the terms may have changed a few times and finally molded into the latest inception of data science. Originally coined in 1960 by Peter Naur and popularized in 1996 by members of the International Federation of Classification Societies at their biennial conference, data science is the term and application that has recently exploded in the business environment.
Data Scientist just might be the hottest position and most sought after professional experience in business today. The reason for this is quite simple, with the massive explosion of “big data” and the relevance of the internet of things, there is an abundance of valuable data being extracted by companies to remove intuitive insight and modify processes into data driven decision making.
The advent of readily available business information data has led to an evolution in every aspect of business and created amazing opportunities to extract value from this data. This along with the massive explosion happening right now with machine learning and artificial intelligence has led the field of data science to be potentially the most relevant advancement in technology in the last century.
The application of data science will change every aspect of our lives and transform nearly every business function. Self-learning machines and software are just the starts because where there were gaps in data driven business processes data science will certainly add data driven prescriptive recommendations and changes.
How this is relevant to Sales
Sales organizations, for the most part, are one of the least data driven part of any organization and arguably one of the most critical in need areas for data science. This is largely due to being a revenue center as opposed to an expense center. If you look at marketing, the proverbial sister of sales, you’ll see that systems and software in place to measure and automate most every aspect of lead generation down to fundamental cost analysis metrics. The basics of how much something costs to bring in business and who to target has been refined into marketing because of their expense classification and basically exempt from the sales process.
Marketing is now on the verge of utilizing predictive and advanced analysis of data to target the right people at the right times to maximize lead efficiency. If you look at the latest marketing tools and ad targeting tools you will see a wealth of information being developed to help marketers target the right people. This is partly driven by the prospects themselves and their evolution as a buyer. No longer is acceptable to target semi-random people about your product and service and hope for the best, buyers are more educated and marketers have had to catch up with targeting to make sure they are sending the right message to the right people at the right time.
Sales have been left behind in this data revolution, still relying on simplified metrics and reporting systems that are decades old while utilizing age old intuitive based approaches to build a sales pipeline and forecasting.
Oddly enough this is not based on any resistance in sales outside of a general resistance to metric based activities. Sales are screaming and shouting for better data and more intuitive approaches to help them secure more business. These are people who build their lifestyles off of commissioned based selling and are feeling the industry change in front of them while their tools and processes remain the same.
The Next BIG Change
If Software as a Service taught salespeople how to sell customers a solution instead of a product or feature the addition of data science into the sales process will be just as big or bigger.
The industry has already started feeling the impact which started with traditional Enterprise sales and the migration away from large dollar deployments with long sales cycles, and a move toward smaller value based cloud service type deployments. These micro deployments and sales are fueled by SAAS and have shifted the way sales organizations need to concentrate on selling and how they speak to their clients.
The shift has also created the emergence of the ultra educated buyer. These new buyers have changed the sales process dramatically by educating themselves on products and services long before any sales organization reaches out to them, essentially becoming a data driven buyer. The way they buy is completely based on analysis and typically very specialized, researching solutions based on a predefined and outlined need, meaning they have mapped out the problem, know the solution and know fairly well who can fix it.
The emergence of the data driven buyer will drastically change the sales process creating the need for a data driven sales force
This is compounded by that fact that sales are under enormous pressure to perform and have limited time to produce. With a drastically different sales environment and a new type of data driven buyer sales intelligence and sales process needs to evolve into a data driven process.
Data Driven Sales and the emergence of predictive selling
The intuitive part of the sales organization, which at the moment makes up quite a large segment of the sales process, will need to evolve into a data centric approach to targeting and educating our prospects. This will require a whole new way of structuring a sales process as well as utilizing data in a way that hasn’t been attempted in most companies.
We see the advent of an in-house data science dedicated to sales as a near-term prediction and the advent of merging data into predictive and prescriptive views as the next logical steps to understand the new buying environment. The eventuality that artificial intelligence driven sales applications is not that far off, the need to analyze more data than we can see in sales is drastically needed.
We are currently at the point of moving toward creating predictive data driven forecasts, one where we know the reasons behind the variables in forecasting like why something will close and what deals are at risk, based completely on data. We will understand how to weigh different variables such as utilizing sales data capture systems and combining that data with human variables and other sales intelligence data sources to create a data backed forecasts. This will essentially remove intuitive insight and feel from revenue predictions and add a layer of confidence into a semi-chaotic activity.
Artificial intelligence and predictive analytics will help us understand who we are targeting and why, and what best education and contact methods to inform our prospects. Our analytics will work with us continuously by training off of new data and offering prescriptive advice on where we should spend our time.
Our data driven buyers will be ecstatic because we will know right away if we can help them and what information to deliver to them, helping them succeed and only engaging in people we feel our product and service can help.
Our sales organization will be delighted because they will finally have the prescriptive data they need to do what they love best, which is to engage and sell instead of being inundated with administrative tasks and data research, an activity that sales are not best positioned to exploit and one where other experts excelled at.
The Future is now.
Right now there is a dramatic change happening in the sales industry. Advanced data science is being applied to sales tools, and predictive and prescriptive tools are emerging. We are very new in this evolution cycle and it will take sales organization time to adopt these tools and processes. While I don’t believe a single piece of software will be the answer, the variable of data and process is just too great for a single answer, instead, it will come with small incremental sales process and data capture changes and the introduction of predictive and prescriptive views at many points along the sales cycle.
Here at Omniom, we help companies evolve into a data driven organization, and are taking the position of utilizing a consulting and services based product approach. Using consulting practices to help transform the sales force and services to incrementally develop a data driven process.
The time is now to start transforming your sales teams into data driven sales forces, or you risk the possibility of getting caught behind the evolution of data driven businesses.
Sean Gately is the founder of Omniom Technology Group, a data driven sales consulting and services company.
You can find Omniom @omniomtech or on linked in on the group Data Driven Sales