Raw data can be deceiving when looking at an organization’s sales processes. You never know if you have “all of the data” or if the data you have is truly representative of the optimization of a sales strategy at a given point in time. The fact is, raw data without context, relational understanding and specific parameters such as time, duration and sample size is just a page full of numbers that doesn’t provide visibility required to predict success or failure within the sales pipeline.
“Compared to what?”
I had a boss once who always had the same response to certain types of proclamations particularly from the sales organization.
- We’re too expensive . . .
- Our product is out of date . . .
- Our service team is not customer-driven . . .
You could be talking in the context of sales strategy, sales pipeline, sales process or any perceived obstacle preventing the closing of a deal.
He would always answer these statements with, “Compared to what?”
This would usually shut people up. Here’s why.
Too expensive? What are you selling versus what the competition is selling? Is it really an apples-to-apples comparison?
Product out of date? What features or benefits are your competitors offering that you don’t have? How is this affecting our sales pipeline and process?
Service team complaints? What service are they performing? Are they putting lipstick on a pig, or are they really delivering your solution?
The point is, reacting to a single data set can draw you into a false conclusion about the sales strategy, pricing, customer satisfaction or any other factor within the selling process.
Especially True in the World of Sales Management within the Sales Process
In my first sales job, I had nearly a full product line in my briefcase and my own geographical territory. I lived in the middle of it, no more than an hour away from any customer. My bosses gave this patch to me because I was a rookie in sales, and they had never had a full-time rep address this particular piece of geography.
There was a local “business” prejudice about the area that led many to believe it was populated by uneducated, rusticated hillbillies. The assumption was, there was little business on “that side of the river.”
At the time, I didn’t really understand all of that. I was just thrilled to be entrusted with a virgin territory.
After about 10 months in the saddle, my manager and I looked at the numbers. He asked me one question: “Can you live on this level of income?”
My answer was quick, and that answer was an emphatic, “No!”
We both agreed that the time had come to pull the plug.
After that, I had several conversations with him about the territory and the overall sales process in the area. It was clear to me that the entire exercise was a self-fulfilling prophesy to him. He firmly believed that my record was not proof of my inadequate performance, a failed sales strategy, tough competition or our invisible presence; it was proof that there was no business there and consequently no sales cycles in that territory.
Despite the fact that I was 10 percent green, that the patch had laid fallow for literally decades and that the competition was well entrenched (and successful), the decision was made to adjust the sales strategy and not waste more money on trying to sell in that geography.
What about Today?
This example could still happen, but only if the manager chose to ignore relevant data about the sales cycle that would be readily available.
Here are some examples.
CRM combined with high-quality prospecting lists will tell you what the sales potential is for a give territory. In the same way that an energy company now “knows” if there is oil in the ground, sales folks can make intelligent decisions about potential sales volume, market analysis by vertical and pain potential mitigated by product applicability for any geography.
CPQ provides great insight after the fact for market potential by configuration or option-popularity-based sales records and vertical presence within the patch. Pricing sensitivity and the presence of any national account, government or other discount program prospects can be measured as well.
SEO and inbound technology make gauging potential sales from a territory much more scientific. Tracking visitor activities, content preferences, subscription or opt-in rates for a patch or patch and product line combination paints a compelling picture and helps to answer the “should I stay or should I go” questions.
The new world of selling eliminates much of the risk and self-inflicted failures of gut managing like my somewhat myopic sales manager.
Next week, in part 3, we will examine some specific metrics and how they might be useful in your quest for increased margin and better management of your sales operation.
Last week, in part 1, we explored margins, metrics and management.