Recently, in a coaching session with my boss, we were discussing the importance of big data. We were looking at both ends of the spectrum: a creative mind that paints by numbers in the abstract versus an analytical mind who presents flat spreadsheets. I used to aim for the middle, but my new goal is to combine the best of both worlds without the worst of either.
Free-flowing creativity creates a wonderful and inclusive culture, but too many ideas that aren’t tracked for their success leads to wonky numbers. On the other hand, a sterile overly analytical approach can be off-putting and completely miss the boat on who might have potential in your organization.
The purpose of this article is to address some of the advantages of where the creative mind meets the analytical mind to produce big data and how to use it to paint a picture of where we came from, where we are, and where we are going.
How do you know when something or someone is working? The professionals on my team have been indoctrinated into the culture of real-time numbers. Ask anyone on my team how many calls they have made, quotes they have out, or how much revenue they have closed today, and they will have a quick answer.
One reason for that is the culture, the other is that those reports are built out in Salesforce.com and available for the entire team to see. The real-time reporting builds competition among the team, builds urgency into each day, and best of all, puts the focus squarely on effort every minute of the day.
Some leaders look at a day, a week, or a month. I look at a minute. An eight-hour work day is a short amount of time to get a lot done, so time management is key. Having access to the metrics and numbers both in real time and cumulatively for the month forces each professional on the team to react in real time and puts the focus on constant effort instead of the overall result.
As a leader of a sales team I need to know and understand the challenges of each member of the team and address them in a way that helps the rep overcome his/her obstacles (or helps them find a more fitting position). Everyone needs to be developed and deserves an opportunity, but in the last several years I have been able to use the data that I mine daily to better understand their challenges.
If someone on the team quotes constantly and never closes (low closing ratio compared to the team average), they need to work on their closing techniques. If someone just cannot seem to meet their quota, the territory has to be dissected to see how much opportunity is there, what the numbers have looked like in the past, and make sure we have a reasonable expectation for that territory. If we do not, then the quota can be readjusted.
Whatever challenges come to light through activity metrics, sales methodology, and basic skill assessment set can be seen clearly through the numbers. Then a plan can be implemented to improve the performance.
Once the challenges have been made clear, big data is used to measure the impact of additional coaching/training. When a particular rep is struggling and the data shows where they are not meeting the mark (time management, metric expectations, keeping pace, etc.), that specific issue can be addressed and then tracked for improvement.
When a rep is missing their daily pace consistently, the first thing I look at is their call volume. If it is low, then the first fix is upping the calls.
Coaching and training should be an ongoing process for the team. When anyone finds success, it must be measured and tracked.
For example, I am a huge believer in social selling, but how can that be tracked? Simple. We created a field in Salesforce to track all relationships built through social-selling avenues (i.e. LinkedIn) and then track the revenue off of those relationships.
That can be broken down over a month to what percentage of clients are being closed, what percentage of revenue those deals represent in the overall number, and what the average deal size is from social selling compared to standard pipeline work. This applies to any new methodology that comes from coaching and training.
The way big data impacts marketing should be incredibly transparent. Marketing efforts from email campaigns to any of the myriad of methods we market to prospects and clients should have a clear and concise method of tracking results.
Marketing dollars should not be repeatedly spent on initiatives that have little to no return. Some marketing efforts can become off-putting for prospects or clients like spamming their inboxes with mass email campaigns instead of specifically tailored campaigns for their vertical markets.
We are currently tracking several different types of marketing campaigns spanning efforts from our marketing department, vendors, and individually run campaigns in each region. The impact of all of these are measured over a specific amount of time for return on investment and then either pushed forward, altered, or discontinued based on the results.
Big data on display builds an inclusive transparency for the leadership. When numbers are on display through dashboards and reports, they are readily at hand when requested. Time can be spent more efficiently because of the real-time reports I have access to, so if a VP wants to know where we stand at any time on any product (broken out by region, territory, or rep), I can generate that report in under a minute.
Years ago I would spend hours building Excel worksheets to illustrate productivity, growth trends, and forecasting models (and what a headache that was!). The key to strong reporting is to include every necessary data field, make them mandatory in the CRM, and then inspect them against the backend reporting to see how the numbers line up.
There will be exceptions that need to be factored in (e.g. credits, back orders, fulfillment issues), but those should be accounted for in the differential. At the end of the day, living in those numbers keeps them at the front of mind. On any given day you can recall specific numbers that impress leadership and highlight your ability to understand the business.
The last and most important aspect of big data is, of course, the bottom line. Having access to the numbers past, present, and future illustrates the pitfalls and providence of the sales cycle.
If you have a strong year, look at what made the year strong. Was it a new major account? A fully staffed team who meets their metric expectations? Those numbers help you determine where quotas should be set, how profitable each employee is, and what kind of package you should be able to offer them to keep them happy while still building the business.
In the present, it is good to know the challenge of each month’s work. Having real-time numbers allows each member of the team some time to correct their course throughout the month to hit their target. In my past I have worked with a lot of sales reps who get off to a slow start and then break their backs closing out strong. With a pace and a plan, reps can have an idea of their territory’s sales cycle. In the slower periods they can use marketing and/or responsible discounting to hit their number.
For the future, the numbers give us the ability to forecast based on the past and present numbers. If we know what we did to get to where we are, we can expect that maintaining that effort will continue a steady growth pattern. Then any additional effort can be added to the mix to accelerate those numbers.
Knowing your big data leads to a culture of respecting numbers and meeting expectations.