Three Tips to Get Data-Driven Selling Right the First Time

Data can be a game-changer for distributors — but it can also easily go awry.

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Taking a data-driven approach to sales is game-changing for distributors. Sales teams can use analytical insights to be proactive with customers, intervene when they identify a risk or opportunity, and drive data-informed sales conversations to acquire new customers and grow existing accounts.

Yet it’s easy for an analytics program to go awry or end up dormant if not designed for adoption and execution. With that in mind, we offer three essential tips that pave the way for a successful, data-driven sales program: 1) Incorporate the sales team’s feedback, particularly around their day-to-day workflows; 2) Offer simple, curated insights rather than a pure “data dump”; and 3) Carefully design dashboards to be cohesive and actionable. 

No. 1: Start with sales team input

Don’t make the mistake of implementing a data-driven sales program without first consulting your salespeople about how it ties into their day-to-day activities. With their up-front feedback, you can craft your new analytics strategy based on workflows and preferences. Without this input, you can expect friction and stagnant adoption rates. 

Discuss the upcoming implementation to ensure your reps are prepared and comfortable and be sure to address any concerns. 

Understanding their workflow is critical for success. The new analytics program should introduce efficiencies and fit seamlessly into sales reps’ daily activities if you want to gain traction.

To reduce friction and increase workflow efficiency as you onboard a new analytics strategy:

  • Reduce toggling by providing multiple monitors. When they’re in the office, sales reps need to simultaneously view (and keep open) multiple applications at once: email, browser-based analytics dashboards, your CRM/ERP. If salespeople work off a single monitor and toggle between applications, it’s all but certain that newly introduced analytics will get pushed into the background.
  • Assess the time required to access decision-critical information. It should be easy for sales reps to find and view up-to-date information and insights, and they should be able to drill down into these insights quickly and confidently. Emailed spreadsheets are the least efficient; well-designed dashboards in a web browser are ideal.
  • Determine how analytics fit into sales managers’ workflows. Analytics can inform sales management and planning, providing insights into accounts and salesperson performance. Prepare sales managers to capture this value with dashboards they can use in their reviews.

No. 2: Keep it simple by getting away from spreadsheet views of raw data

We often see distributors providing too much data to their salespeople instead of providing targeted, strategic insights. Not all your data is pertinent to your sales program. Dumping all that data on your sales team, particularly in data-dense spreadsheets (or dashboards that look like spreadsheets), can overwhelm your reps and make it harder for them to take action. Far too often, sales reps must sift through many columns of data, sorting and resorting to mining for gold. It’s a time sink that cripples adoption and reduces the value of the overall analytics program.

Step away from spreadsheets loaded with raw data. Instead, determine the most valuable data that’s most valuable data for sales reps’ daily decision-making and package it into insights they can easily drill down into across their dashboards. Dashboards should:

  • Identify customers to prioritize by relative risk and opportunity.
  • Enable sales reps to discover the “why” behind customer activity and behavior.
  • Highlight specific opportunities with any given customer.
  • Deliver talking points for customer conversations.

Insights should be easily viewable in a “graphical” manner, and when you’re comparing multiple customers simultaneously, focus on just one to three metrics and let the sales rep delve deeper as needed. Customer stratification, for instance, involves two metrics derived from raw data: top-line growth and profitability performance. It takes out the “noise” that you would otherwise see in spreadsheets so that sales reps can glean insights immediately and make data-driven decisions.

No. 3: Design cohesive, actionable dashboards

Once you understand how analytics fit into sales reps’ workflows and which insights are most valuable to their decision-making, you must ensure actionable delivery of those analytics. The least efficient approach is a spreadsheet saturated with raw data and delivered via email to a sales rep using a single laptop screen is the least efficient approach. But even if you produce refreshable, browser-based dashboards that can stay open in a separate monitor, you still need to design them properly to promote adoption. 

Give context to your insights with benchmarking. It should be easy for a sales rep to discern what the numbers are “telling” them so they can quickly identify risks and opportunities. Key benchmarks include performance relative to peers and performance comparisons over time. Such benchmarking is valuable both at a customer and salesperson level. It helps salespeople catch potential risks with customers and see how they affect their performance relative to other reps.

Allow for granular dives into insights. Your dashboards should enable users to drill down into performance within and across customer market segments, product categories and subcategories to provide context to customer performance and trends. If your ERP doesn’t allow for this level of granularity, it warrants the investment to upgrade to gain a better sense of risks and opportunities. For example, with more granular drill-downs, you can understand the “why” behind a dip in product purchases. The reason could be:

  • An overarching trend across the product category
  • Seasonality affecting demand
  • Trends or hiccups at the vendor or product level
  • Challenges/competition specific to a specific market segment

Data-driven selling is all about enablement

As you can see, the key to implementing a successful data-driven sales approach is less about the solution you choose and more about “fitting” the program to your actual salespeople. No matter how much time and money you invest in the selection process, it will likely amount to nothing if you haven’t accounted for sales team workflows, designed efficient dashboards and determined the right analytics to target amidst a sea of data. Use these shortcuts to expedite the adoption of a new analytics program. With analytics, it’s so essential to make a positive first impression with the sales team. You can’t afford to waste time backtracking to cover what you “should have” done at the outset.

Brent Johnstone is the managing director and co-founder of Actvantage.

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