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Data at your fingertips

Data at your fingertips

Improving data accountability for better sales decision-making

by Jeff Fordham

When it comes to making strategic business decisions, you need access to the right data to back up those decisions. Data-driven decision-making is the best strategy to build any business. Unfortunately, many business leaders are hindered by incorrect or partial information. Having incomplete data is often the result of having poor data gathering procedures in place, or employees’ failure to keep customer and sales records up to date. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.”

To make informed business decisions, you must have access to data that is accurate and complete. Here are some strategies to incentivize your employees and your sales team to maintain complete data, and how to apply that data to reveal a clear path toward strategic growth.

Unlock Internal Data Sources
To apply data-driven decision-making, you have to start with an inventory of the data you have available. There are vast amounts of data buried in internal systems and processes. The best way to find out what types of data you have at hand is to create a data inventory. Conduct an internal audit to document what types of information you have available, what format that data is in, and start developing strategies as to how that data might be made useful.

The goal is to use available data to identify business inefficiencies, reveal areas where you are losing revenue, and identify new business opportunities. For example, you can reveal valuable customer insights by mining data stored in internal systems, such as your CRM database. You can use internal data combined with external data such as demographics and economic trends to start to create a more accurate portrait of customer behavior. For example, data extracted from point-of-sale can reveal buying patterns by product, category, geography and vertical markets. It also can highlight product hot spots as well as products that are consistently underselling.

Even unstructured data, such as written reviews on Google, Amazon and social media platforms, can provide insights that drive innovation. Product reviews and sales testimonials can help refine product forecasting. You also can refine customer personas using data gathered through online marketing and social media campaigns. Mining unstructured data doesn’t mean you have to read and digest every comment or product review. Big data analytics are specifically designed to convert unstructured data into actionable insights.

The more data you can ingest and analyze, the more pieces available to assemble into the big picture for your market opportunities. Combining data from multiple sources can reveal new trends and refine existing findings. By extracting more insight from existing data, you will be able to be more precise in identifying sales and marketing opportunities and customer behaviors (predictive index).

Identify A Clear Path for Growth
Taking inventory and gathering the right information is only the first step. Your ultimate objective is to bring all that information together to assemble a complete picture of your marketplace to reveal potential issues and sustainable growth opportunities. This is where many organizations fall short. They understand their goals and know how to gather the necessary information. What they don’t know how to do is make their analytics actionable. The key is asking the right questions:

  • Where am I winning sales and why?
  • Which customers offer the most value?
  • What are my customers’ common pain points?
  • Where are the delays in the sales process?

You need answers to these and related questions to identify new opportunities and a path to sustainable growth.

Much of this data can be gleaned from CRM and point-of-sale information. Unfortunately, most sales reps hate doing administrative work so data is often missing. Research shows that most sales reps spend only 23 percent of their time selling and they spend the rest of their time on activities that don’t generate revenue, such as customer support, research, internal policies and approvals and, of course, data entry. Sales professionals recognize this, which is why customer data is frequently incomplete; the sales reps don’t see CRM data entry as a good use of their time.

To get correct and complete data for growth planning you need to ensure that the sales team has the right tools and sufficient incentive to maintain accurate customer and sales records.

Create a Culture of Data Accountability
The best way to ensure you have complete customer and contract records is to create a culture of data accountability.

It’s important to set expectations with the staff and management and foster a discipline of record-keeping and capturing data for accurate analytics. Most organizations struggle to find ways to hold their sales and customer reps accountable for timely record-keeping. To provide the right foundation, you need three key elements:

The right technology – Equip the sales and support teams with the right software and systems to do their jobs and make that technology an integral part of their day-to-day work. That means leveraging CRM platforms, collaboration tools, calendaring software and other tools that make their jobs easier while leaving a digital audit trail. Technology should promote productivity, which means the systems you put in place need to be easy to use as well as essential to operations. Also, be sure to deploy tools that work the way your sales team works. For example, if your sales reps spend much of their time out of the office and working with customers on-site, their tools need to go with them. If they work
remotely, provide secure remote access to sales tools and internal systems to look up and enter customer and transaction data.

Time management – Effective time management is a common weakness in many sales organizations. We already noted that most sales reps spend only one-quarter of their time selling, but how do they spend the rest of their time? Effective time management is the result of organization and discipline. Teach reps to be disciplined in carving out time to pre-call plan and post-call document. Demonstrate the value of having complete customer data to help them close sales faster and show them how the data is used for analytics that help uncover new revenue opportunities.

Pay for performance – When it comes to sales, pay for performance normally translates into bonuses and higher earnings as a reward for bringing in more revenue. You should also reward behavior that matters to the company, including record-keeping. Paying for sales performance is important, but if you need to capture more complete and accurate data, create financial incentives to encourage better data capture behavior. Accurately documenting customer interactions is a driving factor for sales growth and should be included as part of sales bonuses. When this is done correctly, better data will deliver more efficiency and positive financial results.

Fill the Gaps in Your Data
Even with a strong company culture of data accountability, there inevitably will be holes in your data. When designing reporting and looking at analytics, some critical knowledge gaps will exist that only can be filled by outside data sources.

Review your analytics and business-critical reports and identify the gaps in your data. Are there datasets that shed new light on internal data points such as demographics, industries or market factors? Determine what data you need to refine your analytics to get more accurate results.

Identify the data sources that can fill those gaps. There may be secondary published data available from the government, industry associations, market research firms or industry analysts. Some of this data may be available for free and some of it may require a fee to access. In some cases, you can find external partners that already have data in areas that you want to expand – giving you speed to
market. The key is to define your data gaps and know exactly what you are looking for in advance.

Once you have your data, remember that continuously scrubbing data is a core discipline that will provide large payoffs. This is an ongoing commitment that will provide you with a competitive edge.

In our evolving digital world, sales and marketing data is the new currency. You need accurate, complete information to shorten time to market and deliver exactly what your customers want at the right price. The right data clearly shows you how to deliver more value for less. Understanding how to apply data to deploy new resources, design new products and open new markets is what separates the great companies in any industry.

Jeff FordhamJeff Fordham is CEO and co-founder of OneSolution, manufacturing representatives to suppliers in industrial/MRO, construction, safety, fire and rescue, utility, food processing, metalworking and related industries. Jeff has more than 35 years of experience in industrial distribution and channel management.

This article originally appeared in the Nov./Dec 2021 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2021, Direct Business Media.

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