Study: Can Big Data help increase sales performance?

Big Data is the current, um, big buzzword. For those who haven’t heard, Big Data is the IT industry term for the huge amount of information being created, including transactional data, digital monitoring and social media. Some say Big Data is characterized by three Vs – Volume, Velocity and Variety.

That’s interesting, but business leaders want to know how to turn this information deluge into usable insights. That may require new storage solutions like Hadoop or analytics software to tease out insights.

I’ve mostly been hearing about Big Data in the context of marketing or service applications. Sales? Not so much.

That’s why it caught my attention when Lattice Engines announced results of a new study by CSO Insights, finding some interesting opportunities in sales. One big win is helping reps make more of the right calls in the first place. Another is helping reps make more effective calls.

For example, I routinely get prospecting calls from reps after I’ve downloaded a white paper or attended a conference. But in nearly all cases, I’m not really a prospect — I’m just doing research so I can write about a topic. One time recently, a rep called and I decided to play along. First question he asked me: “What does CustomerThink do?”

Really? This amazed me because it wouldn’t have taken 1 minute to figure that out. And another minute to read my LinkedIn profile. That tiny bit of research might have saved the rep from even attempting the call. Furthermore, even assuming I’m a “suspect” worthy of a call, there’s no excuse these days for asking such basic questions.

I ended up having a great conversation with the rep. Turns out his company is actually in the business of making prospecting calls — one of those telesales outsourcers that helps qualify leads. And his management encourages reps to use “social selling” to research prospects on the Social Web before a call. Yet, at the same time reps were measured on call volume, so they didn’t have time to do the research, and they didn’t have any tools to help.

That rep has a lot of company. According to Jim Dickie, Partner at CSO Insights, strategic account planning requires integration of data from multiple sources, including CRM, LinkedIn, search engines, social media and more — up to 15 sources. In the survey, about 8 out of 10 of the respondents (218 CEOs, CSOs, Sales Executives and Managers) said they were “challenged by the amount of data available and the difficulty of accessing it.”

The most mission-critical need was insight on changes in the prospects’ business. Think of these as sales “triggers” to alert reps that an opportunity may have materialized. Executive changes, M&A activity and other significant business events can open up opportunities, but reps must engage quickly.

Can technology help? The study found some modest improvement in sales metrics with the 35% of companies that have implemented technology to integrate and analyze both internal and external data. Respondents in this segment reported an average 56.3% win rate and 65.7% of reps making quota, vs. 48.8% win rate and 62.9% quota achievement for the technology “have nots.”

Lattice Engines is one of the companies trying to solve the Big Data problem in sales. According to marketing manager Kathy Mammon, their solution can help in the areas mentioned: 1) analysis to aid in call planning/prioritization and 2) aggregating data sources to help reps on calls. For example, a large enterprise can analyze transaction data to figure out which customers have the highest propensity to buy a new product, and then prioritize rep activities accordingly. While making calls, reps can easily access an aggregated prospect profile.

In short, with the right tools Big Data can help focus valuable sales resources on the best opportunities. And stop making calls that annoy prospects. Make sense to me.

The full study results are available for download here (registration required).

2 Responses to Study: Can Big Data help increase sales performance?

  1. Andrew Rudin August 6, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    Big Data opens large opportunities for sales executives if people use it for learning the right insights. For many people, though, the “wow!” of new reporting capabilities get in the way. Somewhere in the euphoria, people forget to ask “what do we need to learn in the first place?”

    That problem isn’t new. When ERP solutions were first introduced, it didn’t take long before executives began suffocating under the weight of voluminous reports that systems generated under a single menu item, “Management Reports.” “Hey, it’s a single version of the truth,” vendors reminded them. But customers began complaining that systems generated more information than people could consume. And decision making didn’t improve.

    The Volume, Velocity, and Variety of Big Data that you mention will improve sales insights in profound ways–if the right questions are asked in the first place. In my last blog, I suggested that the key insights marketers and salespeople need to discover are 1) situation or “as-is” state, 2) motivation, 3) social network, 4) attitude/sentiment, and 5) vision or “to-be” state.

    Big Data plays a role because there are a large number of questions that must be asked and answered, the information resides in disparate places, and the insights are developed over time, rather than all at once. In addition, forces and events can change the outlook for risks and opportunities very quickly, so software and databases that enable rapid collection and sharing of information are vital.

    Ultimately, the effectiveness of these tools are completely dependent on how sound management’s questions are in the first place. And asking the right questions still presents a great challenge for many.

  2. Alicia Brayboy August 7, 2012 at 6:00 am #

    Andrew,

    Great point about asking the right questions and using Big Data for insight. This report aims at the questions and concerns you brought up in your comment.

    The key big data benefits mentioned in the report are based not on just receiving internal and external data, but using tools to turn BIG DATA into INSIGHT — automatically.

    “Big Data for Sales” means that the questions: “What do we need to learn?” “How can I use this data to close more deals?” are included in the equation. (And if your tools don’t provide this insight, that’s an issue your sales team should definitely rectify.) Management, and even better, individual sales professionals, do not have to even think about these factors — big data for sales should be easy, with the hard work already done for them, so sales professionals spend less time researching and more time selling.

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