The era of "Big Data" is clearly upon us as sales and marketing professionals. For those of you who've been checked out of Hotel Reality for a while, big data is a bit of a catchall phrase and definitely one of the more hyped terms of the past couple of years.

Simply put, big data refers to a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using traditional data processing applications. Although estimates vary widely, research conducted by CSC estimates a 4,300 percent increase in annual data generation by 2020.

This ever-increasing quantity of data generates enormous challenges, but also generates significant business opportunities. Data processing is no longer the sole domain of relational databases. Unstructured data such as digital photos, videos and social media are growing at an even faster rate than structured data.

As a result, an entire new industry has formed around technologies aimed at storing, sorting, viewing and gleaning business insights from big data. Companies such as Hortonworks and Cloudera help businesses manage their data using a new open-source data framework called Hadoop. Companies like Tableau, Birst and Domo help their customers see and understand their data in profoundly new ways. Collectively, these companies have generated billions of dollars of financing from investors of all stripes interested in profiting from the explosion of big data.

OK, enough with the history and technology lessons. What does the advent of big data mean for the future of sales and marketing? Well, in my humble opinion, big data is the most transformative paradigm shift to hit sales and marketing teams since the advent of the telephone. That's because more than any other profession, salespeople have long relied on the art of the deal. Much like the baseball scouts in Michael Lewis' popular book "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game," salespeople have historically relied on relationships and other soft factors to target and close business. Similarly, marketing professionals have made huge bets on brand advertising and air cover campaigns with little to no empirical data to support their spending.

As we enter the new year, it is time to start thinking differently. Big data and predictive analytics technologies represent the opportunity to turn the table on the house. In other words, sales and marketing can finally become more about math than magic.

Let's get specific and talk about the five ways I believe big data will rock our world in 2015 and beyond.

  1. Large enterprises will be the first to widely adopt big data and predictive analytics technologies, but small and medium businesses will get on board soon thereafter and will benefit even more.
  2. Marketing spend will become significantly more precise by leveraging insights from big data to accurately target prospects and deploy
    account-based marketing strategies.
  3. Salespeople will gradually adopt data-driven methodologies to target high-value prospects, keep existing customers on board, and expand existing opportunities.
  4. Sales forecasting accuracy will improve dramatically as sophisticated algorithms supplant "gut feel" as the weapon of choice for predicting sales.
  5. Real-time sales data visualization technologies will emerge, empowering sales managers to adjust battlefield tactics based on live data feeds.

Now before I conclude, I'd like to offer some color commentary on the list above. I believe large enterprises will be the first to adopt because their need to explore and gain insight from their enormous troves of data is profound. However, internal stovepipes and varying data repositories will make the job difficult and time-consuming.

Small and midsize companies will adopt a bit later, but will benefit more quickly and with greater impact than their big brothers in large enterprises. Startups may benefit the most because they are being born in the era of big data and are building capabilities to leverage it into their business models. For example, take a look at how Uber is leveraging geo-spatial data and location intelligence to fuel its emerging empire.

Many salespeople won't jump on board quickly or easily. However, predictive sales intelligence will provide better results than intuition, and ultimately that will convert even the most reluctant salespeople. If better personal results won't do the trick, then improved forecasting and actionable real-time sales data will quickly convert sales leadership and in turn, their ground forces.

I guess in the end, if you are a sales or marketing professional in any industry I'd suggest that you get smart about what's happening in big data and predictive analytics. A tsunami of data and potentially powerful business insights is heading your way. You must decide if you're going to ride the wave or search for higher ground. Happy New Year!