Note: Upon her indictment on federal money laundering charges and her arrest February 8, 2022, Inc. dismissed Heather Morgan as a contributing columnist. As is our practice, we do not unpublish editorial content, and rather have added this note for full transparency.
The success of a modern sales organization is increasingly based on its ability to use data when making crucial decisions, whether doing projections, hiring new employees or any other number of tasks.
These kinds of analytics are a big part of what Fred Shilmover, CEO of sales intelligence software company InsightSquared, calls the "industrialization of sales." Data guides your sales team's behavior by showing them the most productive places to spend their time (e.g., prospecting relevant leads).
That doesn't mean numbers and analytics will entirely make up our minds, though. Shilmover believes sales decisions are ultimately based on emotions--though he's quick to add that "we use reason and rationality to justify them." In other words, talented salespeople use data to guide their behavior. In doing so, they have more meaningful conversations with potential customers than their competitors.
When I spoke with Shilmover recently, he explained that a wealth of data available is pointless if we can't properly leverage it to guide sales teams towards long-term customer relationships.
With that in mind, here are three ways he believes you can use technology to enhance the human side of sales, not replace it:
1. Master the technology before you make the big decisions.
Theoretically, technology makes salespeople more productive. For example, you no longer spend a whole day driving to meet one client in the hopes of closing a deal. "Sales used to be more artisanal in nature: art of [the] deal, traveling salesperson, not really storing data (other than storing contacts or booking deals . . . maybe)," says Shilmover. Now, salespeople are expected to reach out to a large list of contacts every day and hit quotas that would have seemed impossible 20 years ago. You can still make those interactions seem personal, but you can't afford to spend all day focused on one person. Which means you'd better have a good handle on the technology that allows you to contact 20-plus potential customers per day.
Shilmover cites the New England Patriots as an example. Tom Brady doesn't spend the offseason practicing the miraculous plays that have made him a five-time Super Bowl champion. Instead, he and the rest of his offense do the basics over and over to keep them reflexive during an actual game. That in turn lets the team focus on "high-order stuff" and make snap decisions during a play.
Sales organizations should operate the same way. Entering and knowing how to interpret accurate data should be reflexive to your employees, so they can react positively to more challenging situations, like overcoming objections, in the moment.
2. Segment customers to better understand the story their data tells.
It takes human intervention to extract the real meaning from data analytics and make decisions about what comes next for the organization.
Dividing customers into specific types--known as segmentation--is one of the best ways to distill data and learn about your customers' needs. Fred advises breaking your market down into specific, granular segments, then asking yourself, "Is there an area where we perform well? Are there misleading anomalies?"
For example, suppose you close deals at a continuously high rate with companies in the foodservice industry. But one day, you score a big deal with a software-as-a-service company (where you have historically closed at a much lower rate) and decide to focus on that area instead. History says you're not likely to win an entire industry over automatically. Meanwhile, those would-be foodservice clients are feeling neglected and taking business elsewhere.
The best advice from Fred for growing a company? Segment sooner. Your company shouldn't be afraid to corner the market in a certain area and then try to branch out. He recommends finding "the smallest market, even if it's claustrophobic." Doing so allows you to develop a repeatable process for closing deals and producing content in "a more reusable and scalable manner." Trying to appeal to multiple markets at once takes focus away from the areas where opportunity is most present.
3. Treat your customers like they're more than just a number.
Data and numbers don't eliminate the need for good salespeople; it just ensures your employees are speaking with relevant prospects. "We're not eliminating the relationship element of sales, just making it so you can develop a relationship with people over the phone, in a shorter amount of time," says Shilmover.
To that end, it's important to remember you're doing business with people, not numbers in a CRM (customer relationship management system). At a certain point, you need to put the mechanical rules on hold and pick up the phone, meet your potential customer for a drink or suggest meeting at an event. Similarly, data can tell you a lot about a particular industry, but it probably doesn't know your prospective customer's favorite team is the Patriots, for example. That's when you step in and add a more personal touch to your communications.
At the end of the day, it takes a human to earn the trust of that company on a more intimate level.