Everyone knows what an ideal sales process looks like: high-value prospects get immediate follow-up, data is shared quickly and accurately, and salespeople are unfailingly productive. Unfortunately, the reality of most organizations looks a little different. Sales moves fast and salespeople have to contend with changing information, fresh opportunities and new obstacles all day long, sometimes without reason or warning. Process tends to fall by the wayside and revenue suffers.

It can be easy for sales organizations to fall into chaos, but that doesn't mean it's inevitable. The right technology can help teams streamline their sales approach and convert more leads. But not all technology is created equal. There's been a lot of noise in the industry recently about predictive analytics technologies-and they certainly have their place-but the real solution for the chaos of modern sales starts with another P-word: prescriptive.

Prescriptive technologies take in the constantly evolving factors that affect sales organizations and then prescribe a best path forward. They tell salespeople who to contact, when to do it, and why. They can be applied from the moment a prospect comes in, all the way through to close of the deal. They're adaptable and transparent, working with the user rather than for them, so that the power is in the hands of the salesperson. Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting a three-part series explaining what prescriptive solutions are and why they're important, how they can help sales leaders determine who gets what lead, and when salespeople can use them most effectively.

How is Prescriptive Different From Black Box Solutions?

A good prescriptive or even predictive solution makes recommendations so that salespeople understand why they are taking a certain action. A black box solution on the other hand makes assumptions and takes the user down a path without asking for their input. Examples of a black box solution would be the autocorrect feature on an iPhone. In this example, it isn't a choice-it's an assumption. These technologies have their place, but they can also be problematic. Salespeople working with predictive technologies often don't get insight into the reason for the recommendations that they get and can't as easily redirect the technology decision, which can lead to oversights, confusion, frustration, and mistrust.

However, prescriptive solutions, remain malleable to new input. No one knows a sales organization like the people that work in it. Every company is different; every team is different; every customer is different. The best path forward in one case might not necessarily be the same in another. A prescriptive solution takes all of the available data and presents it in context so that its user can make the best possible sales decision.

Part of the power of a prescriptive approach comes from its transparency. If processes are going to stick, they have to make sense to the people following them. People follow procedures they know the justification for, and tend to push off the ones they don't. A predictive tool can rank leads by priority, but a prescriptive one will explain the justification for the ranking. Salespeople are extremely busy, and because they're generally paid on commission, they're incentivized to move through their pipelines as quickly as they can. Any policy that doesn't clearly illustrate how it will bring them closer to their goals will be difficult to enforce.

Consider Netflix or Amazon for example, when these platforms make a recommendation for purchase, they also give a reason why-usually viewing history or self-reported preferences. Those explanations are important because they give users insight into the way the service works, which empowers them to make changes (like altering their preference settings) if they choose to. Users aren't left frustrated, operating in a vacuum. They can make their own decisions. The same concept applies to sales solutions.

In this article, I gave high-level overview of what prescriptive solutions are and why they're important. In the next two articles, I'll tackle their specific application for two of the biggest questions in sales: who should take which lead and how they should handle outreach for the best possible results.

Published on: May 18, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.