The Science and the Art of Selling: Using Data and Technology for Stronger Sales

Jim Dickie, co-founder of CSO Insights, shares how sales leaders can use data and technology to improve performance.

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The Science and the Art of Selling: Using Data and Technology for Stronger Sales

If you’ve never thought the odds of winning a passed bet at a craps table in Las Vegas would be better than closing a forecast lead, think again.

Jim Dickie, co-founder of CSO Insights, the independent research arm for Miller Heiman Group, was scrambling to leave a casino after giving a keynote address in the City of Lights when he started chatting with an employee. The gentleman invited him to place a pass bet at his craps table. “The odds of winning are 49.3 percent,” he said.

Jim, who had just spoken on forecast sales numbers minutes before, was puzzled. “I thought to myself, ‘Wait a minute,’” he says. “‘How is it the odds of winning at a Vegas casino are better than closing a forecast that, by the way, we created as an organization?”

That number flounders at a disappointing 47.3 percent, according to the 2017 World Class Best Practices report, which details the latest breakdown in global sales data.

It’s not an anomaly when compared to other sales data, either, as it stands parallel to declining sales trends around the globe. In 2012, 63 percent of salespeople were meeting quota. Just five years later, that number stands at 53 percent. What’s more, businesses are still expecting 70 percent of their sellers to meet quota, and it’s probably keeping them up at night.

Why the drop? And how do we change it?

Jake Reni, senior manager of inside sales at Adobe, had a chance to talk to Jim and gather his recommendations. Watch the full interview here and read the highlights below.

Look at data for the answers

“Without data you’re just another person with an opinion,” Jim says. For over 25 years he has dedicated his company to bringing the art of science to selling.

A shotgun reaction to a decrease in meeting sales quotas might be, “Let’s get more leads.” Jim, however, suggests the opposite. Remember, your forecast is not a sales management discussion alone — it’s a boardroom-level discussion. The number and strategy at the top affects the entire enterprise, from the CEO and CFO down to sales managers and salespeople.

“As an industry, we need to make sure we are solving the right problem,” Jim says. “Data helps us do this. It shows that if a seller could increase the win rates of forecast leads by five percent, it would have a much larger impact on revenue versus increasing the number of leads by five percent.”

This begs the question: Where in the sales process can sales leaders recoup a percentage of forecast leads?

Quote-to-close invisibility

In the 1980s, when Jim first started selling for IBM, his quote-to-close process was two-fold. First, he would fill-out the contract, then he would mail it to the customer. But what happened then? “Where was it? I had no idea,” Jim says. “I didn’t know whose desk it was on, where the hold-up was, or who I needed to apply the pressure to during follow-up.”

In the modern sales process, Jim can now email customers the contract, but then he’s still asking the same question: Where is the contract right now?

Simply put, the location of the contract, what customers are thinking, and how organizations can improve the customer journey are still invisible to salespeople and companies. There’s also a myriad of obstacles between sellers and a sale.

“When we’ve done our studies,” says Jim, “we’re finding that it’s anywhere between four and five decision makers involved in signing off on a contract.” What’s more, there may be influencers that those decision makers are also asking for opinions. “Hey, can you check this out and see if this sounds right to you?”

The contract may be on someone’s virtual desk, waiting in an inbox to be viewed. Or it could even be trapped within the selling organization, with special offers or discounts, working their way up the sales chain to be approved. The problem, overall, is visibility. So what’s the solution?

Better use of technology, better visibility

In short, technology is our greatest sales weapon. To illustrate how technology creates sales visibility, let’s take a look at courier services.

What would you pay a courier if they not only delivered the package to your customer, but they stood there and watched them open it and reported back to you how fast they read it, what they did with it, and how they reacted to it? We have modern tech tools that can do just that, virtually. Adobe Sign is one of them.

“Adobe Sign is a great example of something that starts to go through and streamline that whole process,” Jim says. “With it, you’re able to know who’s holding up the process.” Has the customer opened it? Is it in legal? Does another key signer have it? Is it on the CFO’s virtual desk?

By using technology as a smart virtual assistant, you can monitor where the contract is in the sales process. Salespeople will have the information they need to more effectively do their job. The information we get from technology helps us know if we need to explain the value prop better and gives us insight into whom we should talk to next.

Sales leaders also can use this technology to become better coaches and managers by receiving suggestions backed by insights rather than hunches. Instead of saying to a sales rep, “How’s the deal going?” and having them say, “Good,” leaders can monitor the process and, due to their experience, spot things reps may be missing or areas where they themselves as coaches can help reps improve.

And, of course, sales data technology will be greatly enhanced as the industry places a greater emphasis on artificial intelligence. “It’s going to be a totally different world two years from now, when all the technology is giving us insights into everything that’s going on in the world of sales,” Jim says. “I think it’s going to be an exciting transformation to watch.”

Read more articles in our series on sales essentials, and for more information on sales tools that make closing deals a seamless experience, learn about Adobe Sign.

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