By Brian Selby, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Sales Operations, Tableau Software
How often is your sales team making important decisions based on gut feel? Are you sure that deal will close this quarter and was it optimally priced? Are your sales resources allocated properly to drive growth?
In my experience, when sales organizations make major decisions and plans based on gut feelings, there are costly consequences. One company missed its fourth-quarter forecast by a significant amount and had to reset all quotas for the next year, delaying quota distribution by several weeks. Another sales team relied too heavily on experience and judgment to make pricing decisions for large deals and left millions of dollars on the table. One company failed to leverage its data on relative productivity of sales reps across geographies and inefficiently allocated scarce sales resources to the right growth opportunities.
In a world where data is everywhere, too many companies fail to take advantage of the power of data and analytics to fuel sales performance improvement.
Why does this happen in so many companies? Historically, sales has been labeled an art. Selling revolves around people, and with that comes emotion, beliefs, opinion, and the careful management of relationships with customers, partners, and others within the sales organization. Accessing data, and figuring out what to do with it, has been a difficult endeavor. However, with more modern business intelligence platforms emerging, and easier access to sales performance data, the application of science to selling has become a key differentiator in managing the sales organization. Companies that embrace data and analytics as the foundation for sales planning and performance management will achieve breakthrough improvement in sales productivity.
What could this look like? I’ve seen several use cases where advanced analytics have been applied to sales:
• Improved pricing and discounting: Many sales reps and leaders are time-constrained and haven’t been trained to effectively apply data analytics to pricing decisions. Oftentimes, it’s faster and easier to just offer the same pricing to customers or use the floor of the discount matrix to speed up the customer buying process. Typically, sales reps don’t know that other reps in their organization have achieved higher prices for the same deals with similar customers. This is an area where data and analytics can yield several points of margin improvement. With an advanced analytics platform mining all historical sales data, sales leaders can see where they are pursuing suboptimal pricing and challenge sales teams to reconsider their deal structures.
• Better forecasting accuracy: Sales leader judgment can be an important ingredient in forecasting deals, but human judgment often fares far worse than analytical models in assessing the likely outcome of deals and sales teams. The data does not lie. By leveraging data points on opportunities (e.g., the customer’s historic buying behavior, sales rep performance, product type, and sales stage), a predictive model can actually deliver a more accurate forecast than traditional “roll-up” processes can. Using these types of analytical models can also save countless hours in management meetings trying to analyze human judgment and adding “manager overrides” to lower-level forecasts.
• Reduced customer churn: Armed with a comprehensive profile of customer behaviors (e.g., support incidents, attendance at training classes, and website engagement), sales reps and/or customer success managers can more accurately identify at-risk customers and take preventative actions to prevent churn. Marketing outreach can also be tailored to target at-risk customers and increase overall engagement.
Establishing data and analytics as a foundation within the sales organization isn’t easy. Getting there requires leadership to invest time and resources into acquiring the right data, systems, and people to build these new capabilities. In my experience, it’s vital to build the right Sales Operations function with the charter and resources necessary to prepare and analyze data, synthesize the analysis into effective action plans, and drive change management across sales. These leading Sales Operations teams bring deep insight into performance improvement opportunities and become trusted advisors to leaders throughout the company. All of this is built on a solid foundation of data, from governance to preparation to analytics and reporting.
One Brand's Success in the "Science" of Selling
LinkedIn applied data and analytics to empower its sales teams with insights that drove success. Before, the company stored close to a petabyte or more of sales data using internal databases, Google Analytics, Salesforce.com, and third-party tools. One analyst serviced daily sales requests from over 500 salespeople, creating a reporting queue of up to six months, which left team members questioning their performance and the status of customer relationships.
The business analytics team adopted a new BI platform to centralize customer data and used dashboards to track performance and predict churn. To support even deeper analysis, they also leveraged predictive models in the BI platform to forecast churn—empowering sales to increase customer success within at-risk accounts. This has created a more proactive sales cycle and increased revenue. Michael Li, Senior Director of Business Analytics, said, “We decided to focus on how to scale the BI solution that we built and really provide the scalability and empower our sales team to get what they need in time. It became a one-stop shop for sales people to get what they need in a very self-service way.”
Today, 90 percent of LinkedIn’s sales force accesses the BI solution weekly. By tracking overall sales performance and digging deeper to understand the customer experience, sales now identifies when customers increase product usage and can proactively connect around opportunities to increase overall spend and avoid account churn.
Setting up the right processes, systems, and people to acquire, prepare, and analyze key sales data will enable better decision-making for any sales organization. By putting data at the center of your approach to sales planning and performance management, you will also be able to realize a breakthrough in growth and productivity.
Enabling the “Science of Selling”
Building a new capability to harness the power of analytics in sales begins with clean, prepared, and well-managed data. This data must come from a widely-adopted CRM system and should be analyzed by a robust, modern analytics platform. And as mentioned above, the right analytically-minded Sales Operations staff need to be in place to understand the data, glean insights from analysis, and recommend effective actions for sales leaders to take to improve performance.
1) Start with clean data
Enterprises already know the pain of disparate data sources, siloed departments, and legacy software—a broken infrastructure that hinders performance, growth, and development. Scaling advanced analytics enterprise-wide means having consistent definitions and sales practices. This also requires activating staff who will ask the right questions of data, perform analytics, and discern what must happen next.
2) Enable sellers with the right solutions
Globally, how is your CRM system being used? Is your account and opportunity hierarchy defined and structured the same way across teams—does “closed won” mean the same thing to your commercial sales team as it does to your enterprise team, to your teams in the UK and Australia, for example? Setting definitions and hierarchies within your CRM is a best practice that leads to cleaner data. Embrace an analytics platform with the capability to connect to your CRM and other data sources, which has intuitive data-prep tools and optimizes advanced analytics to provide a single source of truth. Then you can take advantage of modern business intelligence capabilities and scale quickly.
3) Hire inquisitive, driven, tech-savvy talent
Beyond standardization of data analytic definitions and processes, you need the right talent in place to set your organization up for success. Your sales operations staff are trusted advisors to the business and should have a seat at the table to support sales planning and resource optimization. For a true ROI in Sales Operations, they should not be relegated to back-office reporting but instead should have the organizational support and technology resources to apply advanced analytics. The right people, empowered with the right analytics platform, and backed by the right data, drives sale performance improvement.
To leverage data analytics to prosper as a modern sales organization and bring more science to your selling, visit the Tableau Sales Analytics Solutions page. This one-stop resource for all things data and sales, will support new and better possibilities for your sales operations.
Most modern health care improvements seem to involve expensive technology and an uncomfortable amount of change management. But clinical and nonclinical staff at the Rotterdam Eye Hospital have improved patient care and raised staff morale at a very modest cost: 10 minutes a day and a special deck of cards.
Members of the hospital’s design thinking team were inspired by something they saw when they boarded a KLM Airline flight: During a pre-flight huddle of the cabin crew, team members introduced each other and then asked each other two questions on flight safety.
When they got back to Rotterdam Eye Hospital, the managers asked themselves why couldn’t they add a similar feature to their own “team-start” huddles? After all, in some ways, the situations were similar: A group whose members may not have worked together before must form a close-knit team quickly and execute their duties in a way that meets the organization’s guidelines to the letter.
To test the idea, hospital managers developed a special patient-safety card game that encouraged coworkers to work together more easily and reinforced their knowledge of core safety and patient care principles. (One of us, Roel, designed and ran the initiative; the other, Dirk, studied it.
Now, a number of other hospitals and long-term care organizations in the Netherlands have started playing the card game too. In 2016 and 2017, a nursing home and a rehabilitation center from Zorgpartners Midden Holland near Rotterdam also adopted the “team-start” huddle and card game and have seen similar improvements in patient care and staff morale.
Here’s how it works:
At the start of every shift, the team members get together for a brief “team-start.” Each team member rates his or her own mood as green (I’m good), orange (I’m okay but I have a few things I’m concerned about) or red (I’m under stress). The rest of the team doesn’t need to know that you’re under stress because you’re having a dispute with your landlord or you are worried about your ill toddler. How you feel, however, is important because it affects how you should be treated.
Next, the team leader asks if there is anything in particular the team needs to know to work more effectively together that shift: For example, “Is there a delay in public transport so we can expect patients to be late for their appointments?,” or “Is there a patient with some kind of special need coming in?”
Sharing the answers or results generated by the card questions and activities with the group ensures that the insights stick.
This routine might not sound like the makings of a significant advance, but Rotterdam Eye Hospital has experienced some significant improvements in service quality since it introduced the card game in 2015. First, the hospital’s performance on its patient-safety audits has risen, and caregiver job satisfaction has improved substantially, moving from 8.0 to 9.2 on a 10-point scale after staff began playing the game. The nursing home and rehabilitation center reported similar results.
The staffers have observed a variety of other gains as well. For instance, the game has encouraged team members to get to know each other better, and patients are reassured when team members are familiar with each other. (We conducted interviews with staff members in the hospital, nursing home, and rehabilitation center, and conducted an informal survey after the initial exercise.)
“The main advantage for me is that I know who I am working with today. Now I know their names and how they are doing,” one doctor said.
Other staff members gained a deeper understanding of the reasons behind certain protocols. “I now understand the importance of some patient safety measures more, and now I know how I contribute to them,” one cleaning person from the rehabilitation center said.
Finally, everyone gained a deeper understanding of the significance of their own job — not always easy in a centralized organization. “I now feel part of the caregiver team,” one nutrition assistant said. “I know now I am not only providing food but am part of making a patient feel safe.”
The game has also encouraged more sharing between members of the staff, particularly between people who often don’t have very many occasions to talk to each other such as cleaning people and doctors. One case in point: A question from the card game about what someone should do if he or she found medicine lying around prompted a cleaning person to mention that she kept finding pills in a patient’s bed, alerting the doctor to the fact that the patient was not taking the prescribed medicine.
Rotterdam Eye Hospital has also introduced the game to other members of the World Association of Eye Hospitals in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Singapore.
Although the game is not expensive to run, it does require management to do the following:
Design the particular card game you need. The card game must be tailor-made for your own culture and focused on your current challenges. A hospital, for example, might stress medication safety and hand hygiene, while a nursing home might focus on understanding the vulnerabilities of the elderly and end-of-life care. Each patient experience card game consists of at least six themes.
Make a commitment to the game. It won’t work if teams play only some of the time.
Require everyone on the team to participate. The game works because everyone knows that he or she is in the same boat and may be put on the spot tomorrow. And we mean everyone — not only the inpatient and outpatient teams but even people in HR and Finance.
We sometimes act as if health care organizations are big machines. But the fact is that the quality of health care depends ultimately on the collective performance of many small teams. The “team-start” huddle and patient experience card game suggests that performance can improve once we take into account the full perspective and emotional needs of the people who are actually delivering that care. The game is a great first step toward building that awareness.
Rose Hollister and Michael Watkins, consultants at Genesis Advisers, argue that many companies today are taking on too many initiatives. Each manager might have their own pet projects they want to focus on, but that trickles down to lower level workers dealing with more projects at a time that they can handle, or do well. This episode also offers practical tips for senior-level leaders to truly prioritize the best initiatives at their company — or risk losing some of their top talent. Hollister and Watkins are the authors of the HBR article “Too Many Projects.”
One of our main jobs when teaching and advising students who are thinking of founding blockchain companies is to get them to question whether or not their idea actually requires it. Data integrity is the main benefit conferred by blockchain technology, and a few questions can help determine whether that’s a particular problem for a given business or use case:
If the data that my business collects is corrupted, how much do people suffer?Do outsiders (perhaps hackers) have incentives to distort or change the data that my business is based upon?How much does my business depend on other people being able to trust the data on which it is built?
Take for example, a digital currency — the first use-case for blockchain. There, if data is corrupted or distorted by outsiders, people lose real money, and the outsider who corrupts the data gains money, making such attacks plausible and to be feared. Therefore, no one will adopt a digital currency unless they can trust their data will not be corrupted or distorted. In other words, there’s at least a plausible reason why you’d want blockchain technology managing currency transactions.
However, all too often blockchain startup ideas don’t really need blockchain. Their data really isn’t that valuable or unique in a way that gives outsiders sufficient economic incentives to launch attacks to try and corrupt or otherwise change it. That’s why a recent use of blockchain technology in China in response to the #MeToo movement is so interesting.
In late 2017, increasing number of stories were being shared on Chinese social media surrounding sexual harassment and abuse of position in Chinese universities. At first, the movement was called woyeshi, the Chinese spelling of “Me Too.” The Chinese government and technology platforms made repeated attempts to filter out such stories by censoring a variety of hashtags and keywords that campaigners used on Weibo and Wechat. First, woyeshi was censored, and then #MeToo, and finally “Rice Bunny”, which has the same pronunciation as “Me Too” in Chinese. As a result, campaigners turned to blockchain technology to record their stories under the name “Every Snowflake.” This website simply uses a blockchain ledger process to record stories about sexual harassment.
This is a use-case that fulfills the three criteria outlined above. Victims desperately want to not be censored; other parties have a deep interest in censoring them; and people can only find value in stories of discrimination if they have not been censored. “Every Snowflake” is a compelling case where blockchain helped people overcome a real problem of data integrity.
However, this project also highlights some of the challenges of using blockchain technology.
The general weakness of using blockchain lies in its interface with other technologies and the rest of the world. I’ve written before about blockchain’s “last mile problem.” In this case, the “last mile” challenge comes from the fact that it is still possible to restrict access to data built on the blockchain — for example, by banning the website that displays it.
Nonetheless, “Every Snowflake” hints at the possibilities of blockchain in our “post-truth” world. Not every interesting idea or business proposal requires the blockchain. But where data integrity is essential, it can be transformative.
How much can we expect business to lead on sustainability? What should be a company’s biggest priority: serving its shareholders, providing jobs, or addressing the health of our planet?
Often, these goals are at odds. So we’re bringing together, in a special forum live-streamed from the MIT campus, two leading voices in the sustainability debate. MIT’s Yossi Sheffi and sustainability expert and author Andrew Winston will debate and discuss the role of for-profit businesses in supporting — and investing in — sustainability goals.
Be a part of the conversation, and submit your questions below to Yossi Sheffi and Andrew Winston. Select questions will be answered during the Q&A session.
Hear the speakers tackle:
How much companies really can control their emissions, even when they want to
Whether consumers are willing to pay to support sustainability
The extent to which companies can compel their suppliers to meet sustainability standards
Whether there’s really a one-to-one trade-off on jobs versus sustainability