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Why Big Data is a Big Deal for Sales

Shashi Upadhyay is CEO of Lattice Engines

Whether or not we like it, Big Data is already influencing our lives as consumers. Amazon's Recommendations, Facebook's personalized banner ads based on our profiles and Google's targeted ads based on our previous searches have all created personalized buying experiences based on predicting our purchasing behavior.

However, these are examples of transactional sales. It is estimated that over one third of the U.S. economy, e.g., most of the Business-to-Business sector, is based on relationship sales — such as a business securing a line-of-credit or buying a payroll application.

For a long time business leaders have believed that these high touch or relationships-based sales are impossible to predict. Big Data changes that. Companies and individuals are spewing out massive amounts of information about themselves on the Web and in social media. Just as Google found a way to effectively measure advertising for the first time, Big Data provides a way to predict the previously unpredictable: the buyer's intent. Armed with knowledge of the buyer's intent, a salesperson can have more effective interactions with their customers and prospects.

Drowning in data

With the volume of data doubling every two years, according to IDC, it is a blessing and a curse in today's competitive selling environment. You might expect that sales reps have it better than ever with all the information out there of their prospects. The reality, however, is that they are completely overwhelmed.

According to a recent survey by the leading sales effectiveness research firm CSO Insights, 82 percent of corporate and sales leaders stated that their reps were drowning in information, and 89 percent believed that they are flat out missing opportunities.

Big Data solves this challenge by injecting information science into relationship selling. High-powered analytics allow reps to extract insights from this massive amount of data where perhaps only 0.01 percent of it is actually useful. It not only helps reps find a way to manage information, but also to gain meaning or insight from it so they can predict the right customer to sell to at the right time with the right message.

It comes down to the old sales saying about never selling ice to an Eskimo in winter. With Big Data, sales reps might actually show up selling something useful — like a heater.

Here are five reasons why Big Data is a big deal for sales:

Your target buyers already have data on their side
Buyers are using data extensively to become smarter about their purchases. They are searching the Web, social media sites like blogs, Facebook and Twitter, and going to places like Quora and Focus to ask questions about products and services. Buyers have the upper hand and sales reps are at a disadvantage. It's time that the playing field is leveled. Sales reps need access to the same level of insight as buyers so they can remain in the game.

Big Data clones the best habits of your best sales reps
In a world of prepared buyers, the most successful sales reps are those that are able to stay ahead of buyers and anticipate their needs. Harvard Business Review's recent article titled "The End of Solution Selling" discusses the impact of this shift toward more educated buyers who no longer need to be informed by sales reps who think they know how to solve their problem. It requires a completely new way to sell based on selling insight rather than a solution.

For the top performing sales professionals who recognize this new dynamic, it requires much more research. According to the CSO Insights study, reps are searching as many as 15 different external sources like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the Web in addition to internal information sources to find the information they need. According to Aberdeen ("The Sales Intelligence Imperative for B2B Sales Organizations," September 2011), the average sales rep spends 24 percent of his or her time researching prospect information. That's a lot of time not selling.

Certainly there are those top performing reps who excel at finding the needle in the haystack. What if you could democratize this excellence and turn every rep into an A player? What if your sales reps knew which companies were most likely to buy your product or service at a specific time? What if you could eliminate the cold call? This is where Big Data comes in.

Big Data clones the attributes of your best customers
Just as it clones the habits of your best reps, Big Data can also clone the attributes of your best customers. By recognizing common features shared across your existing customer base — such as recent office openings, government funding events, projects of individual managers, rate of hiring, etc. — Big Data can identify new targets that match your best customers' profiles.

CRM technology was designed for a world of data scarcity, not Big Data
The last game-changing wave of sales technology, CRM, delivered some massive improvements. But it was designed for a world of data scarcity, not Big Data. While 80 percent of respondents from the CSO Insights survey have implemented CRM technology, nearly 80 percent found it ineffective at helping them find external prospect information. In fact, more than half of them do not use technology that automates the ability to utilize both internal AND external data, meaning they expect the reps to do their own research.

Sales executives recognize they need help
More than half of the CSO Insights survey respondents — corporate and sales executives — have not even heard of Big Data. No surprise, they're in corporate and sales positions. Yet, when tools were described that could tell them what prospects are the hottest leads, 90 percent predicted they would have a great impact. More specifically, the majority said they would expect an improvement in: prospecting effectiveness, the amount of time reps spend actually selling, lead to first meeting conversions, first call to presentation conversions and win rates of forecast deals.

I believe we're at a tipping point today. Salespeople can use information to perform a lot better than they do now. Information can perform a lot better for sales reps than it currently is. When you apply Big Data techniques to relationship sales, the sales rep gets back in the game, better than ever. He or she knows who has the greatest propensity to buy, why, what and when. Time isn't spent cold calling down a list. It's spent on customers with a real need. The end of the cold call is a win for us all.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessNewsDaily.

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