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The four ways digital and analytics drive successful change
Digital and analytics can radically accelerate—and improve the chances of delivering—successful change. But undisciplined investment can be counterproductive and expensive. In our experience working with companies that have successfully boosted the ROI of their sales investments, these four actions make a meaningful difference:
1. Provide insights that sales reps need
A wealth of sales insights are discoverable today through advanced analytics, but they often don’t translate into sustainable revenue for a few reasons: the front line does not trust the data, the insights are overly complex, or reps simply feel that their own experience and expertise are being ignored. Successful change programs rely on a deep understanding of the needs of the salespeople and a willingness to work back from there to deliver insights that actually help reps sell better. The best sales organizations use data to understand the effect of all the steps in sales, from what matters most in driving a sales opportunity forward to where reps struggle or miss opportunities. They then package those insights and send them to sales reps. Actively involving sales reps in the process greatly increases the chances of providing relevant and easy-to-use solutions.
Car manufacturers offer an excellent example of how to manage frontline needs. Their dealer networks are often quite autonomous (stocking and product-configuration decisions are made by individual dealers). This means, for example, that having 2,000 dealers in a given market equates to 2,000 separate decisions on what stock to take. Traditionally, there has been little attempt to use data from the entire dealer network to optimize those decisions. As part of a shift to optimize and upgrade the stock at its dealerships, one manufacturer aggregated data on specific car configurations (engine type, trim, color, etc.) purchased across the network. It then calculated the optimum mix of stock based on a combination of profitability and customer appeal, which could be updated in real time as sales were made.
The insights were played back to each dealer, to speed up the process and make them better informed, with specific recommendations on which cars to order. What was fascinating was the degree of uptake of the new system. The adoption rate within nine months was 80 percent, a striking contrast to a previous effort where the adoption rate was below 10 percent. Cars spent far less time in the showroom before being bought, heterogeneity of vehicles increased (which helped with residual values), and the contribution margin grew by more than 10 percent.
2. Use digital to enable what matters for each sales rep
We often find companies that have excellent operational discipline but fail to apply a similar rigor to sales. They seem to linger under the misunderstanding that sales is all about relationships or that sales teams are motivated solely by incentives.
The core elements in enabling effective sales operations are focusing reps’ time and attention on the handful of metrics that disproportionately matter. Those often include the size of the pipeline and conversion rate, and incentives that are consistent with the company’s overall vision for its transformation, rather than those based on out-of-date ideas or on criteria beyond the sales rep’s control. Embedding weekly routines and daily expectations of activities reinforces the ultimate goal of driving sales growth. Crucially, then, sales leaders need to focus on digital and analytics capabilities that deliver on these needs.
3. Use data to prioritize and personalize capability building
Best-in-class sales organizations place an enormous emphasis on building frontline capabilities during a transformation; this applies to their own sales force and channel partners. They recognize that otherwise there is no hope of any new tool or new approach delivering results. But they don’t stop there. These sales leaders use analytics to get very specific on what skills to teach and to whom in order to reengineer the very DNA of the sales organization.
By using analytics to identify the traits and skills of top performers, it becomes clear where everyone’s gaps are. Then digital tools can be deployed alongside more traditional learning mechanisms to effectively roll out coaching to large and widely distributed sales forces.
4. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Sales leaders need to set out bold vision based on where the opportunities for growth lie, but then they need to make that personal for each seller and manager. Advanced analytics can help set granular targets and personalize those targets to each individual region, manager, and seller.