by Aman Naimat
Gathering data for sales is all about creating a better relationship with your customers and increasing sales. You can establish trust and a personal connection by checking out their social profiles, understand their needs by looking at their job posts, keep up on the latest developments by subscribing to Google Alerts, and understand their business priorities and risks by skimming their SEC filings.
The biggest thing to remember, though, is not to fall into the “Big Data Black Hole,” where nothing escapes and data isn’t useful.
There is often more data available about your customers and their companies than a salesperson can (or should) look at. Data can be distilled in different ways, but everyone needs access to a minimal data set that includes:
- Type of industry
- Amount of revenue
- Employee count
- Key management
Beyond this minimal set, the data you need really depends on the product you’re selling or the type of business relationship you want to establish. What’s more, the data you gather doesn’t have to be about leads; there’s a lot of other useful information out there. For example, where did your customers hear about you first? Which social media sites should you focus on?
Check out this example from For Entrepreneurs:
Gather Data the Lean Way
The biggest problem with big data is that it’s big.
I recently overheard a “big data brain” say, “We should just capture all data and figure out what to ask later.” And while there are disciplines (e.g., astronomy) where discovery does depend on capturing as much data as possible, sales isn’t one of them. Too much information is overwhelming and confusing, so you should gather data the same way you do your marketing: with a targeted approach.
Follow these three tips for gathering data the lean way:
- Develop a clear objective or hypothesis. Before you start collecting data, make sure you have a clear objective or hypothesis that directly ties into something that adds value to sales teams. This value should be quantifiable and apply to something tangible like increased efficiency, more revenue, or the elimination of weekend work.
- Capture the smallest amount of workable data. Collect the minimum amount of data that can test your hypothesis or support your objective. Even if you can’t answer your main question initially, capturing and experimenting with a small subset will enable you to better define the next set of data you need to capture or refine the question itself, allowing you to iterate after getting feedback on the utility, validity, and value of the data.
- Be prepared to handle bad data through automated or manual processes. The most overlooked part of any data-gathering project is data quality. Some error rate in data gathering is inevitable, but there are many automated tools — such as Trifacta and Amazon Mechanical Turk — that can be used to reduce bad data.
What to Do With All That Data
Once you have all this data, you need to know what to do with it.
To maximize the usefulness of the information you’ve collected, you should:
- Allow easy access. It’s often surprisingly difficult for sales teams to access information, and it’s not always due to a lack of data. Usually, the data is there, but it’s poorly organized and lacks a global sales portal, and salespeople are unable to search and export into visualization tools. Whenever data is collected, salespeople should have the training, documentation, and tools they need to access the information without IT involvement.
- Enable augmentation. Sales teams should be able to take various data and mash it together to produce more value for their use case without having to wait for a database administrator to add a field.
- Clean data. It’s time to come to terms with the fact that any data you collect will be dirty; data may be duplicated, the information may be stale, or the sources may be producing junk. Get comfortable with the cleaning process — you’re going to need it.
- Track conversions. Sales teams should track conversions, actions, and value added at each step to know the ROI. For example, if the data pertains to the customer’s industry, it should be linked to the customer’s account, and you should track how that information helped provide better service or sales.
- Know benchmarks. Industry benchmarks should be available beforehand for all conversion-related data. If the data pertains to a sales process such as lead generation, for example, then teams should know the average conversion length in their industry, from lead to response or sale.
- Gather feedback for iteration. Any data you gather should yield an action. Make sure you can get automated feedback on the data, its quality, and its value. Use this feedback to iterate continuously with business users and work backwards from the actions that will be taken as a result of the data you collect.
If you’re collecting data correctly, it should happen in a never-ending loop. Ask a question, gather minimal data, iterate, reform your question, and ask again. This loop — combined with the efficiency of gathering only the most meaningful data — is what makes data collection useful to sales in the long run rather than simply a novelty that creates a lot of work with little ROI.
Ian Sane | Courtesy of Aman Naimat