Managing a sales team in the age of data and artificial intelligence

benoit lefevre Published by Benoit Lefevre – 6 May 2022

When I talk about data and artificial intelligence with sales managers, they often look at me with wide eyes. Is this really for me? What does that mean? It’s all too abstract for most of them. Yet, like Sir Shakespeare with words, salespeople have been using data for a long time. I’ve always seen good salespeople taking some time analyzing their statistics and customer lists; actually, this is how they get ready for the hunt.

Today technology (i.e. digital tools, big data, artificial intelligence) allows going “faster, higher, stronger”.

1) Data & artificial intelligence are incredible boosters of sales performance

Customer loyalty, customer conquest, data and artificial intelligence can boost the performance of a sales team and consequently the overall commercial performance of the company.

Here are some concrete examples with tools that are common on the market today:

  • Business development for a customer: you want to develop a product or a service. Ultra-personalized marketing algorithms can predict a customer’s affinity for a particular solution for better targeting. They increase tenfold the efficiency of sales actions
  • Identification of customers at risk of loss: the so-called “churn” algorithms make it possible to detect customers who are leaving and to take corrective commercial actions in order to avoid their departure
  • Prospecting: prospect and tender databases are flourishing on the market and constitute a potential gold mine for a salesperson. However, it is important not to drown in them. Queries and algorithms can be used to qualify them, to evaluate the potential to prioritize your action
  • Optimization of sales time: sales route optimization software promises 20% to 30% more visits

2) But the appropriation of these tools by the sales teams is not self-evident

“We equipped our sales team with the latest CRM and BI software powered by artificial intelligence. It cost us a fortune. It’s got everything in it, but most salespeople use it at 10% of its capabilities. How often have I heard this fatalistic speech from general management or sales management, even in the best structured large groups?

Sales teams are not “naturally” data-driven. Most salespeople don’t spontaneously have a taste for statistics and tables of figures. The objections are always the same. Let’s quote some of them:

  • “There’s always more data, always more tables to track us”
  • “We spend more and more time in administration analyzing charts. During this time, we are not at the clients’.
  • “I know my customers and my industry. I don’t need all this data to develop my business.

Therefore, the appropriation of data is a crucial subject of change management, not always easy. Given its impact on the business, this mission is and will be more and more at the heart of managers’ responsibilities. So how to succeed in this transformation: here are some concrete tips from my successes and failures in this field.

3) 6 tips for making your sales team data-driven

  • Get involved in the subject: as is often the case, managerial exemplarity is crucial on the subject of data. How many sales managers ask their teams to use BI (business intelligence) or CRM software that they rarely open? Do your weekly or monthly reviews based on the tools and data you ask your teams to use. And then you’ll see that well-presented data often replaces a long speech.
  • Give meaning to the data, link the data to the business; according to the now well-known popular expression, “data is the oil of the 21st century”. This may seem obvious to you, but it is not necessarily so for a sales team. “Our targeting algorithm allowed a 30% increase in the opening rate of our last promotional e-mailing”. This is what the marketing director happily voiced in front of some apathetic salespeople! No wonder they didn’t show any interest, he had forgotten to translate this success expressed in cold data into business impact. Develop for yourself the discipline to systematically translate the benefits of data into the number of customers or business won, in € of turnover or margin development.
  • Transform your salespeople into data players. You know the adage with data, don’t you? “Garbage in, garbage out”. As part of the data comes from your salespeople, you have to find the levers to motivate them to become “producers” of quality data for the organization. Here again, feedback is fundamental: communicate to your team how the information collected on the ground allowed you to make a difference in a key account meeting or how the marketing department was able to adapt its last campaign’s targeting thanks to the salespeople’s data.
  • Accompany salespeople who are not comfortable with digital: who says data says digital, and not all salespeople are “digital savvy”. Some will show some resistance to the use of data. You may think they don’t want to when in fact, they don’t know how to. Don’t underestimate the time wasted and the anxiety generated by using an IT tool one doesn’t master.
  • Keep it simple: too much data kills the data. Forget about Excel tables with ten exhaustive tabs. You have to know how to choose your battles, not multiply the tables and indicators. You will see the commercial power of a sales team where everyone looks at and shares the same data with their customers. This exploitation of data will then become a solid pillar of your sales policy.
  • Be visual and playful: when it comes to data, form counts. A dry table of figures is a turn-off for a sales team. Of course, use graphics and colors. But today, you can go much further. Many data visualization or data storytelling solutions on the market allow for super impactful presentations. If possible, use the logos of your customers in your charts. Use geographical maps when relevant. Use small, fun apps that entice your teams to play with the data. If your data have a “business feel”, your teams won’t have enough of it 😉

The use of data has completely transformed the coaching of sports teams, from soccer to cycling to sailing. So, get ready to accompany your sales teams to the top level with a “data-driven” approach! The tools exist, but it is your change management approach that will make the difference. Commercial Performance and customer satisfaction wait for you at the end of the road.

You are curious to know how we tackle that challenge at Halifax, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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