The Riddle of Sales Data

An abundance of sales data. How can that be a bad thing?  After all, what company wouldn’t want to know what they’ve sold, what they expected to sell, and who they sold it to? Pretty straightforward and necessary stuff, right?

But as we are apt to do, in our desire for more and more data, we’ve created an overabundance of it. First printed sheets gave way to spreadsheets. Physical mail gave way to email. Now office hours have given way to an always-connected, on-any-device, and at-any-time world. (That’s a real thing – look it up).

With all this data, it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. And the real kicker? Chaff is not always chaff, and wheat is not always wheat.

If you’re wondering if this is some sort of riddle – well, yes, actually, it is. It’s the riddle of sales data. And like any riddle, learning how to read that data and paying attention to the subtleties are key.

For instance, you can’t just classify something as “unimportant” across the board, all the time. Certain indicators ARE important in certain situations. But you not only need to know when to look, but why as well. And good luck just ignoring it altogether. Studies have shown that companies that use sales analytics effectively show productivity rates and profitability 5-6 percent higher than those of their peers.

But data without context is just noise. And if you think it’s noisy now, just wait. According to CSC, a leading IT services and solutions firm, annual data generation will increase 4,300% by 2020. (Yes, that’s the real figure. There’s not an extra zero in there.)

So how can you put all of that data into context? Let’s take a look.

Focus on the important indicators.

What led to your sales success (or lack of success)? Was it time, approach, or timing? Data tells a story, but that story starts at the end. You need to figure out how you got there by working backward. While past performance may be a good indicator of future success, data can show you the why behind your results – providing the insight that can catapult you to greater success.

Are 70% of your sales coming from 30% of your clients? If so, what percentage of their time are your salespeople spending on those clients? Those numbers can help you better allocate your time and attention where it’s going to drive the highest return.

 Read between the lines.

Sometimes the minutia of sales data can sharpen and hone your sales strategies. Let’s say that nationwide, you control 60% of the sales in your industry. That’s good, right?

But what if you look at your sales at a macro level? The “nitty gritty”, so to speak? Well, this data might tell a different story if you know how to interpret it. This data might tell you that you control 80% in established, slow-growth areas, but only 5% in high-growth markets. So yes, overall you are a leader at 60%, but in failing to capture this growth upside, you might not stay the leader for long.

That’s the kind of data that can and should influence your sales strategy. If not, your story shifts from one of an industry leader to one of a soon to be stagnant company.

Not all data is created equal.

Here’s something you’ll love hearing. It’s okay to skip some pages in those endless sales reports. Again, this is not an across the board strategy; rather it’s a matter of prioritizing your needs and mapping those needs to relevant metrics and measurements. Trying to interpret and incorporate every bit of data that emerges from your systems is a recipe for exhaustion. Instead, identify the data that tells a meaningful story and ignore the rest. Not all data is created equal – and more importantly, not all data is important to all people. What’s worthless to you might be the Holy Grail of insight to a different department.

The future is going to get more data-intensive, no doubt. Rather than drowning your management in unfocused data, decide what they need to know and curate that data delivery for them. Quantity is not synonymous with quality – and quality data is what will drive your sales team forward.