Missing Metric: The human side of sales analytics
Guided by people KPIs alongside activity metrics, analytics are transforming sales management.
By Lisa Clark
The days of thinking about sales professionals as glad-handers who achieve results through client lunches and wheedling are over. As data-driven sales and marketing approaches take off, a new breed of sales staff is helping category-leading organizations achieve their audacious revenue targets via data science, predictive analytics and automation. The trend is giving rise to an exciting field of new sales tech that already is showing positive returns.
The shift has arrived not a minute too soon. Data from the Corporate Executive Board suggests that 57 percent of the purchase decision is made before the buyer even engages a sales rep. Ready online access means buyers do their homework on product features and benefits well in advance. Markets are burgeoning with choices, and new competitors are cropping up all the time. Differentiation is increasingly more difficult to achieve – and maintain. By the time the sales rep calls, the buyer expects a consultative discussion with thoughtful context on how the company’s solution uniquely solves their pain.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software is the most common way to report on sales process data, particularly in B2B companies. Despite widespread use of CRM, sales activity level reporting and other process automation is only the starting point for monitoring what’s important in driving revenue. The “rearview” results they deliver are, by definition, lagging indicators of sales performance.
In the past 18 months or so, a new set of sales analytics technologies have moved to the top of the “sales stack.” They are a group of interoperable technology applications, often integrated with CRM that can support sales enablement functions ranging from content delivery and account planning to sales capabilities measurement and management. They are driving a renaissance in sales technology that has been likened to the early days of the marketing technology boom that gave rise to powerful automation platforms, such as Eloqua and Marketo. Industry analysts have identified more than 60 sales stack solutions in nine sales categories  from which organizations can choose to address potential gaps that might exist in their sales process, or simply get ideas based on specific sales process needs.
The Missing Metric: People
Missing from CRM’s powerful set of engagement, process and activity metrics is the one intangible that can make – or break – pipeline and revenue goals: the capabilities of sales people. B2B selling is still reliant on human interaction somewhere along the way to inform, differentiate, clarify and ultimately close the deal. While most sales analytics solutions in the stack can tell managers and executives what and when their sales reps are doing various activities, and even the next, best prospect to call on, they do not reveal how well-suited the sales people are to even win a deal.
Among the most interesting new categories in the “stack” are sales capabilities platforms, which offer both prescriptive and predictive metrics on a company’s human capacity to win deals, including real-time market and industry knowledge levels, sales confidence or proficiency with the unique steps of an organization’s sales process. These analytics quantify the human factor – as in, the capabilities of the people who are the sales reps interacting with your customers – that is often the missing link in the analytics view of the sales profession. Sales capabilities platforms recognize that there’s an intangible human experience that takes priority over a gazillion data points and often unites the various layers of the “stack” so they work as a cohesive whole.
The Power of ‘People KPIs’ with CRM Data
In early 2015, a $3 billion global Internet company headquartered in San Francisco’s Bay Area, undertook a sweeping global initiative to improve sales performance through a data-driven coaching program. Data from the range of sales acceleration solutions employed by the company became the basis for synthesizing individualized coaching actions. Missing from their strategy to arm front-line sales managers with real-time insights was some kind of metric on the skill set of the sales reps involved.
To address this, the company established a coaching dashboard that tracks key performance indicators (KPIs) for each sales rep. The framework takes data from three sources:
1) sales-related attainment metrics from its CRM system, such as individual quota attainment and win rate;
2) metrics for selling skill sets as observed and documented by the sales coach; and
3) sales rep proficiency and engagement metrics from a sales capabilities platform such as Qstream that analyzes data from thousands of sales rep responses to scenario-based challenges presented to sales reps.
These scenario challenge responses reflect sales rep proficiency at critical selling capabilities from prospecting, countering objections, addressing questions while following regulatory guidelines of various industries, and closing.
Using the dashboard, sales coaches were able to quickly target and prioritize their 1:1 coaching plans. The dashboard also rolled up overall team skills, summarizing group performance so team-wide gaps in required knowledge or behavior can be quickly identified and addressed. At the sales rep level, the dashboard presents a personalized “rubric” specific to their performance and other qualitative measures based on 1:1 input from their coaches.
Now 1:1 meetings run more efficiently and help surface potential issues faster. The use of a sales capability metrics sends a subtle message that 1:1s are not simply pipeline reviews. It also documents accountability for both managers and reps.
Navigating Dynamic Market Change
A provider of automated solutions for securing open source software, Black Duck Software’s sales reps need to have a broad understanding of the open source movement, legal compliance, security management and software development markets to adequately address the needs of its C-suite customers around the globe. In addition, reps must be able to communicate clearly with executives in functions outside of IT and across a range of industries. In addition to the many sales enablement tools Black Duck employs in its sales stack, including an internal knowledgebase and dialogs where various open source topics are discussed, its sales executives sought a more engaging, scalable and continuous way to ensure to manage and measure the core capabilities of its sales reps as market shifts occurred.
Black Duck Software also employed a sales capabilities platform. The system gathered hundreds of thousands of data points through simple, scenario-based challenges delivered to sales reps’ mobile devices on a range of security issues and core messaging they needed to be aware of when speaking with customers. System-generated dashboards provided sales management with a snapshot of rep competencies and individualized coaching actions synthesized from response data.
A 98 percent engagement rate – a metric on how often and quickly the reps responded to the challenges – showed that Black Duck sales reps were tuned in to the challenges daily and provided insights into rep confidence levels. As a result, the overall proficiency score on security topics, for example, rose from a baseline of 76 percent to 91 percent within weeks. Sales managers were enthusiastic about being able to see how their teams were performing using sales capabilities data, and expressed satisfaction that the teams were getting the reinforcement they needed to successfully manage customer questions.
Through data-driven insights, sales capabilities platforms take a quantitative approach to a process most often qualitatively measured. The opportunity to quantify the human side of selling and better manage via analytics in this way is transformative, exciting and a dramatic change to the way that sales management is conducted. It’s just one of the examples of ways that analytics are rewriting entire business functions to make them smarter and more efficient.
Lisa Clark is vice president of marketing at Qstream, a provider of a mobile sales capabilities platform used by leading brands in technology, financial services and life sciences, including 14 of the world’s top 15 pharmaceutical companies, to manage the effectiveness of their sales channels and front-line managers.