How to Use Numbers to Increase Your Numbers: The Role of Data in Driving Sales

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By John Turner

If I can give you one word of advice that could revolutionize your number of sales wins, it would be the word “data.”

TriNet is a data-driven culture – and the activities of my sales team are driven by metrics. In fact, all of our strategies and tactics are backed by data. If you sat in a weekly meeting of any of our sales teams, in any vertical industry in which we operate, you will likely hear the word “data” come up several times. We are constantly asking, “What does the data show?” “What data do we have to justify this action?” “According to the data, how did we do?”

When my CEO asks me, “How is sales going?” I don’t respond with “good” or even “great.” These words don’t tell him anything. Instead, I give him our sales numbers, our leading indicators, how we’re doing on proposals, the financial successes of our reps, our client retention rate, the number of prospects we have in the pipeline, our penetration of the vertical industries we serve, and development of the general business landscape.  

The reason I’m sharing all this with you is not to show off how great my team and I are at math. I simply want to give you the tools to use data to increase your numbers – because a data-focused sales organization works. I know this because the data tells me so. Here’s what I mean.

Data Sharpens Your Aim

So many sales professionals I encounter use personal observation of their business landscape as their basis for creating a sales strategy. While intuition and field observation are important, they are far too subjective to be the sole deciding factor of something as important as the success of your business. I guide my sales leaders to first look at the data and then observe the data in action out in the field. It is truly an eye-opening approach the first time you do it.

If you are not using data to drive your actions, you are firing from the hip. For me, it’s like buying a house without first assessing the home’s value, hiring an inspector, or even doing a walk-through. It’s an unnecessary risk that could result in disaster. Your great personality, natural sales talent, and knowledge of the industry may get you some wins – but data will tell you where to focus all those great qualities, how to do so with the smallest investment of time and money, and how well your efforts paid off.

Data Reinforces Your Sales Culture

In a previous post, I wrote about another proven strategy in sales leadership: creating a winning sales culture. Data feeds directly into the strength of this winning culture – and vice versa. It firmly roots measurement and accountability into your organization’s daily practice. When data is part of your organization, there is less second-guessing of decisions, more confidence in management, and more trust that everyone is working from the same playbook.

A sales rep armed with data is a sales rep who is confident and assured when approaching a potential customer. This is a rep who can answer a prospect’s questions with facts and hard numbers not speculation. The result of integrating data into your organization is the culture of transparency, inclusion, and teamwork I discussed in my previous post on culture.  

How to Implement Data into Your Sales Organization

Creating a culture that utilizes data is incredibly easy. Just start by measuring everything and teaching your team to do the same.

Okay, so getting your data-driven culture off the ground is a significant time investment. But it’s an investment that I promise will pay off in sales wins, sales rep retention, and organizational success. And, if implemented well, data will become second nature to your business.

I use and highly recommend two things in order to start ingraining data into your sales culture. I talk about these in more detail below:

  • A strong customer relationship management (CRM) database
  • A victory plan

Why You Should Invest in a CRM Database

A database is just that – the basis for all your data. If you don’t have a CRM database, get one. It will streamline gathering, reporting, and analyzing your data. Please don’t rely on spreadsheets, self-reporting, or some other willy-nilly tactic. A database can remove guesswork, margin of error, and wasted time. It also helps you maintain quality customer service and retention.

At TriNet, my team uses Salesforce and I highly recommend it. Personally, I find it to be the best tool on the market for serious data users.

Create (and Rely on) a Victory Plan

My victory plan is an annual plan that measures everything you can measure in a sales organization, including trends, history, successes, failures, and all the output from our database.

The details of this victory plan are not static. I review and update it daily. Thanks to our database, it includes information and feedback from the most entry-level sales rep, through our frontline managers, and all the way up the sales pipeline to me.  

My victory plan quickly answers the question, “How is sales going?” It prevents us from being reliant on that popular bane to sales success: lagging indicators. Lagging indicators are a way of looking at the performance of your sales efforts after the fact. This is akin to driving your car by using only the rearview mirror as a guide. If you aren’t looking at the road ahead, you will not only miss your upcoming turns but you will have a lot of trouble avoiding potential accidents.

Your victory plan replaces lagging indicators with leading indicators, which are tools that let you look into future possibilities so you can plan your strategy for success. A good victory plan full of leading indicators – will include business results, customer information, prospect information, retention information, sales rep information, patterns, and trends – all things readily available in your CRM database.

A victory plan based on solid data and leading indicators lets you make adjustments to your sales plan before you deliver on the results. It changes you from a reactive organization to a proactive one. Of course, being proactive is much more efficient – and has a higher rate of success – than being reactive.

The other good thing about my victory plan is that it is readily available when it comes time for me to report to my CEO, investors, and our board of directors.

I would love to hear your thoughts on using data in sales. How do you implement metrics into your own victory plan?

John Turner is senior vice president of sales for TriNet, where he has grown the sales force to seven times its size since 2012.

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