The next-generation sales force: Harnessing data to boost productivity

Published: February 2, 2016

Executive summary

Chief sales officers face a daunting set of trends today. They’re grappling with major changes in their markets brought on by information-empowered consumers and the digitization of sales channels and marketing. Growing competition, from established companies around the world as well as from startups, puts ever more pressure on margins and the effectiveness of sales organizations.

With all of these combined forces at work, most companies need to rethink their sales operations around a new model, one that calls for new approaches to both the way companies sell their products and the way their sales forces are organized. Though companies have long used customer data to determine their sales strategies, today there is so much expansive data available that what sets a sales force apart from its competitors is not the raw information on its own. Rather, it is the company’s talent for analyzing customer data in ways that will help it tap further into the most lucrative markets and service customers in the most efficient and cost-effective ways.

The new model — the next-generation sales force — is better equipped than any before it to adapt rapidly to changing market conditions, digital business models, and disruptive competitors. It is a sales force built, as always, around customer insights, but what distinguishes an effective sales force today is the ability to develop unique customer analysis and build its entire operation around that analysis.

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The age of big data

Sales organizations have an unprecedented amount of data available to them, to the point that information in itself is no longer a competitive advantage. What gives a company an edge over its competitors is the insight into how to use all of that information.

Sales teams have more real-time and personalized information than ever about clients, including customers’ past orders, interests, and shopping behavior. By knitting together a broader array of systems, including enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, the Internet of Things, and connected devices, companies can gather an extensive view of product, sales, marketing, production, and distribution. Add to that the rich trove of third-party reports and social media insights available to anyone who goes digging, and companies can equip themselves with vast reserves of information about market share, trends, and competition.

Once a sales organization acquires all of this data, however, the organization needs to unleash the power of the information at hand. By analyzing data in a much more rigorous and real-time way than most organizations have done to date, a company can plan its sales campaigns around strong customer insights.

At the same time, most companies will also need to reorganize their sales force around the digitization of markets and the standardization of sales around technology platforms. This kind of next-generation sales model will make it possible for an organization to optimize its sales channel mix based on “hot spots” of growth, so that it can make more money from its higher-value customers and lower the cost of serving less valuable customers. The new model is also aimed at boosting productivity. Systems integration and analytics can be used to streamline and increase the automation of sales processes, so that sales representatives can spend less of their time on administrative and follow-up tasks and more time selling.

The new model is also aimed at boosting productivity.

Conclusion

The implementation of a sales force transformation program is far more than just a technology-driven adjustment. It is a systematic transformation that hinges on embracing change throughout a company and on engaging the sales leadership, sales representatives, and back-office employees at all levels. However, the technological advances available today require that companies move from a traditional established approach founded on the personal expertise and knowledge of salespeople to a next-generation sales deployment model that can be much more powerful. In today’s data-driven work, this new analytical approach to sales force planning is crucial for competing in the marketplace.

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The next-generation sales force: Harnessing data to boost productivity

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