Data and Sales Strategy: The Macro vs. the Micro

As a sales maker, who’s been a few places, I have had a chance to see up close and personal many of the similarities and differences within companies across different industries. One similarity I’ve found is companies’ love of data and how it’s often off (what I like to call dirty), which can often lead to tension between strategy and tactical execution.

One situation was a company whose company-wide macro data demonstrated that the ideal customer profile (ICP) was companies with 1-10 employees. The expectation was that these companies would support a minimum monthly rate of 150k in revenue with continued growth. After pulling reports, the actual ICP was the state and local agencies, the 20% of customers that made up 80% of the revenue. Interviewing the top customers led to understanding how much opportunity we missed by order-taking rather than making them aware of our full capabilities. This meant retraining sales folks to make sure their pitch highlighted our complete offerings succinctly (and studying contracts and bids). This enabled the sales team to work smarter, not harder, and grow steadily.  

In another career adventure, I ventured to an entirely new market with very few current sponsors. I built out a growth plan by looking at the event’s competitors, finding their sponsors, and calling them. The thought behind my strategy was that the companies investing in my competitor event already see the value of sponsoring events, so it was a me-too play (not to be confused with #metoo). Otherwise, I have to convince a company why they have a need and then to choose us—a two-step process, rather than one. I like to start with the low-hanging fruit first to get faster traction, so…

I explained the event I was now head of and asked what factors they use to decide what events they will attend or support. They shared with me what they use to measure: cost, timing (does it conflict with other proven events), ROI (leads, conversions for their products, target audience). While the company had attendee data, it didn’t provide this level of granularity, so I delved into the attendee list to determine their profile for the sponsors to answer their questions and help them decide whether they want to take a risk with my event. I put on my to-do list how I needed to understand the attendees better to focus on meeting their needs and desires and attracting more like them. I went through and manually sorted through attendees (there were only a couple hundred, so while it was tedious, it wasn’t impossible). I was able to break attendees into 3-types and develop rough percentages for the sponsors. Then I focused on the attendees and learned how better to serve their needs through surveys and follow-up phone calls.  

Sales isn’t hard, but it is hard work, in my opinion. I’ll take rough data any day as a starting point. It’s better than sheer guesswork, even if it’s off. However, I like to go in as a skeptic and validate or correct the data and revise strategy based on what I’ve found. I’ve seen things go wrong when companies provide dirty data and treat it as though it’s indisputable. When the results don’t align with expectations, some companies treat sales reps as a will or skill problem rather dig into the results and understand the strategy may need to be revised. Others alter the plan to course correct.  

Often, there is also a reluctance on the sales makers’ part to do the data/admin parts that can help set them up for long-term success. Many of us like to talk to people. It’s why we got into sales in the first place. There are countless memes on updating Salesforce, a necessary evil that many salespeople try to avoid. There’s some truth in every joke, and salespeople love/hate relationships with customer relationship management software (CRM) is right at the top. 

Most of the account sets I’ve dealt with have some level of dirty data. What can I say? People change jobs. In the SMB space, they change them a lot. I’m a clean data advocate. It’s one of the keys to sales success, in my opinion. Ensuring accurate information is key to optimizing efforts because sales takes a long-term approach, rather than one-call closes, in the spaces I’ve sold in. Hitting metrics with dirty data may look good in the moment and will do nothing for the company I support (or my paycheck) unless I correct it to set myself up for future success.

I’ve persuaded reps to embrace data-driven strategies that the company enacts, some of which seemed unlikely to succeed. I’ve level set with them – if we embrace it entirely and collect the necessary data and it doesn’t succeed, I can explain that strategy/data/market fit is an issue and defend it. I have, too. I also paid for it, too, when it wasn’t welcome. Not everyone can accept feedback.

Businesses need to know what’s wrong to pivot, and a strategy is better than no strategy. We can always course-correct based on what we’ve learned as long as we’re willing. It’s also difficult to argue with the data presented to them at a granular level. I’ve seen people argue it when they don’t want to believe anything besides what they want to think. I don’t want to be negative, so I’ll say if you can see the ship is running into an iceberg and no one’s changing course, find the nearest boat. Self-preservation is good.

By trying new methods, we might also find a way that works better. We won’t know it until we try it. I’ve managed to get people on board by explaining that. While reps’ notes may not be as comprehensive as I would have done, I appreciate the effort, and we can get better from there.

My takeaway for reps: Set yourself up for success by cleaning the data as you go. If you are part of a team, enter it into Salesforce so everyone has the same data and can make progress on your team’s behalf. It’s a force multiplier. I’ve seen reps keep private notes, so data is lost if they are fired or the account set moves. While I understand the desire for self-preservation, help yourself and the company by keeping it up to date in Salesforce. I update salesforce and I’ve performed well in sales for a very long time now. If a company is going to fire you, they will find a way regardless of whether your notes are up-to-date.

My takeaway for leaders (middle management): I have the utmost respect for your role to execute the strategy that senior leadership drives, usually based on trends in the marketplace and the data they have on hand, which will likely be dirty to some degree, although hopefully on the cleaner side. Please remember that sales makers are learning what actually works by trial and error and can often provide necessary feedback. The data or its interpretation on a macro-level isn’t always correct. 

Many salespeople are new and don’t know what they don’t know. They are often likely to take the easy route, thinking they are efficient but doing themselves a disservice in the long run (i.e., calling the one contact they believe is the decision-maker listed in the CRM rather than verifying the contact and going in three deep, three wide). It’s up to you to explain why going the extra mile is in their best interest for the long haul as they build momentum.

All: Want someone to think through strategy with you? Reach out. I’m happy to bounce ideas. I’ll ask you to provide a testimonial if it helps. If not, at least you tried, and you have that peace of mind. 

Happy selling and…if necessary, happy pivoting. 

1 thought on “Data and Sales Strategy: The Macro vs. the Micro”

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