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Today’s business leaders are making rapid, high-level decisions at unprecedented rates, and fast, accurate sales data is more important than ever in guiding these decisions.
Sales data is anything that can be measured throughout the sales process. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems play a key role in collecting, maintaining and deploying this data. While CRM systems provide the foundation, you must understand how to uncover your key data indicators to view trends, sales and inventory performance and growth opportunities within your business.
Collecting the data is where the work begins, and every company has unique indicators that must be identified to find success. Sales teams today wear many hats throughout the sales cycle, and our teams do many tasks aside from selling. We are tasked with developing leads, maintaining and nurturing customer relationships, and offering daily customer support. Data is one way we can quickly analyze the market and optimize our sales teams’ use of time.
We asked several AIM/R vendors for deeper insight into data and its role in today’s sales cycle. Our panel included April Slepian of Empowering Systems, Kim Burke at ISQuote/Interep Systems and John Mitchell with Repfabric.
Jon Wiggs: Why is data important?
April Slepian: It allows the agency to know where the business has been so you can see trends, know where your business is thriving and where the weaknesses are. With data you can see if you’re selling across all your lines, where you’re selling and how much you’re selling. Have sales grown? If so, where? Have sales dropped off? If so, where? Is it a market, a salesperson, a line, the economy?
Then you can take appropriate action. With data analytics, you can take educated action and make informed decisions.
JW: How can data be used as an asset?
John Mitchell: Next to people, data is the most valuable asset for any organization. Prospect and customer contacts, spec and stock opportunities, product information, prior sales, and sales activity combine to create a sales engine that becomes a consistent and measurable process. That process recipe becomes repeatable and, therefore, improvable.
AS: “What gets measured, gets improved.” This quote from famed management consultant Peter Drucker has never been more relevant than today, but it doesn’t tell us the whole story. The quote is from long before the era of big data, business analytics software and the information overload we face today. Using analytics takes the blindfold off and lets you clearly see where your business has been and where it’s going. It helps transform the overload of information into actionable data.
Kim Burke: Beyond just dollars and numbers, keeping good call reporting, relationships and buying decision records can add great value. It’s true it takes additional time to document the information but, in the end, it can prove to be a time saver when it comes to writing those annual reports.
Additionally, should you sell your company, this historical data becomes very valuable to a prospective buyer. Job tracking, identifying key players such as architects and engineers, contractors and the competition, as well as tagging job spec status, won/loss by manufacturer and dollar values can give you a full layout of how your product line is performing and locating missed opportunities.
JW: Since the start of COVID-19, we have seen unprecedented price changes. How is this data effectively managed and shared throughout?
JM: In the past, many companies focused on sales dollar comparisons for growth. This year versus last year’s sales dollars — are we up or down? Because pricing was relatively stable, this worked well. With COVID-19, price increases destroyed the sales dollar measurement as the only metric.
We see many of our clients now moving to metrics involving quantities and pounds shipped to customers rather than measuring on sales dollars so they can understand the true market demand. This quantity-based measurement helps you understand the overall market and market share gains and losses.
AS: A CRM solution should include the ability to manage pricing changes at the product line and part number level. At a macro level, you can see changes in analytics.
JW: Data demand has increased year over year. Where do you see this going into the future of sales?
JM: It is only going to increase. MBA schools have taught data-based decision-making for 30 years or more, and those MBA graduates run our companies now. Data requests are a consequence of not having the analysis on hand to offer the insight your boss or manufacturer seeks.
If you can offer the insight directly, such as why customers order your new hero products, they won’t ask for the raw data. They are asking for data so they themselves can analyze it to detect the insight, often because you have not done so. Data demand is not needed when you can accurately answer the “Why?” question.
JW: What are fast data and actionable data, and how are they used within your companies?
JM: Fast data is a concept of high-velocity data feeds from various sources that feed your analysis engine so your sales team can act. In our wholesale world, we have very little fast data. There are many areas for improvement, such as sales and commission reports for reps (who often receive data from wholesalers’ sales months after the invoice).
Bringing data closer to real-time for-vendor pricing, stock checks and more will help us engage buyers who expect it due to the “Amazon effect” of next-day Prime delivery for goods they buy for personal use. Building your organization’s competency in these areas faster than your competition will help you win more business from those buyers on this new real-time, connected digital battlefield.
It will require investment, but your customer experience will demand it as a part of doing business in this decade and beyond.
AS: Fast data is real-time data that reps can get from the manufacturers. Actionable data is information providing insight into the future. With analytics, we compose the data entered into our software and transform it into visuals and trends that make it easy for the rep to have a clear picture of where their business is and what they should do in the future.
Jon Wiggs, CPMR, CSP, is president of Wiggs-Haun & Bohan. He started with the independent sales agency after graduating from the University of Tennessee in 2005. Wiggs serves as one of the firm’s representatives and contacts with AIM/R and is a 2016 graduate from the University of Texas CPMR (Certified Manufacturers Representative) program. He serves on the board of directors for AIM/R. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.