For half a century, the best marketing and sales campaigns were much more art than science. Think of those memorable lines from the Mad Men era, like Clairol’s “Does she… or doesn’t she?” or Avis’s “We try harder.” Then there’s the brilliance of Frances Gerety’s line “A diamond is forever,” which arguably launched an entire industry in the United States. But then data revolutionized marketing, and now the best marketers are using analytics to drive each step of the buying process.

Consumers don’t know your brand? Marketing teams use media listening, social listening, and other sophisticated tools to arrive at this conclusion, and a similar set of tools to help you remedy it. The public is searching for products like yours but isn’t finding you? SEO software might just be the ticket.

There’s a whole ecosystem of marketing analytics programs that boost everything from generating awareness to optimizing every stage of the customer journey. The same isn’t always true in sales.

In fact, as late as 2016, McKinsey noted that a data-driven approach was almost nonexistent in some corners of the sales world. While the fastest-growing sales teams were using analytics effectively, many did not view themselves as effective data users. “Many companies struggle to benefit from even basic analytics,” the consultants wrote, “while some have yet to even dip their toes in the data lake at all.”

Why is Building a Data-Driven Sales Team So Important?

Convincing your sales team to take a data-driven approach is critical. Their view of data can spill over into daily interactions and handoffs with the marketing team, and it can in fact influence how data is used in the entire organization. It can also give a huge boost to the bottom line.

Just one example in this vein: Using data to set the right sales targets is crucial for everything, from compensation to KPIs. Target-setting should include data that’s robust enough that it can be segmented to reflect everyone you’re selling to.

A global manufacturing company told a team at Harvard Business Review that, once it segmented sales targets and designed a forecasting algorithm for each one, the accuracy of its forecasts shot up by 80%.

So once you’re on board with using data to drive sales strategy, the question is: How do you convince salespeople to follow suit?

1. Show, don’t tell, what a data-driven approach has to offer

Rather than simply rolling out a set of directives, inspire your team first with the dazzling results they’ll get from using data. An executive’s job is to execute, right? Sometimes it’s chief cheerleader and storyteller, and getting people on the same page to perform a task can be more about carrot than stick.

There’s an often cited quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” So don’t just order them to use data; demonstrate what data can do, and they’ll be more inclined to start testing it out on their own.

2. Assess how you use data in your existing sales process

This can include targeting data (as in the example above), demographics and other information, or broader questions, such as how your own team uses its time.

For example, what percentage of your staff’s hours are spent on selling versus on prospecting or more menial tasks like scheduling meetings? A rash of studies have found that most salespeople spend more than 60% of their time on other activities besides selling. Just think how many more deals your salespeople might land if they spent less time on data entry and more time talking to potential customers.

3. Take stock of the quality of your data

Sales directors often take a hard look at the quality of leads flowing to their team from marketing and outreach efforts – but make sure you’re examining the data flow the other way too. For example: sales reps may continuously mark leads as unqualified, with no indicators about the reason why.

This means the marketing department will have few clues about why a campaign or effort was unsuccessful. On the flip side, giving a reason may help show a pattern that can help marketers double down on campaigns that work and pull back on those that don't, so budget can be more wisely spent.

4. Automate your process

Once you determine how much team time is spent on boring tasks like CRM data entry and writing follow-up emails, make it your job to see how much of it you can automate away.

This will free up your team to dive into other projects, like forging relationships with new clients (or, alternatively, thinking of new ways to challenge them).

5. Measure the effects of this automation

Raw sales numbers and the company’s bottom line can always serve as something of a north star. But neither of these give a complete picture of how the sales team is really doing, or a good guide for how to steer the ship from day to day.

Take the lead conversion rate, for example, which might help fill in part of the picture: it can tell you not only how your team is performing, but also how it’s improving over time. The rate can reflect marketing efforts too, and can be improved as the two teams hand off better data to each other.

In addition to metrics like the ones Hubspot lists here, there’s one more number to keep an eye on: how long a lead stays in each stage. Patterns that emerge here can give incredibly valuable insights, like how long it takes certain kinds of opportunities to turn into deals. This can tell you where to focus your efforts and also how and where even more automation might help shorten the cycles.

In Business, Don’t Go With Your Gut

The classic sales personality is confident and charismatic, a person who acts on instinct and is well schooled in the art of persuasion. But as attractive as gut instincts or split-second decisions may be, they’re rarely the right thing for a business.

Sure, you might get lucky and land a big deal once in a while, however, these days  there’s so much good data available to savvy sales teams that the numbers are simply too compelling to ignore.

Now is a great time to size up how you use data in your current sales process, show your team what data can do, and automate your process where possible – and always remember to measure the results going forward.

Monique Sherman

Written by Monique Sherman

Monique is Head of Marketing at Automation Hero, a platform that meshes robotic process automation (RPA) with artificial intelligence (AI) to help businesses automate repetitive software-based processes. At Automation Hero, Monique leverages her expertise in developing and executing integrated marketing campaigns to help clearly articulate the company's narrative and business value to the market.