coffee cups

I’m always amused when someone proclaims we’re now in “the Big Data Era.”

It suggests that somehow the amount of data has increased, as if the world is now operating in a different way.

In reality, all that has changed is our ability to record and, more importantly, analyze data. In addition, we’ve just grown more aware that activity of all types generates data.

The world hasn’t changed, but our perception of the world has shifted.

Look at the Context

As with any seismic shift, especially since the advent of the information age, it’s easy to fixate on the new without putting it into context.

Now combine all that excitement about big data with the reality of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the promise of business environments that enable organizations to be truly customer-centric emerges.

Organizations can now intuit things about their customers: signals sent from their devices can indicate everything from the need to restock consumables to replace all or part of the device itself.

Sales can be completed without sales people, in a totally automated way.

Customers can avoid breakdowns and inconvenience, and minimize their personal interactions with the companies with which they do business.

More Automation, More Anxiety

If you’re in sales, you look at that scenario with trepidation.

Doesn't it make sales people less important?

More concerning, doesn’t it make sales people seem less important to the C-level executives who are eagerly looking to reduce headcount?

But I argue that if you’re in sales — and if your management is sharp — you should see this emerging era of increased perception as a huge boon.

It’s Still About Trust

The businesses that will prosper in this data-intensive environment won’t be the ones who fixate on data. They’ll be the ones who do the best job of earning the trust of customers so they can use that data.

It’s not enough to tell a business that the use of IoT concepts will result in on-time delivery of supplies and just-before-it-breaks automatic service.

Sure, those things sound great. But before executives are willing to put the productivity of their companies on the line, you have to earn their trust.

Sell It To Me

That’s a sales function.

  • How well can you describe the IoT as it affects your customers?
  • How have other customers fared?
  • What unique things about the potential customer’s business will enable IoT concepts to be especially effective?

Delivering answers to these questions is something salespeople have to do during the sales process.

The other question that needs to be answered revolves around the ways customer data is used, stored, protected and shared.

Until these concerns are addressed, many businesses will be leery of embracing the IoT.

These are conversations that are not limited to new customers.

As a business evolves toward a data-intensive approach to its customers, sales will need to sell existing customers on new ways of doing business.

They’ll have to persuade them to receive service and interact in a more responsive yet more automated way.

Too Much Information

Trust is critical — automation provides an opportunity for unscrupulous businesses to over-bill, provide service before it’s needed and exploit an imbalance in information, where the seller knows more about the buyer’s specific circumstances than the buyer.

Salespeople will have to explain the ways a given company makes data available to offset that imbalance, and to build the trust in its own processes for using data.

The IoT will also challenge sales reps to maintain contact with customers in new ways.

Occasions when a customer had to call to re-order or schedule service have given sales a gift-wrapped opportunity to talk to customers, assess their changing needs, up-sell and cultivate the relationship.

These customer-driven opportunities will dry up as IoT allows businesses to behave more proactively. But smart sales people will seize on the opportunity to become more strategic in their communications with customers.

Hopefully, if the business is using the data it’s constantly receiving from customers the right way, sales reps will be calling customers who are more satisfied and who have a better opinion of their vendor and its responsiveness.

Communication is Key

If that’s the case, upselling and a deepening of relationships will actually be easier in the IoT era.

At the same time, because much of the relationship is automated, regular communication will be critical to ensure that the data is in fact being used correctly to build solid customer relationships.

There’s a flip side to this evolution toward a more data-intensive sales relationship.

While we always think of the IoT as something powered by passively reporting devices. But the world is also filled with people, behaving actively.

Because people are increasingly using technology to report on, for example, sales activities, those activities are being recorded and reported.

Extending the IoT metaphor, salespeople themselves are data sensors and transmitters.

And while many businesses are gearing up to take advantage of the data they’re getting from things, not as many are preparing to harness the data generated by people in a similar way.

Understanding Behaviors

For sales, the data is not strictly about sales activities, like numbers of calls.

It’s also about the size, nature and velocity of closed deals. It could include correlation of sales’ efforts at communication with churn numbers, or an examination of how discounting in the initial deal affects loyalty or a computation of the average discount.

As these sorts of numbers roll in, managers can tweak behavior and understand the results of those changes, and do it continuously.

This requires a different sort of platform — ideally, one based around the compensation management system and related systems of action. But the idea is very much the same as that of the IoT, only less abstract.

We are not dealing with more data today than we were in the past — we’re just better able to perceive more of it, faster and to apply analytics to it in a more effective way.

It’s critical that we also understand our customers’ perceptions of us, and our own perceptions of our sales teams’ performance.

The businesses who thrive in this new, more data-intensive age will be the ones who not only comprehend the data but who master the art of extracting the right insights from it and connecting those insights to actions.