Talk to any salesperson and they’ll tell you that personal experience and relationship-building are core aspects of their job. Not to mention gut feelings, especially when it comes to assessing new leads or choosing which accounts to focus their attention.

That’s why many sales teams bristle at the idea of ‘data-driven decision-making’. It’s almost anathema to the ways sales team have operated for centuries. The pushback is fierce and often decisive – they just won’t change what they’re doing because of what a spreadsheet tells them.

Dun & Bradstreet are in the business of providing data, analytics, and insights for businesses. But it finds itself facing these same challenges. D&B’s VP of Customer Insights, Rachel Richter, spoke at the X4 Summit in Salt Lake City, and explained how the company was making data more usable for its sales teams.

Laying the foundations

D&B’s insights team set out to do 3 things to support customer acquisition and retention:

On the final point, it meant consolidating nearly a dozen sources of O and X data, including CRM data, product usage and customer survey feedback.

And with one view of all data, the company was able to map data to each touchpoint along customer journeys, per user persona. But all of this still left the question of activating sales teams. How did all of this help them, and what would make them use these tools?

How to make data more tangible for sales teams

Solving for the questions that sales teams have

It’s incredibly simplistic, but data is more useful when it helps you solve problems. However, many insights teams fall down at this first hurdle, delivering recommendations that don’t match up with sales teams’ concerns, or help them do their day job.

To achieve this, insights teams need to stay close to sales, in order to understand their issues and focus areas.

With predictive models, it’s crucial to define what’s the goal — is it to identify potentially risky accounts, or maybe spot emerging industries and new opportunities?; Maybe it’s to recommend new retention tactics or look at the best cross-sell techniques?

Knowing this, you can ensure that the insights and recommendations you’re providing will be most useful to the sales teams.

Making insights available at the point they’re needed

If you can deliver insights to your sales teams at their point of need, they immediately gain more relevance. D&B delivers data as a result of certain triggers:

  1. Product training – how customers’ training requests indicate future cross-sell opportunities, or potential renewal risks
  2. Search terms – how prospects’ online searches could suggest potential new opportunities
  3. Product usage – how customer behaviors suggest renewal risks or upsell opportunities
  4. Pre-renewal – when a customer approaches the end of its agreement, relevant data is surfaced to the account owner

And they support sales teams to make risk assessments and give high-risk customer accounts special attention.

Leveraging sales teams’ experience

When you’re trying to get a team to do things differently, you can’t just dismiss the old way of doing things.

At D&B, they say that analytics can get you 80% of the way towards a decision, but the final 20% relies on a salesperson’s reading of the situation, and customer risk assessments are ultimately down to the account lead, not the data. According to Rachel, this combination of analytics and sales intelligence leads to more precise decision-making.

Making insights digestible – no big spreadsheets!

At the X4 Summit, Rachel spoke about how D&B had always generated incredible insights, but that their presentation made them inaccessible to sales teams. Many brands experience this: big spreadsheets, lots of raw data, and language best described as ‘technical’.

Rachel’s team has now created more usable dashboards, with plain English summaries of what the data is saying, and color-coded data showing risks and opportunities at a glance.

Plus, they layer in X-data that tells the salesperson why things are happening. And they make all of that data available in one area, so teams don’t have to jump around many platforms to come to a decision.

Showing results

Sales teams respect cold, hard stats. So just saying your insights will help them won’t do the trick. You need to show the impact.

At D&B, the insights team showed that by using data, sales teams increased retention of high-risk accounts by 15% across just 2 quarters. That kind of result buys an insights team a lot of credit, and allows it to extend its reach and go even further with its recommendations.

Watch Rachel’s session from X4 Summit

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