In 1980, futurist Alvin Toffler surmised in his book "The Third Wave" that society was entering a post-industrial age where information-and the ability to control and manipulate that information-would become as or more valuable than other commodities. Fast forward to 2014, and many of his book's predictions have come true. At their core, companies like Amazon, eBay, Google and even SourceMedia are successful in part because they provide users with access to relevant, valuable information.
So if information and the ability to manipulate it are so critical, why are scores of companies still struggling with how to leverage big data? And more specifically, why aren't industries like financial services further evolved when it comes to data-driven sales and marketing? We have more data than ever at our fingertips, but for many companies it remains underleveraged or, worse, completely unused. Some of this has to do with systems and technology. You can have all the data in the world, but unless it's rendered in a digestible format-one that sales executives or marketers can understand-it's not going to be utilized. I'll save that analysis for another column.
The bigger roadblocks to a data-driven approach, in my view, are more behavioral and emotional. And they differ greatly between sales and marketing.
From a behavioral standpoint, unless you have a sizable team supporting sales, turning your business development and sales reps into data junkies (think Jonah Hill from "Moneyball") requires a major change to their workflow. Today, they may be focused on filling the funnel, appointments and networking activities, and all of that is still important. But the data-driven approach requires more upfront homework on the target customer to determine which leads are qualified. As more data points are used throughout the sales cycle, the sales professional's process has to change.
That sounds easy enough, but most of us don't enjoy changing our behavior. And change is even more difficult for salespeople who perceive themselves as "relationship guys" who have succeeded because of their suave manner, education and ability to network. And hey, let's be honest: In the M&A world, relationships really do matter, and are arguably more important than for a sales rep pitching software or subscriptions. Playing a killer round of golf followed by a couple of rounds of drinks to get a meeting with a prospect is a much bigger boost to the ego than pouring over data to identify a numerical advantage over your competition that gets your foot in the door.
But it's not an either-or scenario. Ideally the soft sales skills will only be enhanced by a data-driven approach. Once you can prove that to your salespeople, you have a shot at changing the culture. For marketers, the road to a data-driven approach has been much faster, in large part because they're constantly justifying their work and, sometimes, their existence. Whether it's Web impressions, downloads, video views or even business cards collected, your marketing department has to show some return on investment for virtually every campaign. Since judging ROI is in the eye of the beholder-How many app downloads equals success?-this naturally pushes a marketer toward data analysis.
The Holy Grail is to get both sales and marketing focused on data-driven sales. At a small private equity firm, the same person may be responsible for both. At a lender, the two groups may seldom speak to each other. But the good news is there are a growing number of solutions to help your marketing and sales efforts become more data-driven. And there is help. We've gone through this cultural shift at SourceMedia ourselves, and with functionality and metrics on leads scoring, engagement and other measures, we're helping an increasing number of clients grow their businesses.