401-423-2400 Kristin@Zhivago.com

How data can turn you into the big dog

The problem with marketing and sales is that they are the functions inside companies most likely to be driven more by emotions and anecdotal “evidence” than they are by facts. The result is never as profitable as it could be.

If salespeople dominate decisions, without the benefit of qualitative customer research and buying process analysis, the atmosphere is always dominated by fear of losing the next sale, and activity is always frantic.

The salesperson will send an email to the marketing person: “I just closed this sale. I sent this fax to them, and they read it while we were talking to each other, and the person loved this fax. We need an email and landing page that uses this copy!!!” The marketing person will comply. The salesperson will then talk to another customer, who will react positively to something else, and the salesperson will send another email to the marketing person, demanding another email and landing page.

An endless series of campaigns can be created this way. Meanwhile, the company can be losing market share due to an unseen market shift or a competitor who is attracting customers to its site and selling them – without them ever talking to a salesperson. Companies that are driven by sales-originated firedrills are steadily outsold by competitors who eventually drive them out of business.

If marketing people dominate decisions – again, without the benefit of customer research and buying process analysis – the marketing people will develop campaigns that they believe will be effective, because they have read that certain types of email campaigns are working, or customers are flocking to YouTube, or content-dominated websites do a good job of elevating “organic” (non-paid) listings in search engine result pages.

So they dutifully create those types of campaigns, roll them out to the company’s managers and salespeople, and get ready for the leads they assume will come in. Some leads do come in, and some sales are made as a result.

However, once again, the company is sure to be missing the major trends driving customer decisions and behavior, and competitors who do a better job of finding this out will capture more leads and close more sales.

I would guess, based on experience with literally thousands of companies of all sizes, that at least 95% of all companies fall into the emotional, sales-driven or marketing-driven categories just described.

Both models are dysfunctional. Often, both models are at work simultaneously, in the same company. Salespeople foist their fear-driven fire drill on marketing, and marketing foists its “campaign of the week” on salespeople. Both groups fight against each other to gain the CEO’s favor. It’s a counterproductive mess.

It is testimony to the eagerness of the customer to buy – and to the health of the world economy in general – that so many companies survive, in spite of using these emotion-driven sales and marketing methods.

The alternative, which works whenever and wherever it is adopted, is a model where market data drives marketing campaigns and selling methods. Here’s how it works.

1) The marketing department includes a datamaster. This person’s main job is to analyze the customer’s buying process and the internal selling process, from lead to closed sale to after-sale support. This person uses a variety of methods to track these processes, including web tracking software, and observation and analysis of lead processing functions and salespeople as they sell. She maps out customer buying processes and lead processing, documenting where people “drop off” as they go through the buying process and where the lead processing flow is slowed down or where leads “fall through the cracks” and never make it through the system. This information is presented to management in the form of diagrams and statistics, painting a clear and accurate picture of both buyer and lead processing patterns.

2) The company regularly interviews its current customers, lost sales, prospects, and partners. In-depth, conversational interviews are conducted by phone.

  • Current customers. Customers who have made a purchase are asked to describe their buying process, from the moment they entered a search term into Google to the moment when they decided to buy – and then to describe their experience after they made the purchase. Their buying processes and experiences with the website and salespeople are documented and mapped. Patterns are detected and analyzed. 
  • Lost sales. People who contacted the company but who didn’t make a purchase are also interviewed, to find out why they chose not to buy, who they bought from instead, and why. This helps the company to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their competition, properly assess the threats, and figure out how to fight back. 
  • Prospects. Prospects who are still considering a purchase are interviewed – by a marketer, not a salesperson – to discover their decision-making process and determine what is keeping them from buying. If the survey is conducted properly, the prospect will reveal the “barriers to the sale,” including salespeople who did more pushing than listening, and websites that failed to answer the prospect’s questions. 
  • Partners. Every business has partners who get involved in the sale in some way. These partners are seldom “dedicated” solely to the one company. They work with a number of similar companies, and come to know the strengths and weaknesses of each one. If asked correctly, they will reveal this useful information. 


3) The quantitative and qualitative data collected are organized and presented to management. Company managers use the data to make sure that:

  • Marketers create campaigns that address key customer concerns and answer the questions that customers ask as they are buying. The answers also address competitive issues, pointing out how the company’s products and services are superior to those offered by competitors (without actually naming competitors). 
  • The website is designed to answer customer questions and make it easy for customers to buy, from the “find us” stage to the “buy from us” stage, to the “get help from us” stage. 
  • Marketers set up effective lead-processing systems. Every single lead is treated with the urgency it deserves (some leads are more “urgent” than others; this reality is built into the system). It should be noted here that, in many cases, by the time a customer comes to a company’s website, the customer is already part way down the buying process path – if not “almost done” – and must be considered a “hot” lead. All leads are entered and tracked. No leads end up in a salesperson’s “when I get around to it” drawer. There is no such drawer. 
  • Sales managers follow up on selling activity on an hourly, daily, and weekly basis. All leads that can be closed are closed. Any leads that are not closed are analyzed and put into the “follow up” marketing system, if appropriate. Salespeople are being trained constantly. They learn how to improve their ability to answer questions, find out what the customer needs, meet customer needs, enter data at the right time and in the right way, and report back to management on what they’re hearing from customers as they sell. 

This isn’t rocket science – it’s a process. It’s not a theory – it works. I know it works because I have used this process many times for client companies. We have put the right people and the right processes in place. We have made sure that the people and processes are properly managed.

These companies shift from emotion-driven sales and marketing to data-driven sales and marketing. Their marketing and selling departments become as professional and manageable as finance and manufacturing. They are never blind-sided. They know what their customers are thinking and what they want. They know what their competitors are doing and how to sell effectively against them. They make every sale that can be made. They dominate their markets. They become “the big dog.”

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