Go with Good Customer Data—Not Your 'Gut'

When something is right, you often just know it—or at least that's what it feels like in the moment. Some call it a sixth sense; others refer to this feeling as instinct or intuition. But what it really comes down to is being convinced of something without having any real proof.

So if something does feel right, everything should work out just fine, right? Wrong. Unfortunately nothing is ever that simple—especially not when it comes to sales, where you're dealing with people's perceptions and personal preferences. People are complex, and selling effectively to them is no easy task. You will need all the help you can get when deciding when and how to interact with potential customers.

The Status Quo

A recent study by sales-i has shown that 6 percent of sales professionals still make decisions using "their gut." While having good instincts is important, on its own it is highly unlikely to make you money over the long term—not to mention the fact that relying on instinct is risky. You don't want to base the entire success of your sales function on guesswork.

When you make decisions this way, there's a lot that can go wrong. You could forget to consider some crucial factors because they never occurred to you in the first place, or your own biases towards a specific customer or product could cloud your judgment.

You could also, quite simply, be completely wrong. For example, those who bet on horse races or sports teams often choose a side based on a gut feeling. If trusting your sixth sense was a foolproof plan, we'd all be surrounded by millionaires. Going with your gut is more akin to flipping a coin. It could go either way. Instinct isn't scientific or quantifiable, and it's therefore also inherently unreliable.

A further 40 percent of survey respondents noted that they make decisions based on the relationships they already have with their customers. While this is understandable, it is also not quantifiable and in fact very subjective. You cannot base your entire sales strategy on one individual at a company, because should that person leave, your good client relationship will be gone, too.

While maintaining a good rapport with your customers is important and always will be, your decision-making process should not start and end there. If actual customer data is not being measured, your customer relationship is not a reliable indicator of anything other than how well you get on with that person. While instinct and sentiment about a certain customer or deal can prove helpful, they should always be checked against evidence and data before they are acted on.

This is not a new concept. Many sales professionals have already decided to go down this road, with 13.8 percent of survey respondents indicating that they manually sort through data to find the information they need. While this is still inefficient, it is at least a step in the right direction.

However, what you should be aiming for is to handle sales decisions like the 40 percent of respondents that claimed that they use technology for data analysis and decision-making.

So how will you benefit from a more technological approach? There are a few key advantages that are impossible to ignore.

Measured Success

When making key decisions, you need to combine your customer knowledge and understanding with qualitative data analysis. Use analytics tools to identify customer buying patterns and trends to make your sales efforts all the more targeted.

With this information on hand, you'll be able to predict when the customer is likely to reorder and offer them a discount before the competition does. You'll be able to note if there has been a drop in spending, and you'll know when it’s time to give that customer a call. And better still, you will know exactly how to start that conversation. Put simply, the right sales technology will tell you what your customers need and when before they even know they need it. No guesswork, no speculative calls, no time wasted.

Data doesn’t lie, but your gut might. Before you jump head first into a decision, stop, have a look at what the facts are telling you, and make your choices accordingly.

Kevin McGirl is the cofounder and CEO of sales-i. McGirl has been at the forefront of major trends in the software industry for more than 20 years and is an early pioneer of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) business model. A business strategist and market development specialist, McGirl is the driving force behind sales-i's go-to-market and business development strategy.

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