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Why Sales Analytics Is Essential to Navigating an Uncertain Market

March 18, 2021

Jackie Goudreault

Data has become more valuable to sales teams since the COVID-19 outbreak caused such a change in economic conditions.

As price sensitivity rises and a recession looms, it’s never been harder for SaaS companies to make accurate forecasts and plot their forward course. That’s why making full use of sales data via a high-functioning sales analytics program is vital to ensure your business’s safe passage through an uncertain market.

Good sales analytics isn’t just a question of knowing to measure or which metrics are more valuable in times like these. It’s a question of knowing how to put those metrics to work and how to help them drive your team toward post-COVID B2B sales growth goals.

What Are Sales Analytics? #

Using sales analytics involves taking a selection of existing data categorized by metric and using it to model, forecast, and understand the outcome of future sales. Businesses make very few high-impact decisions nowadays, in SaaS and beyond, without consulting a sales analytics solution first. This is particularly true post-COVID, where even minor decisions (like a product launch or new buyer personas) can have lasting negative effects on your bottom line and brand perception.

The most comprehensive sales analytics plans will feature multiple data pipelines and may be based around artificial intelligence, machine learning, or predictive analytics model. Those data pipelines then supply information to a centralized company database like Salesforce. A data pipeline is any source you can pull information from that your sales analysis pro/analytics department can then turn into a usable form. Your CRM will be the main pillar of your sales analytics program, but other data pipelines can include on-site forms, email lists, your SaaS product, and any other partner organizations or vendors you share data with.

A few examples of metrics that most sales departments will find useful include:

Sales growth #

This is as simple a metric as they come. Sales growth analyzes how much your revenue organization has managed to sell in the current period (e.g., $80,000) against the previous period (e.g., $65,000).

Sales growth can be expressed as a percentage and may be understood with respect to the difference in revenue, volume-of-units-sold, or profit between this period and the last.

Activity per sales rep #

There are few things you can control in business — and with a market in chaos, that list gets smaller still. What you can keep full mastery over is the amount of activity you expect your sales reps to maintain over a given period of time. “Activity” can be measured out in the number of calls, the amount of outreach and follow-up contacts and the number of meetings your rep is responsible for the per period.

By analyzing sales activity against other sales metrics, you can determine the effectiveness of your wider sales strategy, including:

  • The efficacy of your training
  • The quality of your lead qualification
  • The quality of your buyer personas

For that reason, having sales rep activity as a key pillar in your sales analytics program makes a lot of sense.

Sales Pipeline velocity #

Pipeline velocity — the speed at which deals progress through your sales pipeline, from initial qualification to closed-won — is synonymous with pipeline health. Given the impact pipeline health has on your bottom line, it’s an absolutely vital statistic. Maintaining pipeline velocity will keep your business afloat, which explains why it’s a sales metric that all businesses are worried about at the moment and one that commands a central position in your analytics program. You can calculate it like so:

Pipeline Velocity = Qualified Opportunity Rate x Win Rate x Deal Size/Length of Sales Cycle

Another reason why pipeline velocity is so important is that deal risk is heightened and has taken new forms post-COVID. Paying attention to your pipeline in real-time is key to your business’s ability to identify and solve these deal-obstructing factors — like a deal relay, decision-maker churn, more scrutiny from CFOs — when they arise. Sales analytics plans with elite functionality will often represent pipeline health and velocity through visualizations.

Prospect conversion rate #

Another fundamental sales metric is the percentage of your prospects who are converting. In this sense, “conversion” can be understood holistically in terms of how many prospects are becoming full-fledged customers. It can also be understood in terms of how many prospects are “converting” from one stage in the sales funnel to the next.

As with pipeline velocity, tracking the prospect conversion rate allows your sales team to understand better where the main risk areas are in your sales process. It also shows you whether your salespeople are hitting the right notes when it comes to closing a deal. You may wish to measure the conversion rate against your buyer personas.

The Importance of Sales Analytics #

Whether the market is bull or bear, sales analytics is fundamental to SaaS companies. It enables more accurate growth forecasting by comparing your sales growth against prospect behavior and mitigating circumstances in the market.

Sales analytics tools also help tailor your buyer personas according to which target market segments are most valuable to you. With the data you glean from sales analytics, you can target prospects more accurately. By applying sales analytics techniques to your pipeline (measuring pipeline velocity, quote-to-close, and conversion rate metrics), you can also unearth key insights as to the effectiveness of your sales techniques and sales coaching initiatives. For example, struggling reps who are behind with conversion rates can be given remedial coaching sessions to improve their deal-closing skills.

To roll out a sales analytics program, you must agree on what metrics will be helpful to your business. We’ve covered some of the basics above, but take a look at our full list of valuable sales metrics to incorporate into your analytics program.

Next, review your CRM to ensure it’s providing you with enough raw information to make your data analytics program effective. You may want to augment it with further data pipelines using software like Amplitude, Parse.ly, Zendesk Sell, and Chorus.ai’s Conversation Intelligence and Deal Hub tools.

5 Ways to Use Sales Analytics When Navigating an Uncertain Market #

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Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash

Efficiency and agility in sales and growth planning are paramount to guiding your business safely through the uncertain post-COVID market. The actionable insights your sales managers and enablement professionals draw from sales analytics can make this exact kind of impact at a time when they’re most needed.

1. Sales Analytics and the sales funnel #

As we noted above, maintaining sales funnel health is a key sales metric for any analytics program. Without a healthy sales funnel, you’ll rapidly run into profitability- and even cash flow problems. Furthermore, your company may find it hard to outpace the churn increase you will almost certainly face as we work through the COVID market and a possible recession to follow.

Lead generation and lead scoring have become more difficult post-COVID. Companies can no longer support lead-gen through live events, which had formerly been a major source of directing leads from purchase-ready clients into the start of the sales funnel. Aside from sourcing issues, there is less buying power in the market, and the remaining buying power is more volatile as budget cuts befall prospects mid-deal. Sales opportunities have never been more precarious.

Additionally, by analyzing metrics like pipeline velocity, rate-of-interaction with marketing, and stage-to-stage conversion within the sales funnel, you can identify prime opportunities for client engagement. In the post-COVID market, where the deal relay and long delays are common, knowing when to reactivate a flagging deal can make the difference between a revived possibility and a lead-gone-dead.

Sales analytics also allows you to identify new points where deals are getting blocked. If you have blockages at the start of your funnel, then your target industries may be facing common budgeting difficulties. If you’re encountering blockages at the demo stage, it may be that your sales team isn’t highlighting context-appropriate features for your product. Close-stage blockages suggest that you may be facing above-average decision-maker churn, that your pricing points might need a rethink, or that your reps may not be speaking the right language when it comes to closing the deal.

2. Sales Analytics and Decision-Making #

With sales analytics, you can proceed in your decision-making with greater efficiency and a better understanding of risk. Data-driven decisions are well-grounded and less likely to damage your bottom line or your brand credibility.

For instance, marketing decisions become more important for your organization when there’s more competition for less business. By incorporating sales metrics, such as rate-of-interaction, with marketing, your analytics can help you understand whether your marketing approach is working for COVID-affected prospects. Whether that means making new investments in content strategy or changing your marketing channels, you can make the decision more easily using analytics.

Along similar lines, sales analytics will help you determine if you need to diversify or change your buyer personas. Keep track of analytics metrics, such as churn by sector, industry, or business size, and maintain clear and candid contact with existing customers to assess pain points and financial straits. By diligently comparing this internal data against external content and industry analysis, you can build a clearer picture of whether or not you need to switch focus to more buy-ready market segments.

Data analysis will help you ascertain where there might be a need for an investment/hiring/redistribution of resources in order to meet key sales goals. Not gaining enough qualified lead volume, even though there’s no suggestion of buyer persona flaws? You might need a sales development representative. Having a tough time converting prospects beyond the lead stage? You might need to bring in some new reps with a fresh perspective.

3. Sales Analytics and Sales Forecasting #

Another critical benefit of sales analytics in tough times is its predictive quality — data gives your department insight into how things will pan out for your part of the market. It can’t actively predict the future, but when it comes to placating worried investors and building accurate future growth targets, leveraging info from sales analytics is invaluable.

Sales forecasts were once an instinctive art, but our research shows that more than half of all non-data-based sales forecasting is inaccurate owing to faulty commits.

No sales department should accept those kinds of success rates. Properly executed forecasts are crucial for precisely gauging growth possibilities and keeping your sales reps focused on high-potential deals. In other words, the quality of your forecasting has effects from one end of your sales org (shareholders) to the other (front-line sales pros).

Your sales reps’ approach to sales forecasting should be data-based and analytical, based on historical benchmarks. Suppose they’re seeing plenty of signs in their current prospect (e.g., use of specific vocabulary cues, a bad experience with competitor products) that correspond with benchmark data. In that case, your rep can commit the deal accurately.

Use an analytical approach to department-wide sales forecasting, too. If your company’s been around a while, compare historical data gathered during the prior recession against current downturn numbers. This will help your company make potentially critical predictions about the ways in which market demand and sales trends will shift.

4. Sales Analytics and Employee Wellbeing #

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Photo by MayoFi on Unsplash

You might think that sales analytics’ utility ends with improved forecasting and a more rapid passage through the pipeline. In fact, sales analytics can be a vital tool for taking care of your sales professionals.

For instance, let’s say you’re using Chorus.ai’s Conversation Intelligence to record and transcribe calls and scan them for signs of next steps and deal risk. You can also use that same CI tool to find out how often your reps show signs of stress-induced performance tail-off. Are they delivering fewer monologues or engaging moments than they usually do? Our data showed that mentions of burnout on-call increased through 2020, up 26% from a pre-COVID Q1 level. If you’ve got reps who are consistently mentioning burnout, it might be time to engage them with your employee wellbeing program.

Use your sales analytics to understand which approach would be best for raising your sales team’s well-being. Do they need to be reassured about the safety of their jobs? Do you see persistently low wellbeing in under-resourced sales pods? Are your sales professionals encountering conflicts that need resolutions?

Bringing data-based approaches to employee wellbeing can be a great way to ensure your whole sales team feels well taken care of.

5. Sales Analytics and Coaching #

Here at Chorus, we like to think we know quite a lot about the interactive combination of sales analytics and coaching. That combination is the foundation of our entire business.

Sales analytics data is not just useful now. Stored and used correctly, it becomes more and more valuable as time goes on.

We’ve already discussed the utility of having benchmark data to make informed decisions regarding things like sales forecasting. Another area where historical sales analytics data is valuable is your sales training program.

By relying on your analytics, you can create a sales coaching plan that administers to the exact areas of weakness in your sales team’s general sales strategy.

Let’s say your sales leaders look at your analytics read-out from last year and find the following insights:

  1. According to your Conversation Intelligence transcripts, your prospects generally expressed fewer phrases characteristic of high levels of rep-prospect rapport last year than they did in any of the three years before that.
  2. Prospects targeted after having responded to one of your company’s social posts were 12% more likely to convert than those who approached cold on social media.
  3. Prospects who approvingly mentioned features in more expensive packages were 32% more likely to upsell within a year.

Understanding that these insights are drawn from analytics, your sales enablement professional can build a revised sales coaching program for your reps designed to focus on these specific areas and improve sales performance. This might include building familiarity through engaging moments (for insight 1), a content strategy and follow-up social media approach (for insight 2), and close collaboration with customer success (for insight 3).

How to Leverage the Right Sales Analytics in a Bear Market #

While sales analytics is more important than ever in a bear market, the way you use it has to change. Start leveraging your sales analytics by adjusting your sales operations and expectations for performance. KPIs that work best in a bull market won’t do the trick when your team is looking at a longer sales cycle length with more deal risk.

For instance, let’s look at activity metrics. Cold dials are down 32% since COVID-19, so you may want to implement a week-over-week cold call percentage increase. We’ve seen that companies like AT&T are “addressing small or medium businesses who are more likely to close.” This is because decision-makers from larger businesses are proving less accessible, and conversion rates for those larger businesses are decreasing. Going for small or medium businesses is smart KPI shifting that will allow AT&T to make the most of their analytics and keep their sales pipeline healthy.

New market conditions also require new skills, so use your sales analytics to improve your training approach. For example, if you found as we did that empathetic moments have been increasing in successful sales conversations (i.e., sales conversations that result in conversion or deal progress), add this to your coaching curriculum.

Following the Data #

While there are no cure-alls to a business’s changing fortunes, implementing a good sales analytics plan can feel like a major victory. With the right data on hand, in a form that your sales organization can use, a seemingly chaotic and unpredictable market can be handled with greater confidence.

When executed well, good sales analytics can help your business not just survive an uncertain market but thrive through it.

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