"Let them eat cake" is the traditional translation of the French phrase "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche", said to have been spoken in the 17th or 18th century by "a great princess" upon being told that the peasants had no bread. The quotation is taken to reflect either the princess's frivolous disregard for the starving peasants or her poor understanding of their plight. - Wikipedia
Dramatic? Yes, but I think it’s an appropriate analogy for what I see when I talk to many organizations about how they share data. Specifically, there seems to be an attitude amongst many operators who control the data to say either a) that team or person can’t handle or interpret the data on their own, so we need to do it for them or b) the data is available in databases or BI tools and if they really wanted it they could figure it out.
This attitude is particularly acute when it comes to dealing with salespeople. Despite the fact salespeople are some of the highest-paid employees and sit at the lifeline of how almost all companies report on their health to the world (revenue growth), many other teams treat them as second-class citizens when it comes to data access. Often sales teams are described as “coin-operated” and there’s a sadly prevalent attitude that they aren’t bright enough to do the hard work of interpreting data. That, of course, is nonsense, and sales, particularly in the software world, has been consistently moving to be a much more complicated and consultative process over the last decade.
We know that companies are sitting on a tremendous amount of operational data. It might be warehoused, streamed, reverse ETL’d, or transformed, and all of that is now done to put it in operational places to be acted on. Sales is one of these operational teams, but often what I’m told when I ask sellers why they don’t have access to the operational data they want, is that they’re being told someone else is handling it or if they want it they should go ask that other team.
Here are a few common organizational data antipatterns I’ve discovered across a huge number of conversations:
Marketing Controls The Operational Data
“Marketing controls that data and they use that data to score or automate a sales process. Marketing can decide when a seller needs a signal so they aren’t overwhelmed.”
This was the great promise of Account Based Marketing (ABM) and I urge you to ask a seller what they think about the ways ABM has helped them in the sales journey. What you’ll almost certainly here (and I have many times), is sellers wishing they could turn it off, feeling like the automation hurts the customer journey more than it helps. Sellers want to know why the ABM model is black-boxed, similar to the traditional lead-scoring model of yesteryears. This lack of control of operational data often leads to the dysfunction and politics you can find between sales and marketing leaders.
Customer Success Controls The Operational Data
“Customer Success has that data and they use it to define the health of a customer. Sales can see the data if they want.”
For sellers looking to get at product data, often they are told to log in to their customer success tool or request it from their CS org. The problem here is the data is structured in a Red, Yellow, Green format. These tools naturally follow the incentives of customer success, which revolve around product adoption and customer retention, not growth. As the famed investor Charlie Munger once said, show me the incentives and I’ll show you the outcome. Giving sellers customer success data will surely lead to sellers acting as support personnel on red accounts or best case, as account renewal specialists. This isn’t what you pay them for and as Gartner points out, it won’t lead to revenue growth.
Business Intelligence (BI) Tools Surface All Operational Data
“We give sellers that data in our BI Tool, it is all there. If they want a different graph, they just submit a ticket and we will build it.”
Sellers are naturally hunters, they work in a call/response manner (eg. I do this to try and get a response… When I ask this question, I’m trying to understand the response and pain funnel them in this direction). This call/response model is best formulated by a company's sales methodology, where it can be standardized and scaled.
The problem is BI tools don’t work in this manner. BI tools almost always work off of batched, not streaming, data, which means they are time delayed. BI is naturally backward-lookingg, showing trends over time are great for all sorts of reasons but really terrible for someone like a seller who is event driven, trying to always move a prospect or customer along a funnel. On top of that, BI is too often too complicated to fully embrace by anyone who isn’t already deeply knowledgeable about the data. That’s not a knock on salespeople, it’s the reason that the main output of BI tools are dashboards meant to be consumed by the company. They’re not really designed to be things that everyone accesses for their own analysis and use.
Salesforce Is the System of Record for Operational Data
“The operational data for sellers lives on the Salesforce account record”
Here you might say, great, at least sales owns Salesforce. While this could be true, Salesforce is naturally a database that is home to records, primarily used to forecast pipelines and revenue models that are generated from sellers, religiously and often painstakingly, keeping this data correct. Salesforce’s job to an organization is a big one, but giving sellers operational data is not one of them. Asking a seller to check an account record for an operational update from a customer is like giving a fish a bicycle. If you don’t believe me, ask Salesforce and their $28B acquisition of Slack. As Marc Benioff said last month, “We're going to rebuild all of our technology, once again, to become Slack-first to help our customers have a harness to work in this new world.”
That is a message from a leader that knows the times have changed and it is more critical than ever to allow sellers to work in the systems that allow operational data to flow to them.
The chart above shows that sales jobs in the US are up almost 70% just this year. Hiring sales has always been a tough job and it is only going to get tougher. As hiring becomes more of a challenge the companies that will get ahead are those that give sellers the tools they need to access their prospect and customer journey. The mea culpa is sales as a first class citizen that deserves access to operational data in a first class way. That means on their terms, how they work and not as a band aid of another function's workflow. I liked this comment from Snyk’s Francesca Krihely around PLG and the role of how operational data can help sellers:
“PLG is really working when you can make things easier for sellers”
YES, what a framework to work off. Instead of force fitting seller’s into the operational models of other functions or tools, start with the question of how to make someone’s job easier and how they can shape the data for their needs.
When Francesca’s thinking is accomplished across organizations we can all eat cake, after we get that latest deal closed, of course.