Driving B2B Sales Strategy with Data
Updated: Feb 26, 2019
The power of data and the functionality of databases and software tools to visualise and manage data has changed the way that businesses sell to other businesses. This digital transformation for business market data and approach began fully in the 1990’s and grew rapidly through the prevalence of online, website-based data-sets and databases, through the .com boom and beyond.
This transformation and the pace of change has barely slowed down since, and many of today’s leading global organisations have facilitated growth directly through data, be it origination, organisation or providing access to data. Has anyone heard of a company called Google?
The power of data and the functionality of databases and software tools to visualise and manage data has changed the way that businesses sell to other businesses
Coinciding with the transformation and digitisation of publicly available data, the B2B selling landscape and its methodologies have also changed markedly over the past 20 years. Some organisations that accepted change and invested into this digitisation and the technology that enables it have generally outperformed their competitors. Many early adopters of data and technology in driving B2B sales strategy continue to own and dominate their respective markets today.
This blog aims to answer two main questions and with high-level information:
What are the benefits of driving sales strategy with data?
How can a B2B sales organisation develop a data-driven sales strategy?
What are the benefits of driving sales strategy with data?
In a 2016 CIO Insights report, 40% of the organisations taking part stated that scattered information and limited visibility into their sales network impaired the success of their sales teams. The same report stated that 56% of sales executives surveyed were dissatisfied with their access to data. As a result, sales strategy and decision making can be a combination of patchy market knowledge, guesswork, and gut feel or intuition.
While nobody can question that certain individuals have great intuition and commercial experience, when managing larger teams or when striving for growth in a competitive marketplace, great market data has become an essential asset for successful businesses.
Using data, business leaders and sales teams can tap into hidden markets, industry, geographic and demographic trends and have greater insight into the markets that they operate within and sell into than ever before.
Regional sales teams can be more accurately set and measured with great data. Within a specific, segmented market containing thousands of leads per salesperson, the right data enables sales leaders to prioritise and focus the efforts of their field-based resources, inbound sales strategy, and marketing spend – based on where the highest priorities and best commercial benefits exist.
Therefore, the right data can produce radical improvements for companies in terms of brand awareness, market penetration, and sales revenue.
As a summary, adopting a data-based sales strategy can result in significant improvements for an organisation including:
Better Performance Management
Improved Sales Leads
Higher Conversion Rates
Better Management of Sales Teams
While the benefits seem logical, a lot of sales teams and managers either cannot find the time or are unsure of the best process to adopt and employ a data-based sales strategy and make it the core to the way they engage with customers and sell.
Let’s now look at some ways that organisations can do this:
Developing a Data-based Sales Strategy
Here are some steps to consider within your planning and processing to facilitate a data-based sales strategy for your organisation:
1. Determine and Segment Your Available Market
Market segmentation is a term that can confuse and frustrate local sales teams, and often seems like marketing jargon or a waste of time. In fact, when selling business to business, market segmentation is a fairly simple process in terms of planning and execution. What is needed at the high level is to:
Define the types of companies that your business sells to – and categorise them
Work out which other types of companies could potentially sell your products
Define the geographic market, where do you sell and where can you sell?
When defining companies you should also include things like:
- Ideal business type, number of employees
- target financial measures such as turnover
- Which other brands “fit” alongside your goods and how your product appeals to the buyer and their end customers potentially in terms of specific relevant benefits.
- Why is your offering good or great for this specific business type?
- What are the benefits over key competitor products in the same space?
Once you have defined the company segments and Develop “ideal” personas for the type of buyer in each company type. This will later allow you to define a series of semi-fictional personas to real people and contacts within those companies. This should include things like:
Role in a buying process
Challenges & Problems
Drivers & Motivators
Goals & Priorities
You can define personas using a range of online tools or templates, but the process of actually doing this and gathering the data should ideally be a mix of in-house and actual customer engagement or surveys:
You can define personas using a range of online tools or templates, but the process of actually doing this and gathering the data should ideally be a mix of in-house and actual customer engagement or surveys for example:
Surveys with 15 - 20 prospects or existing customers
Feedback from the in-house sales teams
Assessment of data already held about existing customers
2. Define your target market based on competitors and complementary products. Some examples:
There is a trend of dealers selling related products to your brand, and these dealers have a tendency to be successful.
A competitor’s product is less well regarded, or there have been supply or quality issues, meaning the business may be open to add or switch brands.
You offer a product that compliments the range or extends the offering of an existing brand, perhaps customers trading up or down in terms of size, quality or specific product functionality.
*NB on Market Segmentation: Large organisations or brands will be well advised to separately bypass the re-seller channels and carry out much more extensive market segmentation based on the end client or customer for the goods they create. This will drive a multitude of other factors for company strategy – not related to B2B selling. However, this is not the immediate aim for driving success in B2B sales teams and this article.
3. Get The Data!
Once an organisation has defined: its Categories of Businesses, Potential Business Categories, Geographic Market, and has prioritised the target buyer based on personas it’s time to generate, mine or buy the data that is required. Let’s talk about some options here, and some of the ways to generate big data sets that could properly support a data-based sales strategy for say, a global manufacturing organisation. Options are various, differ by country and some methods to generate data sets are wide ranging and vary in complexity, some just require investment in time, others require a range of programming skills or specialist software tools:
Notes on bulk data sets:
The availability of market data varies greatly and is dependent on the market you are looking at. As examples, the UK and the USA have publicly available sources for good quality, bulk company information, based on TAX / SIC codes and filed for all companies.
However, the raw data available is generally a large bulk download and published in specialised file formats. Also, while these centralised files are large and comprehensive, you will generally find the records are littered with companies that have ceased trading, dormant organisations, and also companies that registered with the wrong information or SIC codes in the first place. In a word these data sets are unreliable. As such, whilst SIC code lists and credit agency information is a great source of market data, work is needed to review and validate that data, also to determine factors such as real trading location, which is often not the same as registered tax address.
It's worth noting clearly that in most cases, there is no singular, central source where you will find all the market data you need (with the exception of Clear Commercial Solutions!) Therefore the best approach is to mine information from several channels or sources. Later, you can consolidate the records, organise the information and remove duplicates. The more effort and time applied at this stage, the better the end result is…
the best approach is to mine information from several channels or sources. Later, you can consolidate the records, organise the information and remove duplicates
4. Other Data Generation Methods:
Here are some methods you can consider using to build the data for the B2B markets you trade in.
Trade show exhibitor lists: Most larger national or international trade shows will publish exhibitor lists online. Therefore, a good approach is to review and collect together the data from several of the larger trade shows in your industry sector. You can then categorise all the brands, and you will have a fairly comprehensive list of the key brands, manufacturers and your industry peers and competitor products.
Dealer and Distributor Lists: Once you have defined a list of all other brands and products that are complementary to your offering you can generally review the dealerships and resellers. You do this for each using a dealer locator or the mapping available through those websites.
National Trade associations: Many industries have professional trade associations, and many of those organisations publish lists of their members. If member lists are not published, they may still be available, generally to other members. It's worth researching and also to consider the costs of membership, depending on the quality and quantity of data and leads that could be obtained this way.
Internet search engines: A word of caution about using search engines to define leads or potential distributors in the B2B space. Search engines optimise results largely based on marketing spend, ad words, and such. As a result, a company search for a defined area can only deliver part of the real market and the companies that exist. However, this is still a worthwhile channel to collect data from. Here are some steps you could follow to do this really well: i.) Generate or download a list of town and city names within your target market – these are the locations where you want to find contacts.
ii.) Use automation and software to collect data – many tools exist to take a lot of the manual work out of this task. Examples are bespoke computer algorithms (In Python for example) or more user-friendly software such as ParseHub or Mozenda, as two of many examples available.
Online directory services – similar to using search engines, online directories or telephone directories list and emphasise companies who have paid to be listed. So you will primarily see the businesses who spend most on marketing. Yet this is still a source to collect worthwhile data. As with search engines, you will also need a comprehensive list of locations to search with.
5. Cleaning, organising and storing the data
The end result of the data mining strategies outlined above will result in a large collection of data files in various formats and varying content quality. A number of options exist to collate, store, and organise this data, and we will cover each in greater detail in forthcoming blogs. Here is a summary of the key options and some positives and negatives for each:
Build a bespoke relational database: Probably the “classic” and most flexible solution is to have a database designed, built, and hosted based on your own requirements. This could be hosted in the cloud using services like Amazon RDS, or stored on your own servers and coded using a wide range of SQL software. You will also need to decide on which software to then interact with the database, upload, export data, and run reports and queries.
Highly flexible, scalable, and future-proof solution
Designed and built specifically for your needs
Complex to design and build
Requires specialist IT and programming skills
Takes time to develop and build
Can be expensive to do properly
CRM or Sales Software as primary database:
Some great solutions exist with ready-made Sales/CRM tools, which can both provide the data organisation and storage required AND provide your organisation with a host of other benefits, such as improving the organisation and effectiveness of your sales teams.
It’s worth noting that really all CRM systems or software tools are databases, many are hosted within the cloud and provide enterprise-grade security and data integrity, This can take the cost and complexity away from building and hosting your own databases. Based on a wide range of experience CCS work primarily with HubSpot as a Sales Platform and CRM solution for our clients.
HubSpot can be set up to function in a similar way to a more complex, bespoke database build and also has native intelligence, which can add to the details of records that you input. Based on the URL addresses of company leads. If you would like to find our more about HubSpot – you can setup a free demo with Clear Commercial Solutions here: Book a 30 minute Web Meeting.
Low cost and fast setup relative to a bespoke database
Enterprise quality design and functionality is done for you
Simple to integrate into your existing sales processes
Not as flexible in terms of data relationships vs an SQL data-centre
6. Data Visualisation Software:
When you have a lot of data and information for a marketplace or region, it’s worth investing in the right software to visualise this information. Cloud-based data mapping and GIS visualisation tools such as eSpatial exist to make this task simple. You can translate raw Excel data into meaningful business insights within minutes, enabling you to drive strategy and make decisions. It’s possible to do this same work manually, but this takes a lot of time.
Using cloud-based mapping and data visualisation, in conjunction with a good CRM or Sales Platform/Database – can, therefore, present the ideal solution for most organisations to manage and visualise data.
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