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    How to unlock the double black box of sales data

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    Never in the history of sales, have sales organizations had access to so much data. Yet when I talk to company leaders, many are frustrated by the fact that more data has not translated to greater visibility, better collaboration, or more effective communication.

    Forecasts are still unreliable. Pipelines are still often guesswork. Reports still require hundreds of managerial hours to compile.

    And, meanwhile, on the front lines, sales managers are still using up salespeople time asking basic questions, and salespeople are still making simple mistakes that eat up profits.

    What’s happening on the front lines is locked in a black box that leaders don’t have the keys to, and what’s expected from executives and managers is locked in a black box that frontline salespeople don’t have keys to.

    Why executives don’t have keys to the front line black box

    For executives and, to some extent, managers, what the salespeople do on a daily basis and what progress they’re making remains a black box.

    By the time an executive receives a report on pipeline, forecasts, and performance against goals, the data has often been aggregated by a manager. The manager will have taken data from within the salespeople’s CRM accounts, and massaged it to account for individual differences in how they report data, how they manage their pipelines, and other factors.

    These reports may be reasonably accurate, but they rarely provide information about how well the sales process is working, how well it’s being adhered to, where the sales process has flaws, or why some salespeople are performing better than others.

    What salespeople do on a daily basis remains a black box in many organizations.

    This information exists, but it’s locked in the brains of salespeople and their managers, and the only way for an executive to gain insight is to interview them each individually–a task that no member of the C-suite generally has time for.

    The heart of this problem is that most of today’s technology still behaves like a digital Rolodex, collecting information and then spitting it back out on demand, without any regard for process, progress, or human behavior.

    A CRM like Salesforce can be almost infinitely modified with plug-ins and custom coding, but that can’t change the fact that it’s not designed to measure progress or support behavioral change.

    The sales process in a traditional CRM system (like Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Hubspot, Pipedrive, etc.) is usually represented by a few stages in a drop-down list, which simply cannot meet the needs of executives to measure how strategy and process is working (and not working) in the field.

    This is especially true and important in organizations where the “sales force” is not necessarily made up of professional salespeople. Bankers, accountants, attorneys, and many other professionals are expected to behave like frontline salespeople, but are given very basic tools with which to manage their pipelines, and very little training.

    This results in bloated pipelines, anemic pipelines, and very nearly complete lack of transparency into how these frontline “salespeople” are managing their sales process, from prospecting to account growth.

    Why salespeople don’t have keys to the leadership black box

    Much of what the leadership team needs is locked inside the heads of salespeople, which makes it virtually inaccessible. Even a series of interviews with salespeople won’t solve the problem, because the salespeople themselves are usually not approaching their pipeline in a systematic way that would make it possible to draw useful conclusions. And it would be very time consuming.

    This fact provides a peek into the flip side of the black box problem: Salespeople may be a “black box” of information to which leaders don’t have the keys, and simultaneously, in many ways, leadership has a “black box” of information that salespeople don’t have the keys to.

    Sales strategy, process, approach, and dynamic business rules are created at the leadership level. Some of this gets programmed into the CRM, but most of it doesn’t. The result is that managers often complain that salespeople come to them with basic questions, especially in non-sales professions like lending and accounting.

    For instance, a banker, in a sales capacity, may be working with a new client to access funds. The banker may not remember whether, under the specific context of the sale, a credit check must be run. They may go to the manager to inquire, and the manager may give them the information so they can continue the process.

    For a manager with many reports, this type of back-and-forth, repetitive information sharing can eat up enormous chunks of time and productivity. Worse, salespeople may get tired of the back-and-forth and make on-the-spot decisions that can cost the company money–like failing to run a credit check when they should have.

    The trouble is that the process and checklists aren’t built into the person’s workflow in a way that enables them to access, learn, and use the strategies, processes, and rules that leadership has created.

    I sometimes hear Salesforce proponents say, “Oh, don’t worry, we can add it into the system,” but that’s not really true. To provide checklists and the level of guidance salespeople need within a system like Salesforce requires extensive customizations by programmers, and the end result still doesn’t provide the dynamic guidance that gives salespeople exactly what they need at the tip of their fingers. That’s why there are so many point pollutions out there, each solving one specific problem.

    What to do about it

    It will come as no surprise to anyone who follows this blog that I believe part of the answer to this problem is technology that provides more than a dropdown to codify your way of selling.

    You need a technology that enables you to put the correct sales process and workflow into the hands of salespeople, without complex workarounds and extensive app-switching.

    When you work within a system like Membrain, salespeople have access to dynamic guidance. It unlocks the black box of leadership for them. Simultaneously, by providing checklists and milestone criteria, as well as behavior and progress information, Membrain unlocks the black box of the front lines for leadership.

    Pipeline reports can now include progress information; show where the process is working and where it needs work; demonstrate which salespeople are doing the right things and who needs more coaching; show where improvements in training and process can yield the greatest benefits.

    Forecasts are more accurate, and show where adjustments can change the forecast.

    Membrain enables leaders to focus on sales team behaviors, both to understand what behaviors work and also what behaviors are occurring. It provides the tools to drive new behaviors by putting them into the salespeople’s workflow, and holding them accountable to them. It’s a holistic approach to make your way of selling come to life and transform it into a significant competitive advantage.

    With Membrain, there’s no longer any need to fly blind. We give you everything you need to unlock all the black boxes in your sales organization, and get everyone working together to fly where you want to fly. Book a demo to see for yourself.

    George Brontén
    Published August 19, 2020
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.

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