Stop working harder at sales. Instead, turn on your computer. When the dots are properly connected, data can open a whole new world of selling for you - a smarter way. Once you get over the paper tiger of scary data, you'll discover a new method of locating and working prospects that you never dreamed of before. You'll make more money with this technique.

The programming types have already taken the difficulty out of this stuff in the tools they've made. Today's tools are intuitive - it's simply a matter of pressing buttons to determine what you want to know. Everyone should be doing this. But not everyone does. That's an opportunity for you. Some producers are still afraid of anything data-related. The experience won't be pleasant or rewarding as long as one holds that attitude. That's not you, or is it? If so, I hope to make a believer out of you as we look at mining sales data to improve your sales production.

Data are everywhere. Some databases, or at least data elements, can be put together that will give you actionable intelligence for sales and an edge over your competition.Sales data are about forensics. A data set is a corpse. It is the result of something that was once alive, but is no more. The study of sales data is, therefore, one of forensics.

A successful, or unsuccessful, sale has already happened. Data are the result of the event. It doesn't change. Think of viewing sales data as a forensic exercise that can give you a glimpse of a specific future sales opportunity with a buyer.

 

The whole picture

We have no rational idea about the future if we have no idea about the past. Let's assume that you have no idea about a buyer's employee benefits past. How can you have a rational idea about his or her future, especially one that includes you? Conversely, you can have some information on the buyer. You can know what he or she is paying for product and service, growth or decline of the employee population, plans, carriers and miscellaneous expenses.

Armed with this information, a seller can make a rational approach to a prospective buyer. This concept is part of the new way of selling smarter.

Maybe you smile and dial for dollars. Maybe you cold-call prospects. Forget about those sales methods for a minute and explore rational selling based on solid data. The data provide you a rationale in your approach and for your first visit with a prospect. Rationale equals foreknowledge. The foreknowledge allows you to tailor your message and increase your chances of making a sale. This is how rational selling works.

 

Predict the future

Actionable intelligence comes from pulling empirical variables in data about the client that increase your chances of making a sale.

The sales data you need reside in many places. Credit databases, for one, are an excellent source of intelligence on the group you are pursuing. These data are available for purchase from the major credit agencies. Sales data on public companies are available via the 10K and other forms filed with financial data collection outfits like the Securities and Exchange Commission. The DOL's Form 5500 series which employers must complete and file each year is also an excellent source of prospect data. Finding quality data is not hard, but it may be costly and difficult to manage if you do it yourself. Leave this to the pros.

Using tools that mine historical client data can help you select prospects in your "sweet spot." These are prospects that are either the right size, in the right industry or meet a host of criteria that you know from past experience are easiest to sell and who fit your target market. You cannot do this surgical type of selling without mining sales data.

 

Product design

We have an empirical method of gaining actionable intelligence that we can utilize to sell smarter if we know something historical in the data.

A few companies offer data mining tools that take the work out of the experience of acquiring actionable sales intelligence. One product that my company built is called Sales RockStar. (You can check it out at mysalesrockstar.com.) It has a workflow design that mirrors how a broker or consultant thinks when wanting prospect information. For example, one can look up all customers (100+ employees) that any carrier has in any zip code. You can look up a particular plan sponsor and get the low-down on the brokers and vendors servicing that company, including a thorough breakdown of commissions and fees levied against the group.

You can also target your competitors' entire large-group block of business by simply asking the tool to present you with a prospect list of every client your competitor has and all the juicy details you'll want to go and sell that prospect. Those details include commissions, extra commissions or bonuses that the broker is getting and the practice of loading up TPA admin rates for extra cash. These kinds of goodies can arm you to appeal to the greed motivator in your buyer.

Your competition won't know that you are looking at their sales practices under a microscope, but your buyer will love it. You can play this scenario very well. Your competition will know something happened when they get a letter assigning you as the new agent of record. Is that sweet or what?

Concerns to keep in mind

Whatever data mining tool you use for creating sales leads, remember that the tool is only as good as the data in it. Data get old and sometimes newer data are not available for a specific group under examination. That's nobody's fault really - just a road hazard on the data highway.

Another concern to watch for is the users of the data mining tools. Data mining tools are fairly easy to use, but unless the user understands the underlying data and feels comfortable with the tool and what he or she is looking at, problems can and do arise.

This concern is primarily addressed to those in authority over others. You can get some complaints, but remember that the complaints may be rooted in the lack of sophistication of the user, not the product. While that's not always true, it often is.

Data mining is a fascinating concept for selling, It will put you in the big leagues as a seller because of the intelligence that mining can yield. You'll be in a rarified class of sellers too. My experience has been that most sellers don't use data mining for prospects at all, or at a level that gives them a competitive advantage.

Data analysis is a garbage-in/garbage-out thing. Here are few questions to answer before you start using a sales data mining tool.

  • From where does the source data originate?
  • Who builds and maintains the database?
  • How often is the database updated?
  • What plans exist for building out other functionality in the database?

The answers to those questions will take you a long way. As always, drop me a line if I can be of help to you on this or any matter.
Davidson is the founder of FutureOfficeNetwork and Sales Rockstar. He is also on the faculty at the Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Reach him at craigd@davidsonmarketing.com or at 262-432-0707.

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