For people selling in a B2B context, Big Data can be extremely useful — but amid all the celebration over this powerful new way of doing business, it’s important to keep in mind its limits. There is an important piece of information missing from most B2B Big Data collections: First-hand qualitative data about what your prospects and existing customers really think about your company. In other words, beyond the data, what do your customers say when you are not around?
As sales becomes more technologically advanced, the trend is for B2B companies to rely more on Big Data and less on information gathered from one-on-one personal interactions. The Big Data that enterprise companies are collecting is often limited to numbers of sales transactions, competitive data, sales activity data, and overall market trends. All of these facts and figures are relevant and useful for improving sales, but the data alone doesn’t provide in-depth insight into what is really happening in the minds of your prospects and clients. Much like in the intelligence world, satellites can only provide so much insight. Some of the most critical data can only be obtained through one-on-one, face-to-face interactions.
On one extreme, many companies don’t have Big Data sets. They rely on sales teams to collect and manage whatever data they are able to obtain through their own research. In fact, according to theCSO Insights 2012 Impact of Data Access on Sales Performance Report, the average sales rep spends 24% of his time searching for relevant information to prepare for calls. This, though, takes away a significant portion of his selling time.
On the other extreme, many enterprise companies have so much Big Data that it is difficult to interpret and manage, let alone use effectively to increase bottom line results. The same study by CSO also found that nearly 90% of sales leaders report missing opportunities due to information overload. Sifting through sales Big Data can be like trying to pick out a molecule in a raging river.
Quantitative Big Data about prospects and existing clients is critical to sales success, but it does not provide a complete picture. Your company needs both quantitative and qualitative data to fully understand your customers. In other words, you need the facts, figures, and the context.
Also keep in mind that your “big data” may mislead you at times as it relates to individual clients. Not every trend applies to all companies. In fact, your most valuable multi-million dollar client may buck a trend altogether. If you assume the trend applies to this client, you risk losing them as a customer. Let’s take a look at what kind of qualitative data you need to better understand your customers and prospects. You need to know their:
- Strategic direction
- Stated needs
- Hidden needs not mentioned in an RFP
- Decision-making process and parties involved
- Perception of your performance and customer service
- Perception of your competitors
There is only one way to uncover qualitative data about your B2B prospects and existing clients — ask for it. This level of in-depth information can only be obtained by asking probing questions, carefully listening to the responses, and analyzing what you uncover. However, it requires more than developing a brief survey. To get to this level of understanding, in-depth 20- to 60-minute interviews should be completed with executives and managers at your client and prospect companies.
When conducting in-depth interviews, be sure to interview multiple executives at the senior level, as their views truly drive company direction. Ask them a structured series of probing, open-ended questions to get at the truth. You need to scratch below the surface. If you think your prospects or clients won’t provide you with candid feedback, or if you feel you lack the required expertise, bring in an objective third-party to conduct the interviews and analysis.
Collecting qualitative data is only half of the process. The other half is acting upon what you have learned. Once your prospects and clients confide in you, they expect you to act on what you have uncovered. Failure to make improvements and changes based on what you learned will jeopardize the account and set you back.
Uncovering both quantitative and qualitative insights about prospects and existing clients provides a comprehensive picture to help you more effectively meet your customers’ needs and improve your performance. One type of data without the other provides only half the picture. However, when combined, quantitative and qualitative data about your prospects and customers will help you improve sales and better serve your customers.