August 20, 2015

How to Use Sales Intelligence to Close More Deals, Faster

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The lead-to-close process is long, slow, and complicated — especially in B2B sales. Forty-three percent of B2B marketers said their sales cycles have slowed over the past few years, according to BtoB Magazine.  

Unfortunately, when the sales cycle is slow, revenue is slow.

If businesses want to keep their pipelines moving (qualified leads in one end, business opportunities out the other), they need access to the right tools and the right information about their prospects and leads. And that means more than the commoditized contact information that list brokers are always so happy to sell: name, rank, and serial number.

Even with a strong inbound marketing strategy, it isn’t enough to capture basic contact information. To give your business a true competitive edge, you need . . . something more.

You need to know not only who your potential customers are, but what they’re about. What motivates them? What needs do they have? What are their intentions, pain points, and goals?

The answers to these questions — and many others — can be found in sales intelligence.

The Concept

You might associate sales intelligence with some of the established data wholesalers like Dun and Bradstreet, Hoovers, or Most of these companies sell B2B contacts and offer database services such as cleaning and deduplication. Because of the popularity of these vendors, the consensus has mostly been that sales intelligence = lists of prospects available for purchase.

Example of how Dun & Bradstreet offer a free data health scan

Sales intelligence is more than just a list of prospects available for purchase.


But it’s more than that.

Sales intelligence (SI) is the contact record and a body of contextual information surrounding the contact record, such as purchase history, current contracts, business objectives, even digital body language. This information helps sales reps better target their conversations, nurture leads to conversion, and deepen existing relationships through up-selling and cross-selling.

Interestingly, the lion’s share of SI is collected during the marketing phase, long before a lead even gets to sales. Some businesses use their marketing automation platform to log data about prospects. Others, as mentioned, may choose to purchase SI from an outside service.

Although it’s less focused on high-level forecasting than traditional business intelligence (BI), sales intelligence does serve an analytical function. In that sense, its biggest reward will be in smart decisions that drive bottom line business growth. In fact, 37 percent of businesses that apply analytics best practices to sales expect to see an increase in revenue.

People have always understood that the more you know about a prospect, the better you can sell to them.

Sales Intelligence takes this to the next level.

Instead of just knowing about a prospect, you actually know them at an individual level, through a system that scales to your entire population of prospects, leads, and customers.

The Technology

Sales intelligence tools can take many different forms (which we’ll get to in a moment), but they all share a common aim: to increase lead quantity and quality — quantity by tapping social streams and directories for new leads, quality by segmenting those leads based on their data profiles and suggesting follow-up activities.

Michael Berger, Director of Product Marketing at Marketo, suggests that a good sales intelligence tool should address “three Ps:”

  • Provide intelligence about true prospects
  • Prioritize follow-up activities
  • Present a prospect’s interests to the sales rep

Sales intelligence isn’t a single tool so much as a pervasive approach that affects multiple data systems. A lead profile is captured and tracked through a marketing automation platform, transferred to the sales rep’s CRM, and analyzed using business intelligence.

In its simplest form, sales intelligence can be a built-in feature of CRM software. The CRM may use social integrations or other connectors to pull in data and provide a 360-degree view of each prospect and lead (Nimble’s “intelligent relationship platform” is a great example of this).

In other cases, a business may use a BI application such as LiveHive or Tableau to translate prospect data into sales insights: Based on what we’re seeing in the buyer journey, attending a webinar is correlated with middle-funnel interest.

Finally, there are a handful standalone SI applications that focus on building and managing an accurate database of sales-ready contacts. Examples include Zoominfo, InsideView, and Discoverorg. LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator has been a wild card in this category, surpassing traditional platforms in popularity as a new source for lead data, even before companies have a consistent strategy to use it.

screenshot of LinkedIn Sales Navigator

LinkedIn’s sales intelligence platform


Your Team on Sales Intelligence

Sales intelligence, in all of its forms, is designed to help your sales team do their job better. There are a number of ways this happens:

  • Higher productivity: Your reps can use sales intelligence to automatically prioritize follow-ups and segment leads into value-based or qualification-based groups. This saves them the time required by manual parsing and the wasted effort of pursuing low-interest, unqualified leads.
  • More rewarding conversations: We all know what it’s like to talk to a salesperson who doesn’t understand our needs. The conversation usually revolves around the product, instead of around our preferences, goals, hesitations, etc. Fifty-seven percent of customers feel that salespeople are underprepared for their first meeting and fail to personalize the conversation. Sales intelligence shows reps the areas where leads and current customers will be most responsive so they can steer the conversation toward those areas — in a sense, mining for value with the right talking points.  
  • Shorter sales cycles: Jeff Thull, author of Mastering the Complex Sale, once wrote, “Customers don’t create long sales cycles — salespeople do.” That’s because too often, salespeople target the wrong prospects and press a hard sell early in the buyer journey . . . so early that the prospect’s interest actually dissipates. The right sales intelligence data can help salespeople identify which contacts are ready to buy and bring clarity to their decision process, thus, greatly reducing the average lead-to-close time.
  • Smarter sales strategies:  In its analytical role, SI helps sales decision-makers (CFOs, CMOs, etc.) distill concrete insights from the labyrinth of workflows and databases that characterize their department. Using these insights, sales managers can build strategies to better engage prospects and improve their lead conversion ratio, which, of course, creates more revenue.
Positive sales intelligence statistics from Aberdeen Group and CSO Insights

The benefits of sales intelligence

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Sales intelligence is slowly (but surely) becoming a key requirement at almost every stop in the sales/marketing continuum, and a responsibility of both departments. But it can be difficult to acquire, nonetheless analyze, interpret, and put into action.

At TechnologyAdvice, we don’t just give you a list of prospects to cold call; we work at every stage of the funnel to bring you qualified leads, matched to your requirements, and the sales intelligence to help you convert them. Get in touch with one of our lead generation specialists to learn how our demand generation programs can help your sales team close more deals, faster.

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