With data, size matters, but not how you think

Jason Jordan

Over the past several years, Big Data has become a popular concept with a lot of excitement surrounding it. It’s hard to find a single definition of Big Data, but in essence it’s a super-sized collection of data that spans many unrelated data sources that are not easily aggregated and analyzed. The allure of Big Data is the ability to cull it for trends or insights that can’t be seen without a view across the vast data set from various data sources. In sum, it’s a very wide lens on the world. And it’s a good thing.

However, our observation is that sales managers don’t need enormous databases of information to do their jobs well. In fact, we believe that sales managers can scrap the idea that they need all of the extensive reports that are created by CRM systems and other information systems to be effective in their jobs. What sales managers need is some very basic information about what their reps are doing and how they’re performing. We’d put this data on the opposite end of the spectrum from Big Data. It’s discrete data points on individual salespeople. Just for kicks, let’s call it Small Data.

Where To Find It
Small Data doesn’t reside in a database somewhere in the cloud waiting to be analyzed by super-powerful computers. In fact, Small Data may not exist in a database at all. It may only reside in coaching conversations between a manager and seller. How is the salesperson performing against quota? Which sales objectives are they pursuing, and how are they doing?  Which sales activities will they focus on this week, and how can the sales manager help them execute more effectively? As shown by our research in “Cracking the Sales Management Code,” these are the foundational data points that impact coaching… the business results, sales objectives and sales activities of sellers.

The reason we draw this distinction between Big and Small Data is because sales management frequently lets the lack of pristine reporting get in the way of effective coaching. They fall into the trap of assuming that useful data must come on a management report.

We hear managers say things such as, “Our CRM doesn’t really capture the types of sales calls that our sellers make. Plus, I think the salespeople fudge those numbers anyway.” OK. Well, what if you just asked your salespeople how many calls they made last week and what types of calls they were? They’d probably tell you. And it’s easier to lie to a computer than to a sales manager.

In reality, useful data points don’t always need to be aggregated with large amount of other data points to be useful. Did the sales rep complete the two online training courses that they agreed to take? If so, what did they learn? Did the sales rep go on three joint sales call with a peer as you suggested? If so, how did it go? Did the sales rep make those eight prospecting calls last week that they intended to make? If so, how many qualified leads did they uncover?

Sales managers just need to focus on the few things that their sellers need to do to succeed and then make sure that those things are getting done. Effective selling and managing took place well before Big Data ever existed. Don’t place all of the attention on Big Data while letting the most important data points that impact daily sales force performance get tossed aside.

Jason Jordan is a partner of Vantage Point Performance, the leading sales management training and development firm, and co-author of “Cracking the Sales Management Code” (McGraw-Hill, 2012).