“How can we grow our sales, increase revenues, and do it more profitably than we’re doing it today?”

That’s the elusive holy grail of business — finding a way to grow revenue in a more profitable way. Although it seems like a simple proposition, generating more sales, more profitably, in less time has been difficult for most companies to achieve.

But essentially, every sales puzzle boils down to identifying the right customers, targeting the most profitable territories, identifying the most and least effective sales agents, connecting with the right customers and channels, understanding the best ways to close sales and figuring out what factors can influence performance across the sales cycle.

The prospect targeting process in most organizations follows a very distinct pattern. A simple approach to untangling the sales puzzle is to divide it into five distinct stages: identifying prospects, identifying the right timing for reaching out, finding right mode of communication, creating saleable solutions, and closing the deal.

Success in the first stage for B2B market depends on identifying right contacts in the target organization, and in B2C it is about identifying the right market segments aimed at getting serious consideration from the prospects. For B2B markets this stage involves knowing who makes the decisions and who has the influence, and who to contact to secure the right meetings.

Success in the second stage, timing the contact, depends on the salesperson acquiring precise and timely information about relevant opportunities (ideally, ones that competitors don’t know about), and can be through referrals, introductions, or past contacts outside the seller’s organization in the marketplace at large.

The third stage, figuring out the right touch points, should involve devising a multi touch point strategy based on customer personas. Success here depends on categorizing the prospects in terms of customer personas based on past behavior and other available data.

The fourth stage involves understanding the potential customer’s underlying problem. The salesperson needs to have an idea about the needs of the organization to help showcase the relevant products or services. Success depends on the seller’s ability to identify the components of the solution, and on mobilizing and coordinating resources to offer the right solution.

In the final stage, closing of the deal, the objective is to remove uncertainties in the mind of the customer and build the trust and confidence required for the customer to buy the product or service. This can often be in terms of providing assurance of after-sale support and round-the-clock availability to address any concerns.

How digital technology and advanced analytics disrupt the sales process

Digitally transforming the sales process involves using data, analytics and digital technologies to enhance customer relationships, reduce cost and improve customer engagement.

By applying the right combination of digital interventions, supported by analytics and complemented by human engagement throughout the sales process, companies can drive sales more profitably. This process starts with engaging customers in the most cost-effective manner through targeted messaging, and a digitally-enabled, data driven approach to conversions that reduces the overall cost per sale. 

The framework shown below outlines the decision support factors that help companies make sales recommendations and feedback mechanisms to further refine the recommendations. Each step can be enhanced with the help of data enrichment, advanced analytics and digital strategy.

The following are the questions this sales framework is meant to answer:

  • Who to contact? Generate more high quality leads

  • When to contact? Finding best time to contact to increase the percentage of conversions

  • How to contact? Increase the percentage of conversion by leveraging the right touch points

  • What to sell? Increase the percentage of conversion by offering customized product and services

  • How to close? Close deals more quickly

Who to contact? Generate more high-quality leads

The desired outcome:

Key metric: Lead Quality

Quickly identify the quality prospects most likely to purchase the company’s products or services, enabling the sales team to concentrate time and effort on the people or businesses most likely to buy.

The current process:

Many companies take a scattershot approach to identifying prospective customers by using blanket marketing techniques, email blasts or cold calls to uncover viable prospects. Prospecting is a numbers game, based on the premise that after a certain amount of “no’s” someone is finally bound to say “yes.”

It’s easy to understand from an efficiency and results standpoint why this isn’t a good customer acquisition model. How much time, effort and manpower are companies spending on all of those “no’s”?

A digitally transformed process:

By moving to a data-driven, analytics empowered approach to prospecting, companies can use sales resources more efficiently, spend marketing dollars where they generate the most benefit, and close more sales, more quickly.

This applies to both B2C and B2B models.

In a B2C model, the sheer number of targets to be identified and engaged to move the needle is so vast that most companies resort to a scattershot marketing approach. This not only increases the cost of sales, but targets a wide array of consumers who never actually need to be contacted in the first place and ultimately perceive these messages as spam — which does nothing to close sales or help the company’s reputation.

A digital acquisition model changes this approach by applying data to reveal better prospects to focus marketing efforts.

Today, everyone has a very long data trail. A digitally transformed prospect-to-lead conversion process applies analytics to pinpoint the individuals most likely to buy, or at least have an interest in the product. 

Step one is collecting a variety of third-party data on various topics, including:

  • Demographics

  • Psychographics

  • Credit risk

  • Life events

  • Social media interactions

  • Other pertinent data

Then, by applying analytic algorithms and predictive modeling, companies can narrow this list down to the real prospects, changing a number game into a targeted marketing effort.

B2B targeting is slightly different, as it is more focused on expanding coverage and influencing advisors by using network analytics. B2B prospecting is focused on building a high volume of contacts, because more contacts result in more leads, creating higher chances of multiple contacts talking to the lead of interest.

The first step involves studying the various attributes of contacts with relationship links to the prospect, including:

  • Location history
     
  • Employer history
     
  • Education history
     
  • Events and conferences
     
  • Social networks
     
  • Professional affiliations

The second step is network analysis, which leverages existing contacts to identify new leads based on advisor networks and connectivity. This helps in spotting key opinion leaders based on emerging clustering patterns.  This is followed by prioritizing the most promising contacts and getting referrals, introductions and connections from the most influential opinion leaders.

The result:

Instead of cold-calling hundreds of people or businesses, an inside sales team has a much smaller, laser-focused list of prospects segmented by propensity, life stage or other appropriate characteristics. As a result, companies only expend resources on targeted potential buyers resulting in less wasted time, reduced cost and improved outcomes. The sales team makes fewer, more effective calls, leading to more sales.

For businesses that have a long tail of prospective customers but not enough sales coverage to contact that list, this approach is particularly beneficial.

When to contact? Finding out best time for contact

The desired outcome:

Key metric: Right party contact

The current process:

Many organizations don’t prioritize calling at the right time for their campaigns. This leads to a high incidence of lost revenue, either because of attrition as a result of repeated calling or because the acquisition process could not establish the right party contact.

A digitally transformed process:

To get the maximum efficiency from the calling campaigns, the company should ensure that customers are contacted at the right time, preventing the loss of revenue from the inability to establish the right party contact.

A digitally transformed process uses analytics systems that can identify attrition hot spots within the customer base. Scores built using predictive models based on calling frequency can be automatically passed on to relationship managers, enabling a multi-touch strategy to establish the right party contact, thus preventing loss of revenue.

Determining the best time to contact customers in a multi-channel world and ensuring that the right party is contacted through their preferred channel of communication can increase the likelihood of response.

For example, consider the case of the cross selling to an existing customer. A data-centric, predictive analytics approach can improve response rates by scheduling the right communication interventions in its cross selling campaign, achieving increased revenues.

In a B2B scenario, the sales cycle is usually longer. Achieving better responses here requires leveraging past behavior and current events to predict the best triggers for communication. The challenge is always to find the right touch point and time to discover the missing pieces in the client’s information that need connecting, and adding value in the process.

Achieving this calls out for mapping the personas of the salesperson and the prospective clients, advisors and influencers, and optimizing interaction using event-based triggers.

Geo-targeting is another example of leveraging digital transformation in the customer acquisition process. Geo-targeting allows a business to restrict its reach to consumers only located in a defined geographic area. This can help retailers with brick-and-mortar stores in delivering great content to someone actively seeking the product or service at the moment. Similarly, in a B2B context, it can be used in providing support to sales teams in certain states, or reaching out to audiences when hosting regional seminars.

The result:

Companies should figure out the right time to contact new customers and identify customers that will attrite. This along with customized messages, and using the right channels can help in working towards the overarching goal of improving revenue.

How to contact? Using digital channels to capture new customers

The desired outcome:

Key metric: Increasing the number of customers acquired without human contact.

Converting more lower-complexity prospects into sales without involving a company’s sales team to reduce the cost of sales and bring new customers.

The current process:

In the past, sales opportunities were driven by manpower.  A sales team could only contact a certain number of people in a day. B2C companies relied on door-to-door sales agents and cold-calling for sales. This activity was supported by inbound marketing, email prospecting, sales networking, and referrals.

Now, digital channels have becomes an attractive medium for customer acquisition for both B2C and B2B companies.

A digitally transformed process:

By using analytic insight in conjunction with the right digital channels, companies can effectively close sales without human intervention.

For example, say an insurance company wants to expand its reach in San Antonio without adding sales people. The prospect analysis indicates that 150,000 people are good candidates for one or more of its products. The data also indicates that 100,000 people are more likely to respond to a mailer with an online call-to-action, while 50,000 are more likely to respond to an email with a URL link. Communication can be sequenced and prioritized to these sets of customers using analytical models on their worth, and best the times and days to maximize responses and sales.

In this example, the insurer can contact those 150,000 individuals in a matter of days, not months, without taxing its sales force.

When those prospects respond by following the link, they see personalized, contextual messaging that’s specific to their profile, offering the kind of products they most likely need.  The digital channel becomes an extension of the sales force, powered by analytic insight. 

In a B2B situation, the key is to leverage content management to orchestrate a strong targeting strategy, develop highly personalized offerings that drive conversions, ensure compelling device agnostic experiences in all interactions and unlock the insights hidden in the vast amount of interaction data available across channels.

This omni-channel approach, fueled by the use of digital and analytic tools, also enables companies to gain revenue over B2C channels by taking advantage of the long tail customers that the company previously missed.

The result:

Companies have new strategies to cost-effectively convert low-complexity prospects into customers. As a result, they increase the monetary value of these relationships without engaging inside  sales staff.

What to sell? Customizing the offering and increasing  wallet share with existing customers

The desired outcome:

Key metric: Sales volume and percentage of existing customer wallet share.

The current process:

Customizing products to customer needs results in more sales, and increasing the wallet share of an existing customer is often a cheaper way of boosting revenue than increasing market share. The first step to calculating a company’s current wallet share is to have accurate and reliable data on the true potential of existing customers.

Many companies do not use digital tools to build offerings and evaluate their potential.

They typically rely on their sales staff to capture this information in CRM tools based on conversations with existing customers.  This is an extremely expensive way of gathering this information, especially for companies with a long tail of customers. It is also fairly ineffective since it depends on the sales reps accurately logging these conversations, and customers showing interest in sharing information. As a result, the pricing and customer touch point cadence is inaccurate, and companies leave a lot of inexpensive revenue on the table.

 

A digitally transformed process:

B2C companies derive great insights from tracking how their users observe, follow and ignore recommendations on their websites. This can help in making pricing and bundling decisions, personalizing offers, identifying specific customer segments and tracking emerging customer segments, all the while maximizing revenues during the process.

For existing customers, companies have the opportunity to develop accurate wallet share models by merging internal data with industry trade data. These models can be used to create accurate wallet share segments based on actual spend data. It is very easy to set up digital pilots on new products and services, which can help in creating look-alike recommendations, opportunity sizing, and uncovering the propensity to buy.

In a B2B setting, leveraging advisor personas and product holdings to identify most relevant products becomes even more important. The relevant product recommendations can be:

Collaborative filtering recommendations, using a customer’s product affinity based on past holding patters across clients.

Content based recommendations, which look for content similarity in creating lookalike salespeople with similar portfolios.

Context based recommendations, which are based on personas, clusters or transaction patterns.

In any particular situation the final recommendations can be based on a mix of these techniques. This should be followed up by opportunity sizing. For instance, in a particular situation based on the product recommendation approach discussed above, three or more relevant products could be identified. However, only one of these products could have a significant opportunity size and be the priority for cross selling

The result:

Sales resources can focus on customers segments that offer the greatest potential to increase revenue.

How to close? Using minimal time and few interactions as possible

The desired outcome:

Key metrics: Lead conversion or percentage of lead-to-closed business.

The current process:

In the current landscape, converting a lead into a sale can be a time-consuming, complex process. Even with a strong prospect list, the inside sales team still has to spend time tracking down the right person in the right department who actually makes the buying decision. This process increases the amount of time spent on getting the sale, which reduces sales output and decreases profitability.

Lead-to-sale in B2C focuses more on responding to an email with offers these days. The offers are frequently not customized based on prior customer behavior and purchase journey data, resulting in poor lead conversion.

A digitally transformed process:

Through engagement analytics, companies can reduce wasted effort. Prior to the first contact, they can determine the best way to navigate procurement, finance, or  appropriate department as well as know the name of the person or people with the power to make the purchase.

Customer engagement analytics looks at the pages customers have visited on the website, the content they view about the products and services, or the products and services customers are not buying but may have a propensity to buy.

The digital tactics involve sales people using digital tools and social media to directly address customer questions, create and share insightful content with their target audience, and provide value through industry insights. The ultimate objective is to build trust with customers, and convince them to invest in the company’s product or services.

This helps improve pipeline management and sales reporting. In a typical sales organization, numerous people handle sales reporting, with each report containing a broad range of data points. With digital transformation, the sales team isn’t simply pushing out reports, but pulling the specific insights management needs to see. Sales leaders can not only quickly see if actual sales are on target with projections, but can access the supporting data to understand why the actual sales may not be as projected. Digital transformation using tools such as an AI-driven system also enables passing on any shared learning to others in the team, and easily getting tactical suggestions.

The three pieces of information used by an AI-driven system include:

Salesperson profile: This includes salesperson qualities including consultative, relationship oriented, order taker, or super closer.

Historical sales actions: This includes the relationship between the client or prospect and the salesperson.

External events: The include external events which may act as a catalyst or deterrent for a sale.

The outcome of this AI-supported sales closing mechanism is more suggestions and more information on the client preferences.

This includes highly customized suggestions for each individual salesperson, triggers and notifications for quick actions in response to market events and the integration of human and digital tactics.

The result:

Using engagement analytics, companies can identify the decision-makers and understand the supplier onboarding process before making the call, enabling them to close the deal in fewer steps, with fewer calls, and with reduced cost per sale.

The new path to profitability

So often, conversations around digital transformation focus on the back-office efficiency or customer engagement. However, by strategically using digital and human channels powered by analytics, companies can drive growth, decrease cost per sale, and focus internal resources where they bring the greatest returns.

The keys are:

  • Begin with the key business decisions to be made

  • Align goals and desired outcomes

  • Apply the right combination of digital tools and analytics

  • Use predictive analytics to gain a full view of the customer and take preemptive steps in reducing churn and cost while maximizing revenues.

  • Work with transformation providers who can help reduce risk and augment

This is the new approach to increase topline revenues.