The Sales Operations Guide to Turning Insights into Action

7 min read

Every business on the planet is promising actionable insights. But how many are actually delivering?

Here are some tips on turning insights into action. Read on to learn how to master the process of taking a data point, making a recommendation and turning it into an action. Includes real-life examples from our community of sales operations leaders.

Tip #1: Reverse-engineer

Mark Feldman, Head of Revenue Operations, Localytics

I had a boss that I worked for a couple of jobs ago who framed it really well.

You actually start with the report you need to provide the insight you want. Then, work backwards to get the data you need for the report. I think a lot of companies go the opposite way, starting with the data and then running reports. But my boss would start with a report in mind, go to the stakeholders with a dummy version of that report and ask what they would do differently and what questions they want answered. There are reports that tell you why something happened. And then there are ‘What’ questions, such as “What is going on with the business right now? Are we doing well?” It’s about homing in on those questions for the dashboard. And then once you’ve figured out which questions you want answers to, you can decide what you need to look at, whether that’s click through on emails, MQL conversion rates etc. I literally create flat tables in Google sheets that generate those reports. I would forget about Salesforce and Marketo. Just create some flat tables that have the data points that drive those reports.

Once you have that, you go backward and do a gap analysis, uncovering what data you have and what data you don’t have. It is your ops manager’s job to figure out how to instrument the process to get the missing data points. Once you have the data, you need to have a process that creates those flat tables which generate that report. So, is the data in Salesforce? Is it in multi-systems? If it is in multi-systems, you need to move it somewhere else to join it.

It’s a process of starting where you want to end up and reverse-engineering from there. And literally create dummy reports with dummy data.

Read our interview with Mark.

Tip #2: Speak to the relevant stakeholders

Barrett Kelly, Global Sales Operations Manager, Exari Systems

Originally, I was finding insights and reporting upwards. While it was effective, what I found was far more successful was going to the stakeholders and using the data insights to ask questions.

For example, I saw that we had a high win rate for existing customer deals. So, I went to the relevant stakeholders and asked them why they think we’re successful with existing customer deals, which then started a conversation rather than just giving my prescription straight away. Getting buy in from the stakeholders is huge. If I were to say I think we should do X, Y, Z because that’s what the data is saying, it has less impact than if I talk to the relevant people and ask them what they think the data is suggesting. By having them draw the conclusions from the data and come up with next steps, they become a stakeholder in that idea. Rather than it being my idea, it becomes our idea.

Read our interview with Barrett.

Claire Maisonnave-Couterou, EMEA Sales Operations Manager, Kyriba

When I’m analysing data, I do it by individual sales rep. One of the main learnings you can get from the data is how each individual sales rep is selling their product or solution and how they might have difficulties with a certain solution. When I spot a trend in a particular sales rep’s data, I go directly to the salesperson to understand where the problems are. They might explain that they don’t understand that aspect of the solution and they prefer to sell what they know. Then you can take different actions, for example putting them in training.

Read our interview with Claire.

Example #1: If there is nothing in Salesforce, nothing happened

Philip Minasian, Sales Operations & Inside Sales Manager, Gigster

We recently went through a big account transfer. We told the reps at the beginning of Q4 that based on their activity in Salesforce, if there’s not much activity in an account that you’re working on, that account will go into a pool that can be drafted by other reps. Basically, you are going to give up that account.

Now, that kind of comes up as a threat. But I think it forces some good behaviour to make sure the reps are truly owning the accounts they are working. The classic line is if there is nothing in Salesforce, nothing happened. I know that line is over-used but it’s kind of my Bible.

So, 45 days into the quarter I pulled all the accounts in a territory that a rep said they were working, where the data shows otherwise and I held an impromptu meeting – and honestly I pulled everyone into the largest conference room here. I put 20 accounts on the board and I went around, based on who was closest to their quarter number already, and I re-assigned accounts. And the managers absolutely loved it. I don’t think it is too much to ask somebody to be honest about their book of business. And then when you provide this ultimatum of sorts that they could potentially lose it, that drives good behaviour. I know it sounds a little extreme, but it has really worked for me in the past.

Read our interview with Philip.

Example #2: If data is king, context is God

Stephen Haltom, Director of Sales Operations, AppDynamics

When I initially took on the role, I had no experience in it. My job was basically to read up on best practices, key metrics and how the SDR and BDR team function. And one of the things I came across was the difference in how we compensate or goal our BDRs. If you read various expert research, they all suggest monthly quotas. We were setting quarterly targets for our BDRs.

So I wanted to analyse whether or not that was having any effects. When I pulled the data and I looked at it monthly per BDR, there was a very significant spike in the third month of every quarter. Not that they weren’t producing in months one and two, but the main production was coming in that third month. Their job is to book first meetings which doesn’t follow the same quarterly cadence it takes to close a deal from cradle to grave. So BDRs should really be a lot more consistent because they’re not having to take a sale all the way from start to finish.

So, we made a tweak to the comp plans and we’ve seen the flattening out of those results. And the impact of that is many of those meetings that weren’t getting booked until the third month were now being scheduled earlier in the quarter. This resulted in a quicker time to opportunity and quicker time to closed business.

In terms of articulating findings to the relevant people, data is only great to a certain point. I heard a great quote a couple of years ago at Dream Force: “If data is king then context is God”.

Anytime you show something, especially if it’s controversial or challenges the status quo, a sales leader is going to have questions. So, it’s about presenting the data in a way that’s very easy to digest while proving that you understand the context of what you’re talking about. Then if they disagree with the proposed solution, that’s fine, you can go from there and brainstorm the right solution but getting buy-in on the issue is really the key to me.

Read our interview with Stephen.

Example #3: Post win/loss customer surveys

How Brandon Bussey measures success in sales operations

Brandon Bussey, Director of Revenue Operations, Lucid

A couple of things we rolled out at Qualtrics that were incredibly beneficial were post win/loss customer surveys. We rolled out a broad quantitative survey and we had some sampling and rules around that, all automated in Salesforce. And we gathered qualitative data on pricing, product features, you name it. Then we would also select about 10 – 20 deals that were key wins and losses and we had a third party do in depth interviews that were turned into a five page debrief on what they learned with the customer. Everyone in the company consumed that data. Especially the qualitative interviews because they were great insights into our key wins and losses.

We always received a lot of feedback on pricing and other areas of the sales process. But once we started to scratch the surface, we saw there was a wealth of information about product that we could be gathering. V1 of our initial survey, the more quantitative version, was very focused on sales process. But when we asked open ended questions, the answers we were getting were very product driven. So for V2, we pivoted to lighten up on the sales process and go heavier on the product features and we did the same with the qualitative information.

A lot of times people would come and say they were disappointed we didn’t have a particular feature, when in fact we actually did have it. So clearly there was a disconnect between the product team, enablement and sales reps. The research allowed us to evaluate that and find out where we needed to improve. Whether that was improving our sales content one-pagers or providing more training for the sales reps, or the product itself.

Read our interview with Brandon.

Nazma’s story: Turning insights into action

The first time I logged into Kluster and saw our analysis, I was totally blown away. To my surprise, our most efficient industries were not where the bulk of our efforts were focused. I knew we had to act fast. Thanks to Kluster’s analysis, we’ve seen a 16% increase in win rates through better alignment. Normally, actionable insights like these require some serious digging. But with Kluster it was so easy. I logged in through Salesforce and within a day, the analysis was there. Now I can spend more time acting on insights, not digging for insights.

Nazma Qurban, Chief Revenue Officer, Cognism

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