So Much Data, So Little To Show For It

For all the inflated expectations and "game-changing" promises of big data, there is one place where it is actually paralyzing the very people it was intended to help -- sales reps.

The best sales reps I know always do their homework before calling a customer or prospect. They check annual reports, review connections on LinkedIn, scroll through Twitter updates, scan news alerts and refer to their CRM system. They take time to understand their prospects and customers so they can have an edge when placing that call or delivering that pitch. 

The challenge I am hearing from them, however, is that in our digitized world, it’s taking more and more time to do this research because there is simply more information available. And unfortunately, it is said that less than 0.01% of this information is actually useful for discovering buyer intent. With the average sales rep spending 24 percent of their time researching to prepare for sales calls, according to Aberdeen Research, this means that less time is spent doing the primary responsibilities of a sales rep -- selling and making quota. 



Professor Eric Brynjolfsson, an economist at the Sloan School of Management at MIT, has found a significant boost in productivity among companies that use what he calls "data-directed decision-making." But as the mountain of knowable information about a customer or prospect grows, is it possible for a rep to manually search all this information? How can the rep possibly consume all this data while continuing to be productive and hit his or her sales quota? 

This begs the question: Is this era of big data working for reps or against them?

CSO Insights conducted a survey of more than 200 sales executives to find the answer. The results?   

Sales reps are struggling to find the information they need to close deals, even in an era of big data.  There is plenty of data out there, but where should a rep look to find the nuggets they need?

  • 82 percent of reps are challenged by the amount of prospect information available and the amount of time it takes to look through it. 
  • Sales reps search as many as 15 different internal and external data sources in the course of their research.
  • 89 percent believe that despite their lengthening searches, they are missing opportunities because they can no longer keep up with the torrent of information now available.

Existing sales technologies are not designed for the social, big data world

  • Only 44 percent believe their CRM system is helping them find internal information (what it was meant for), and nearly 80 percent find CRM ineffective at helping them find external company information.
  • Because they need to search more than 15 different sources for information, more than 90 percent of reps see great benefits if they can access insights in a single technology system. 

The data deluge is real. Ask any sales rep. As Jim Dickie of CSO Insights recently said: “The amount of prospect information out there today is a blessing and a curse. Our research shows there is a need for new tools to help reps find the needle in the haystack.”

Companies like Amazon, Netflix and Pandora have successfully harnessed the world of big data with their effective recommendation engines by teeing up recommended products, movies and music based on past consumption or purchase. What if B2B sales could do the same? We’re already seeing some successful sales organizations begin to use these types of technologies. They crawl through raw data and transform it into recommendations for the sales rep -- who to call, when, and what to say. 

The CSO Insights survey found that only 16% of companies have a big data strategy for sales in place today, but that 71% expect big data to have a huge impact on sales in the coming years. I agree. Sales is the next frontier for big data.





3 comments about "So Much Data, So Little To Show For It".
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  1. Sione Palu from Feynmance, December 4, 2012 at 7:28 p.m.

    Brian, interesting post. I think that the following is relevant to the issues that you have raised here. The paper is not recent, however it is a useful reading. Readers of this thread can just Google it and a PDF download link will come up. "Toward a Unified View of Customer Relationship Management"

  2. Sione Palu from Feynmance, December 4, 2012 at 7:38 p.m.

    The following is also relevant too. Its not free download, however interested readers can buy a copy from the publisher's website. Title : "Towards a holistic perspective of customer relationship management (CRM) implementation: A case study of the Housing and Development Board, Singapore". Link,

  3. Todd Stowe from LexisNexis, December 13, 2012 at 5:26 a.m.

    I appreciate your focus on this challenge sales professionals face. Obviously the challenge is not a lack of resources, but is it really a challenge of data/content deluge or just a lack of controlling and targeting the inflow of information? Most sales professionals spend a great deal of time acting just like an ER physician, performing "triage" activies for customer and management, and in the face of that they often lose sight of prep before critical meetings. LexisNexis is trying to address this with a product called LexisNexis Smart Meeting which provides the ability to have relevant information on a company a person meets with sent in the time right before the meeting. Bringing together relevance of information with relevance of need (getting ready for a meeting) should provide some much needed relief when the day-to-day triage gets in the way of doing what every talented sales professional knows they need to do. You can find out more at

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