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Data, Sales Intelligence and the Rise of the Chief Data Officer

Sales organizations need to get smarter about how they use data to set strategy and close deals. And the new chief data officer can help.

Like money stuffed under bed mattresses, data is the new digital currency trapped deep inside silos of an enterprise. This has led to the rise of the chief data officer (CDO) charged with unlocking and unleashing data that will fuel the growth of the business.

No one stands to benefit more from the CDO’s arrival than the sales organization. Today’s sales leaders understand they’re increasingly competing on their ability to wield data for actionable customer insights that help sales reps make their quotas.

First, here cometh the CDO.

Nine out of 10 large, global companies will have a CDO by next year, says Gartner. This, of course, points to the criticality of harnessing data. Nearly half of their time will be focused on leveraging data for revenue generation, a quarter on risk mitigation and a quarter on cost savings and efficiency.

For sales organizations, this couldn’t come at a better time.

Sales organizations are busy building sales-intelligence programs that make use of data. This program collects, integrates and assesses data from a range of sources, including sales force automation and marketing automation, in order to produce actionable, timely and context-sensitive insights, according to research and advisory firm SiriusDecisions.

Done well, a sales-intelligence program follows the same path of Amazon, which knows more about its customers and their buying habits than any retailer in the world, says Dana Therrien, practice leader of sales operations strategies at SiriusDecisions.

Dana Therrien

But too many sales organizations are still in the early stages. Their sales-intelligence programs produce little more than individual reports and dashboards that provide data, but not insights. They don’t guide sales reps, sales managers and sales leaders toward taking actions that drive revenue.

A CDO, of course, can help solve this problem.

“The sales operations leader struggling to integrate the myriad of data sources into contextual sales intelligence needs to meet with the CDO as quickly as possible,” Therrien says.  

Therrien says the sales-operations leader better come to the initial meeting armed with the following: user requirements for a strategic sales-intelligence program; a list of vendors; a project plan; and timeline for deployment.

This is somewhat new territory for sales leaders, so consultants and systems integrators will likely play a role in the development and deployment of a sales-intelligence program. An integrator working with the CDO can fine-tune the system to yield the best results. (For more on this, see Zero One: AI Transforms Sales Forecasting.)

But integrators and CDOs can’t really help sales leaders overcome the biggest barrier to sales intelligence adoption — the sales culture. For some reason, salespeople have been groomed to accept bad data and terrible user interfaces that don’t aspire or help them do their jobs, Therrien says.

“Companies’ most expensive human resources – salespeople – are often operating blindly with no real sales intelligence to guide them,” he says. “The culture required to turn that situation around is one that deems the production of relative and intuitive insights for sales reps to be not just a priority, but an emergency.” 

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