Data is at the core of any modern business. It’s necessary for growth and expansion, influencing all the actions of your company.
In the context of sales, people usually think it’s just a matter of building a contact sheet of people to call up and pitch to. And while it’s necessary to find names, email addresses, company statistics, and other details a seller might need for their accounts, this type of data barely scratches the surface of the kind of information you’ll need to make a difference in your bottom line.
“Data is data, but not all data is created equal,” says Amar Sheth, Founding Partner of Pipeline Signals.
There’s some data that is significantly more impactful towards pipeline generation, from which an astute seller can derive valuable insights.
We call it Sales Intelligence, and it can spell the difference for your revenue goals.
What is Sales Intelligence
Table of Contents
Sales intelligence refers to the use of data, processes, and technology to derive insights into your prospects’ daily business and find new sales opportunities.
By using sales intelligence, sellers can conduct more detailed company searches using relevant and timely data points, allowing them to more accurately target companies that match their ideal customer profiles and are thus more likely to buy your product.
More than just names and phone numbers
When most people hear the term sales intelligence, they would probably think of lists of names, emails, and other contact details.
However, this is just one factor of sales intelligence. Other important contact information includes demographic data, professional history, digital footprints, and relationship networks.
Company data is the second type of sales intelligence. This includes company size, business objectives, previous and current contracts, competitors, financial status, and customer demographics. When used alongside contact data, sellers will be able to communicate more effectively with customers and prospects, with the added advantage of being able to initiate conversations at the right time and with the right approach.
Another important type of sales intelligence is Compelling Events Signals—events and insights that can help sellers determine areas of opportunity and risk in your Total Addressable Market (TAM).
These Signals, or as we sometimes like to call it, “trigger” Signals, provide insight on when a lead is most likely to require a product or service, giving sellers the chance to strike when the iron is at its hottest.
The importance of sales intelligence
Focused, systematic prospecting is essential to the growth of your sales pipeline.
Sellers should prioritize contacts that are more likely to respond warmly to your outreach efforts, as they are more likely to avail of your product or service.
But sellers aren’t always able to determine which leads to prioritize from a massive pool of potential customers.
Different sales teams follow different ways of prioritizing leads. While there’s no right or wrong way of doing so, it’s important to have an objective, data-backed approach to the process.
The best sellers use facts and statistics to back up their prospecting decisions, instead of solely relying on gut feel, pre-existing biases, and perceived brand reputation—which was the case not so long ago.
“Prospecting used to be that you would acquire a list, and that list started as old as the phone book, and it then became a list of companies in a geographic region or in a vertical,” says Jamie Shanks, Founding Partner of Pipeline Signals. “But all that people would do is to start calling from A to Z in the phone book, with no more intelligence other than the fact that some companies are bigger than others.”
And this is where sales intelligence comes in.
“Sales intelligence was invented to help sales teams properly select accounts with objectivity, prioritizing those accounts, and then segmenting where they should focus their time,” says Shanks. “Because according to a study done by Topo, 83.4% of sellers that don’t meet their quota could attribute their failure to poor time management.”
“And poor time management happens when you call every company with the same effort, not applying Pareto’s Law to look for the 20% of the accounts in your list that would yield 80% of your results.”
While prospecting is probably the top-of-mind use of sales intelligence, it actually affects each stage of your revenue cycle.
Aside from your net new prospective accounts, it can also affect your existing customers—your ability to retain, cross-sell to, and upsell to them. It can also affect your capacity to penetrate new markets, whether geographical regions or unexplored verticals.
“Without sales intelligence, priorities cannot be set forth,” says Sheth.
“You could have data that someone visited your website and while that could be a sign of interest, it may also not be the case. But if you compare that with data that says a previous customer that you’ve done business with has now moved on and has joined another account—that data is much more valuable.”
Staying on top of an ever-changing market requires the strategic collection and use of timely, accurate data. Utilizing prospect data, company data, and Compelling Events Signals gives sellers the best chance to connect with the right buyer at the right time, resulting in more high-quality sales opportunities.
The main purpose of sales intelligence is to help sellers better understand their customers and prospects.
Knowing the motivations behind your prospects’ buying decisions is a powerful thing, and when used wisely, can give you an asymmetrical advantage over your competitors.
Here are some ways to use sales intelligence.
This is what people think of upon hearing the term sales intelligence.
At the most basic level, a sales team would require accurate and up-to-date information about potential customers.
Based on your predefined criteria, sales intelligence can provide you with a list of companies that are likely to become your future customers, and can also deliver contact details of people who are most likely to respond positively to your outreach efforts.
Not all leads are created equal. Some prospects have a higher chance of progressing to sales opportunities, while others leads will, well, lead to a dead end.
This is where sales intelligence proves crucial: It provides sellers and marketers with the information they need to create an accurate ideal customer profile (ICP).
You see, there’s the opinion-based ideal customer profile: The kind of people that sellers want to sell to. You may think that companies of a certain size or people with a specific job title would be more likely to consider your product, or you believe that some ideal verticals are easier to sell to than others.
But that’s all subjective.
Since it’s based on your hunches, feelings, and beliefs, it would be nearly impossible to create an accurate picture of the people who are actually more likely to buy your products—the people whom you should actually be targeting.
You’ll need sales intelligence for this. That’s the only way your sellers will have an objective, data-based way of determining which leads they should prioritize.
Data is only useful if it’s accurate.
Cleansed, updated data provides solid support for all your sales and marketing efforts, from your lead scoring and nurturing methods to your content marketing strategy.
Automated sales intelligence tools allow you to keep your account records updated and complete, even supplying missing information as necessary. And the more you know about your leads, the more context you can provide for your sales calls and outreach efforts, increasing your chances of turning a prospect into a customer.
The purpose of sales enablement is to provide salespeople with the resources they need—training, data, content, and tools—to be able to sell to their customers. When all your sellers’ efforts are properly supported, the need to rely on just a few overachievers to make quota will be reduced, allowing your sales organization to scale faster.
Reliable, accurate sales intelligence is crucial to your sales enablement efforts. This lets your sales team use more targeted, personalized content to better communicate with their leads and customers, leading to more deals.
Types of Sales Data
Firmographic data—information about employees, revenue, locations, and more—helps you learn more about your prospect’s organization. This is the most basic building block of sales intelligence.
Your customers aren’t the only thing that you should get to know. As a seller, it’s crucial that you know your product inside and out as well.
The further you go along in the phases of your sales process, the more your customer will ask technical questions and look for holes in your solution as they decide whether to invest in what you’re offering or to go with a competitor. Product data will help you give practical, in-depth answers to their technical questions, gently steering them towards a purchasing decision that’s more likely in your favor.
You can find out a lot about a company based on the tech solutions they use. It lets sellers sniff out opportunities to sell, outreach talking points to try, and ways to set yourself apart from your competitors.
For example, if you’re offering a data visualization tool that can be integrated with a particular CRM, it makes sense to add existing users of that CRM to your priority list.
Behavioral data enables you to understand your existing relationships on a deeper level so you could better gauge how receptive they would be to your outreach efforts.
What kind of content have your prospects viewed or downloaded? How many people within an account have viewed or engaged with your content? What actions have they taken on your site, or how have they engaged with your social media accounts?
Contextual /intelligence data
Contextual data goes deeper than technographic data, taking a closer look at things like how a company is using specific technologies, the amount of money they’re spending on cloud storage services, and the locations where their markets are growing. The insights you can derive from this allow your sellers to have hyper-relevant conversations with prospects.
Urgency data allows you to focus on the leads that actually want to talk to you right now.
Did one of your prospects call or email you? Did they click on the “request demo” button on your website or email? Did they communicate with a chatbot on your site or social media page to look for additional information about your product?
All these scenarios are examples of urgency data and should be addressed as soon as possible.
When you’re done managing the urgent leads, you can then focus on the rest of your leads according to the level of interest. You can use prioritization data to help you understand which leads you should dedicate most of your time to. Once you have determined which leads you should prioritize, you can then increase their interest through strategic engagement campaigns, sales plays, and content.
Having clear insights into your competitor’s technology, operations and strategy can help you proactively differentiate yourself and highlight your unique value proposition.
That way, if a prospect says that your competitor has a particular feature that your product doesn’t offer, you’ll already have a rebuttal prepared. You can likewise use this knowledge in your talking points by focusing on your product’s features that are not offered by other solutions providers.
Buying Intent refers to the likelihood of a prospect purchasing a product now or in the near future. Buying Intent Data indicate if a customer is still consuming information about your product, is already interested, is ready to buy, or is not interested at all. If you know where exactly a prospect stands, you can better plan your lead engagement and nurturing efforts, focusing on the most promising leads to get the best results.
Monitoring Buying Intent
In face-to-face interactions, it’s usually easy to tell when a customer is one step closer to (or further from) purchasing. There are observable buying signals—certain body movements, facial expressions, vocal tone changes, and other small signs that can be detected by seasoned sellers.
However, it can be difficult to detect buying signals when selling online. But there are certain actions that your team should capitalize on at the earliest notice. These include:
- Reading the articles, blogs, and publications on your website
- Viewing your videos
- Downloading your eBooks, reports, and other content
- Clicking CTA links on your emails
- Signing up for a free trial or a product demo
- Attending webinars and online conferences
- Engaging with your social media content
- Reaching out to your Customer Service Team to ask about your products
- Engaging with your competitor’s content
These data can indicate a prospect’s interest in your product, giving you the opportunity to plan a way to push them closer to a purchasing decision. When you observe a lead doing one of these actions, you should be prepared to have a strategy in place to get the ball rolling.
Leveraging video as a communication medium
By sharing your content using a video tool that tracks views, you can easily review the analytics to see which prospects have seen your content. Someone watching a video several times is a strong indicator of interest, and your sales team should take action as soon as possible.
Leverage multimedia presentations to aggregate learning materials
Media presentation tools give you a better way to communicate with your accounts. They can enrich your story, emphasize focal points in your content, and generate buying intent signals—all in a neat, email-friendly package.
If you send a prospect a white paper using a media presentation tool, you can see when the recipient downloaded it or read it, perhaps even how long it took them to go through the material. It’s a strong sign of interest that allows your team to make wiser decisions on how you spend your time.
Compelling Events Signals
In addition to the data listed in the previous section, you also have to take into account certain digital events and insights that can help your team determine areas of opportunity and risk in your Total Addressable Market, or TAM.
At Sales for Life, we call these Compelling Events Signals, or simply, Signals, and they have drastically improved the sales pipeline of several companies that we’ve taught the concept to. Setting up these Signals on LinkedIn search will allow your revenue team to spend more time on activities that have a higher likelihood of resulting in a won deal.
Aside from creating pipeline, Signals also function as a way to keep track of what’s going on within your existing customers. Beyond simple intelligence, the insights delivered by Signals allow you to keep an eye on what’s happening within your accounts so you’re always ready for potential sales opportunities. And by using verified data to monitor and protect relationships at scale, your revenue is kept secure.
“We’ll monitor your accounts, so you never miss a beat,” says Sheth. “Never miss someone joining, never miss someone leaving, never miss customers coming in. Never miss competitors talking to your accounts. That’s what Signals can do.”
Knowing and monitoring Time Signals allows your team to develop sales plays in advance.
These specialized searches are powerful means to gauge and track the movements in your accounts, as human movement to, from, or within a company, department, or organization reflects the allocation of capital.
And any salesperson worth their salt knows that the money lies where the priorities are.
It’s important to target key stakeholders who join or leave your accounts, as they will inevitably start, stop, or pause projects, bringing new processes and perspectives with them along the way.
“The fastest and easiest door openers, outside of obviously buying intent, has been Time Signals,” says Shanks. “The appointed leader Signal is critical, and it’s critical that you’re engaging that executive before your competition.”
Reaching out to them during the first half of a year is really important: That’s when sales professionals are four times more likely to get meetings and discuss priorities with key stakeholders. Finding, engaging, and educating the right people during this critical time frame will make a big difference.
The Stakeholder Search is a simple way to track influential people joining your target, named, or customer accounts.
If set up correctly, it will provide your sales team with information about the best people to approach for sales conversations. Being aware of these changes will make your team better prepared to have relevant business conversations with different people in your accounts.
Priorities can change when people leave, increasing the possibility of churn and introducing risk.
By setting up this search on LinkedIn, you can keep track of employees who leave your accounts and plan better for such scenarios.
A often-ignored sign of a customer account’s priorities is the growth (or reduction) of its departments.
By setting up this Signal on LinkedIn, your sellers can detect opportunities and mitigate risk, proving how crucial it is for the development of your sales pipeline.
Job postings show where a customer’s hiring priorities lie, providing you with insights into the company’s growth and giving you the opportunity to initiate conversations with stakeholders who could be involved in the hiring process.
Remember: Your network is your net worth.
Knowing the right people can transform your market, giving you more opportunities and a higher possibility of closing deals. Your relationships can pose great opportunities for you if you know how to map them correctly and leverage this data.
One way to go about this is to select one of your accounts, draw a circle around its logo, and ask how they can benefit from your product and how successful your eventual partnership would be. This is called creating a Sphere of Influence, and it provides you with a visible, actionable way to find opportunities and reduce churn.
A lot of people have strong ties to their alma mater. Sellers can take advantage of this connection by engaging with alumni who fit your ICP. These people are usually valuable resources of opportunities, and can introduce you to key stakeholders in the accounts you want to target.
Advocates are people who are more likely to engage with you because they already have direct experience with your product or had previously purchased your solution.
The Past Advocate Search, in particular, focuses on people who used to be employed at accounts that are satisfied customers of your company, and have since moved to new accounts that your sellers can penetrate.
Since you already have established relationships within these new accounts, your sales team will have an easier time creating opportunities with higher rates of conversion.
What makes this Signal effective is a concept called the Sphere of Influence.
“Take an existing happy customer and reverse-engineer from a simple question: ‘Who would care about the story and success of that happy customer?’” says Shanks.
“It’s like a spider web. Every time we want a customer, there were three or four or five other companies that were interrelated, companies and people were interrelated to the success or failure of that company. And if I told our customer story to those people, we would have a much greater probability of starting an effective conversation.”
The Cross-Reference Search, on the other hand, is similar to the Past Advocates search, but instead focuses on people who have recently entered your target, named, or customer accounts.
This presents opportunities for upselling and cross-selling, which your sellers should take advantage of.
Some companies target and prioritize employees from specific companies during their hiring process.
You can set up a signal on LinkedIn that will allow you to pinpoint the top companies that employees from your accounts are transferring to, providing crucial information that can improve your outreach strategy.
A warm introduction from a trusted individual can accelerate a conversation with a prospect.
In fact, a study showed that as much as 84% of B2B decision-makers get appointments via referrals, compared to just cold calling’s 33 percent.
While it’s always good to know someone who knows someone, a referral can prove especially useful in accounts where you have little to no established connections yet. As long as you’re polite and professional when asking to be introduced, you shouldn’t encounter a lot of resistance.
The saying “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer” applies to a lot of things in life, but it’s especially critical in the volatile world of business. That’s why you should set up LinkedIn searches for competitive signals, which can help you track the presence of competitors and their influence on your target, named, or customer accounts.
Knowing what your competitors are doing lets your sellers see areas of risk. When you know what you should avoid, you can make more informed decisions about the accounts you should prioritize, the sales actions you should devote more time on, and the resources you might require to increase your chances of closing a deal.
The collection of sales intelligence shouldn’t stop the moment a stakeholder resigns from a competing company. If the person in question assumes a key role in one of your target or named accounts, your prospecting efforts might be at risk. As they are likely to have existing biases towards certain products, services, or solutions, their presence on the buying committee of a prospect account can impair your progress.
Now, we don’t recommend immediately disengaging with an account the moment you see someone from a competing company in a key role. You can, however, adjust your strategy so you can place yourselves in a more favorable position.
Aside from former employees, you should also be on the lookout for people in your target, named, or customer accounts who have used your competitors’ products or solutions. You can find this data by searching for keywords related to your competitors within a person’s experience set.
This sales intelligence lets you identify people who might be against the purchase of your company’s product.
Sales Intelligence Best Practices
Keep your databases clean
A bad database can drastically affect your entire sales or marketing approach. If your sales intelligence isn’t up to par, your processes and results will be affected—and to add insult to injury, you’re literally paying for it.
A messy database can spell all sorts of problems, such as wrong contact information, failed contact attempts, misaligned messaging, wrong segmentation, high bounce rates, and skewed ROI numbers. It’s worth it to invest in tools that can automatically update, sync, and remove duplicate data as you gain new information. This ensures a clean, accurate, and dynamic database that can deliver the information your company requires.
Remember: Data is only useful when it’s accurate.
Leveraging data validation tools can go a long way in ensuring the validity of your data, preventing a negative impact on your bottom line.
Encourage clear communication lines between your sales, marketing, enablement, and customer success departments
Your teams should always keep in mind that they are all working towards the same goal: to create customer value and drive revenue.
Data and intelligence should be shared mindfully, with provided context to better understand the importance of each new piece of information. The goal is to provide more knowledge, not make more noise.
Clear, open communication is the secret to an agile sales and marketing team that can deliver and consume insights and feedback intelligently. This reduces the amount of friction between teams, improving cooperation and collaboration and making it easier for your whole revenue team to work together for your ROI.
Hold regular training sessions
Though it seems like an optional thing, sales training and coaching can greatly affect your business’ revenue.
New sellers need to know how they can best use sales intelligence to firm up their sales strategy, while veteran salespeople can benefit from a refresher course on sales methods and buying signals, especially since selling has shifted to a mostly digital battlefield.
Sending a seller off without sufficient training will most likely result in failure. It’s one of the best investments a company can make—in fact, Sales for Life, the premiere social selling training company for B2B, has proven results of 25% pipeline growth and 20% win rate. By maximizing your yield-per-seller, you can improve your success at an exponential rate.
Reach out to the best possible prospects
In sales, as with most good things in life, it’s always better to choose quality over quantity.
When prospecting, you want to connect with people who can actually influence your sales—people with actual purchasing power. And your sales intelligence should help you achieve this.
A long list of contacts in your database will hardly matter if none of them are key decision makers. Sales intelligence can help your sellers pinpoint if a contact is worth spending time, effort, and resources on, effectively shortening the sales process, and can enable the creation of personalized messaging for these prospects.
Selling has become an increasingly difficult field. With targets increasing year on year, more and more sellers are having trouble meeting their quota.
That’s why it has never been more important for salespeople to be on alert for information that can lead to an opportunity to close a deal, whether it’s with a new customer or an existing one.
Sellers should know what kind of information would give them an asymmetric advantage over their competition.
Knowing which Signals to look out for, and how they could impact your pipeline, gives them a massive advantage. Detecting buying signals in the digital world will allow your sellers to plan their moves way in advance, increasing their chances of closing a deal.
Sales Intelligence and Signals put your revenue team in the best position to succeed. Even the most skillful sellers—those who can sell water to a fish—would need intelligence to support and effectively close their deals. Not investing in sales intelligence for your sellers would be akin to sending them to war unarmed.