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Sales is essentially a human-to-human process that often happens through written or spoken communication. In the absence of automation, this can make data-driven strategies hard for sales teams to embrace since it requires a continued effort to manually enter data into the CRM (without human error). The resulting data quality issues also mean it’s hard to build the kind of predictive models that are available to other departments in the organization. But there’s hope since market research methods like secondary research, competitive intelligence, and qualitative interviews can be used to reach quick data wins and identify leads that convert at higher rates and higher values.

Power of Market Research

Market research is often labeled as a boring, inefficient process, bringing to mind paper surveys and mind-numbing focus groups. This perception couldn’t be further from today’s truth, as advancing technology and contemporary research methods continue to gain momentum. Market research equips you with an experimental environment to learn about the world in explicit detail. Conducting this research grants you access to information that you don’t otherwise have and is derived from two primary groupings: public information and proprietary information. Public information is available to anyone. Government datasets, academia, news media, and public domains (Slack groups, Twitter, etc.) are all sources you can draw on using secondary research.

The central difference between public and proprietary information is that public information isn’t something you create, it’s only passively consumed, while proprietary information is privately generated and not shared outside of your organization. Typical methods of producing proprietary information include surveys, observations, and qualitative interviews. While there’s no argument that quantitative data is an effective way to obtain information, qualitative data should be a sales team’s primary focus. Qualitative research is a fast and efficient way to uncover large trends, as well as providing insights for future quantitative research (like surveys). Regardless of whether you choose to perform secondary research for public information or qualitative research for proprietary information, you need to implement a system (click here for an example) for your process. Staying organized is critical to your success, and ANY system is better than none at all.

Secondary Methods

There’s never been a time in history where information has been so plentiful and easily accessible. An essentially never-ending supply of public knowledge is at your disposal, and that’s what makes secondary research so powerful. This sheer volume of information requires you to narrow your focus to only what is absolutely essential. Key market trends to observe are your competitor’s product, price, messaging, and channel mix. By understanding customer product preferences, pricing sensitivity, marketing messaging, and where they engage with the product allows you to optimize your organization and sort your secondary research. Customer chatter stemming from product reviews and public social media can easily be scraped for your research, as well as similar research performed in the past. Learning from similar studies saves you a significant amount of time, and greatly accelerates your process.

Qualitative Methods

In sales, the most valuable information you’ll obtain will be primarily collected through qualitative interviews. These interviews are especially effective for sales teams because most sales processes already include frequent contact and conversations with potential customers. As a first step, begin by getting the most out of these conversations. Store the information you learn and approach these conversations in a systematized way to test things. If you’re searching for answers you weren’t able to obtain through your regular sales process, consider preparing a script of topics and questions for a formal interview, and offering an incentive to the individuals you wish to speak with. There are several different types of qualitative interviews that can be organized into four main classes: Lead Qualification, Outreach, Pitch, and Nurturing Lost Deals. The qualification interview needs to either guided by your team or a very trustworthy partner because you need to be hyper-focused on obtaining information that predicts a deal will close. These interviews are typically conducted over the phone, and for some additional insight, you can try selling something like a “Power Hour” in place of doing an interview.

Assuming your organization has a solid CRM, the sales data from previous customers it provides you should make knowing when the best time for an Outreach Interview to a lead clear. These can be conducted over the phone or in person, and in some situations better conducted by a third party as consumers often times mistake research for a roundabout sales tactic. As previously stated, specific trends to look for include product preferences, pricing sensitivity, marketing messaging, and channel mix. The Pitch is typically done in person and is a perfect opportunity to collect observational data. During the pitch, looking for behavioral signals like body language can deliver you key information that can make or break a deal. Lastly, realizing that not every deal will close and understanding why one failed is very significant information to collect. However, very rarely will a former customer tell you the honest reason why your deal fell through. Hiring a third party for the interview and offering an incentive for participation is usually mandatory in this situation.

Using Behavioral Data

Behavioral Economics has been well validated by extensive research over the last several decades, and the information gained has been due in large part to the rise of computers. By gathering observational data from the real world, and then setting parameters to create representative agents/personas to be run in different simulations, validates the notion that people are predictable under certain conditions. The most important of these representative agents is your organization’s Pareto Persona. In accordance with the Pareto Principle, this persona represents the 20% of your customers that generate 80% of your sales revenue and is by far the most important to identify. By creating further subgroups with specific parameters, you can begin moving away from simply using averages in your data as a guide. By utilizing these research practices for quick data insights, your team will be able to more effectively identify permanent and profitable leads for your organization.

Want to optimize your conversion process? See our post on how to Data-Drive Better Sales Conversions.