For as long as there have been sales reps, sales leaders have questioned how much they can trust information coming from those reps. It’s a sad state of affairs that many companies don’t trust their sales reps to provide data that’s accurate enough for the organization to act on. The truth is that some reps will provide false information to help themselves, particularly when it can be linked back to incentive compensation. While a few bad apples give the industry a bad reputation, it’s much more important to remember that most reps are trustworthy and have information that can be extremely valuable to the organization.
For many medical device and other sales companies, this wealth of knowledge goes largely untapped. Commercial leadership is always looking to find the next great data set—costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars—but they underestimate the value of the data that the sales organization can provide for free. While there isn’t any external cost to collecting data from the field, it does take time. Therefore, it becomes very important to keep it simple and easy to accomplish, both in collection (easy, online, not requiring individual spreadsheets) and low effort to accomplish and repeat (set, regular process requiring less than 30 minutes to achieve).
A couple of years ago, one of my clients asked if we could collect and analyze rep data to better understand the market. We challenged reps to fill out about 10 pieces of data, mostly numbers or binary yes-or-no types of questions. Once collected, the data was analyzed, and we found a wealth of insights, which led to the creation of a brand-new segmentation that the client continues to use to this day. The segmentation now helps drive higher sales from accounts that had characteristics of being “willing” to purchase from the client versus competitors, and it reduced effort in accounts that we deemed too hard to crack. For a small sales team, it was quite critical that they determined the right place to put their effort to drive growth. This couldn’t have been achieved with purchased sales data or total market potential data.
This is just one example of the benefits of leveraging rep data. This type of data can be used in a number of different deployment analyses, including:
- Segmentation: Since it’s nearly impossible to purchase behavioral data across all accounts, you can leverage reps to provide their perspectives on how accounts act (or would act). In my earlier segmentation example, the data used was a mixture of doctor behavior, potential data and sales data.
- Targeting: Understanding more about accounts allows the organization to analyze how valuable they are beyond simple sales numbers. We asked a sales team to collect data on whether or not their accounts were strongly interested in growing their business through proactive efforts. The team used that data to figure out which accounts to target for specific new and exciting products.
- Call planning: The classic data that’s gathered from reps is effort (aka how many calls they make). Especially when combined with a segmentation, this powerful data can help the organization analyze the efficacy of sales calls and drive call planning.
Companies also can use the data to fix certain issues, such as validating the purchased data. Reps have a good sense of their accounts and, through a data-collection process, can tell you if the purchased market potential data for one account seems right compared with other accounts. Collecting rep data is also a great way to help with transitions when people leave the organization. The more data that you’ve captured about an account in your CRM system, the easier it is for the next rep to come in and understand how that account works.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, gathering data from reps gives them more skin in the game. If they start to fill in key data points and are thinking about how their accounts differ, they can leverage that data, conduct additional analyses and drive higher sales.
That said, there are things that you should be aware of when collecting and using rep data:
- Imperfect data: You can analyze rep-collected data at the national level or rolled up to the geographical level, but know that data isn’t perfect at the account or doctor level. Leadership needs to understand this key aspect of the data since this information is used throughout the organization.
- “Big Brother”: Sales reps tend to be cautious of “corporate” asking them for information. As solo practitioners in the field, their initial instinct is to worry that the company doesn’t trust them and wants to know what they’re doing. It’s important to show the reps how the data will be used to benefit them. How can that data link to marketing initiatives, get the right product to the right customer, or get the right service to the right customer?
- Manipulation of information: Because of “Big Brother”—and the assumption that sales reps want to improve their situations—some will figure out how to manipulate information to their advantage. For example, some reps might report a lower potential in their territory than the reality to help make their sales look better. Therefore, it becomes very important to have first-line managers involved in the data review process to ensure that no shenanigans occur.
- Misguided incentive compensation: There are very few situations where you should use rep-derived data to drive compensation. There’s just too much risk of bad behavior and poor data to compensate through rep data.
- Complexity: Keep it simple. You want your reps to sell, so keep the amount of data and the frequency of collection to a minimum to reduce distractions in the field.
Rep data isn’t perfect, but then again, neither is purchased data. Any organization that’s selling procedure-level or other such data is using algorithms to fill in the many blanks. With this in mind, give your reps a chance. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised at how much value they can provide, and how much they will appreciate contributing to the process.
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