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In the Know or in the Dark? How to Prepare Sales Teams for Volatility

Robert Irwin< Robert Irwin January 11, 2022

In periods of volatility and uncertainty, companies must be ready to adapt at the drop of a hat to rapid changes in underlying market conditions. They need an inbuilt, organisational sense of agility. Pricing and selling agility are critical to not just surviving the unknown, but to beating the competition.  

As you think about how to achieve agility, your first instincts may lead to concepts of more flexibility for the sales team: in terms of targets or floors (although we hope you have already stepped away from the practice of using floors). Or in general, establishing more decentralised decision authority.  There is certainly nothing wrong in principle with empowerment. We want to achieve that. However, if it is not combined with supporting information and guidance to help sales make the right decision, then it may come at the cost of profitability and margin performance.  

Agility Alone is Not Enough

Organisations need agility, but not at the cost of making the wrong negotiation decision. Today, B2B commercial processes demand both the speed (right product) and accuracy (right price) to empower sales teams to take advantage of profitable opportunities and respond quickly (right time) to changes in market conditions. Think of it as Agility through Accuracy. Accuracy of the target guidance, accuracy of cross-sell and up-sell recommendations, and accuracy of the identification of poor performance. 

I want to focus further on the latter topic: Accuracy of the identification of poor performance. Agility through Accuracy is achieved in this case by combining data and technology, putting it into the hands of the right experts. Better pipeline visibility allows quicker decision-making for allocating resources and whitespace identification to prioritise opportunities.  

Achieving agility requires up-to-the-minute actionable intelligence delivered into the hands of the sales team. Pricing playbooks offering a repeatable, easy-to-use process provide a shortcut to best-practice analytics to quickly respond to trends in pricing and sales operations. 

It’s time to think about three things: 

1. Adopting Statistics to Reduce Analysis Time and Improve Accuracy  

Statistics and advanced statistical analysis are being used in a variety of industries to great effect. From baseball to blackjack, they are game-changers in establishing a competitive advantage. 

Organisations need agility, but not at the cost of making the wrong negotiation decision.

Baseball The Story of Billy Beane 

Billy Beane was the GM of the Oakland A’s baseball team, and his story has been captured in the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis and in the film of the same name.  Traditionally in baseball, to improve the team a group of target players is identified based on a scout’s assessment and some average statistics. This meant that all teams were basically identifying the same set of target players.  All things being equal, the team with the most financial clout will always be able to afford more and “better” players. 

Billy realised that the Oakland A’s were never going to be able to compete financially – they needed to think differently. He understood that the most important element of the game was actually to “get on base”, which increased the probability of scoring and winning.  He adopted a different approach and used advanced statistical analysis, sabermetrics, to evaluate players based on their on-base percentage (OBP) performance…players everyone else overlooked

In 2002, the Oakland A’s completed a 20-game winning streak, the first time since the Chicago Cubs completed the same feat in 1935. They outscored other teams 141 to 65 and did so on a payroll of $42M, versus the Yankees’ payroll of $126M in that same season.

Blackjack – The Story of Jeff Ma 

Jeff Ma was a member of the infamous MIT Blackjack Team and his story was captured in the film 21. The group created an ingenious method for counting cards based on talent, creativity, and statistics. Jeff Ma now works as a consultant helping companies look at the way they analyse their data.  He states: “It’s about changing emotional gut feel environments and achieving success by gathering the right data and analysing it rationally.” 

So, if it’s possible to use statistics and advanced statistical analysis in blackjack and baseball to gain a competitive advantage, then why not in pricing?  The answer, of course, is that this is exactly what you should be doing; using statistics to speed up the opportunity identification process and to become more specific about your analysis, not just relying on average metrics.   

2. Defining a Standard, Documented Process to Guide the Analysts 

Why do you need a documented process for analytics? Well, it’s the same reason that when you cook something for the first time, you follow a recipe.  You probably follow the recipe the second or even third time, until you know the steps so well that you can cope without.  

It’s no different with pricing analytics. The first time you use the solution, you need to be guided; if you want to analyse X, start with Metric A and then follow steps 1 to 4. Repeat. This is your Analytics Playbook; a documented, standardized, repeatable step-by-step guide to the analytics process that you use until you know the process by heart. It’s going to save your analysts a lot of time and a lot of frustration. 

3. Using Technology to Automate the Opportunity Identification Process  

There are three steps to the analytics process: Opportunity Identification, Evaluation and Capture 

As you know, even with clean data and a state-of-the-art Pricing Analytics solution, identifying the opportunities still takes time.  Using statistics for quick identification can shorten that process, but still leaves a lot of work to do. 

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As Henry Ford realized in 1908, the major advantage of a standardized, repeatable process is..? That you can automate it.  So, why not with the Opportunity Identification process? This is, in fact, the future of Pricing Analytics; using a set of automated algorithms, that combine statistics with the automation of a repeatable, standardized Analytics Playbook to generate a list of potential opportunities to improve your pricing and margin. This will drive organizational agility through the accuracy of the guidance and insights delivered to the sales team.   

What is the lesson to walk away with?  Agility is vital to contending with the volatility of markets, particularly in current conditions.  To enable such agility, however, an organisation must first be able to identify poor performance and key opportunities to improve that performance. 

Without accuracy in how agility is targeted, a business may indeed be able to move faster…but may find it has simply accelerated how quickly it reaches the wrong destination.