The importance of keeping data in perspective

I’m kind of a data geek. I love KPIs, metrics and stats that reveal something new about the behaviors of both sellers and buyers.

While I appreciate the value of data, I’ve learned the importance of keeping data in perspective. I’m aware of the limitations of data.

As John H Johnson pointed out in his excellent book, “Everyday, The Misinformation Hidden in the Little Data You Consume Everyday” we indiscriminately accept much of the data pushed at us. We don’t factor in the context of the data we consume. We have an imperfect understanding of the variables that were at play, or that were manipulated, to produce the data we’re consuming.

As a result, all too often we jump to conclusions about what data is telling us. Instead of learning from it, we typically use data to confirm something that we already believe to be true. That’s our confirmation bias at work. We see cause and effect in data when what we're seeing, at best, are simple correlations.

It’s this uncertainty about our ability to effectively put data to use that makes it curious that so many in the sales profession keep banging the drum that selling is all about the numbers. The danger with this approach is that it overlooks, and undervalues, the uniquely human aspect of selling. There undeniably is one. And you ignore it at your own peril.

Pablo Mastroeni is the coach of the Real Salt Lake team in Major League Soccer. Soccer, like most other major sports, has experienced an influx of big data that has directly influenced how the game is played, how its teams are built and how they are managed.

Once, after a tough defeat, Mastroeni spoke from the heart at a press conference about the danger, in a profession that depends on humans to produce the ultimate outcomes (like soccer and B2B selling,) of relying solely on data to chart a path to success.

He pointed out that there are limits to how far the data can take you. At some point the human, the player, (or in sales, the sales rep,) has to take the initiative and do something that is intensely, and intrinsically, human, in order to make a difference in the outcome.

Here’s what Mastroeni said "Pundits and the people who like to comment on the game will look at possession and shots and all kinds of metrics that have very little to do with heart. And courage. And the commitment to each other…It gets back to saying it’s okay to be who we are….People have lost the plot with all these passing and shooting percentages, 'if you shoot from here, and do it 12 times, you will score'…Well, I’ll tell you what: the stats will lose to the human spirit everyday of the week.”

The same is true in selling.

The data can tell you a lot. But, if sales reps act merely as cogs in the gears of your sales machine, then they will lose everyday of the week to the sellers that have energized the buyer with their passion, curiosity and heart.

How You Sell Is How You Win.