Neil Lustig: Intuition vs. big data and predictive analytics

Albert Einstein once said, “The only real valuable thing is intuition.” While nobody can deny Einstein’s supreme intellect, I must respectfully disagree. Instinct is invaluable in many aspects of life, but I have learned throughout my career that it takes far more than instinct to be successful in sales.

In order to maximize effectiveness and profitability going forward, sales teams must rely less on intangible gut feelings in favor of big data and predictive analytics.

Art and science come together

There are roughly 1.8 million B2B sales people in the United States. Even with the advent of CRM solutions, which track progress against goals and remind salespeople when to call on prospects, many still depend heavily on intuition to negotiate and close deals.

This tactic works for some, but I would argue these sales people leave missed opportunities on the table. Big data and predictive analytics are changing all of this — infusing an art with a healthy dose of hard science.

One could argue that data scientists have been around for a long time to provide this kind of information. But not every company could afford one or had the foresight to employ one. Now, technologies entering the market leverage big data to provide salespeople access to sales history, customer performance, deal metrics and optimal target prices.

Armed with this historical and machine data, sales teams will become much more calculated in their decision-making. They will be able to predict the next product customers will buy, which customers are most likely to defect in the next 60 days, which prospects to call that day and perhaps most importantly, the right price to close a deal for maximum profitability. And, they will be able to do it all dynamically and in real time.

Look at history

We have seen the effect of data and analytics on organizations before. Twenty years ago, supply chain managers would come into warehouses with a pencil and clipboard to mark what supplies were low and then manually order needed stock.

Today, this would be unthinkable; any company that runs its supply chain like this will surely struggle to keep up with competitors. Instead, modern supply chain operations rely on historical data to know what to order and when.

The sales process is in the midst of a similar transformation. In the next five to 10 years sales people will increasingly leverage data in their craft. Customer relationship management and sales performance management tools replaced the briefcase and spreadsheet, bringing this age-old tradition into the 21st century.

Now, it is time for big data and predictive analytics to take us into the future. In addition to making salespeople more efficient and educated on the buying behaviors of their prospects, embracing a more scientific approach will also maximize their ability to close profitable deals and meet their quotas, no matter what industry they find themselves in. ●


Neil Lustig is CEO of Vendavo, the enterprise profitability solution of choice for more than 300 company divisions at some of the world’s biggest names in chemicals and process industries, consumer packaged goods, wholesale distribution, energy and utilities, technology, industrial manufacturing, and medical devices and consumables.