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Don’t Drown Your Sales Team in a Data Deluge

Back in 2004, a psychologist named Barry Schwartz published a book called The Paradox of Choice. It proposed a radical and still-controversial idea: having too many choices makes us unhappy. He said that Americans have more choices—and thus more freedom—than any group of people in history, but it hasn’t benefited us emotionally. Instead, we feel paralyzed by having too many options. Sometimes we’re so bewildered by our array of choices and so afraid of missing out on something good that we opt not to choose anything at all.

You can see this principle in action when you send a family member who doesn’t usually do the shopping to the grocery store. If you put something generic like “salad dressing” or “pasta” or “cereal” on the list, you can be sure that you’re going to get a call from a frustrated person who is standing in the aisle and isn’t sure which of the 100+ varieties to pick.

Something very similar happens when you give too much data to salespeople.

For decades, the proponents of big data analytics have been promising that if managers made enough data available to sales people, they would make smarter decisions about which products to promote to which customers and when.

But the reality hasn’t always lived up to the promise.

It turns out that most salespeople aren’t that good at being analysts. They don’t want to spend a lot of time sorting through data. By and large, they are “people persons” not number-crunchers. They don’t know which data is meaningful, so sometimes they ignore it all together.

It turns out that what salespeople need isn’t more data—it’s more answers.

What does that look like in practice? Here our grocery store example can help again. If you write “ranch dressing” or “gluten-free rotini” or “Cheerios” on your list, you take away a whole host of options and make the shopping experience more enjoyable and successful for everyone involved. In the same way, you want to provide the sales team with very specific information that will be useful for them. Instead of overwhelming them with a fire hose full of data, give them just the drip or two that they really need. The trick is providing the right information when and where it is most useful.

You can learn more about the problem of data overwhelm and real-world solutions in the tutorial Delivering Answers to the Point of Sale. It offers five steps that will help you give your sales team the answers they need.

Data-driven decision-making can lead to better business outcomes. You just need to provide the right data.

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