Data-Driven Field Force: 4 Keys to Empower People in the Digital Era

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Data-Driven Field Force: 4 Keys to Empower People in the Digital Era
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As businesses embrace the digital transformation, sales – a domain fueled by personal connections – is evolving in intriguing ways. Nowadays, data solutions are on a crucial mission to help field force figure out what they need to know and do to win customers’ hearts and make the sale. Does this mean the end of sales as we know it? Sales based on interpersonal relationships? Yes, and no. Sales are transforming, but to truly make data work for sales teams, we have to get a few things working together. And guess what? They are (almost) all focused on people.

The trend is already underway: Gartner predicts in The Future of Sales report that by 2025, 80% of interactions between suppliers and buyers in B2B sales will occur via digital platforms. Additionally, around 60% of B2B sales organizations are expected to move away from traditional reliance on experience and intuition, instead embracing data-driven methods in their sales tactics. This shift will entail consolidating sales processes, applications, data, and analytics into a cohesive operational framework, with a focus on putting the human element at the center.

Here’s a quick success story: a sales rep struggled to reach a specific client despite using typically effective communication channels like calls and emails.

Turning to our new web-based data solution, she accessed the client’s profile and noticed that this customer has opted in for postal communication in the past. Therefore, she sent a targeted direct mail with basic information about the product that she was promoting. The client responded promptly, showing interest in more details, which finally resulted in a F2F meeting between the two. This decision was not only data-driven but also effective.

A well-designed data solution can indeed greatly assist salespeople. However, to achieve this outcome, it’s important to remember a few key things during their development and implementation.

Integrate Stakeholders and Systems to Build Trust

Field force rely on up-to-date, solid, and spot-on information about customers, products, and markets. That’s why their often dog-eared, scribbled-on notes (or their trusty, meticulously filled-over-the-years Excel spreadsheets) are so precious.

Data solutions must be better than conventional tools used by sales reps, and the quality of the data and insights they provide will be key to gaining user trust. This is particularly important at the ground level, as trust in data and one’s position in the organizational hierarchy are typically inversely correlated – the lower you are in the organization, the less trust in the data you typically have.

Maintaining data cleanliness, tidiness, and 99% accuracy, especially at large scales (imagine, our application serves over 23 million customer profiles) is no easy feat. Achieving this requires different stakeholders to take ownership of their data at various stages, and all systems must seamlessly integrate, including CRM, MarTech, master data, metadata, external data partners, and internal Advanced Analytics & Data Science algorithms.

Reliability is another critical factor. If a service isn’t available when needed most, users are likely to rely on their instincts rather than trying again.  And once trust is lost, it’s incredibly difficult to regain.

Keep it Simple

Just providing access to data is not enough. It needs to be organized and consolidated in one place to save users time from connecting the dots themselves.

But that’s not all. Often overlooked and traditionally seen as a cost, user experience (UX) co-created with end users is key when it comes to planning dashboards, reports and features. This, in fact, is a prerequisite for the successful adoption of new solutions. Consider how you can save users’ time and make the software even easier and faster to use.

And seriously, we really have to ditch flashy interfaces that look like they’re straight out of Windows XP – we’re not on the Back to the Future set! Instead, we need to prioritize simple, clear solutions. Remember, people buy with their eyes and prefer simplicity over complexity. I’ve lost count of how many times our product has been praised simply because people love how it looks. We achieved this by keeping it plain, simple, and consistent with design principles. Check out Maciej Kłodaś’ article if you want to see how UX is changing the game in enterprise solutions—it’s seriously worth a read!

Here’s a perfect example: the introduction of a customer timeline feature in our app. It displays only the most recent interactions of each customer. Since the majority of our users are primarily interested in recent touchpoints, they can now view all relevant information on one graph without the need for scrolling. As a result, over 50% of users can have their basic questions answered instantly. This streamlined experience not only saves time but also encourages users to return for future interactions.

Collaboration between designers and users at every project stage is vital, as designers’ expertise can significantly impact the entire lifecycle of an analytics use case.

Allow Users to “Own” the Application

In solutions involving stakeholders at various levels of the organization, such as field force and sales management, data solutions must account for differences.

Allowing users to customize and enhance their experience is crucial. Once they start utilizing these features, they feel a sense of ownership over the application, making it feel personalized rather than generic.
While achieving personalization on a global scale with over 10,000 active users can be challenging, it’s not always necessary to delve deeply. For instance, in the Japan market, we experienced a surge in adoption rates by extensively collaborating with local businesses to capture the unique business and cultural variations. This localized approach has made Japan one of our most engaged user bases.

Another essential aspect is relevance. How can we effectively tailor solutions on a broader scale? In our case, the introduction of the favorites feature struck a perfect balance. It could be implemented globally at no additional cost, yet it empowered end users to personalize their experience according to their preferences.

Drive User Adoption

Providing proper training and support for field force in using data and analytical tools is essential for them to effectively leverage this information in their day-to-day work.

Two factors can significantly impact the outcome of this process. Firstly, without adequate training and internal promotion, there will be no users. It’s simple – if people don’t know something exists or understand its benefits, they won’t use it. And even if the tool is ready, poorly delivered training will result in poor adoption. For us as the vendor, it’s crucial to equip trainers with comprehensive knowledge about the application’s functionality, available features, and its business objectives. Additionally, maintaining user-friendly documentation and facilitating clear communication of all updates are essential. These practices ensure that stakeholders remain up-to-date, ultimately benefiting users as well.
Secondly, without proper support and service level agreements (SLAs), users will gradually lose trust. If inquiries are poorly managed or remain unanswered for weeks (if not months), trust in the system diminishes. We live in a complex world with complex problems and applications that aim to solve them. Therefore, support must also be complex to address the diverse needs of users effectively.

Sure, this part usually falls on the client’s side since they have internal communication tools and their own training resources. However, as solution providers, we still have an impact on user adoption. How? By remembering that we create these solutions for people. Making sure our solution seamlessly integrates with existing systems, like CRM, and causes minimal disruption to users’ workflows, encourages greater enthusiasm for using the tool and breaks the barriers to entry.

In the world of data-driven solutions, human connection is vital.  While creating them, our focus should be on collaboration and a deep understanding of human behavior. This approach, centered on people, goes beyond mere financial gains—it can transform the landscape entirely.
Take, for example, one of our bespoke applications: it serves as a guide for sales teams, providing tailored recommendations on customer interactions and content strategies. Instead of micromanaging, it offers a strategic direction for navigating the business landscape, empowering users to make informed decisions based on their insights into their clients’ needs.

And the results? The vast majority of users have seamlessly integrated the app into their workflow, resulting in significant sales growth for clients who followed the recommendations.
So, when it comes to data tools, if you’ve developed a solution that’s user-friendly and aligned with end-users’ needs, you probably will succeed.

And the ROI? The users harnessing the power of your data will ensure it.