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Published March 9th 2017

5 Reasons Why Your Sales Team Are Your Most Valuable Qualitative Research Asset

Sean Campbell explains why you should be making your sales team work as a research asset in this guest article.

Unfortunately, many companies undervalue their sales professionals.

Sales teams are conducting qualitative research all the time. Talking to them is perhaps the lowest cost qualitative research project you could possibly do. It’s also your best chance to achieve a strong sales strategy in sync with the goals of your organization.

The two mistakes companies often make in this regard are:

  • 1. Companies’ market research teams typically don’t have a great perception of their own sales team.
  • 2. Sales teams aren’t often invited to participate as major stakeholders in market research studies.

Having worked with many Fortune 1000 clients, I’ve seen this happen a lot.

I know who companies’ market research leaders invite to the table. Usually representatives from marketing and product development are invited right away.

If the project is important enough, a vice president or C-level executive gets an invite too. Sales Leadership is skipped over far too often. That is a huge mistake.

1. Sellers and market researchers can often have different perspectives: don’t fear it, use it to your advantage

Sales and market research demand very different approaches to be effective at each job.

Think about how each role would behave in a meeting to discuss a research project. You’re probably picturing the following:

  • The salesperson will talk a lot and the market researcher will ask a lot of questions.
  • The salesperson will push the group to make a decision and the market researcher will counsel patience.
  • The market researcher will rely on data and the salesperson will rely on instinct.

Frankly, there may be an element of truth to these stereotypes. No problem.

Different perspectives are not a bad thing. The whole room will be pushed to consider possibilities they wouldn’t have otherwise.

I’ll give an example of the sales-as-an-afterthought syndrome. On a recent project for a Fortune 200 company, we received a list of stakeholders as the project kicked off. Since this project was large, the stakeholder list was understandably large as well.

There were 15 names from all over the business. Product development, the executive team, marketing and, of course, market research team leads, were all represented. Oddly, not a single salesperson, sales manager, director of sales or even a sales VP were on the list.

To make matters worse, this was a project to figure out which opportunities the client should pursue in a market crowded with competitors. It’s hard to imagine that sales leadership wouldn’t have something worthwhile to contribute to the subject of sales strategy.

They may have already had the answers to some of the questions that the researchers were after. At the very least, sales leaders undoubtedly had highly relevant questions on the topic and should have been given the opportunity to ask.

Further, the outcome of the study was directly pertinent to crafting an effective sales strategy. It made zero sense to have no one to represent sales on the stakeholder list.

2. Products don’t sell themselves

This is another big reason why I think invites to sales leaders get “lost in the mail.”

You see this bias crop up in many Silicon Valley companies. They might say, “We don’t worry about what the competition is doing. We just build great products.” They may proudly boast of their focus on “doing” over selling.

I guarantee you that every company has someone (or several someones) in sales even if they don’t title them like they are.

I’m sorry, products don’t just sell themselves. Someone has to tell the narrative that connects the product to a set of business problems or opportunities.  Someone has to develop and execute on a sales strategy.

3. Sellers are a valuable source of qualitative data

The biggest reason why sales teams are not invited to the stakeholder team is that people tend to think that the data salespeople can provide is inherently biased.

ALL data is inherently biased.

Download numbers, SaaS service trial counts, website page visits, feature usage, NPS scores… All that data has an agenda too. It’s collected for a specific purpose and intended to measure a specific thing. It doesn’t necessarily bring context along with it. (That’s what market researchers are for.)

In many ways, B2B salespeople are conducting qualitative research every single day that they work for your company.

Your first reaction to this statement may be, “No way. They don’t record the conversations they have. They don’t transcribe them. They certainly don’t code the responses, and they don’t build findings decks.” You’re right. They don’t.

They do have conversations with real and potential customers every single day. With each interaction, salespeople use their personal experience to influence the behavior of buyers. That makes their personal experience an incredibly important factor for sales strategy.

Conversations between salespeople and buyers drive:

  • Customer engagement.
  • Future conversations with potential customers.
  • The actual sales of your company’s product.

B2B sales cycles last months or even years. Sellers engage with a buying team of roughly 5-10 people through what might amount to tens or even hundreds of online, phone, and in-person interactions.

Basically, your sales team has a ton of untapped data on your customers and potential customers.

Each B2B sale is a mini qualitative research project.

What are some ways you can engage with sales to mine this kind of intelligence? How can you infuse your next research effort with sales insights? How can you learn more about your company’s sales strategy? Ask your sales team these three questions.

4. They know your business personas best

So often, market research targets personas that have been in play for so long that they are no longer questioned.

The sales team knows what’s really working. They know the personas who bite and the personas who don’t.

Ask them who they go for first at the start of a sales cycle by:

  • Role.
  • Title.
  • Type of company.

This will tell you at least one of the buyer personas you need to target in your research efforts.

Then ask them the same questions about the big sales. The ones that take longer and require more effort but would provide more long-term benefits. You’ll surface additional buyer personas or even whole market segments that need to be considered.

Make sure to also ask the crucial question of who they never try to sell to by role, title and type of organization. You’ll get a sense of which customers are actively buying competing solutions or aren’t buying any solutions.

5. Listen and learn from your sales team’s pitches

The third thing you want to do is ask your sales team to share their pitch.

In complex B2B sales, there’s no script that a seller reads. It’s not a standardized process.

Your best salespeople hone their pitch using the positive and negative feedback they receive from talking to prospective and current customers. If they highlight certain features, you can guarantee there’s a data-driven reason for that.

If they talk up pricing in a certain way, there’s a data-driven reason for that too. If they specifically comment on competitors, there is a reason why.

Inviting sales to the stakeholder team should be common practice.  It’s in your company’s best interest to make it mandatory.

You’re guaranteed to get insights that will help shape your study in positive ways. You’re also likely to make all the other stakeholders in marketing, product development, and executive teams happier with the results. Not mention sharpen your sales strategy.  

Sean would like to thank Isabel Gautschi, Marketing Assistant at Cascade Insights for co-authoring this article.

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