In a nutshell: The emerging importance of salesperson analytical skills

Scientific articles contain valuable management implications, but are usually not very easy to digest. We summarize the core results so that you can use the latest research findings for your company.

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Several studies suggest that accelerating technology, increasing product complexity, and an expanding volume of information in the marketplace are changing sales roles, necessitating a review of the current sales skills required for success. [Particularly with] the onset of COVID-19, it became evident that salespeople needed to adjust their selling approaches. […]
Using mixed methods, we examine the skills required of contemporary B2B salespeople. First, we draw on unique data from 3.8 million LinkedIn job postings to examine which skills sales recruiters are seeking in new hires. Whilst confirming the importance of previously researched sales skills, this identified a sales skill largely disregarded by the extant literature: salesperson analytical skills. […] This skill was ranked #2 in recruiting frequency, highlighting its importance in practice […].
We triangulated these findings through interviews with 20 sales executives and developed a scale to measure this new analytical skills construct. Then, to test the scale’s predictive and nomological validity, we used survey data from 251 business-to-business salespeople.
Results reveal that salesperson analytical skills have both a direct and a moderating effect on sales performance across varying selling situations. […] We found that analytical skills enhance the relationship between salesperson effort and salesperson performance, most likely by focusing effort (on the right activities and the right customers) where it can deliver the highest performance return. […] This performance-enhancing opportunity manifests itself in two ways: 1) enabling a deep understanding of the customer and the ability to generate customer insights; 2) helping with the sales process by improving pipeline and territory management.

Key statements

The demands made on sales have undergone a seismic shift. This development came to a head during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article, the authors explore what capabilities are associated with success in B2B sales.
Using a mixed-methods approach, they analyze 3.8 million job ads and conduct interviews as well as a survey. The authors identify the heightened importance of analytical capabilities in sales and demonstrate that sales performance can be increased by up to 40% through improvements in analytical capabilities. Analytical capabilities are understood as the targeted collection, evaluation, and interpretation of data as well as the ability to shape one’s own actions on the basis of the knowledge attained. In sales, these capabilities make themselves apparent in two ways:

  1. Attainment of in-depth knowledge: salespeople use data to tailor their sales approach to customers, identify customers with high and low potential, or to gain a better understanding of the industry.
  2. Proactive management of funnels and territories: salespeople take a data-driven approach to making precise forecasts, controlling conversion along the sales funnel, and monitoring customer churn.

The following can be seen as starting points for helping you improve the analytical capabilities of your sales team:

  • Design an attractive user experience: overcome salespeople’s fear of customer contact by giving them intuitive tools for customer analytics.
  • Call for and foster the use of analytics: embed data-based work in the daily routines of the business (such as by adding a KPI cockpit to the home screen) and support such work with targeted training as required.
  • Establish a data-driven mindset: help your sales team better understand data by discussing customer case studies and analytics and by brainstorming solutions together as a team.

Peesker, K. M., Kerr, P. D., Bollander, W., Ryals, L. J., Lister, J. A. & Dover, H. F. (2022). Hiring for sales success: The emerging importance of salesperson analytical skills. Journal of Business Research. 144. 17-30.