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The secret to selling more? Sales intelligence

Sales teams have a basic but ever-challenging task: Sell stuff and make money for the company. But they can't do that without proper insight into the business.

There's a brass bell affixed to the wall of our suburban Boston office. It's on the second floor, where our sales team works. When a rep makes a sale, that bell ding dong dings throughout the building -- each ring representing thousands of dollars. It can go on for five, 10, 15, even 20 seconds, followed by happy yips and hoots.

The editors on the third floor, me included, just want to get some work done. But we also know something is happening that has an impact on our jobs: When sales reps sell, that pays the bills and puts food on our tables.

But bells aren't ringing everywhere, even in an economy on the upswing. According to research cited in this issue of Business Information, 58% of salespeople are struggling to meet their quotas. In her cover story, Lauren Horwitz reports that "scattered information and limited visibility into the data" are cutting into sales. If sales reps give companies the gas to make them go, companies should be giving reps what they need to make them go.

Horwitz examines the sales intelligence strategies some companies are using to enrich their sales teams so they can sell more and drive increased business. "We don't make any decisions without data," says Stephan Blendstrup, senior director of global sales at Zendesk. The software vendor extended that motto to sales, investing in an analytics tool that helps its salespeople target the most promising leads -- and leave the others behind.

Then there's StoryBox, a startup that creates collages of user-generated photos. CEO Justin Nassiri said his sales team uses email so much to interact with potential customers, he went for a sales intelligence tool that lets reps access the info they need from their Gmail accounts. And getting data on sales performance? "It's a simple ask," Nassiri says.

Salespeople don't always get why they need to use new technology, though. Columnist Celso Mello writes in this issue that sales reps are "competitive and driven by results." They won't just learn how to use new software -- they need to know what's in it for them. So why should they use a new customer relationship management system? "They can close more deals at a higher dollar rate."

And sales won't get anywhere if customers don't relate to the message they receive. For another story, Ashley Smith talked to companies that are ditching generic email ad blasts and getting personal -- tailoring the pitch for each customer. Time Warner Cable, for example, is using a cloud-based marketing system to see how customers interact with its website; the company uses that data to decide how it should reach out. "The more you personalize, the more well-received it is by customers," says Rob Roy, head of e-commerce and digital marketing.

So know your customer, make the sale -- sounds simple. It's not, but by using the right tools to find the right data, it can be a done deal. And that's something that rings true anywhere.

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