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How to Speak Business Intelligence like a Sales Person

We’ve been fortunate enough to have an article published in the upcoming issue of TDWI’s BI Journal, due out later this month, that *spoiler alert* examines the qualities a successful business intelligence program though the lens of an Operations framework. Since there is often a disconnect between the business and IT functions of a company, we thought it would be good to get BI managers to see their work through the eyes of another department, while simultaneously speaking to business managers – in this case Operations executives – in a language that they understand.

BI in a Sales Framework

We thought that this approach may also be useful for other functional areas as well. And given that much of the challenge that BI teams face is “selling” the benefits of BI to their users, looking at BI through a Sales framework may help the overall success of your BI program.  Don’t worry, we’re not trying to get BI managers to start behaving like used car salesmen. Rather, the focus of this post is to help you understand and meet the needs of users.  While there are many variations to this approach to selling, most boil down to three things: understanding your client’s pains, exploring the impact of those pains, and developing a solution that will help to solve these pains.

BI for Sales: Understanding the Pains

Any successful sales person will tell you: it’s less about the product and more about the pain. In other words, if you’re speaking with a client, they really don’t care about what an offering can do. They care about what that offering can do for them. Take time to understand the challenges they face in their role. The opportunities that matter to them. By doing so, you’ll understand why they may (or may not) need a BI solution.

For example, a Finance executive may schedule a meeting with the BI team to complain about the inconsistent and ugly data, stating “we need a single version of the truth.” As a good sales person, your first question is “why is that single version of truth important?” Or, “what are you trying to accomplish with this data?” You would also want to explore other areas where this inconsistent data is causing pain, for example, is the Finance executive struggling with closing the books on time? 

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BI for Sales: Exploring the Impact

Once you’ve established what some of the pains are for your clients, it’s important to understand the impact of these pains.  Does not having a single of the version of the truth make it difficult for the finance department to focus on financial information that can actually have an operational impact? How much time does the manual process of closing the books monthly take? How much does that cost the department?

Ideally this impact can be quantified in terms of time or cost (real or opportunity cost). By looking at the impact of these pains, it makes it much easier to begin to quantifying the benefits of a well designed BI solution.

BI for Sales: Developing a Solution

Developing a solution should be a no brainer step for a BI director. This step, though, goes beyond the physical development of BI applications. Developing a solution means being able to parse out what’s most important to your users.  Because you’ve been able to determine what’s important through your exploration of pains and impact, you can then start to prioritize these solutions. Which will have the biggest impact? Which has the biggest risk.

Here you’ll have to wear both the sales and BI director hats to understand what your client needs, and what your capabilities for delivering solutions to those needs are.

Wrapping it Up: Sales is About Relationships

Once you’ve delivered a solution for your users based on their needs, it’s important to continue to cultivate your relationship. Initial success of developing a solution inevitably leads to greater adoption and increased demand for more applications from your BI team. By developing ongoing relationships with your users, you’ll be better equipped to solve their new challenges, and anticipate their needs.

By Adrian Alleyne, Director of Market Research

© DecisionPath Consulting, 2011

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