Subscription sales: A guide to data part 1 – building the foundation

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This is the eighth article in our 12-part subscription sales series, designed to help you understand and prepare for the evolving sales landscape. This article provides tools to create the necessary framework and processes to harness the full power of data and support critical business decisions. Don’t forget to read the previous seven articles in this series; a new sales strategy, customer segmentation, understanding your customer market, customer-centric sales approaches, understanding the customer journey, the road to profitability and online channels.

Building the foundation

Data can deliver significant benefits to an organisation. It can support critical business decisions, provide accurate revenue projections and help make hiring decisions. But harnessing the full potential of data is not easy. Every organisation needs to put the right foundation in place to effectively utilise the power of data.

The foundations of organisational data

There are three layers an organisation must implement to harness the potential of data. These layers are:

  1. Business processes
  2. Data quality
  3. Data reporting

Each of these layers must be addressed in the order they are presented above. Reporting is the ultimate business outcome of focusing on data. However, data reporting is an output of effective data processes and high data quality.

This article will delve into the first two layers of the data foundation: business processes and data quality. Business processes are frequently overlooked when organisations explore data, so it is an important focal point. Data quality is the critical second step that is essential to enforce business processes. We will explore the critical topic of data reporting in next month’s subscription sales article.

Layer one: business processes

Business processes are fundamental for organisations to effectively leverage and utilise data. Defining clear processes is key to a business capturing accurate and consistent data.

Here is an example of what can occur when business processes are not clearly defined. There are two sales people: Sally and Dave. Sally gets excited whenever she sends a proposal and immediately logs this in the CRM. Dave is far more cautious and only enters data on a potential sale when he is sure the customer will commit. This means that the data relating to Sally and Dave’s sales activity is not consistent or comparable.

To avoid this reality, organisations need to define and document sales processes. This requires time and effort. We find many of our customers have not mapped their processes nor had the opportunity to consider them. We strongly encourage organisations take the time to set and implement their processes, even if it means changing how sales people operate today.

Data definitions

One extremely important component of defining business processes is agreeing on data definitions. Using Sally and Dave’s example; these two sales reps have different ideas about what constitutes a sales lead. We often see this type of concept conflict occur across the organisation; from sales up to the executive level.

To provide clarity, below are the definitions we use with our clients.

Suspect / Marketing Qualified Lead

A customer that has taken action (e.g. made a search, attended a webinar, etc.). This can also include people brought in by inbound leads. You may or may not have these customers’ contact details.

Typically this type of customer is referred to as a suspect. In reporting, this customer is often referred to as a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL).

Prospect / Sales Qualified Leads

These are genuine leads. They are customers who are likely to experience a problem that can be solved with a product or service you offer, or that you have contacted and verified. These customers can either be converted inbound leads or targeted outbound leads.

These are most commonly referred to as prospects, but will be referred to as Sales Qualified Leads (SQL) in reporting.

Layer two: Data quality

The second stage to building data reporting capability is ensuring data quality. Data quality can be enforced by building and implementing controls that ensure processes are adhered to as defined.

Continuing with our example of Sally and Dave; Sally was sending proposals to suspects early in the sales process and was recording each one in the CRM. Alternatively, Dave was sending proposals to validated prospects, and was only recording them in the CRM when he felt certain he would close the deal. Without controls in place, Sally and David’s data reporting would be highly inconsistent and inaccurate. If we assume a rule that 75% of proposals will convert to committed sales, a report for Sally and Dave would show that Sally will bring in a lot of revenue (unlikely), and Dave will bring in very little (also unlikely).

There are numerous strategies to ensure business processes are practiced in reality as they have been defined. Firstly, the defined sales process should be replicated in the CRM. Where possible, data should be automatically captured and stored in the CRM. It is possible to automatically pull in data from some external sources, such as email, but this is not always viable.

The final control to ensure business processes are adhered to is strong people management and governance. Leaders must ensure their team members capture data in the CRM in a timely and consistent manner. Governance needs to be particularly robust in periods of change, such as changes to business processes or new team members. Over time, recording data becomes more routine, but it remains important that organisations continue to track and evaluate data capture to ensure they do not end up with significant quality challenges at a later stage.

Contact us for more information on how we can help you harness the full potential of data.


The next article continues to explore the final layer of the foundations of organisational data: data reporting.

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