• Chief Revenue Officer Revenue Collaboration & Governance

The Art and Science of Sales: How Today’s Sales Leaders Are Transforming the Field

Kevin Knieriem, EVP, Chief Revenue Officer at Clari

Kevin Knieriem
CRO, Clari

Graphic illustration of two different colored semicircle bullseye patterns spliced together

I have spent my career working my way up through sales organizations. 

In one of my early sales jobs, I negotiated with retail managers for shelf space in the health and beauty aisles of grocery stores. Years later, as I help define, and run, modern revenue operations for a global go-to-market team, I still thrive on making connections and hearing about everyone’s challenges. 

I long ago traded shower soap for conversations with fellow CROs, who I learn from every day. There’s three questions our conversations often focus on:

  • What are the business pain points? 
  • What resources would make their work easier and more efficient? 
  • What practices would radically transform their outcomes?

Their answers, combined with my own experiences as a sales leader, have shaped my thinking about what I call the new rules of sales—approaches that blend the art of connections and problem solving with the science brought to bear by data. 

We’ve taken this perspective to The Atlantic, for our short film, “The New Rules of Sales.” 

For that project, Clari and the team from The Atlantic spoke with three industry leaders about the power that new technology brings to this storied profession: 

  • AT&T’s Gary Olson spoke about how data can give sales leaders early signals so they can anticipate hazards, course-correcting to avoid downturns or disasters. 
  • Laura Palmer, veteran sales leader, believes data equals freedom, as digitizing her global sales teams has given reps back some of their precious time, freeing them to connect more personally with clients.  
  • Saikat Chaudhuri, faculty director of University of California-Berkeley’s Management, Entrepreneurship, & Technology program, discussed targeted data capture’s power to return information that boosts a sales team’s collaboration.

Together, their insights offer an exciting way for thinking about the new rules of sales, leveraging the science of sales to perfect the art. Most CROs today agree that the science of data science, when collected and managed with the goal of producing insights, improves the art of sales. It humanizes sales teams’ internal relationships, and their relationships with customers. And it reduces revenue leak

Sales interrogations become a thing of the past

We’ve all experienced sales managers interrogating a rep. Everything about the conversation is unpleasant, both for the rep on the hot seat and the manager doing the grilling. As a leader, you don't want your team on tenterhooks over stressful interrogations about every detail of the business. You want coaching, those deeper conversations on strategizing to win more deals. 

And why was the grilling happening? Because the data collected, and the way it was interpreted, was a lot like that old game of telephone: A rep’s predictions—their answers about forecasts—filtered up and down different channels in the organization. By the time the predictions landed with the head of sales, that data and its interpretation were outdated.  

That may be fun on the playground, but it’s no way to operate a sales team. How can you drive a company consistently when you’re relying on old data that probably isn’t accurate? The short answer: You can’t. 

Questions that data can answer

These days, there’s no excuse for outdated interpretations. 

Questions that are fundamental to the business can all be answered easily when you’re collecting and sharing the right data, queries like:  

  • Are we able to hit our numbers?
  • Do you have the coverage that you need?
  • Is the pipeline coverage you need to actually hit your targets available not just in your current quarter, but in your out quarters?
  • Is your top of funnel machinery producing that coverage that you need?
  • Do you know that it’s converting? Are leads converting into early-stage sales opportunities?

Suddenly, you’ve got the ability to drive predictable revenue in a way that used to be impossible–even unimaginable. Now, you can actually get alignment with your buyer in a mutual way on how they’re going to do business with you, and you can track that consistently over time.  This shared data puts you in a powerful position. You’re working from a shared and single source of truth and the predictive insights, like Olson says, allow you to pivot, to change your process if needed. 

In the end, the sales team and client have a stronger relationship, too. When customers know that you are intimately involved with their journey, and surfacing relevant information back to them, they become much more engaged with you.  

And here’s the beauty of it all: the science part of the equation in the new rules of sales works for any company, big or small. 

Transparency, repeatability, and accountability, as well as increased control in driving these processes, make radical improvements in a small team. But they’re even more achievable at scale. 

Think about it like this: It’s sort of like a cockpit of a fighter plane, where you have the ability to control where you’re going, where you need to make adjustments. The amazing instrumentation panel changes how you lead. Applying the metaphor directly to the sales team, there’s no longer this read on which deals are going to close and which ones aren’t at the end of the quarter. You really know what’s going to happen. 

And that’s truly transformational. 

Watch "The New Rules of Sales" and read more about revenue leak, revenue precisions, and Revenue Collaboration & Governance from The Atlantic.

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