In business, as in our personal lives, it is sometimes easy to identify the problem but hard to take action to solve it. This is particularly true when the struggle is one between the heart and the mind, when your instinct is telling you something but your mind doubts the conclusion. And just as with your personal life, this probably happens more often when it comes to decisions around relationships.

I was reminded of this recently over the course of several discussions with an inside sales manager who wanted some help trying to identify why the results weren’t meeting expectations. They were selling advertising in support of a non-profit and had proven the model before, so they didn’t understand why the sales weren’t happening. On the first call they explained that they thought it was a problem with the way that they had defined the routing logic, so we went over everything and made some tweaks. On the second call they ran me through the history of their different lead sources. They explained that the first source they tried had been OK, but when they tried a second one it was a complete disaster. They were now onto their third lead source which they felt was the best. Although they had not imported the lead sources with the contacts into their VanillaSoft account they were able to give me the dates so we could insert the data after the fact. This allowed us to do some quick analysis that showed that in fact the first lead source had been the worst, and the second and current lead sources had performed about the same.

Having run through the routing logic and the data itself I was able to steer them towards looking at the actual performance of the individual sales people. It didn’t take long to see where the real problem lay. As it turns out the sales manager herself jumped on the phone once in a while and called on the same list. The pre-built stacked ranking report showed that she was one of the highest in calls per hour and the highest in close ratio – and no, she was not cherry picking. Report after report showed three clear groups of salespeople. The first group made lots of calls but was very poor at closing. The second group was pretty good at closing but made very few calls. They were obviously happy once they hit a certain number. Unfortunately for the third group they were not only a bit lazy but also not very good at closing.

With the data now front and center the manager finally admitted to me that she had felt that maybe the problem was simply her people. She had worked with many of them before, however, and was reluctant to confront them. She had a good idea of what the problem was but had been looking everywhere else for a culprit to avoid tackling the real issue. This was a clear case where the heart had a good feeling for the problem but the mind needed more data to be able to act on it.

Big data is the buzzword of the moment and will play a very important role in marketing and sales strategies in the future. Data will not come up with all of the solutions, however. It will not replace the importance of a good business sense but rather will help validate those hunches and feelings that a good sales manager has. This is just like in scientific research where you start with the hypothesis and use the data to validate it. With the SaaS solutions now available even small- and medium-size businesses can capture lots of data during the sales process and use it confirm and back up their decisions. And when it comes time to make those difficult decisions, it really is better to know.