Shifting Through the Sales Stages: How to Learn to Race by Listening to the Data

Jun 29, 2021
3 min read
Mastering skills takes practice. Like learning to drive a stick shift, sales leaders eventually develop their own intuition around sales forecasting—but it helps when you have an informed mentor to guide you. Discover how Xactly's intelligent forecasting solution helps you boost forecasting accuracy.

On June 23, market intelligence firm AI Breakthrough honored Xactly Forecasting as a "Best Predictive Analytics Solution" in the fourth annual AI Breakthrough Awards, which recognize the top companies, technologies, and products in the global Artificial Intelligence market. 

I can’t say that award came as a total shock. Xactly Forecasting applies artificial intelligence (AI) to a very human activity and does it very effectively. It doesn’t displace revenue leaders’ skills but enhances them. If you’re a revenue leader, it’s like being assisted by an all-knowing data-informed mentor who helps nudge your forecasts toward ever-greater accuracy. And just as data trains AI, AI can train its users.

That thought made me flashback to when Xactly was implementing our own forecasting tool. In seeing the suggestions the tool made to the users, I realized that someone had effectively written my driving instructor into the code. Let me explain.

Learning When to Shift Gears

There on the sales dashboard were these boxes telling us to double-check certain numbers, give particular reps a call, or even rethink what sales stage they thought they were in. Each box was translating a stack of proprietary machine learning algorithms in words the sales leadership could understand and act upon. Each box was an AI-fueled advisor, highlighting places worthy of a deeper dive. Each of those pop-ups reminded me of getting behind the wheel for the first time.

I learned to drive a manual transmission on a gravel road in Oklahoma. I wasn’t allowed to take the car onto the asphalt until I could round the corners, stop on the hill, and get going again without spitting a ton of gravel across the field.

My volunteer driving instructor, a former combat instructor pilot, was less than gentle in his appraisal of my driving skills, and wouldn’t sign-off for anything less than perfection. Once I transitioned to the actual road, I then had to develop those perfect shifts for each gear - and I would have to look down constantly to check the RPMs on the tachometer.

He would bark out, “How many RPMs?” and I had to have the number within a tight standard deviation to avoid getting down-checked. Then I had to maintain the numbers in the shift without grinding the clutch into oblivion.

After I had been driving for a few months I realized I wasn’t looking down at the tachometer as much anymore. I could hear the engine, estimate the RPMs, and easily make the shift without needing to constantly stare at the dashboard. I had developed an intuition around optimal shift points, built first on the constant flow of data, then optimized over time with experience. When I missed a shift, however, I could still hear that instructor barking in my ear. I was driving based on gauges, experience, and that voice.

The sales leaders to whom we rolled out Forecasting had more than enough personal experience working in the trenches and leading teams. You would think that would be more than enough to fuel their gut checks.

Now, however, their experience was being amplified with constantly updated data streams that were parsed into easily digestible graphics, displays, and alerts to help them improve their teams’ performance. Intelligent, actionable alerts started helping keep their teams focused on hitting sales targets, because the system helped identify the best opportunities. The time available to spend selling must be focused, or too many cycles are wasted at the wrong time.

Experience plus data plus AI - this is what enables the best drivers in Formula 1. There are over 300 sensors on every car delivering over 1,000 data streams during a race. That data stream is analyzed, sifted, and summarized so that decisions can be made while a car is moving along at over 200 mph/300 kph. Those computers are making the top races faster, smarter, and more effective.

The same is true of the digitally enabled sales leader today - they can rely on constantly updated AI informed dashboards ensuring that their speed to close, and tightened focus will result in faster growth and higher performance. Learn more in our guide, "6 Strategies to Building an Accurate Sales & Revenue Forecast."

  • Forecasting
Erik Charles
Erik W. Charles
VP, Solutions Evangelist

Erik W. Charles is an accomplished professional with more than two decades of experience in Marketing, Consulting, and Product Evangelization.