• Sales operations functions are sitting on a treasure trove of sales data that will fundamentally change the way sales hiring, training, compensation and management are performed
  • Data signals and AI will one day be used during the hiring process to predict rep viability and success
  • Sales managers must use technology to enhance – not replace – rep intuition

Rush’s 1976 concept album 2112 (pronounced “twenty-one twelve”) predicted a world in which all information would be controlled by a central group called the Priests of the Temple of Syrinx. Lyricist Neal Peart wrote these words for the title track:

We’ve taken care of everything
The words you hear, the songs you sing
The pictures that give pleasure to your eyes

It’s one for all, all for one
We work together, common sons
Never need to wonder how or why

We are the priests
Of the Temples of Syrinx
All the gifts of life
Are held within our walls!

Has Peart’s prediction of a dystopian future come true? Of course it has! But how has it manifested itself in the world of sales, and sales and revenue operations? It all started in 1956, when statisticians Bill Fair and Earl Isaac identified a correlation between consumer behavior and creditworthiness and launched the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO). Before FICO scores, bankers relied almost solely on personal judgment to extend credit.

Sales managers today also guess when it comes to determining “credit-worthiness.” When hiring new reps, they rely almost entirely on intuition. Apart from requesting past pay stubs (a practice that’s been banned in many states) and checking references, there are no independently verifiable indicators of an applicant’s past sales performance. But that’s changing.

Today’s sales AI solutions, or what Rush’s Peart describes as “great computers [that] fill the hallowed halls,” track sales reps’ every interaction: their phone calls, emails, meetings and contacts. The solutions listen to and analyze phone conversations, read emails and texts, interpret sentiment, and evaluate communications effectiveness in almost every exchange. In some sales-performance management systems, sales rep results and interactions are even stored, anonymized, analyzed and shared across other companies for real-time salary and performance benchmarking purposes. Tracking sales results on an individual and collective level has made it possible for sales operations to understand rep behavior keystroke by keystroke, and correlate behaviors to sales performance. So, like individuals with high credit scores, top performers have behaviors that identify them as exceptional “credit risks” with objective and verifiable data that indicates to sales managers who to hire and fire without ever having to speak to anyone – not even the rep. Yikes!

It’s only a matter of time before the data being collected today gets aggregated and shared. The only question I have is how long it will take before hiring managers across companies can tap into these sales rep “credit” scores routinely. Barring any unforeseen regulations, I don’t think it will take more than five years, and when it happens sales reps will initially give up their privacy rights the same way we’ve all done it so far in this connected age … voluntarily! Here’s why they’ll volunteer: Top sales reps will be eager to share their performance record “credit scores” as proof of their worth so they can negotiate higher salaries and better positions. Those who won’t share their scores will be automatically suspect. Those who disclose will rise to the top of the hiring pile, and those who conceal will fall to the bottom. We need not wait for this to happen inside companies, however. Sales and revenue operations leaders using a suite of AI solutions already can gather and analyze data signals to score reps second by second. Sales operations can easily spot the actions that set high performers apart, but only if they’ve deployed a solution or suite of solutions capable of analyzing all the factors mentioned above.

So, what are sales and revenue operations leaders to do now that they are essentially the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx? Well, they can’t stop now or keep it from happening – because if they do, competitors using these solutions to manage talent and improve sales productivity will simply eat their lunch. For now, the thing to do is to be mindful of how scary these hallowed hall computers could seem and introduce them into sales cultures very carefully. Also keep in mind that human beings thrive when they feel free. Scary 2112 (and 1984) technologies create opportunities for some narrow-minded leaders to micromanage the spirit and life right out of your reps. Bad managers will force high-spirited performers right out the door and into companies that use technology to enhance sales intuition, not replace it. We all have responsibilities to consider when introducing new tools, processes and operating rhythms – so consult with corporate security, HR, executives and legal to discuss the implications of allowing these great computers into your corporate temples.

This is but one prediction of seven in our Sales Operations Strategies 2020 Planning Assumptions – clients can read the full brief to learn more.