Effective Sales Training: What Are the Foundational Elements?

Frank V. Cespedes (Top Sales Magazine, April 2018)

Someone once told me that many companies maintain their equipment better than their people. If so, they get what they don’t maintain. This is especially true in sales. Across industries, turnover in sales averages about 25-30% annually. This means that, at many firms, the equivalent of the entire sales force must be replaced and trained every four years or so. Any talk about talent management which ignores a requirement of that magnitude is just talk.

Despite what you currently hear about “big data” and “predictable revenue,” selling is not a science reducible to a few methodological rules that can be specified ex-ante. Many variables affect selling effectiveness besides the sales person: price, product, competition, market conditions, and so on. It’s your responsibility to adapt, not the market’s responsibility to be kind to your sales efforts.

But as the phrase implies, “sales reps” represent their organization to the market. They need reinforcement, periodic upgrading, adaptation of skills to changing circumstances, and the motivation that is a by-product of a good developmental process. Stated more bluntly, training salespeople (and other professionals who must deal with a range of changing situations) requires what the U.S. Air Force in training pilots calls the 8P’s: “Proper Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance.”

In my experience, effective sales training has certain foundational components, with implications for sales trainers, sales managers, and senior leaders at companies:

Build Your Team, Not another Firm’s Team. There’s no such thing as effective selling if it’s not linked to your firm’s strategy and objectives. So first focus on identifying the sales tasks required by the target customers and value proposition in your strategy.

Selling is a contextually determined set of skills: what works at that company does not necessarily work here, because sales effectiveness is a function of the sales tasks inherent in strategic choices. Chasing “best practices” can be counterproductive, and training firms have an incentive to apply their approach everywhere, whether or not particular circumstances are a fit with that approach. Beware of one-size-fits-all methodologies. Sometimes an off-the-shelf training tool can address the desired outcome. But more often, customization is required.

Develop the Fundamentals. Train salespeople with attention to actual behaviors that can be practiced and taught, not just preached via the football-and-war rhetoric that still dominates in many sales meetings. Core content in training should reflect knowledge about who buys, why, and how—today and tomorrow, not yesterday.

Selling is ultimately about the buyer. The fundamentals are driven by that fact. Up-to-date criteria for opportunity identification, relevant call patterns, active listening, understanding the customer’s business and translating your capabilities into customer business outcomes are typically core selling skills. But how those skills are developed and applied depends upon market conditions and the buying process in each segment. In an early-stage tech market, for example, customer education and applications development are often key sales tasks. But as the market develops and standards emerge, people typically spend more time selling against functionally equivalent products or developing third-party relationships. Training should keep pace with those task changes.

Experiential Learning.  Selling is a performance art. Acquiring behavioral skills (versus concepts) requires repetition. People must try a new behavior multiple times before it becomes practiced enough to be comfortable and effective—anywhere from three to twenty times, according to different studies.

Hence, on-the-job learning is crucial. But in many companies, on-the-job training is a euphemism for no real training at all. It’s a random process dependent on a particular sales manager’s calendar, temperament, and ability. That’s a mistake. Adults learn best when they can repeatedly apply new information or a skill and see results—what some now call “deliberate practice.” Effective sales training cannot be a single event confined to a classroom or seminar. It requires feedback from interactions with customers. And as Sam Walton repeatedly told his people, “There ain’t many customers at headquarters.”

Follow-Up. The biggest developmental impact from training, according to many studies, is what happens after training sessions: follow-up and feedback. Too often, however, nothing happens after training initiatives. By contrast, effective sales training is linked to subsequent performance reviews, ride-alongs, win-loss analyses, and other core performance-management practices. In other words, sales managers must manage. They can’t “outsource” development of their people to a training event, no matter how well designed and executed that event may be.

Sales training at many firms still merits Hamlet’s critique of Elsinore Incorporated’s values statement: more honored in the breach than the observance. In a given year, over a third of firms do not train salespeople at all. And many budget training according to last-in-first-out accounting principles: training budgets (like advertising) increase when sales are good, and get cut when times are tough. So it’s hard to determine cause and effect. Sales training also affects other functions in a firm: each product manager wants her product emphasized; finance wants a shorter order-to-cash conversion cycle; operations prefers certain types of orders. So “a little bit of everything” is often a default option in sales training programs. But given the amount of money spent on sales by companies (an average of 10% of revenues across industries, and often more in B2B companies), executives have a fiduciary responsibility to manage and measure the people part of that investment more rigorously.



How a Fast-Growing Startup Built Its Sales Team for Long-Term Success

by Frank Cespedes and David Mattson

It’s common for leaders of sales teams to focus almost exclusively on short-term tactics and current
operations while failing to think and act in a way that supports the longer-term needs of their businesses —
and it’s hard to fault them. Sales teams must meet the immediate needs of their customers, respond issue by
issue and account by account, and meet quarterly goals. As one sales manager noted, “In this job, if you
don’t survive the short term, you don’t need to worry about the long term.”

The biggest problem with a short-term approach is that managers develop blind spots around crucial
processes such as recruiting, hiring, and training and development.

These blind spots are especially prevalent in growing firms where a common rationalization —“I know those
issues are important, and I’ll get to them when the quarter closes and things settle down” — often shapes
management’s attention. But ignoring talent processes and strategies can have unintended consequences
and stall one’s scaling efforts. There are ways to avoid these blind spots, however.

Splunk, a San Francisco-based B2B software firm, is a case in point. Founded in 2003 with $40 million in
venture capital funding, Splunk was among the first companies to target the “big data” space. It had no
track record to point to when targeting and interacting with top talent during its early years, and indeed no
recognized industry to point to. This situation soon necessitated a creative approach to recruiting, hiring,
and training. During the critical early years, moreover, there was a big internal debate at Splunk about
allocating time and resources to these activities. Many felt that money and time were best devoted to other
activities, ranging from R&D to trade shows.

Here are some insights on how Splunk avoided the blind spots as it scaled.


Any business process is only as good as the people involved. Recruiting — an uncertain and expensive
process — is no exception, especially in sales where differences in individual performance are stark. The best
salespeople generate orders-of-magnitude more than their average peers: from three to ten times more,
depending upon the sales context. Talent matters.
“For recruitment…” says Bart Fanelli, Splunk’s Vice President of Global Field Success, “[w]e set our sights on
talent from companies already operating at the level we want to operate at.” That’s a process which requires
leadership time and resources, not just a speech about talent at an off-site. So if you’re a $50 million
company and your goal is to grow to $250 million, consider targeting hires from firms operating at that level
or higher. And to do that, you must make recruitment and hiring an ongoing part of the management
culture, not only an HR responsibility.

Interviewing and Hiring

Managers are excessively confident about their ability to evaluate candidates based on personal interviews.
Across job categories, there is almost no correlation between interview performance and on-the-job
performance. In fact, some studies indicate that interviews can hurt in selection decisions: the firm would
have been better off selecting at random! This danger is prevalent in sales. Choosing for an activity where
talent varies widely often leads to a cloning bias: many sales managers hire in their own image and assume
sole personal control of the interviews.

Better results occur when companies complement a manager’s assessment with multiple interviews with
diverse people (to off-set the cloning bias), establish a structured process (so comparisons can be made
across common factors), and emphasize behavioral criteria (because gut-feel does not scale). This approach
is best supported by simulations, assessments, onboarding programs, and other means that technology is
making less costly. But the real constraint remains management’s commitment to establishing,
communicating, and keeping up-to-date a clear hiring process.

Splunk developed profiles that specified skills and capabilities relevant to each role. They also established
certain behavioral elements, which, in management’s view, were important across roles. For a field sales
position, for example, Splunk specified skills that managers could look for and discuss in the applicant’s
work history during interviews—e.g., forecast accuracy, messages to relevant market segments, and other

Behavioral elements refer to the on-the-job choices that people make. For instance, is the candidate
coachable? Does he or she interact with others without giving a sense of being entitled to special treatment?
Do they work hard without being offensive or disruptive in a negative way with others?

Fanelli notes, “We believe both types of screening criteria—skills are applicable to the specific job and
culturally-compatible behaviors that we seek in all of our people—are equally important. We all own the
culture and I don’t believe that any company can make a habit of hiring brilliant jerks.”

As Splunk grew, these profiles were updated, refined, and became the focus of quarterly reviews. After
hiring, sales managers were accountable for coaching and developing their people based on the elements
specified in the profile. “Our assumption,” Fannelli explains, “is that if we understand our business, if we
get and keep the profiles right, and if we execute the process consistently, we will succeed. The quarterly
reviews help to prevent the common scenario where down the road management is sweeping up broken
glass due to performance or interpersonal behaviors.”

Processes like this create a healthy mindset. You’ll soon realize that there is only a finite universe of great
people out there, and that, in order to land them, you’ll need to improve upon and fine-tune your approach
to interviews and hiring. And, hopefully, you’ll learn that great recruitment practices create a multiplier
effect: creating a network of good hires generates referrals to more good hires.

Training and Development

Blindness can be a degenerative organizational malady. Many companies, as Fanelli puts it, “reduce their
field of vision by following a hire-and-forget approach.”

In a given year across industries, over a third of firms do not train salespeople at all, and common practice
has training budgets increase when sales are good and decrease when sales are tough. This approach is not
only (in a time-honored phrase) bass-ackwards; it also makes it hard to determine cause and effect. Effective
sales training, like most useful development, cannot be a single event. People need reinforcement, periodic
upgrading, advice on adapting their skills to new circumstances, and motivational help.

A key is to focus training and development on an analysis of current sales tasks and put in place a process
that gives reps, their managers, and leadership timely feedback as they move forward on performance goals.
To scale, you must control what you can control. In Splunk’s case, as Fanelli notes, “we kept a certain
leader-to-contributor ratio in mind to make sure the first-line sales leader can train contributors on the
desired skills. We track this quarterly, looking at training and coaching with the same attention that we use
to review ‘the numbers’ because the effectiveness of our first-line leaders is the gateway to the performance
we want to see in sales outcomes.”

Any sales force is composed of people with different temperaments, capabilities, and learning styles. To be
effective, coaching and development must adapt to the individual and be updated. A regular review
cadence in the sales organization drives the process up the chain and makes it an ongoing developmental
tool. “The first-line review process,” says Fanelli, “connects quarterly to every manager in the field. The
second-line review (a review of those who manage and review the first-line managers) focuses on a broader
set of skills, happens annually, and goes into more depth than the quarterly process.”

Splunk uses a variety of good practices that have helped it avoid common blind spots in sales as it’s grown.
But our intent is not to suggest that all companies should do what Splunk does. Markets are different,
strategies vary, and so specific practices will and should vary. The lesson is that, once you get beyond lipservice
about talent, any company must be worthy of talent by making core processes like recruiting,
interviewing, and development a real priority in daily practice. As Aristotle emphasized a long time ago,
“Excellence is a habit.”

CEOs Should Get Personally Involved in Talent Development

Chief Executive, August 31, 2017

Frank Cespedes, Jay Galeota, and Michael Wong

Korn Ferry recently estimated that, globally, human capital has a value about 2.3 times that of physical capital.[1] This difference is likely to widen in increasingly service economies. Yet, most companies maintain their equipment better than their people. The issue is not good intentions. Executives repeatedly cite employees as critical for success; we rarely hear them mention picking a software package or supplier in the same way. But C-Suite attention and rigorous processes are typically in place for software and supplier selection, not for core people activities. At a minimum, you have three levers to manage human capital with the same rigor as other assets:


Business Reviews are crucial in setting priorities and focusing attention on what “really” counts. Without explicit attention to the skills and behaviors required in a changing market, development of people is hit-or-miss or treated as an abstract set of “competencies.”


By contrast, when one of the authors led Merck’s Hospital and Specialty Care area, human resource reviews were integrated into business operating reviews, with the same amount of time allocated to both, and a few things happened. Employees understood the value that leadership placed on them. Conversely, when either a business or employee was struggling, a number of turnarounds took place, but if results did not materialize, tough decisions were more clearly made about divesting businesses or changing key people. Perhaps most importantly, an artificial separation between “the people” and “the business” was mended. Leaders were questioned about their business lines and talent, and expected to apply disciplined approaches for both inputs to performance.


Talent Profile Tools The availability of assessment tools based on predictive analytics is increasing, while their price is decreasing. It’s important to understand the role and limits of these tools. They can aid judgments about talent but, ultimately, you are paid to execute your company’s strategy, not the skills in a generic assessment tool. But these tools can provide a common language and evidence-based dialogue among executives about talent.


One company uses an assessment quarterly to analyze staffing, succession planning, and development plans. The tool is a means for gathering feedback and skills ratings that rest on more than an individual manager’s judgment. Further, the process itself makes senior executives more aware of the activities required to establish true “high potentials,” rather than simply the top 20% of available talent. The resulting gap analysis is often the most important part.


Involvement in Training & Development   Research indicates that the greatest impact from training often has more to do with who is in training sessions: involvement and follow-up actions by senior executives to ensure that people apply and practice the relevant skills and behaviors.[2]


Senior and mid-level employees participate in Boeing Institute leadership training taught by Boeing executives at least twice per year. Consider the value of this approach. Informal peer pressure motivates each “professor” to prepare, and those executives are regularly re-grounded in the current realities of the business with a cross-functional group of employees. Conversely, the participants hear and learn from those who are or will be their supervisors—a bigger motivator in adult learning than grades or certificates–and they are socialized to “pass it on” and be Institute teachers as their careers advance. This combination encourages task-relevant dialogue, often with specific action implications for a business, function, or project.


Senior executives establish the foundational conditions for talent development by using business processes to manage human capital as rigorously as other assets.  Strong leaders allocate their scarcest resources–time and attention—to this process.


Frank Cespedes teaches at Harvard Business School and is the author most recently of Aligning Strategy and Sales (Harvard Business Review Press).


Jay Galeota is President of G&W Laboratories, Inc. and is the former Chief Strategy & Business Development Officer at Merck and Co., Inc. and President of Merck’s Emerging Businesses Unit.


Michael Wong is an Associate Partner with IBM’s Global Enterprise Transformation consulting practice.



[1] https://static.kornferry.com/media/sidebar_downloads/Korn-Ferry-Institute_The-trillion-dollar-difference.pdf.


[2] K. Anders Ericsson, “The Influence of Experience and Deliberate Practice on the Development of Superior Expert Performance,” in Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (Cambridge University Press, 2006); and “Unlocking the DNA of the Adaptable Workforce,” Global Human Capital Study (Somers, N.Y.: IBM, 2008).

Find the Right Metrics for Your Sales Team

Harvard Business Review (site)

by Frank V. Cespedes and Bob Marsh

“What gets measured gets managed” is a longstanding business aphorism. But today’s sales technologies enable companies to measure almost anything, which leads many managers to try to measure everything. As a consequence, managers don’t have a clear sense of what is really driving sales in their business, while salespeople, who are inundated with dozens of metrics, get lost in the day-to-day noise. The result is poor management of what matters.

The challenge, of course, is to decide on the right metrics. Consider the results of a survey of key performance indicators (KPIs) being used by more than 800 sales teams across industries. Wins are the most common metric used across sales roles and industries. On average, firms measure closed deals and rep production against quota monthly, which isn’t surprising. Selling is a performance art, and “making the number” should be the goal of any sales organization, but a closed deal is an outcome and a lagging indicator; it can’t be used by the salesperson or sales manager to improve future outcomes.

This is why leading indicators such as demos, web registrations, calls, or C-suite-level meetings are often more instructive. Instead of reviewing historical results, which are beyond a rep’s control, they offer real-time feedback on whether salespeople are spending their time and efforts in the best way. Leading indicators are within a rep’s control. If salespeople are behind on a key indicator, for example, they and their managers can change behavior to increase the probability of success.

Deconstruct Your Sales Funnel

In order to improve sales outcomes and clarify the relevant sales KPIs in your business, you need to deconstruct your sales funnel.

Here’s a typical flow of activities:

Prospecting: cold calls, email, phone, LinkedIn, etc.

Qualifying: initial conversations aimed at separating the merely interested from the actual prospects and determining who is a qualified opportunity

Advancing opportunities: discussions with qualified opportunities to communicate the value of your product to the right contacts

Closing: final steps in negotiating and winning the business

Post-sale: service, order fulfillment, possible customization, and onboarding activities to ensure the client is successful

Every company is different, but every business has a sales conversion funnel. Some funnels are relatively short and simple, while others are long and complex. Knowing what type of funnel applies in your business is essential to clarifying key metrics and performance management practices, including sales incentives.

Consider one SaaS company that sells a menu display and advertising platform to restaurants, which is a big but fragmented market. The challenge for reps is that, because restaurants all have different budgeting processes, they must be there at the right time to close that sale. Once a sale is closed, the firm incurs low marginal costs in setting up and maintaining a customer on its platform. In this situation, it makes sense to “feed the funnel” and provide reps with incentives, through proper metrics, to make frequent and repeated calls.

By contrast, consider another SaaS firm that sells a subscription software product that provides big productivity and environmental benefits if the customer is willing to alter some traditional workflow processes and use the software at sufficient scale. This is a more protracted buying and selling process, where ongoing customer education and onboarding is crucial. Awareness and initial enthusiasm from a prospect on the capacity to adopt new software can be deceptive and expensive for this firm. Here, simply “feeding the funnel” is a mistake: Lead generation is less important than pursuing the right leads. Moreover, this SaaS firm’s profit margins are mainly in contract renewals and ancillary services it can provide if it gets the right scale and usage in the initial sale. Here, management must ensure that sales reps vet the top part of the funnel carefully so that they don’t spend months chasing the wrong prospects, while providing reps with the means and an incentive to manage that long selling cycle and renewal process.

The experience of Paycor, a payroll processing company, is a useful example. Like many firms, its frontline sales managers were typically former top-producing salespeople, many of whom were managing other salespeople for the first time. In making that transition, they tended to focus on what they knew best: helping to close a deal. But after closely examining the selling cycle, it became apparent that the best time to work with their reps to influence the sale was earlier in the funnel. Sales managers used the leading indicators to drive a 55% increase in relevant new-business meetings and a corresponding 50% reduction in onboarding time.

Make Performance Reviews Count

Finding the right metrics isn’t the end of the story. Selling is about behaviors, not just analyses, and making sure that salespeople align their behaviors with those metrics is an ongoing process. Performance reviews can help, if they’re done right.

Unfortunately, reviews are typically underutilized levers for influencing behavior in most organizations. Busy sales managers tend to treat them as cursory, after-the-fact discussions about quota attainment and compensation, not coaching about going-forward behaviors. The result is that, too often, “feedback” from managers is really a sermon whose message is “get better and sell more.” Like most sermons, this may work when you’re preaching to the already converted, but it’s too abstract if you’re not. Clarifying leading indicators can make a difference, because the salesperson then knows the behaviors they need to change in order to improve performance.

Many sales managers begin conversations with reps by asking well-intentioned but generalized questions like, “What’s closing this month and how can we make those deals happen faster?” In response, reps focus on the next 30 days and the required onboarding of new customers, and then neglect important activities that happen in between. This is one reason why sales output is so variable — strong sales months followed by catch-up prospecting during the lean times — in so many organizations.

After deconstructing the funnel, however, managers can use different talking points that allocate attention and resources toward those activities. For example: “Sofia, you are making lots of calls and scheduling many meetings, but you’re calling on too many small firms and your qualification criteria have you chasing many prospects that are highly unlikely to close. Let’s fix your account prioritization.”

Or: “Arjun, you are behind peers in setting meetings with VP-level prospects, and we know those contacts increase our win rate substantially. Let’s talk about the organization of your prospects and what we can do to get the right access.”

Among other things, conversations like these — especially when reflected in accessible reports and personalized scorecards — empower reps to know where they stand and where to focus. They allow sales managers to provide feedback about behaviors, not just intentions. Beyond individual coaching, moreover, relevant leading indicators can also spur more systemic means for generating proactive selling behaviors: incentives to schedule new-business meetings with the right contacts or to pitch bolt-on products that amortize onboarding time and increase renewal rates.

These steps are within a company’s internal circle of influence, not in the less controllable external market environment. But exercising that influence requires managers who know what metrics count and who can then translate data into relevant selling behaviors. Those managers are not just discussing quotas and after-the-fact outcomes; they are truly managing sales performance.

Sales Productivity, Not Just Sales Technology

Frank V. Cespedes, for Top Sales Magazine, August 2017

There is lots of buzz about big-data and “Sales Enablement” (SE)—the current catch-all term for attempts to increase sales productivity via technology. There are now hundreds of vendors of such tools, and SE is increasingly a formal position in more companies. The interest is driven by multiple factors.

One is the declining costs of the technology. Also, many SE tools utilize established CRM platforms and are therefore an incremental investment resting on the sunk costs of an extant CRM system. A second reason is a change in cost structures spurred by the financial crisis. S&P-500 companies, for example, have decreased their COGS by over 250 basis points in the 21st century.[1] In the aggregate, that’s a lot. But SG&A and selling costs have not decreased. The result is a shift in the focus of productivity improvements. Companies have in fact done a good job in managing back-office costs, supply chains, and infrastructure. The next frontier is their go-to-market costs because (as the bank robber said when asked why he robs banks) “that’s where the money is.”

A third reason is that selling is increasingly data-hungry work in many markets. To see big-data analytics in action, don’t just go to Facebook or Google. Look at what consumer goods salespeople must now do to get shelf space, develop promotions, and garner in-store support at retailers. Similarly, you might assume that wholesale distribution, where firms resell products manufactured by others, is a simple transaction sale. But a study for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors[2] finds the same need for analytical selling skills in this sector—in large part because transactional sales migrate to the web. In general, personal selling is looking more like a research-based as well as persuasive activity.

There are, therefore, compelling reasons why SE merits attention. A recent survey of more than 1000 companies[3] indicates the top areas where these tools are currently deployed: lead generation and lead scoring; pipeline management and forecasting; and helping to identify cross-sell and up-sell opportunities at current customers by trolling thru buying histories.

However, these analytics are a pre-requisite to improving productivity. Reporting that the pipeline grew by so many dollars is not managerially meaningful by itself if the firm is serious about profitable growth. How did the pipeline grow? Did we add lower- or higher-profit customers? Are we bringing in shorter- or longer-selling-cycle prospects? What are the implications for other functions and the center of gravity in our business strategy? You can’t substitute data for management. And you can’t manage sales effectively unless you have a framework for diagnosing sales productivity in your business.

Here is a starting point (see Figure 1: Sales Productivity = Capacity x Close Rate x Profit/Sale). The productivity of a sales model is a function of capacity (how much the sales force can do in terms of call capacity and their capacity, or capability, to reach target customers), the close rate (what percentage of prospects the sales force sells), and profit per sale (what they sell and at what prices). What levers are available to sales leaders to improve each component and how can SE help?

To improve sales capacity, people can work harder: generate more leads and make more calls. New tools provide a window on what, historically, has been opaque in many firms: call patterns, the amount of time reps spend in selling activities, and their persistence. Data indicate, for example, that in most inside sales efforts, it takes 6-8 calls to make customer contact, but most inside reps stop after 3-4 calls. You also improve capacity by working smarter: focusing on the high-impact sales tasks inherent in your strategy and so increasing the odds that customer contact will be more productive. For example, studies indicate that marketing departments spend about 25% of their budgets on sales collateral, but as much as 70% of marketing content is never used by sales reps.[4] Tools from companies like DocSend and Showpad enable firms to track what reps do use, what they send to prospects, and what prospects do and don’t pay attention to. In turn, this data can allow both marketing and reps to work smarter.

To increase close rates and accelerate selling cycles, get better at identifying the different types of customers that confront most firms. Which are solution customers where customization is required and worth it? Which are transaction customers where the issue is to take costs out of your sales approach? Tools from firms like LevelEleven and Pipeliner help to track leading indicators relevant to these distinctions, and so provide a basis for smart managers to address those buying-behavior differences in their sales metrics, account management policies, and channel-partner decisions.

To improve profit per sale, constantly work on basics that go beyond the sales force: e.g., production, product mix, and pricing. You also improve profit per sale by lowering irrelevant selling costs. In too many firms, standard practice is still indiscriminate across-the-board cuts when volume stalls or declines. The result is often a self-fulfilling downward spiral. Perhaps the greatest impact of SE is its ability to help managers to lower selling costs without harming selling, because the tools help them know where and where not to cut, increasing selling time and resources for the key sales tasks.

Every strategy has an implied sales productivity equation. For some firms, capacity, close rates, and profit per sale involve many pre-sale and post-sale activities. Think about enterprise software and many professional services. For others, this equation can be a single sales call. Think about old-time door-to-door selling or current inside sales for many B2C and B2B goods. For both types, this framework can help a sales leader track best practices in the business and improve via smart use of the available technology. And note the cause-and-effect: SE can provide data, but it’s managers who make good use of it. As usual in business, the core drivers are people and management, not technology.


[1] “Five Ways CFOs Can Make Cost Cuts Stick,” McKinsey Quarterly (May 2010).

[2] “Transforming Wholesale Distribution Sales Teams to Thrive in the New Economy,” a study by the NAW and Chally Group (2016).

[3] “Unlocking the Power of Data in Sales,” McKinsey Quarterly (December 2016).

[4] See the data in “The Sales Lead Black Hole,” Journal of Marketing (January 2013), and in the report from Sirius Decisions, https://www.siriusdecisions.com/Blog/2013/May/Summit-2013-Highlights-Inciting-a-BtoB-Content-Revoloution.aspx.


Frank Cespedes teaches at Harvard Business School and is the author most recently of Aligning Strategy and Sales (Harvard Business Review Press).























The Four Stages of Becoming An Excellent Sales Manager

Frank Cespedes

Front-line sales managers hire reps, organize and allocate sales efforts across market opportunities, conduct  performance reviews and reinforce good behaviors (we hope!), and in most firms are the core means by which linking strategy and sales is or is not accomplished.

Studies find that, in the short term, excellent reps with an average manager outsell average salespeople with an excellent manager. But over time, people working for an average manager tend to decline in performance.[1] Why? Many of the best reps get promoted, retire, or otherwise leave and, as the saying goes in talent management, “First class hires first class, and second class hires third class.” In addition, an excellent rep is excellent within his or her territory or accounts while a manager has, for good or ill, influence across multiple areas and customers.

Sales manager is not just a bigger sales job. Moving from doer (individual contributor) to manager (someone who gets things done with and through others) is a challenge. You move from established performance in the doer role to being the new person in the management hierarchy, who does not yet know the ropes. Moreover, sales people usually undergo this transition while learning about their reports, judging diverse strengths and weaknesses, performing administrative tasks, and making the numbers. It’s not surprising that nearly every firm has examples of successful salespeople who are disasters as managers because they persist in their behaviors as reps rather than managers.

In finding sales managers, de facto practice in most firms is still mainly gut-feel and on-the-job learning—that is, “the school of hard knocks” with a high drop-out rate and much collateral damage. To accelerate learning, you must define the behaviors required and then screen for and help to develop those behaviors. And to do that, an organization needs a relevant, shared language of development.

The Four Stages Framework

There are many models of career development. Most are psychological in emphasis, focusing on individual motives and aspirations. But other research[2] examines how people behaviorally increase their professional contributions over time—what they do to increase their ability to transition and grow as managers. Often called a “four stages model,” it identifies progressive behaviors that enable people to handle responsibilities of greater scale and scope.

Stage 1: Helping and Learning. When someone joins an organization, he or she must demonstrate the competencies relevant to that organization. There is no such thing as “performance” in the abstract. What matters is contribution here—in your customer and company context—not there. A new sales person’s responsibility is to learn, actively and practically, what’s required and feasible in their current organization while building trust with people who affect his or her performance.

Stage 1 could be called an apprenticeship, but many people stay there for their careers: some people have 10 years of experience, while others have one year of experience 10 times. How many people reporting to you are like that? It doesn’t matter what title those people have, they are in Stage 1. One purpose of a shared language of development is to communicate responsibilities early and consistently. It’s the individual’s responsibility to learn the organization and perform the core tasks effectively. It’s the organization’s responsibility to make these expectations clear at the outset.

Stage 2: Contributing Independently. Those who move to stage 2 do so by developing a track record and reputation as someone who produces significant results. Stage 1 people are learning their craft. Stage 2 contributors perform at levels consistent with widening responsibilities. The analyst must be able to analyze it, and the salesperson must be able to sell it—profitably, consistently, appropriately.

It’s from successful stage 2 performers that sales managers are typically chosen. So note the issues at this stage. Many reps want to stay in stage 2: they are valued and often highly compensated. But their contribution is ultimately limited by what they can personally accomplish. To remain highly valued, they must also remain at the top of their game as technology, market, or buying behavior changes. It’s the individual’s responsibility to recognize the benefits, risks and requirements of remaining in stage 2, and the organization’s responsibility to provide the relevant support: more technical or sales training if the rep is going to stay a salesperson; increased management training and transitional assignments if the rep is a candidate for sales manager.

Stage 3: Contributing Through Others. The only way to perform beyond the limits of the individual is to leverage the contribution of others. That’s what good managers do. They support, influence, and align the efforts of others without themselves needing to “be there”—to open the client door, get access to decision makers, close the sale. Stage 2 individuals learn to develop and take care of themselves. Stage 3 managers learn to take care of others and assume responsibility for collective behaviors. They spend time developing people—not because they are “natural” coaches, but because the only way to keep increasing performance as a manager is to find and develop more people to whom you can offload responsibilities. That, in turn, enables managers to move on to additional opportunities.

Managers must also broaden their perspectives and understand the interdependencies required for their group’s effectiveness. They proactively develop networks beyond their function so they can access the resources and cooperation of other units. It’s at this stage, for example, that sales and marketing coordination is typically a vital part of a sales manager’s responsibilities.

Stage 4: Shaping Organizational Direction. Sales managers—if they are managers—should be at stage 3, and they can have successful careers without moving beyond this stage. But stage 3 managers are optimizing the cards they have been dealt; they are in-touch with their functional area and company environs. Stage 4 is about helping to reshape the deck and the continued relevance of the cards; those managers are students of the changing landscape of their external market and industry.

Further, stage 4 managers don’t just diagnose market changes. They shape organizational direction and feasible options for doing things about them. As one senior sales executive put it, “I’m not the smartest person in this company. But I have a perspective on the relationship between our assets and opportunities. My job is to ensure our firm is utterly realistic about any difference between where we are and where we want to go, and the changes required to get there.” It’s from these ranks that firms can find future C-suite executives.

This model of managerial development does not imply that all or most people in a firm or function should be stage 4. All organizations need a portfolio of talent with people in different roles and stages. But it does imply that all firms, and especially the sales function, need a communicable view about what it takes to become a manager and sustain performance as market conditions inevitably change. Don’t leave this to gut feeling. Keeping the stages research in mind can help you better select candidates and provide the training and experiences relevant to that journey.


[1] See the research cited in A. Zoltners, P. Sinha, and S. Lorimer, Building a Winning Sales Management Team (Evanston, Illinois: ZS Associates), 2-7.

[2] For the research, which now spans four decades across cultural and functional contexts, see G. Dalton, P. Thompson, and P. Price, “The Four Stages of Professional Careers,” Organizational Dynamics 6 (1977); G. Dalton and P. Thompson, Novations: Strategies for Career Management Scott, Foresman, 1986); J. Younger and K. Sandholtz, “Helping Professionals Build Successful Careers,” Research-Technology Management (1997): 23-28; J. Younger and N. Smallwood, Agile Talent (Harvard Business Review Press, 2016).

Your Sales Training is Probably Lackluster. Here’s How to Fix It

by Frank V. Cespedes and Yuchun Lee

U.S. companies spend over $70 billion annually on training, and an average of $1,459 per salesperson — almost 20 percent more than they spend on workers in all other functions. Yet, when it comes to equipping sales teams with relevant knowledge and skills, the ROI of sales training is disappointing. Studies indicatethat participants in traditional curriculum-based training forget more than 80 percent of the information they were taught within 90 days.

As alarming as those numbers are, they shouldn’t come as a surprise if you consider how sales training is usually conducted. On-boarding, for example, is usually a one-off session in which reps are expected to absorb large amounts of information in a limited amount of time. Then, further training is usually limited to new production introductions or annual “kick-off” meetings to set quotas, where reps are flown in, given information and marching orders, and “fired-up” by a motivational speaker or exercise (more hot coals, anyone?). Further, on the off-chance that training is consistent and continuous, reps aren’t usually provided with coaching or given serious performance evaluations during which development (not only compensation) is discussed.

Although curriculum-based training — classroom-type courses typically focused on a selling methodology and activities like time management — has its place, it should only be treated as a foundation.

To increase retention and effectiveness, companies should offer reps additional training at times of need, provide them with access to supplemental material that reinforces what they’ve already been taught, and allow them opportunities to practice their skills in time frames connected to actual buying processes. They can do so by using the same technologies that are “disrupting” their customer-contact activities: videos and mobile apps that reps can view on their devices before, during, and after training initiatives.

In addition to providing reps with easier and timelier access to information, videos and apps improve comprehension when someone hears information, they remember about 10% of it three days later, but, when a picture is added, retention increases to 65%.

Here are some ways to incorporate better technology into training:

Before. Salespeople must learn about strategy and sales tasks at your firm, not only a generic sales methodology. They must learn how other functions affect, and are affected by, selling activities: for example, product management, marketing, pre-sale application support, and post-sale service. They don’t need to know how to do those jobs. But increasingly they do need to know what those jobs are and how they affect customers.

Because of this, on-boarding should be treated as an on-going process, not a one-off event. This can be achieved through a smart combination of on-site and on-demand videos that can be used anytime and anywhere while delivering consistent messages to your reps.

Consider Salesforce Commerce Cloud. To supplement their quarterly “boot camps” for new hires, the company uses a mobile platform to give sales reps access to the most relevant content, product positioning, and messaging. As one new rep testified, the videos quickly brought her up to speed on company messaging and customer stories. As a result, she felt more connected to Sales Commerce Cloud and confident in her corporate knowledge and relevant sales tasks before her start date.

During: In order for reps to develop new behavioral skills, they must practice a behavior multiple times before it becomes comfortable and effective. And it has to be related to a relevant task. If salespeople are motivated by a deal, they’ll be more incentivized to learn. In other words, in order for training to be effective, you’ll need to deliver the content at a time of need.

Technology can help make this happen, allowing reps to continuously learn from mobile content that is customized to their needs. When combined with traditional training, this approach helps reps turn product, market, and selling factoids into coherent narratives and behavioral models.

For example, Pacific Life Insurance Company, which sells insurance, retirement products, and mutual funds to financial advisors via its field wholesalers, uses video coaching. This allows its wholesalers to record their practice pitches and share them with their regional sales managers (RSMs), who give feedback from their mobile devices when and where reps need it. This helps Pacific Life leverage its scarcest resource: face time with advisers.

Additionally, each wholesaler must articulate a positioning statement for a particular investment product via a five-minute video. Regional sales managers then select the best videos and use them as examples of engaging sales presentations. This helps the wholesalers refine, rather than improvise, their presentations, established best practices, and creates consistency. It also builds confidence in reps, increases their competency, and establishes continuous improvement process.

After. Like other professionals, salespeople improve by identifying specific areas where they must improve and then receiving clear feedback on performance. Feedback is crucial to getting people to practice the right things, eliminate bad or outdated habits, set priorities, and clarify accountabilities owned by the rep versus the manager or the firm — all keys to effective sales leadership.

Technology can help extend the reach of good sales managers. Pacific Life, for example, faces an increasingly common challenge: How can sales managers effectively coach a geographically-dispersed salesforce while minimizing time taken out of the field for training? Mobile video coaching has allowed RSMs to coach wholesalers without the need to be in the same time zone. It also enables managers to identify potential weaknesses and improve wholesalers’ message delivery, rather than have them practice on advisers.

Unlike many today, we do not intend to oversell the power of technology. Selling is not reducible to a two-minute YouTube video or a 17-minute TED talk, and managers who can’t or won’t do coaching and performance reviews will be ineffective regardless of the technologies they employ. Since companies already spend a ton on sales training, the leverage resides in how you spend that time and money, not how much.

How Sales Can Wield Its Most Effective Weapon: Pricing

Quotable, April 2017

Frank Cespedes, Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School and author of Aligning Strategy and Sales

Pricing builds or destroys value faster than almost any other business action. Warren Buffet said it well: “The single most important decision in evaluating a business is pricing power…And if you have to have a prayer session before raising the price by 10 percent, then you’ve got a terrible business.”

When you lose a deal, how many times have your salespeople said, “Our price is too high”? Few customers wake up wanting to pay a higher price. But most seek value, and it is the responsibility of the sales team to frame and deliver the value proposition, including price.

Some firms compete successfully on the basis of cost and their ability to make money at low prices. But in any industry there can be only one lowest-cost competitor. Most companies target customers willing to pay higher prices for products that deliver a performance advantage. Here are two core capabilities that sales managers at those companies, and the executives evaluating sales results, must cultivate:

  1. Determine customer value and costs.

Effective pricing requires understanding the value to the customer versus the firm’s cost to serve customers, and how both vary across segments. In most firms, the best understanding of customer value is held by a combination of people in product, sales, and service. Meanwhile, costs are managed in procurement, operations, and finance. How often in your firm do these people come together to discuss value, costs, and pricing in a disciplined way? Great pricers make that dialogue part of the culture, keeping the information flows current and fact-based.

Consider the example of a company whose business relies on big-project deals. It upgraded its traditional sales “win-loss analysis” to a cross-functional after-action review. One result was more precision about target customers, deployment and staffing of sales calls, and the true causes of wins and losses. As one of the company’s (non-sales) senior executives discovered, “It turns out that high price is what customers tell you even when the truth is that they won’t buy from you for other reasons.”

These meetings can also result in ongoing product and value proposition improvements, as well as an understanding of how value varies across customer types. Information shared via virtual user groups like Marketo’s Marketing Nation, Oracle’s Topliners, or the Salesforce Success Community allows customers to research products, prices, and usage experience before ever speaking with salespeople. When different customers derive different value from the same product (as in many software and data-analytics categories), then one price across these groups almost certainly means that some customers are, in effect, subsidizing others. Sooner or later, competitors or a supply-chain consultant or a good CFO will tell them. Conversely, these differences often only become apparent in account reviews — a core responsibility of sales leaders.


  1. Link sales incentives to your pricing approach.

Salespeople must be trained and incentivized to support a company’s overall strategy. Pricing that reflects value by customer or segment, while paying the sales force on volume, rarely works. Notice the message when the commission or bonus is linked to sales volume, independent of price, margin, or the cost to serve: Go forth and multiply because any customer willing to pay a certain price (often discounted to make the volume quota target) is a good customer. This approach soon generates an unwieldy array of sales tasks, undermines selling effectiveness, and makes profitable growth increasingly difficult. This is, in fact, the situation at many SaaS companies, and it’s a big impediment to investor expectations.

Consider Fortis (disguised name), which sells a bundled solution of equipment and consumables with presale application support and post-sale technical service. Fortis lost market share and profits after customers started to unbundle that package after the initial purchase. Meanwhile, the sales force continued to be evaluated and compensated on sales volume. Fortis charted the net price paid by each major account (after volume discounts and price exceptions) versus the cost to serve that account. The result was a revealing 2×2 matrix, with customers randomly distributed across all four quadrants.

Chart these variables by account — price paid and cost-to-serve — in your company, and see what you find. If the result is like Fortis, notice the implications. Customers who are low price and high cost will be negative economic-profit customers — a drain on capital — and selling to them is not sustainable even if they generate commissions for salespeople. Conversely, customers who are high price and low cost are profitable — but also vulnerable to competitors who do understand and manage these core selling and pricing variables.

What can sales managers do in this situation? Change incentives to align with pricing realities and follow-up in performance reviews. Effective reviews look at options ranging from pricing to reflect cost-to-serve, shifting support to lower-cost online channels, different ordering or delivery options, or perhaps offloading some activities to resellers who perform certain tasks more efficiently.  Too often, however, busy sales managers treat reviews as cursory, drive-by discussions of past performance versus quota, rather than focusing on the development of customer-facing behaviors, including pricing.

The same forces that empower customers also enable sales leaders to get smarter about pricing. Data to track the selling, service, and other costs by account are increasingly available. CRM systems can often supply the relevant data, but are they used? Activity-based costing reports typically uncover dramatic differences in costs and profitability by product, customer, and order, but does sales act on this information in setting goals and managing price exceptions? As usual in business, the important levers are leadership and management, not the technical means.

A price is not the same as pricing. By voting with their feet, customers ultimately determine a market price. But you and your organization have control over pricing where, as Buffet notes, the business impact (up and down) is tremendous.



Getting Your Money’s Worth: Improving Sales Compensation

In a previous article (“Rethinking Sales Compensation,” Top Sales Magazine, February 2017), I examined three common but false assumptions about money, motivation, and management in sales compensation practices. The message was that the purpose of any sales comp plan is to motivate the sales force to achieve the firm’s goals. There’s no such thing as effective selling if that selling doesn’t link to your firm’s strategy. Business history is full of firms that got what they paid for (e.g., reps who, responding to their volume-driven bonuses, failed to execute a premium-priced solutions strategy), and didn’t get what they didn’t pay for (e.g., individually-focused incentives in a team selling approach).

What, then, are the characteristics of strategically effective compensation plans? I’ll focus here on a crucial starting point: understanding the important sales tasks in your business and, therefore, what the sales person must do to drive strategy execution and results. In selling to retail trade customers, for example, sales tasks can usually be divided into three categories:

  1. Volume-Influencing Activities: selling new items, getting more shelf space for established items, selling point-of-sale materials or in-store displays, negotiating trade promotions, and so on.
  2. In-Store Service Activities: shelf audits, handling damaged merchandise, ensuring product freshness, handling queries from store managers are examples here.
  3. Supply-Chain Management Activities: sales forecasting by account, establishing and managing delivery schedules, and coordination with your firm’s operations people for that customer.

A comp plan should set priorities among these tasks, and it’s your strategy that should determine the priorities, not a generic selling methodology or organizational legacy. Companies with automated replenishment systems for customers, for example, have less need to focus on supply-chain tasks in their sales comp plans because these tasks are largely handled in non-sales areas, such as IT. Companies that use service merchandisers in their go-to-market efforts have less need to focus on in-store service tasks.

Similarly, in B2B businesses, comp plans affect which portion of selling is attention to delivery, price negotiations, building channel relationships, pre- or post-sale applications support, cold calling, or cross-selling to current accounts. The relative importance of these tasks typically changes over the course of the product-market life cycle. Early in the cycle in technology businesses, for example, customer education and applications development are often key sales tasks. But as the market develops and standards emerge, salespeople spend more time selling against functionally equivalent products or developing third-party relationships. Your comp plan should keep pace with these task changes, or strategy execution falters. For years in the pharma business, for example, call frequency on doctors correlated with sales results, so pharma reps had to make daily call quotas to make bonus. As managed care and other large entities become more prominent in purchasing, they reduce the number of relevant call points but increase the relevant buying unit. Comp design needs to change, or you’re paying for motion not results.

The point is to focus on how the salesperson makes a difference with customers today, not yesterday. It’s not the responsibility of customers to inform you when changes occur. It’s the seller’s responsibility to track and adapt to market changes. One reason for disconnects between comp plans and salesperson behavior is that, in many firms, the people designing pay plans do so according to an obsolete vision of sales tasks. If wining, dining, and attending trade shows or conferences are important, the plan’s treatment of expenses should reflect those tasks. If, in a de facto multichannel world, working with intermediaries is important, then the plan should provide incentives to work with influential resellers or value-delivery partners through cross-referrals, training, or joint sales calls. If it doesn’t, then salespeople often sell against these entities and both parties lose the sale.

There’s an important managerial implication here: in designing comp plans, there is ultimately no substitute for ongoing field interaction, including actual sales calls. The common practice of “benchmarking” a company’s compensation plan against an alleged “industry-standard” mix of salary and incentives can be dysfunctional. One reason is that the strategies, and therefore the target customers and buying processes encountered by salespeople, differ among firms even in the same industry. As an executive once told me, “Sales in most companies is managed as it should have been managed five years ago in that business. Because that’s usually the last time the senior people making the most important sales decisions were actually in constant touch with current market realities.” New technologies and “big data” algorithms are providing tools for better tracking and diagnoses of conversion rates, call patterns, and other aspects of funnel management. But as a character in a John le Carre novel puts it, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world.”

As I mentioned in my previous article, there are always links (intended or unintended) between money, management, and motivation. Among other things, how you pay will affect the kind of person attracted to your sales organization. My core advice to those in sales or the C-Suite about compensation design: start with the engine (understanding sales tasks as they exist today in your market, and therefore the behaviors you want from salespeople), and then install the transmission (the specific mix of incentives aimed at encouraging those efforts).


Frank Cespedes teaches at Harvard Business School and is the author of Aligning Strategy and Sales (Harvard Business Review Press).

How the Water Industry Learned to Embrace Data

by Frank V. Cespedes and Amir Peleg


The water industry is using digital technologies and analytics to derive more value from its physical assets. The need for this sector to change and evolve could not be greater: The organizations that manage water supplies around the world are facing critical issues, and water scarcity is chief among them.

Because of changes in our lifestyles, including increased consumption of grain, meat, and cotton clothes, growth in water consumption per capita has doubled over the last century. And demand is increasing. According to a 2016 report from the UNEP-hosted International Resource Panel, water demand will outstrip supply by 40% by 2030. During the same period, according to the World Economic Forum, water infrastructure faces a huge $26 trillion funding shortfall. If not addressed, water scarcity will squeeze food and energy supply chains, and stall economic growth.

To help solve this problem, organizations are using digital technologies and data analytics to improve leak detection. According to the World Bank, the world loses about 25-35% of water due to leaks and bursts, and the annual value of this non-revenue water — water produced and lost by utilities — is $14 billion. Organizations are also using these tools to improve maintenance, infrastructure planning, water conservation, and customer service (including repair efficiencies and pricing).

Although members of the water industry have found success using digital technologies and analytics, they’ve also faced challenges when trying to transform the roles and mindsets of their employees and their internal- and customer-facing processes. But those that have managed to integrate their technological advances with two other key elements — people and processes — have created more than data; they’ve also created value for their enterprises and society.

People: Good leaders know that using and interpreting data is not only a search for insights; it’s also about enlisting the hearts and minds of the people who must act on those insights.

The challenge is that employees are used to doing things in a certain way, and aren’t always quick to change. For example, despite the social and efficiency value of using predictive analytics to prevent water leaks, many utility managers view themselves as heroes for responding after the leak has occurred. As one U.S. executive explains, “Most current practice is to wait for the service-failure event and judge performance by reacting to it, because the utility doesn’t get credit from regulators or the media for preventing leaks that the public doesn’t know about.”

Regulatory incentives often exacerbate this behavior. In many parts of the world, the increased operational and infrastructure costs are simply passed on to consumers. In other regions, however, (e.g. Australia, Israel, the U.K.), regulators steeply fine utilities for inefficiencies – and it’s no coincidence that a number of utilities in these countries have been leaders in adopting new digital tools.

But even with proper incentives, there are still challenges. For example, many U.S. utilities have installed smart meters — an investment that can easily surpass $60 million in cities with 150,000 water connections, or about 15% of average annual utility revenue and water rates. But after making this investment and charging consumers for it, there were false alerts about leaks, which caused expensive repairs and claims processing. The law of unintended consequences was also alive in operations: because of the initial problems, the field transmissions group distrusted the data — even after the IT problem was diagnosed and resolved – and therefore required additional training to assuage their doubts.

This is why it’s imperative to change roles, break down silos, and adopt new decision support systems when implementing new technologies. A water authority in Australia, which deployed a software solution for improving network efficiency, is a case in point. Its managerial team first formed a working group of personnel from business units across the organization — from retail and asset management to planning and maintenance crews. The group met weekly and by doing so they recognized that the software detected faulty incidents and provided a focal point to collect information (e.g., types of problems, magnitude, location, etc.) to make better decisions in other areas of the business. As a result, they created procedures that shortened the average repair cycle by 66%, saving millions annually.

Longer term, the information allowed the team to make more focused investments based on types and frequency of problems in each zone, and the ability to compare — and negotiate better terms with — vendors based on quality and performance.

Processes: As with other sectors, water utilities are going through a shift from treating users as connections who pay bills, to customers that have needs, habits, and strong opinions if things go wrong. And data analytics is enabling them to provide faster and more effective responses. “We can compare the efficiency in each of the six sectors making up our network and evaluate the response time it takes to identify potential damage, ensuring faster repair times,” an executive at one of Romania’s leading water utilities told us. “As well as smarter insights, the event management system ensures better managerial attention to continuous improvement in our operations and service to customers, and helps to prevent large-scale damage from hidden leaks.”

But in order to achieve those outcomes, the Romanian utility had to change its organizational processes and metrics. The utility had to re-define company metrics goals and create weekly and monthly processes for reviewing performance-against-goals. The software provided relevant data — e.g., the start time of a leak and when it was fixed, based on real-time information, not when reports were submitted. But it was new customer-facing processes such as setting repair-cycle targets and comparing performance-against-goal by region, which created a healthy sense of internal competition and led to more productive behaviors.

These issues aren’t unique to the water industry; they’re also relevant to companies in other industries that are using data and digital tools that are increasingly available.

For example, sales is the focus of potentially big improvements via new tools that can provide better lead generation, forecasting, and targeting. But in order to take full advantage of these tools, sales organizations will need to change their compensation incentives, internal processes, and the skill sets of their staffs, among other things.

More generally, while most current talk about big data seems to assume the replacement of physical assets by digital technologies, a larger and more impactful trend is the use of online tools to improve physical asset utilization in off-line businesses, as in the water industry. In that context, the role of data is not to make a manager sound analytical. Its role is to help make better decisions and drive value for the company. And you can’t do that only with technology or analytics, no matter how good they are.