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March 2018

Welcome to people analytics, where big data meets sales management

It seems there is no area of human endeavour that is not about to be transformed by the power of data analytics (aka big data). Welcome to the world of 'people analytics'.

According to a recent article in Forbes Magazine, "There is a major shift taking place in the market for people analytics. After years of talking about the opportunity to apply data to people decisions, companies are now stepping up and making the investment. And more exciting than that, the serious math and data people are flocking to HR."

There's many aspects of people management to which people analytics could be applied but potentially one of the most promising is to sales management. Every company sets targets for its sales staff against predefined key performance indicators. But while thee provide targets to strive for they only measure past performance.

Suppose data could be gathered on salespeople's activities, analysed and use to develop feedback in near real time with the aim of improving results. That's the potential of data analytics applied to human activity, aka people analytics. Wikipedia describes it as "a rapidly growing area of business intelligence and big data technology that uses snippets of people-related data to optimize business outcomes and solve business problems."

According to this definition, when applied to sales management, people analytics "draws on aggregated, anonymised data from email, calendar and other company-specified datasets to help employees and executives understand how time is invested, and if it’s paying off with increased sales. Put simply, the data helps managers recognise why some employees are not meeting their KPIs and how to best coach them towards improvement."

And according to McKinsey&Co, "Sales coaching works best on a data-driven level – when sales managers can bring precise coaching points backed up by sales performance metrics to training sessions, reps will be more receptive to improving their performances. If a rep is not reaching his or her activity goals, the data will bear that out. Performance data can also be used to compare activities among team members, creating healthy competition and providing motivation."

Taken to the limit people analytics could allow managers to simply review data generated by the activities of the people they manage, like this scenario.

"Imagine a top corporate executive of the future. Instead of finding out what’s going on in her company by asking her subordinates, she consults a digital dashboard that tells her everything from who is at their desk to how happy they are about it. Any measurement that falls outside historic norms or deviates from industry standards is flagged in red. Within minutes our manager knows what issues to focus on today—or this quarter—whether it’s employee engagement or the size of her sales staff’s social networks."

This, the author says, "might sound far-fetched, but it isn’t far removed from the services offered by a growing number of companies."

Bit scary really.