In 2002 a man named Jeff Hoffman set up a business named “Basho strategies”. Precisely why he chose that name is lost in the mists of time. But what he had to tell the world of sales professionals was certainly not. 

Most specifically, the ‘BASHO email’ is now a familiar concept to many in sales who are blissfully unaware of the full backstory. A BASHO email is one designed to get the recipient’s attention and convert as effectively as possible. And what is the defining feature of a BASHO email?

It opens with a fact or observation relating to the recipient.

In other words: it is built upon knowledge about the person we send it to. And it works. After all, it is a pretty well-understood fact that people prefer to talk about themselves rather than software vendors they have never heard of before. 

Why am I telling you all this? Because the BASHO email is a prime example of how sales intelligence can help any organization sell more effectively. To include facts about the recipient in an email, we have to know facts about that person or organization. To create content that resonates, we have to understand the current challenges that the organization faces. 

These facts, collectively, are sales intelligence. And it is an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to driving growth and revenue. With that in mind, let’s talk some more about precisely what it is, what forms sales intelligence can take, and how best to gather it and use it out in the field.

What is sales intelligence?

If you’ve read this far, you are already a decent amount of the way there. But for completeness, sales intelligence can be fairly defined like this:

Any information relating to sales prospects, or systems for the collection of that data, that can help us sell successfully.

I hope it is reasonably clear that in this context, sales intelligence can incorporate a large number of really quite diverse types of information. To understand that full scope, it might help to define some categories of sales intelligence and provide examples of each:

  • Information relating to company activity. This could be a funding round, a new product direction, the opening of an office in a new territory: there are any number of examples. In each case, the knowledge in question can be extremely valuable when considering when and how to approach a business from a sales perspective.
  • Information about a specific individual, such as a corporate promotion, delivery of a speech or talk, authoring of an opinion piece, and so on. Ultimately every conversation (including sales conversations) takes place between individuals: and understanding those individuals gives us a higher chance of success.
  • Information about company processes. This might include the organization’s dedication to digital transformation, approach to purchasing, its financial year, or how it evaluates vendors. As you can imagine, sales intelligence of this nature can be fantastically valuable.

Collectively, all the data points covered by the above enable any vendor to have meaningful, focused conversations that prioritize the needs of the potential customer. They also help sales teams approach prospects at the right time and in the right manner, identifying opportunities that may elude competitors, and help accurately size the market and forecast closed business and revenues. It’s not just about emails!

Of course, much of this collection and use of ‘data’ is done naturally and instinctively (just as it is in any conversation between two or more human beings). But perhaps what best defines ‘sales intelligence’ is the systematic collection, categorization, and distribution of this knowledge. 

Let’s talk about ways to turn a sea of unstructured data into the sort of structured intelligence we can really use.

How to gather and distribute sales intelligence

Before going any further let me divide sales intelligence into two broad categories, namely:

  • That which is collected directly: from the prospect themselves, and
  • That which is collected indirectly: from third-party sources

The former is well understood by most salespeople, who are smart enough to know that asking a prospect questions about their requirements, situation, business objectives and so on, and noting down their responses, is an essential part of a good sales process. Just remember to actually speak to them when it is your turn to talk!

The latter - ‘indirect’ sales intelligence - is less embedded in typical sales processes. But it can be incredibly powerful, precisely because it isn’t information shared by the prospect themselves. It is this form of intelligence I’d like to discuss further.

How is that intelligence collected in most organizations today? Well, in the example with which I began this piece, our sales rep intent on writing a ‘BASHO’ email might spend an hour or two Googling the recipient’s name before finding something vaguely relevant and leading with that. 

This is both a colossal waste of time and money, and almost certain to mean using whatever comes to hand rather than the right piece of sales intelligence. Essentially, it is taking an ad hoc approach to what should be a systematic endeavor. The results are inevitable.

Making the collection of sales intelligence systematic, however, is not without its own problems, which can be summarized as follows:

  • At any given moment in time, most businesses are attempting to sell to a number of prospects (often hundreds, or even thousands)
  • Each of which contains a number of decision-makers and influencers, meaning

The total amount of intelligence we need to gather in order to sell effectively is almost infinite

When we consider that many multinational organizations sell all over the planet, to potential customers of all shapes and sizes, it should be apparent why expecting individual sales reps, untrained in such research, to perform this task is unrealistic.

But by the same token, it is not a challenge that even the largest dedicated team of analysts could possibly be equal to. 

What is required instead are dashboards for every sales professional, in which relevant news and events relating to both the organizations and individuals they are selling to are shared - and shared automatically, without a requirement for human intervention. And this, essentially, is what AYLIEN News API was built to help power.

The principle is simple: many thousands of correspondents, business writers, and journalists all over the planet cover events relating to companies, large and small, and the individuals who work for them. AYLIEN automatically ingests these articles as they are published, and passes each one through our state of the art natural language processing engine in real time. Essentially this turns the overwhelming mass of unstructured news articles into structured news data which can be easily queried to surface any items considered relevant. In short, AYLIEN brings sales intelligence to the individuals who need it.

It’s a little more complex than this of course. Specifically, AYLIEN:

  • Scans over 80,000 sources from around the globe. Perhaps more importantly again, we include specialist business titles and sources in languages other than English, so that news sales intelligence concerning even smaller businesses becomes available
  • Uses natural language processing (NLP) to ensure that we accurately tag and categorize content, which is another way of saying that we ensure content is truly relevant and actually relates to the entities and topics we are interested in. To demonstrate the importance of this, try running a Google News search for payments business ‘Square’. You’ll see some signal - but an awful lot of noise too.
  • Supports the distribution of resulting sales intelligence, at scale. In fact, we work with both vendors themselves, who are effectively reselling our news data, or direct with larger businesses. In both cases, AYLIEN supports easy-to-integrate data feeds that get the right sales intelligence to the right people.

This, ultimately, is the aim of the game. For sales leaders and individual salespeople to have both the strategic and tactical intelligence that empowers them to do their job, close business, and drive revenues. All that remains to do is discuss precisely how to put it to use.

How to use sales intelligence

This is not a guide to sales strategy. Thousands of books have been written on that subject, and we wouldn’t attempt to add to that sum of knowledge here. We can, however, propose some ways in which sales intelligence specifically can be put to good use. Here are a few ideas.

Think strategically: We started this piece with the example of an email. But greater benefits are to be found in using sales intelligence to structure the entire way an account is approached. Use a broad range of sources to really understand a prospect’s vision, how the organization behaves, what motivates them. Document your findings and use them to guide every interaction with the prospect.

Search for opportunities: It isn’t just about closing business: it’s about finding business. Use AYLIEN News API (or an equivalent) to identify and alert your team to events that indicate new opportunities. New offices, investment, changes in key personnel, or public statements that an organization is looking for new partners are all key indicators - depending on the business you are in.

Be careful about what you share: Nobody likes being spied upon. Whilst every piece of sales intelligence you use is by definition in the public domain, using a ‘deep scanning’ platform like AYLIEN means that some may be obscure. Important, yes, but also not necessarily headline news. Although prospects understand that looking for news relating to them is normal, giving the impression you spend your days discovering what they had for breakfast may backfire.

Focus on what matters: Knowledge is wonderful. But it isn’t everything. The objective is not to share intelligence or demonstrate how sophisticated your intelligence collection operation is: it is to close new business. The benefit of having a broad range of sales intelligence at your fingertips is that it enables you to always leverage what helps in the specific situation you are in. Always use knowledge with your objectives in mind.

In sales, knowledge really is power. Use that power wisely, and you’ll see an immediate improvement in new opportunities, close rates, and the number that really matters: revenue. Keep selling!

To discover the capabilties of AYLIEN News API, try it for free during our 14 day trial. All you have to do is sign up here, and we'll send you your credentials. You'll be up and running within minutes thanks to our extensive documentation and get started guides

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