The year is wrapping up and that traditionally means sales teams are looking back to measure what they accomplished and plan for the New Year. What if you could visualize your data to reward success and plan for 2017?

Most sales organizations use some form of a customer relationship management system to monitor and measure sales activity. There are reports available with any CRM system; however often these “out-of-box” reports don’t give the level of insight needed to make critical decisions. They may not have the high-level visionary viewpoint, do not bring systems together and might also lack the ability to drill into complex data. The result: reaction time to make key decisions is elongated and an organization becomes reactive (vs. proactive) in nature. In order to fully leverage the data consider adding to these analytics tools to bring systems together.

There are numerous software tools on the market that allow leadership and sales teams to input and review data. Some are really expensive, while others are free to download. Earlier this year, Microsoft made its ever-popular Power BI tool accessible via the cloud. Bonus –the tool works in tandem with its Customer Relationship Management counterpart, Dynamics 365. Power BI is free to download, has a cloud-based component for dashboards and is self-service, which means you entire staff can use it. The free version can do about 90 percent of what someone would need in an office. Here are five ideas to make it work for your sales team in the New Year.

Leverage data sources to build a lead list: Power BI is built to work with the tools teams already use: SAP, Survey Monkey, Constant Contact and Salesforce, for example. Power BI does not take the place of any of these software systems – instead it pulls them all together so a company can see the bigger picture. Imagine being able to match up the data in Salesforce to the open rates in Constant Contact’s email system? Maybe you have a prospect that consistently opens your email newsletter. Add the person to your lead list.

Power up your data. Data is great, but if the data does not work for the business or takes forever to dig through, it’s useless. It’s great to have a database of 1,000 people, but who are they? Are they customers, influencers or vendors? Do these people drive revenue or provide services? Power BI can help see things such as response time to service level agreements or marketing activities that drive ROI. Pipeline reports and sales trends can be generated in hours, minutes and sometimes seconds – instead of days – leaving plenty of extra time to review and develop thoughtful strategies.

Use the data to drive business: With a tool to bring various data sources together in one place, teams can make decisions on marketing tactics and sales techniques. If something is not driving the expected results, changes in strategies can be made. This tool allows for forecasts and helps prepare for seasonal sales peaks and valleys. Because Power BI supports nearly 60 applications, different departments can import the data they’ve collected to share with each other and provide deeper insight. With data visualizations, you have a better viewpoint into what marketing tactics are working, what products and services aren’t performing and even start predicting buyer behavior.

Go graphic: About 65 percent of people are visual thinkers. Power BI has a rich set of data that allows users to create grids and graphics in a few clicks using many data sets. Think funnel charts, gauge charts, maps, matrices, pie charts and the list goes on. Using visual graphics allows leadership and the sales team to interact with data to find the right business information and incorporate it into dashboards that are easy to digest at a glance.

Self Service:  It happens at every business from Fortune 500 to independently owned companies: there’s a customer crisis and leadership needs to see data about the client and the company fast. What if a CEO or his support team knew how to dig for that information on their own? As leaders become more tech savvy, user friendly Power BI enables anyone to visualize and analyze data with speed, efficiency and understanding. Instead of calling a team to gather information and build reports, a leader can login, point, click and see what they need in a 360-degree view immediately to make business decisions.

As teams consider their 2017 sales plans and how they might leverage Power BI, they should first determine the metrics that are important for their organization to track. Next, they should determine how they might display that data through data visualizations. Finally, they should ensure their data is shared across all areas of the business to deliver accurate and transparent reporting. The goal should be to empower employees to make their own decisions using real-time data. With Power BI, complex information becomes easy to see for everyone in your organization. 

Brandon McGhan, is CRM practice lead for Allegient.

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