The Emergence of the Sales Scientist

By Rob Käll, Co-founder and CEO, Cien Inc.

They say death and taxes are the only things that are inevitable. Until recently, I thought there was something else that was inevitable: diminishing returns.

As an executive and an entrepreneur, I’ve observed the law of diminishing returns in all aspects of growing a business. Add a second engineer and the product doesn’t get built twice as fast. Add a second marketing person and the number of leads won’t magically double. And this problem was even more acute in sales teams. It didn’t matter where I went, what product we were selling or to whom we were pitching. I would hire the most accomplished or most driven sales people but it didn’t matter: every time our sales organization would grow, I’d observe a drop in the output per sales rep.

Intuitively, it makes sense. Or at least it did for me at first: as teams and organizations grow, they get more convoluted. Things get more complicated. More middle management, more intermediaries, more processes, more time spent reporting than selling. Hiring, training, managing, coaching, motivating, forecasting – all of these things, essential to the success of any sales organization, become more complex as you add more people to the equation.

The fact of the matter is, you can hire the most motivated people in the world but if you don’t change the way you work, your sales organization won’t scale. It’s as if, when it comes to building sales organizations, there was a law of diminishing returns.

The law of diminishing returns is a basic law in economics. And yet why is it that some succeed where others have failed?

How is it that certain sales organizations can successfully scale to 100, 500 or 1000 sales professionals, while other organizations experience growing pains as soon as they add another sales rep?

The Emergence of the Sales Scientist

I knew that something else was at work here. Most of today’s sales leaders have followed a similar career path. They often start in the field as an individual contributor, or perhaps an inside sales rep. They learn how to close deals and achieve their quotas. Then they typically become front line managers, helping individual contributors achieve their quotas. And finally, they become VPs, SVPs, EVPs of Sales.

Like most careers, the skills required at the beginning of the path are very different from those towards the end of the path. At first you need good closing skills, then you need good management skills. But when you reach the top of the sales organization, a whole different set of skills are required: planning, forecasting, measuring, evaluating and navigating. At this level, while gut feelings and pattern recognition can help, the type of skills that make you successful are more analytical and quantitative in their nature. In fact, the skillsets required today to be a successful Chief Revenue Officer are closer to those of a fund manager than those of a sales rep. Just like statistics and computers revolutionized the financial profession in the 80’s, and then the marketing profession in the 00s, the next big wave of “quantification” will impact the sales profession.

And that’s how Cien got started. My cofounders Ben Strum, Margot Carter and I decided to build a company that would turn every sales rep into a sales quant. That would help sales professionals be more productive by using the power of statistics. And probabilities. And machine learning. And sentiment analysis. And artificial intelligence. All of these disciplines could be used to help sales professionals answer their most difficult questions. But what exactly are the most difficult questions faced by sales professionals?

Measure What Matters

Sales leaders often have access to lots of numbers, metrics, KPIs and dashboards, yet for the most part they continue to rely on rules of thumb and their gut feel. This is because sales teams typically don’t have the knowledge, expertise or resources to analyze their numbers. Or when they do, their CRM data doesn’t always make sense. For example, the definition of a marketing qualified lead or a sales territory has changed. Or the people have changed. As a result, sales leaders often end up scratching their heads, trying to answer the same, critical questions, repeatedly:

  • Why do certain reps or teams make or miss their sales targets?
  • What sales numbers, headcount and budget should I plan for the year?
  • How do I properly compensate my team?
  • Which items in my playbook have the most impact on sales?
  • Is there any low hanging fruit I’m not seeing?

Often these problems stem from the fact that sales organizations aren’t measuring what matters.

That’s why we built Cien. Cien helps sales professionals to stop making decisions based on gut feel or rules of thumb. It applies data science to problems that are very human in their nature. We designed it as a Fitbit® for sales and marketing professionals. You can use it during your white moments, waiting in line for a sandwich, or as soon as you get out of bed while enjoying your coffee.

Cien means one hundred in Spanish. We’re calling it Cien because we want sales to be a hundred times more successful than our previous ventures, and one hundred times better than any existing app out there on the market. Take it for a test drive. We hope you like it! And let us know what you think….


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