How to increase revenue by eliminating guesswork

Wasted efforts result in $2tn of lost revenue in sales and marketing. Here’s how to fix that

Business has always been about gaining an edge over competitors. And companies’ sales and marketing teams are some of the most vital cogs in helping businesses eke out that advantage, bringing in new customers and finding new seams of growth to tap into.

But the process isn’t without its issues. Though both functions are highly skilled, there’s a large amount of guesswork that goes into crafting a successful sales and marketing strategy for a business. “People hear ‘guesswork’ and at first think, ‘that’s so rude’,” says Latané Conant, chief market officer at 6sense, a technology company that helps business-to-business organisations improve revenue growth by utilising big data and AI. “But the reality is when you’re looking at small sample sizes of data, it’s like taking two points and extrapolating a trend.”

That’s by necessity: the data sets that marketing teams have access to are often limited, and first-party data sets that businesses may collect in the course of their operations aren’t always that useful. “We’re only looking at around 10% of the picture,” says Conant. It’s what 6sense calls ‘the dark funnel’, where buyers often remain anonymous through a large proportion of the purchase journey, only surfacing when they’ve already made up their mind to buy or not – and from whom.

To try and plug that knowledge gap, businesses extrapolate, assume and guess. They picture idealised customers and try to target them with marketing messages in the hope of hooking in customers they think will want their products or services, doing so from the scant amount of data they do have. But it’s not always accurate, and it often is wasteful.

As belts tighten and budgets become more constrained, there’s a pressing need for companies to get smarter about their businesses. Increasing revenue and pursuing strong growth strategies is the goal of any business – but the challenging conditions in which we live today make that more pressing than ever. “I guarantee that every single CMO and CRO recently had a board meeting where they were directed to do more with less,” says Conant.

Companies are losing $2tn in potential revenue by using outdated sales and marketing processes, according to Boston Consulting Group. “It’s from things like guesswork, a lack of alignment and poor data quality,” says Conant. “Because you don’t really understand the patterns in the dark funnel, you end up spending a lot on things like advertising,” she continues. “It’s not a bad thing to do, but it’s broad. Of course, that’s going to create a lot of waste.”

One of the starkest differences between B2B and B2C is the number of people involved in a buying decision

It’s a waste that executives are keen to tamp down on at a time when uncertainty rules the market. But squeezing out the extra advantages – doing more with less – isn’t as easy as it seems. “Your first blush is to say: ‘Well, it’s not like I’ve been doing less with more’,” says Conant. “We’re already maxed out, and people are already burned out.”

She suggests that a fundamental change is needed in the sales and marketing functions of businesses. “The good news is that when people start to understand and unpack where that waste is, all of a sudden you think: ‘hell yeah, I can do more with less’. There are a lot of easy areas, but it takes a change.”

Those easy areas to pick off as a business include focusing sales prioritisation to do things smarter, rather than broader. Sales headcount is a huge expense for businesses, and putting them to the right tasks is a quick and easy way to tackle inefficiencies in your company. Another area to tackle is handling website budgets – and driving traffic to them – more tightly. 6sense conducted a study across multiple industries that showed just 3% of website traffic fills out a form. “All that time, all that money and all that energy are spent to know about 3% of users,” says Conant. “What about the 97%?”

Learning about them is tough – but can be done. Big data and the deployment of AI allow businesses to peek into the decisions that go into a business purchase. “One of the starkest differences between B2B and B2C is the number of people involved in a buying decision,” says Conant. “It’s not just one buyer or one person.” Businesses’ purchase decisions go through teams and layers of bureaucracy that big data can help cut through. “All of a sudden you can optimise your complete go-to-market motion based on timing,” says Conant. “Truly where the journey is. Not where you think the journey is, but where it actually is.”

For some businesses, the idea of dabbling in big data and AI seems daunting, but 6sense takes out the complications. “We’ve built our company on making it easy,” says Conant. Customers who approach 6sense often worry their data is so bad and so disparate that it can’t be translated into meaningful insights. “If our company relied on people having decent data, we’d have no business,” she jokes. “We’ve perfected the onboarding process of bringing their data in, and marrying it with our data.” 6sense fills in the gaps in knowledge, providing better insight into purchasing decisions.

For some companies, it can be a struggle to win over their sales team to a new, data-led way of work. “We found the key to sales adoption is showing the why, she says. 6sense presents the data into users’ workflow and adds context so sales and marketing staff understand why decisions are made and where. “That’s critical for building trust,” says Conant.

The company studies its customer data every quarter, and sees increases in the sales velocity formula – the average selling prices, win rates and cycle times. “That is so tremendously mindblowing,” says Conant. “We see it over and over and over again.”

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