Ask the Expert: Fabian Au, Using Data to Gain a Competitive Advantage

We asked IBM’s Fabian Au for advice on how sales leaders and sales reps can use data to gain a competitive advantage.

February 8, 2017

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Whether you’re the VP of sales or the new business development intern, if you sell against competition, you’ll take any advantage you can get. Fortunately, you don’t need to look too far to find potential advantages. As technology continues to permeate the sales sector, your ability to use data to differentiate yourself will no doubt become a bigger determinant of success.

To help you identify opportunities to stand out among your ideal buyers, we asked Fabian Au about using data to gain a competitive advantage. As a Sales and Analytics specialist at IBM, Fabian is an expert on the subject. Read on to discover how Fabian recommends using data to ease the social selling transition, what steps he feels sales leaders should be taking today, and more.

LI: You started your career in business development, performing dozens of calls per day. What do you tell salespeople who want to perform more focused outreach but can’t afford a bad month or two while they learn? Specifically, how can they incorporate data to accelerate their transition to social selling?


FA: Determination and hard work still stays important as a prerequisite to be successful, so do not give up! However, the good news is, when data is complemented with determination and hard work, an individual can be more successful. There are two kinds of data in my opinion that can be incorporated to accelerate transition into social selling. Firstly, data such as information about the customer and their organization. This would help an individual carry out a more meaningful conversation which results in better success rates due to the ability to resonate better with the customer. Of course, this is not always the case because failure is part of the journey to success and this brings me to my next point. The second kind of data is "failure data" which can help an individual identify why they are failing so that they can avoid the same mistake in the future and be more successful.

LI: What steps should sales leaders take today in regards to leveraging data to ensure their teams have a competitive advantage tomorrow?

FA: Good sales leaders should always be data-driven when measuring their team's performance or guiding their team. One example would be using data to show team members that certain approaches can reap better results. As a sales rep, I would definitely be more confident when a fact is supported by data. To help their teams gain more of a competitive advantage, a sales leader should help team members gain easy access to data such as customer or market information. This allows team members to focus on selling rather than collecting data and empowers them to have a more productive discussion with their customers. Data can also be a competitive advantage when salespeople use it to show that they understand the customer. In some cases, the customer might be impressed with the data you are showing as it reveals an insight they might not be aware of.

LI: We’re seeing some fascinating developments made possible by AI and machine learning. Which sales tech developments do you see paying off big for early adopters?

FA: Sales tech is categorized into different categories such as engagement, productivity, sales rep management etc. What I would like touch on and think that is paying off would be sales intelligence technology. Sales intelligence with developments in AI and machine learning can help a rep work smarter. A good example would be the ability to identify the "propensity to buy" of a prospect or "upsell" opportunities which is something that my organization is already doing. That being said, I've also seen more advanced technology for example, using AI to analyze tone of a prospects email. I've also seen companies building a virtual assistant that understands what salespeople want using AI so that a sales rep and managers can save time in looking for data and insights.

LI: Investing in the right sales tech is one thing. Getting buy-in and driving adoption is another. How can sales leaders use data to drive adoption of beneficial sales tech within their organizations?

FA: I always believe in leading by example and therefore as a sales leader you should starting using sales tech yourself. Seeing is believing! You need to show your team members that data can help them be more successful, showing some facts and figures around successful cases would definitely help. This could be for example showing that a particular message or product would resonate better with a certain profile of customer. What this means for a team is that they can collaborate using these data and achieve higher success rate, ultimately be more motivated. Another important component of a successful sales tech implementation is definitely adoption because a system can be the best in the world but if no one uses it, then it’s a failure. Therefore, educating your team members on both features/functions and also benefits is very important. Bottom line is to make sure that as a sales leader you are doing what you preach and using data whenever possible to support what you are saying.


Looking for additional strategies to score a competitive advantage? Check out LinkedIn’s Definitive Guide to Selling to Multiple Decision Makers.