I’ve had the pleasure of spending the last 2+ days listening to and meeting some incredibly smart people focused on driving customer, sales and revenue growth in a variety of industries. The commonalities and themes across the conversations were navigating an increasingly complex selling environment, a far more sophisticated buyer, and a mountain of data, tools and process (internally and externally) to focus on the areas, strategies and tactics that will most effectively drive sales performance and success.

As usual, the team at Selling Power put on a great event. Here are 10 of my key takeaways:

1. Keynote best practices
There were some brilliant main stage presentations, and a few stinkers. Some great breakout sessions, and others that emptied out quickly. Not uncommon for any conference, but it made me think about several specific best practices for preparing and giving keynote presentations, summarized here.

2. Importance of coaching and knowledge management
Key to improving our sales efforts is making our people better, yet few of us invest enough in coaching our teams (marketers, sales reps, sales managers, even sales VPs). We also are, universally, not very good at managing the institutional knowledge created and capitalized on a regular basis. One speaker called the problem “organizational forgetting”, which has an incredibly large soft cost for most of us (even in small business). Investing in coaching at all levels, and better capturing and leveraging information, will have measurable and exponential impact on performance.

3. Sales is a client of marketing

This doesn’t mean they’re subservient. Marketing and sales need to partner towards joint outcomes. But I love the idea that marketing should consider their plan as a proposal to sales as a customer. It forces a certain way of thinking, collaborating and consistency of language, definitions, focus areas and outcomes.

4. Build vs. buy for 2.0 solutions

I still see and hear many companies using or building home-grown, custom solutions to help manage their customer relationships and sales process. In some cases, this may be a good idea. But there are so many outstanding vendors focused on every minute element of the sales & marketing process, and platforms (such as Salesforce.com) that can tie them all together into a unified, cohesive process to make your jobs and lives easier. Disparate systems are going to take too much time. It’s worth investing in the integration as well as the third-party technology adoption to ensure success in the execution internally.

5. Focus on outcome, but measure the leading indicators
Everything you do should lead towards sales, customer and revenue growth. But sales is a lagging indicator for most of what we do every day as sales & marketing professionals. We need to focus and triage everything based on impact on the final outcome, but measure the leading indicators to ensure our immediate, day-to-day activities are moving in the right direction. Further, you can evaluate those leading indicators in retrospect to understand which activities are most effectively driving pipeline movement.

6. Don’t serve bread pudding after lunch
Best bread pudding I may have ever had at the Four Seasons in San Francisco on Monday. Spent the next hour looking for the conference nap room. Just saying.

7. You have enough data, figure out which of it can be used to drive behavior
Most organizations are drowning in data – prospect lists, past campaign performance, purchase activity, daily sales activity metrics, etc. But without knowing specifically which metrics are driving the right desired (leading indicator) outcomes, most organizations are left “starving” to not only find the right data, but know how to act on it. Yes, most companies need better prospect data. Context, buying signal listening platforms, etc. But most of us have enough data, we’re just not using it.

8. Everybody is struggling (you are not alone)

Easy to listen to speakers talk in case studies and assume that others have it all figured out. Not the case. The vast majority of sales and marketing professionals around you – smart people, capable people – are struggling to find the right mix of data, tools, activities and priorities to drive more efficient, predictable growth and performance. The only way we’re going to “figure it out”, so to speak, is to keep sharing with each other what we’re trying, what’s working, what’s not working, and from that piece together an incrementally-better playbook of universal best practices.

9. Social media is a selling tool (if you use it right)
It’s not a direct response channel. But social media allows us to hear buying signals far earlier in the buying process than ever before. It allow us to engage prospects early, at a significantly lower cost than traditional outbound marketing, with faster close times and higher close rates. These results aren’t always immediate, but with the right investments they can provide an annuity of new leads and opportunities for your organization.

10. Ditch the pitch applies to networking too
When I ask you what you do, it’s far more effective for you to answer as if I asked “What do you do for your customers?” Tell me about the problems you’re tackling and solving. Tell me about the impact you’re having for your customers. Start with the value, and then (maybe) we’ll get to how it’s done. This applies to keynote presentations, vendor booths, as well as hallway conversations. The “why” of your story is far more memorable and actionable.