Leadership Feed

How Sales Leaders Can Create a Lasting Competitive Advantage

DuaneSparksToday's post is by Duane Sparks, founder and chairman of The Sales Board, the authoritative source for leading-edge information about the art and science of sales training. Duane is the author of Action Selling. Download his free white paper here: The New Role that Drives Sales Leader Value


Do you, as a sales leader, ever feel as if your competitors are trying to copy your every move?

If so, your experience mirrors what I’ve observed during decades of training and certifying thousands of salespeople. I’ve guided hundreds of companies through every phase of business development, and what I’ve noticed is that every industry is seeing the end of meaningful differentiation in products and services.

Common Differentiation Pitfalls

This is what makes sales leadership one of the toughest jobs in a company. As fast as you can come out with a new product, adopt a new sales methodology, or launch a new marketing campaign, your competitors jump on the bandwagon. Lacking a competitive advantage, many sales organizations respond in one or more of the following ways:

  1. They lower the price of their offering and/or offer deep discounts.
  2. They race to develop a new product without an understanding of its potential value in the market.
  3. They adopt a new sales methodology.

In some cases, these options might not be totally bad ideas; however, by and large, they are temporary fixes.

How to Leverage Sales Training to Differentiate

If you want to create a lasting competitive advantage that will be extremely difficult to copy, focus on building a team of the most competent salespeople in your industry through continuous sales training and sales coaching. In other words, don’t try to compete on product features, customer service, sales methodology, or messaging. Compete instead on the basis of sales skills.

When salespeople are properly trained, they are aware of what makes them most successful. This means they can continuously improve and show others how to get similar results.

What if you had an entire sales force made up of consciously competent people? What if your team members knew exactly what made them successful, and they could explain it to others in clear, concrete terms? It seems obvious that this would be the best possible situation for any team.

Why Sales Leaders Must Become Excellent Sales Trainers 

If your goal is to differentiate your company by developing your sales team’s skills, then you must lead the way as a sales leader. In fact, you must become intimately involved with the sales-training process and transform into an effective trainer in your own right; this point is essential. Remember:

  1. You cannot delegate sales training and coaching.
  2. You cannot rely on simply hiring superstar salespeople who won’t ever need sales training.
  3. You cannot neglect or avoid sales training because you have other priorities. 

Based on my experience, building a highly competent sales force through continuous training and coaching gets real results. Many years ago, I was vice president of sales and marketing for a small player in a fast-paced technology business. Without a differentiated sales position for the company, price was the only buying factor.

Fortunately for my company and its employees, we declared that we would become the best-trained sales force in our industry, and we meant it. Shortly after making that decision and implementing an aggressive plan for training our team, we began a seven-year spurt during which our growth was six times greater than the already explosive growth of our industry.

That’s when I learned the value of using sales leaders as sales trainers to establish a competitive advantage. 

To learn more about this approach, download this complimentary report, "The New Role that Drives Sales Leader Value." You’ll discover 1) the three duties of any sales leader, and 2) how you can avoid the common traps that plague sales-training efforts. Plus, you’ll get a free self-evaluation checklist that will enhance your training savvy as a sales leader.



Two Reasons Predictive Analytics Drive Outstanding Sales Performance


Today's guest post is by Lisa Fiondella, CEO of reFocus Analytics. Hear her speak at the Sales 2.0 Conference in Philadelphia on March 16, where she will present “Innovating for Sales through Big Data and Analytics.”


Throughout high school, I really enjoyed math (with the exception of 10th grade geometry), and college statistics was actually fun. I can still hear our teachers telling us that we’d use math every day of our lives, while my classmates and I snickered at the thought. Other than counting the money in my measly savings account and comparing the total to the price of a really cute pair of shoes, I just didn’t get the connection. 

When I decided to make sales my profession, I never dreamed that math could have such a profound impact on my own sales performance or that one day I’d develop and leverage an analytical approach to creating sales growth. After all, selling is a “people profession” and traditionally associated with such skills as

  • allowing customers to express their needs,
  • creating trust,
  • negotiating effectively, and
  • proving you and your company offer the best solution for the customer’s business.

All of these are human interactions and far removed from mathematical calculations, but as I moved from an individual contributor role to sales management and eventually to running a business, I learned that combining the “people” element of sales with the math of predictive analytics can be a powerful combination

How so? We’ve heard the statistics about how today’s buyers buy. Based on my own experience leading large, complex sales organizations and testing many approaches, I believe that predictive insight is the way to achieve outstanding performance. Here are two reasons why:

1) Predictive analytics tell you what’s likely to happen with your customers, markets, and business performance.

You can use this insight to build strategies around resource and organization planning, territory assignments, account assignments, and quota development. This provides a much clearer picture of revenue potential – much more so than historical sales reports (or the traditional gut instinct of the salesperson and sales manager).  

2) Predictive analytics allow sales leaders to more effectively execute business activities. 

That’s because predictive insight can be applied at an account or individual sales-representative level. For example, if a manager understands the revenue potential of a particular rep’s account book, then individual level quota and performance measures can be established. This approach helps sales leaders focus on the right actions and measures that will propel the company to greater levels of sales success. 

Sales today is a brave new world. While some of the old ways of selling still work, a predictive approach is ideally suited for sales leaders who want to achieve outstanding performance. This means you must be willing to learn how to win using methods that are different from what you used in the past.


Four Key Elements of an Effective Sales-Leadership Vision

Norman BeharToday’s guest post is by Norman Behar, CEO of the Sales Readiness Group, an industry leading sales training company that helps Fortune 500 companies develop and deliver customized sales and sales-management training programs. Follow Norman on Twitter: @NormanBehar.


It’s very important for sales managers to develop strong leadership skills. Why? Sales organizations that cultivate good leaders are typically better able to do the following:

  • transition star sales reps into high-performing sales managers,
  • identify and respond to revenue challenges earlier rather than later,
  • recognize and replicate key sales behaviors that lead to revenue results. 

(For more insight on how to achieve these results in your own organization, download a free copy of my white paper, Developing Great Frontline Sales Managers.)

Do sales managers need to be charismatic to become great leaders? Not necessarily. In fact, people often assume that charisma is a more important quality than it really is. Although charismatic people might be able to inspire others for a period of time, leaders will not have staying power unless they can combine that charisma with a number of other, more substantial qualities.

For example, all great leaders possess a dream or a vision. Think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his “I Have a Dream” speech. This speech outlined a very powerful vision, and it helped generate an equally powerful momentum that propelled the Civil Rights Movement forward.

Whether you’re naturally charismatic or not, you can develop a winning vision for the future and learn to articulate that vision in an inspiring way. Every sales leader should know where his or her organization is headed over the next six to 24 months. When developing your plan for success, keep these four key elements in mind:

Four Key Elements of a Great Sales Vision

  1. The vision must be future focused.
  2. The vision must be challenging but achievable.
  3. The vision must acknowledge the current situation and provide a clear portrait of what success will look like.
  4. The vision must align with organizational goals.

Watch my video interview below with Selling Power founder Gerhard Gschwandtner to learn specific examples of how you can formulate and apply a winning leadership vision. 

What is your sales leadership vision for your organization, and how did you develop it? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

For more insight from Norman Behar and the Sales Readiness Group, check out his white paper, Developing Great Frontline Sales Managers.

What's the Difference between Sales Leaders and Sales Managers?

LaVonKoenerToday's blog post is by LaVon Koerner, Chief Revenue Officer of Revenue Storm, a global sales consulting and revenue acceleration firm. 



While the terms “sales leader” and “sales manager” are often used interchangeably, there is a huge difference between these two roles.

Leaders rally employees around a vision. They have the ability to influence, motivate, and inspire others to contribute to the fulfillment of that vision.

Managers, on the other hand, are more adept at directing employees on how to systematically execute the leader’s vision. They can see all of the intricate moving parts and understand how to sync them.

Leaders aren't always managers, and managers aren’t always leaders, but both are critical to the success of an organization. Properly pairing salespeople with either leaders or managers can have a significant impact on productivity, employee satisfaction, and revenue. 

Consider, for example, the characteristics of hunters and farmers. 


  • Assertive
  • Tolerant of risk
  • Hungry for recognition
  • Focused
  • Competitive
  • Impatient
  • Keen on variety 


  • Relational
  • Resistant to risk
  • Collaborative
  • Predictable
  • Dependent
  • Partial to known environments 

Hunters are tasked with winning high-risk opportunities (i.e., opportunities that are competitively held, were previously lost, or are in adverse environments) or accelerating the acquisition of new markets, geographies, and accounts. Meanwhile, farmers are tasked with cultivating, growing, and protecting revenue in existing accounts while achieving high customer satisfaction and building valued relationships.

Based on these definitions, you can probably guess the best pairings: Leaders will be more productive if they lead hunters. Managers will be more successful if they manage a group of farmers.

So why is it important to distinguish between your managers and leaders? We all yearn to be understood and accepted for who we are, and working for a boss who has very different DNA can be unsettling. You can see this disconnect clearly when it comes to motivation. Leaders and hunters tend to become bored when things are too predictable or comfortable; they love to confront new, risky, and suspenseful opportunities. Conversely, managers and farmers tend to choose comfortable surroundings devoid of risk and have an orderly approach to resolving challenges. They prefer deep relationships.

It’s certainly true that some managers can inspire, and some leaders can execute systematically, but these are not their core strengths or dominant characteristics. Understanding who your leaders and managers are will help you create an organizational structure that builds strong morale and a culture that effectively addresses core business functions and needs. 

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What Rules Will You Break This Year?

Michael Weening headshotToday's post is by Michael Weening, Senior Vice President, Customer for Life, Commercial, at salesforce.com. This post is a slightly edited version of the one that was originally published here on his blog, Leading a Sales Transformation. It is used here with permission. 

Every New Year, people make commitments to new goals. But how about a commitment to disobey -- to break the rules?

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” -- Dalai Lama XIV

This is a great quote, one that I have spent my life inadvertently (and sometimes painfully) living by. After all, what are rules, other than societal norms of the moment? Consider the Webster definition: “a statement that tells you what is allowed or what will happen within a particular system.”

That system can be a country, culture, or organization, and what is allowed is always evolving. This is the reason why women can drive cars and vote and why the color of your skin cannot be used against you in most modern countries. In our society, new precedents arise, new theories are created, and views change, which all lead to these questions: Which rules will you break? What new precedents will you, as a leader, set in this new year?

If you need inspiration, look to the innovators who have taken on decades-old thinking to challenge the old rules and build new systems. The entrepreneurs look at the opportunity, not the rules that constrain them, to create and challenge – to drive change. This is why those of us who have stood on the side of the road waiting and waiting for a cab in San Francisco finally have an alternative (thanks, Uber), why there are more choices than to be terribly served by your local cable and telecommunications provider (thanks, Skype, Netflix, and Apple, to name a few), and why I never have to read a printed magazine again (thanks, Zinio).

If you are the leader of a sales team and, like most, are looking to transform or improve that team, then take the Dalai Lama’s quote to heart. Your job is to break the rules and create new ones, because the old rules and the old ways of doing things often do not work. If they did, you would not be challenged with the task of driving change and improving.

I cannot count the number of times I have been told that I was breaking the rules and could not do what needed to be done. A few examples:

  • “You cannot change the compensation plan to include an MBO, because that is why you pay them a salary.” We did, and it was an incredibly effective way to focus the sales team on goals outside of quota attainment. The MBO became our new compensation norm and core to driving process adoption.

  • “You cannot give out less quota to your sales team than you carry as the leader. In that case, the numbers did not add up; the number of reps multiplied by the average revenue per rep did not hit my leadership quota. The top down, dysfunctional, totally random quota methodology meant that 30 percent of reps were hitting quota, the good ones were leaving, those who could survive on a salary were staying (a bad thing), and morale was in the tank. I handed out the lower quota because it was more important to ensure that the reps were given a number they could attain, one that was not hopeless right from the start. The result? They overachieved, we grew by double digits, and through the process we created the new rule: leadership target was calculated by multiplying the number of reps by target revenue per rep. Target revenue per rep always grew every quarter, and we went from 30 percent hitting quota to 75 percent while driving double-digit growth as we changed our team.

  • “You cannot publish the reps’ attainment weekly.” (This is not my story but a close friend’s.) It was a unionized sales environment, and that was clearly against the rules. After much pushing and debate, the rules were altered. The names were not allowed on the public list posted weekly, only the employee numbers with their sales results. It did not matter – everyone knew who was at the top and who was at the bottom. Sales went up by double digits. 

If you want to beat the pack, know the rules so you can figure out which you will alter and which need to be broken, and hope that your competition is following the rules – it makes them easier to beat.

And remember…

“The airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”  -- Henry Ford

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Winners Dream

Starting with the January issue of Selling Power magazine, we're featuring a new monthly column written by Bill Winners dream bill mcdermottMcDermott, CEO of SAP. He is the author of a terrific book, Winners Dream, in which he shares his journey from running a deli at age 16 to landing a job at Xerox, selling copy machines in New York City. He realized his dream yet he keeps on reaching higher. As the head of SAP, and leader of 70,000 employees around the globe he has not forgotten his roots and he remains curious, humble and hungry. He is also giving back and helps others win.

As the publisher of Selling Power magazine I've had the privilege of interviewing Bill McDermott several times and he always struck me as a sincere, genuine, and authentic leader who walks the talk. I read Winners Dream twice from cover to cover and I enjoyed listening to his audio book (which he recorded in a 5 hour CD) on my way to work. At the first reading I enjoyed the story of his amazing journey from salesperson to CEO and learning his secret sauce for creating a winning sales organization. The second time it struck me that Bill is one of the most emotionally intelligent leaders in the technology industry that's filled with chest thumping blowhards and empathy deficient narcissists.

It is so refreshing to get an insider's view of the emotional playbook of a gifted and successful leader who is aware of people's dreams, who recognizes people's potential and who leads them to success with an audacious vision, a bold strategy and a relentless passion for winning. Bill is unafraid of candidly sharing his battle scars from fighting with adversity and disappointment. He wears humility like a badge of honor and that makes him more human and larger than life at the same time.

If you are in sales, I invite you to use Selling Power magazine as your sales and self-improvement coach. Check out our cover story with Bill McDermott and listen to this video interview where he tells the story of how he managed a corner store deli as a 16-year old. In February you will read how Bill made the vital transition from salesperson to sales manager and you will be able to watch our video interview we recorded at SAP's headquarters in Heidelberg.

If you want to improve yourself and ignite your dreams and contribute to a far better world, become a perpetual student of winners like Bill McDermott who turned their dreams into reality and who give back to the profession of selling.

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Discover the Essence of Great Leadership in Three Minutes

What does it mean to be an authentic leader who listens and gives direction successfully? In this candid interview, Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer of SAP Jenny Dearborn shares the moment she first met with Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP. In less than an hour she walked away impressed with his unique leadership style. Discover the essence of great leadership in three steps.

1) Listen deeply. Bill opened this meeting by telling the team they were the leaders. "What do I need to know? What's working? What's not working? How can I help you?"

2) Reiterate what you've heard. Bill ran through all the points the team discussed and said, "Here's what I've heard in this hour." This helped the team collaborate more effectively and stay on the same page.

3) Take action. Bill sent a summary of the meeting promptly and made sure to follow up to help the team execute on the items discussed.

I have met Bill several times and I agree with Jenny that he has that rare ability to inspire people and line them up behind his vision. His openness and generosity make people feel lucky to be part of his team.

I want to thank Jenny for taking the time to share this story with me on camera. She is also an impressive leader and has an energy level that many executives would envy. Jenny has been a presenter on the main stage at two Sales 2.0 Conferences where she has shared great insight on the topic of sales enablement. I'm pleased to say our editorial team is working on a cover story about Jenny that we will publish in Selling Power magazine next year. Keep an eye out for it.

What do you think makes a great leader? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Fix These Two Behaviors that Sabotage Sales

Somrat Niyogi

 Today’s guest post is by Somrat Niyogi, CEO and cofounder of Stitch. 



Do your salespeople fail to follow your sales process? Are they bogged down by administrative tasks? Are their sales pipelines sluggish and inconsistent?

If your organization is suffering from any of these problems, it’s time to take a look at your relationship to your CRM system.

CRM systems are flawed. They act as a repository for information but aren’t designed to help salespeople actually sell, be more productive, or simplify sales activities. In fact, the number one question sales leaders ask me is how can they effectively use technology in a way that helps their salespeople follow the sales process.

I believe that the solution is to use CRM data in a “smart” way and introduce automation to the sales process. We call this “intelligent sales automation.” Here are two problematic behaviors we see in salespeople and how intelligent sales automation addresses each one.

Problem #1: Salespeople typically choose to work on the deals that they know are closest to closing.

Naturally, salespeople want to invest time in closing deals that are easiest or most likely to close so they can get their commission check and/or meet quota; however, this means that deals and relationships that appear earlier in the funnel are generally ignored. This has two consequences: 1) early-stage opportunities and relationships can run cold (sometimes permanently), and 2) salespeople must start from square one each month or quarter (or whenever quotas are reset) to rebuild their pipeline.

Your salespeople are not necessarily losing touch with early-stage deals on purpose. What they need is a tool that prompts them to follow up with a particular contact at the optimal time, meaning when that contact is likely to be in buying mode.

Your CRM system is a great place to store information and create to-do lists, but it is simply not capable of assisting salespeople at this level. By contrast, salespeople who use Stitch find that the prompts help them reengage with prospects at ideal times. This contributes to a more robust and consistent sales pipeline.

Problem #2: Salespeople frequently fail to enter data and information into CRM systems.

Salespeople want to spend as much time as possible on activities that will help them close deals, reach quota, and collect their commission. Similarly, sales leaders also want salespeople to prioritize selling activities; the more time spent on selling activities, the better the chances of bringing in more revenue.

Sales leaders, however, have an added need to capture data related to sales activities, because this data helps them track the sales pipeline and roll out sales forecasts. When data is inaccurately entered into or missing from the CRM system, sales managers don’t know what’s happening with pending deals, and it’s impossible to predict revenue streams. 

With traditional CRM systems, the burden is on the rep to take time away from selling activities and devote time (up to 19 percent, according to a CEB study) to administrative tasks such as data entry. With an intelligent automation platform, however, salespeople are prompted to enter information at precisely when new information becomes available. Auto-fill capabilities make it faster and easier to get data into the system. The data in the system improves, and forecasting becomes more accurate. 

For salespeople, a well-defined and optimized sales process can be the difference between success and failure. Although traditional CRM systems fall short, sales intelligence automation actually helps salespeople and sales managers do their jobs more effectively and efficiently so that everyone wins.

Want to learn more about how you can take steps to increase sales productivity and get more out of your CRM system? You can contact us at ceo@stitchapp.com.

10 Leadership Secrets from Captain America

BillWallaceToday's post is by Bill Wallace, vice president of Revenue Storm, a global sales consulting and revenue acceleration firm. To hear more from Bill, visit www.revenuestorm.com.



The fictional character Captain America, a superhero and leader of the Avengers, a team of superheroes, may be a perfect exemplification of many of the fundamental leadership traits that are critical in today’s business environment. While Captain America honed his leadership skills over an exceedingly long lifetime thanks to genetic rewiring, you can learn and benefit from his approach in a much shorter time frame.

Below is a list of 10 leadership secrets I believe Captain America personifies. They illustrate that leaders are made, not born. Anyone can adapt and develop the traits of an effective leader.

  1. Have a purpose and vision.Captain America is very clear on what he needs to do and accomplish. He understands that his purpose is to right wrongs, fight for justice, and complete virtually impossible missions. Knowing this, Captain America is able to create a strategy that accomplishes the mission and execute the necessary tactics to accomplish that strategy. As a leader, you must have an explicit purpose and vision for yourself, your team, and your mission. 

  2. Be willing to both lead and follow. Captain America has an ego but will adopt a position of humility to advance the mission. He leverages the strengths of everyone on his team to accomplish the goal, allowing others to lead when their talents are stronger. He leads from the front, never asking anyone on his team to do something he wouldn’t do himself.

  3. Let every team member shine. As leader of the Avengers, Captain America is surrounded by the world’s most powerful superheroes. He understands their strengths and leverages them to best accomplish the mission. He lets each team member have a chance in the spotlight and willingly embraces team members’ ideas. Every superhero on the team has a unique skill that he can’t match, and that’s OK. 

  4. Focus on things that will have the biggest impact. Captain America has a laser focus on the important things that create the biggest difference. He doesn’t allow himself to be dragged into the small details that won’t make a major difference. Don’t get so wrapped up in details that you miss the big picture.

  5. Be a risk taker but not reckless. The job of a superhero, as well as a leader, is inherently risky. The Avengers understand the risks and trust Captain America not to put them in harm’s way unnecessarily. This inspires loyalty among his team. While your circumstances are not nearly as perilous, you may need to take risks to achieve your mission.

  6. Don’t be afraid to break rules when it’s necessary. When rules that were created with the best intentions yield unfortunate outcomes, leaders need to trust that their judgment and experience will help them make the right call. Many rules are made by people far away from the front line. While there may be a price to pay for breaking rules, leaders need to weigh the options and consider what’s best overall.

  7. Share credit with those who deserve it. Captain America isn’t in it to advance himself. By sharing the credit, he gains the admiration and respect of his team; his team is willing to follow him into battle. Effective leaders recognize the contributions of their team members – and even their superiors – who helped make the mission a success. Building the currency of others doesn’t hurt yours.

  8. Communicate clearly and openly. Captain America is clear about his objectives and ensures his team understands what is required. He praises openly and has the tough conversations privately. Instead of avoiding constructive conflict, he speaks up if he believes there is a better way to accomplish the mission. Captain America repeatedly communicates the necessity of actions and reviews the tactics with his team to ensure everyone understands his or her role and is focused on execution.

  9. Admit when you’re wrong. Captain America takes responsibility for his actions and readily admits when he’s wrong. He doesn’t worry about losing respect or being seen as weak. When he makes a mistake, he owns it and acknowledges that he must consider other actions. Don’t let being right stop you from moving on productively. 

  10. Be resilient. Captain America gets back up when he’s knocked down and never quits. He may get discouraged, but he is persistent and adaptable in order to find a way to win. He understands that intelligent actions, patience, and persistence are worth the effort.

Nothing that’s been outlined above is beyond the capability of anyone desiring to become an effective leader. If you follow the example of Captain America and work to develop the same attitude and skills, you’ll soon be overcoming challenges, creating greater results, experiencing success, and earning the respect of the superheroes who follow you.

Will You Meet or Exceed Quota in 2015?

JimDickieToday’s post is by Jim Dickie, partner at CSO Insights. To take part in this year’s CSO Insights study on sales performance and receive a free download of the 2014 Sales Management Optimization Study Key Trends Analysis, click here.


Today, in many companies around the world, senior management is focused on determining what the firm’s sales goals will be for 2015. Let me take some of the mystery out of the process: the revenue targets will be higher. They always are. Raising the performance bar year-over-year is something we have come to expect in sales, but let me raise a yellow flag of caution.

Last year, the CSO Insights survey of more than 1,200 firms worldwide found that the percentage of sales professionals achieving quota dropped to 58 percent from the 63 percent reported a year earlier. When we look at what the study participants shared with us regarding the outcome of forecast deals, we uncover a key contributor to this drop in sales performance. As seen in the following chart, the average win rate across all the firms surveyed was a lackluster 45.9 percent. Put that into perspective: the odds of winning at the craps tables in Las Vegas are 49.3 percent.

If we are going to raise quotas yet again for 2015, what can sales organizations do to help their sales teams meet or beat those higher expectations? To start providing answers to that question, CSO Insights is conducting its 21st Sales Performance Optimization study. We will be collecting more than 100 metrics to help identify the challenges facing our sales teams, why those problems exist, and more importantly, how companies are effectively leveraging people, process, technology, and knowledge to successfully address those issues.

As always, if sales executives are willing to take part in the study, CSO Insights will analyze the data, surface the key insights into how to optimize sales performance, and send back a complimentary copy of the analysis (more than 150 pages). You can leverage current metrics and best practices surfaced from the study data to fine-tune your sales and marketing strategies for 2015 and maximize your ability to meet or exceed plan.

To take part in this year’s study, simply click on the following link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WPBM6LN

As an immediate thank-you, you will be able to download the 2014 Sales Management Optimization Study Key Trends Analysis upon completing the survey.