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How To Plug A Leaking Sales Funnel In The Right Place

How To Plug A Leaking Sales Funnel In The Right Place

Everyone in sales has a leaking funnel.

That’s the nature of the game.

It is, after all, why the sales pipeline is typically displayed as a funnel. There are fewer deals at each successive stage in the sales process.

If the funnel wasn’t leaking you’d win 100% of deals. (If you ARE winning 100% of deals then you have other pipeline management issues, it’s just that a leaking funnel is not one of them!).

In fact, for reasons we’ll come to, sometimes there are not enough deals leaking from the funnel. Opportunities hang around in the sales pipeline long after they have any realistic chance of closing successfully. These opportunities over-inflate the sales pipeline and eliminate any chance of accurate revenue forecasting.

So the two questions for every sales manager are:

  • Is the sales funnel leaking to a reasonable extent?
  • Is the sales funnel leaking in the right places?

And if the answer to either of these questions is ‘no’, then there’s a third question.

  • What should I do about it?

So here’s our 4 step guide to plugging a leaking funnel in the right places.

  1. Measure funnel leakage.
  2. Determine where the funnel is leaking.
  3. Understand why the funnel is leaking.
  4. Decide what action to take.

All four steps go together. If you don’t know how much the funnel is leaking – and where – then you can’t decide how best to plug the leaks.

1. How to measure funnel leakage

Here’s the Leaking Funnel dashboard chart and report.

salesforce dashboard chart based on the leaking funnel report.

The chart is created using a Stage Movement report. It shows the ‘From’ Opportunity Stage for all deals that have been set ‘To’ Closed Lost.

In our case the chart covers Opportunities where this Stage movement occurred in the last calendar quarter.

The leaking funnel dashboard chart and report show, for example, 17 Opportunities were set to Closed Lost directly from the Prospecting Stage. In other words, 17 deals that were in Prospecting, leaked from our funnel in the last quarter.

Early Stage funnel leakage

All other things being equal, there’s nothing wrong with deals leaking from the funnel at early stages in the sales lifecycle.

If the opportunity qualification process is working effectively, this is exactly what should happen. Deals are investigated. If there isn’t a win-win for supplier and customer, the opportunity should be qualified-out.

But how much early stage leakage is too much? One way to gauge this is to look at conversion rates (win rates). Are win rates are broadly in line with what you expect? If so, and the funnel leakage report shows an acceptable number of deals lost from the early stages in the pipeline, then you probably don’t have an overwhelming early-stage funnel leakage problem.

On the other hand, if you do have an early-stage leaking funnel issue, consider the actions outlined in Section 4 of this post.

Late Stage funnel leakage

What about deals that leak from the funnel at late Stages in the sales cycle?

Look the chart and report in our example. Is there a problem? 11 deals in the quarter were lost directly from the Negotiation Stage.

This is not good news. As Bud Suse says, there’s nothing worse than coming a close second.

Opportunities that leak from the funnel at late stages waste time, energy and resources and they drain morale.

It looks like we have this very problem in our example. Read on to see how to investigate further and decide on the right course of action.

2. Determine where the funnel is leaking

Knowing that we have a leaking funnel late in the sales cycle is only the starting point. Before we can take action we need to analyse the problem further.

Let’s start by looking at the same report summarized by salesperson.

Salesforce report that shows the leaking funnel for each salesperson.

This report shows the ‘From’ Stage for all deals that have been set to Closed Lost for each salesperson.

It looks like all salespeople have something of a problem. They are all leaking deals at late stages in the sales process.

Let’s reformat the report again to look at the leaking funnel problem from a different angle. Let’s compare new versus existing customers.

Leaking funnel of new customers compared to existing customers.

So now we have a much deeper understanding of where the funnel is leaking.

We have a real problem in losing deals to new customers, late in the sales cycle. We could reformat the Leaking Funnel reports in a variety of other ways to analyse further, but you get the idea. First we measured overall funnel leakage, then we investigated where in the sales process deals are slipping from the pipeline.

Now we need to understand why it is happening.

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3. Understand why the funnel is leaking

So now we have identified specifically where the funnel is leaking. But there’s no point taking action just for the sake of it. We need to understand why deals are being lost.

Here are some ways to do that.

Get feed-forward from prospects

This is the most powerful way. Get insight from prospects with whom you’ve lost deals. Go and ask them where you went wrong. Find out how you could have acted differently to win the deal.

We prefer to call it feed-forward not feedback, because you then apply the lessons going forward to future opportunities.

Discuss the issue with salespeople

Have an open conversation about why the situation is occurring. We’ve facilitated many of these discussions – having an external, independent facilitator is a good way of ensuring an open, no-blame discussion. This is particularly powerful if it is combined with advice and insight directly from the prospects.

Implement a Reasons Lost field

Many companies have this type of picklist or text field on the Opportunity. It’s usually combined with a validation rule to ensure information is entered whenever a deal is set to Closed Lost.

Sometimes this yields useful information. But it’s tough to get the depth of information that can truly make a difference using this method alone. Plus, all too often ‘Price’ is entered as the reason the deal was lost. Qualitative information is key to making real change and a difference to future conversion rates.

4. Decide what action to take to plug the funnel leaks

Now we’re finally ready to take some action! Of course, the appropriate action depends upon the results of our analysis and investigation into why the funnel is leaking.

Depending on the situation in your business, here are some possible actions you can take.

Early Stage leaking funnel

  • Validate the opportunity qualification criteria and process. Check that deals are not being qualified-out too early.
  • Ensure early-stage opportunities for new customers are being followed up appropriately and thoroughly. Make sure they are not being ignored in favor of warm deals from existing customers.
  • Re-focus marketing and lead generation activities on target customers in the right segments.
  • Implement lead nurturing programs to ‘warm-up’ customers before being contacted by salespeople.
  • Implement lead scoring to identify and prioritize the early stage opportunities that should be followed up.
  • Implement a feedback process from Sales to Marketing or Telesales (or whoever generates the early stage opportunities in your business). This communication must explain when and why new deals are qualified-out. Use this feedback to improve lead and opportunity qualification criteria.

Late Stage leaking funnel

  • Improve the investigation stage in your sales process. Ensure that salespeople are not spending wasteful time chasing deals they have little chance of winning.
  • Define your ideal customer and make sure you have a framework for assessing potential deals. Bob Apollo has excellent advice on this.
  • Implement a bid / no-bid approval process. If you operate in a big ticket, RFP environment, get formal sign-off to pitching for a deal.
  • Review the process for identifying all stakeholders in the buying center. Check that key stakeholders are not being left out of the communication process early in the sale.
  • Submit contracts and legal documents for review earlier in the sales process. Get technical and legal issues on the table earlier, before everyone gets too entrenched in their position.
  • Get the right balance of focus and pressure. Are sales people chasing too many lame duck deals?
  • Check for dormant deals and evidence of sandbagging. Do some opportunities remain outside the pipeline until the salesperson is confident a deal is to be done? If so, then it’s interfering with your visibility of the funnel and conversion rate metrics.
  • Implement a lessons learned process to capture valuable information that will reduce funnel leakage in the future.

All funnels leak deals. It’s where, when and how that the funnel is leaking that’s important. Use the Leaking Funnel report in your business today to find out if you have a problem. Then dig a little deeper to figure out the right action for the right type of leak.

Free sales pipeline dashboard

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Broken lead process in salesforce? Here’s how to fix it

Broken lead process in salesforce? Here’s how to fix it

You probably don’t remember Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

It’s a surreal comedy group from the 1970’s. It’s how John Cleese and Michael Palin first made their name.

In one famous sketch, Palin arrives at the Argument Clinic or for an argument. Cleese is happy to oblige. They go round in circles, arguing the same point over.

You can recreate a similar scene.

Ask a room full of Sales and Marketing people agree how the lead process should work in salesforce.

You’re guaranteed a bun fight.

I’ve run hundreds of salesforce implementation workshops. And here’s something I’ve experienced. No subject causes more debate than that surrounding the lead process.

Yet, resolving this debate is critical to an effective lead process in salesforce. Unfortunately, often that doesn’t happen with clarity.

The outcome is an ineffective lead process. That means ineffective lead qualification, reduced revenue and poor marketing and sales performance information.

Let’s understand what causes this debate. Then we will define a lead process in salesforce.

(By the way, don’t forget, you can download the lead process diagrams used in this article).

Difference between a lead and an opportunity

There is often dis-agreement between Sales and Marketing on the difference between a lead and an opportunity. Yet clarity is essential.

But that can be harder than it sounds.

Why is there so much confusion? After all, most Sales and Marketing people will acknowledge that a lead is the first step in the sales cycle.

Here’s why it’s a problem.

Salesperson’s definition of a lead

To a salesperson, a Lead can come as easily from an existing customer or known prospect, as a brand new one.

The lead can be repeat business for an existing customer. Or a new prospect, freshly arrived through the door.

Either way, the sales process has started. It may not be advanced enough to warrant an Opportunity in salesforce.com. But sales engagement has at least commenced.

So, from a salesperson’s perspective, a lead reflects a broad range of early stage, potential opportunities that require immediate action.

Marketing person’s definition of a lead

A Marketing person’s perception of a lead can vary in two important ways.

First, a Lead is often a person or business that will potentially make a purchase at some undetermined point in the future.

Marketing may hand the lead to Sales, but not necessarily with the expectation that a sale will immediately result. The lead is a potential customer that may engage in a future sales process. Conversely, to a salesperson, a lead is someone entering the sales process right now.

Second, to Marketing a lead is very often a new company or person. The business or contact may not have existed previously in the database. Indeed, the role of Marketing in many businesses is to increase the overall lead database for long-term benefit.

Sales are under pressure to close deals in the short term. Marketing want to nurture the Lead. It’s this contrast in expectations that frequently results in Sales to complaining about the quality of Leads created by Marketing.

Salesforce lead process

Sales and Marketing often fail to agree on the difference between a lead and an Opportunity. This directly obstructs the implementation of an effective lead process in salesforce.

So what constitutes a lead in the salesforce.com CRM system?

In fact, salesforce uses the term Lead in several different ways. Let’s take them step by step.

  • Lead as a brand new enquiry

Start by thinking of a Lead in salesforce as a brand new enquiry, from a business and person you’ve never previously heard of.

For example, let’s say you have a Web-to-Lead form set up on your web site. Web-to-Lead is an easy way to integrate salesforce with your web site. It means anyone that fills in your Contact Us form will be created automatically in salesforce as a lead.

So, the lead is created. What’s the first thing that should happen in the lead process? Check for duplicates by clicking on the Find Duplicates button on the Lead page layout.

This will identify any matching Leads or Contacts that already exist in your salesforce database. Let’s assume you don’t find any.

Now you make an outbound telephone call to the Lead. Essentially, one of three outcomes will result from this part of the lead process.

  • The Lead is a dead end

It turns out the person isn’t interested in any further dialogue. Perhaps it was a student simply looking for research information. Either way, set the Lead Status to Closed. You don’t necessarily delete the Lead from the database, but no further action is anticipated.

  • The Lead is a definite maybe

The Lead is moderately interested in your products and services. He doesn’t want to speak to a sales person – at least not yet. But you agree to send a brochure, product specification or price list. So this time set the Lead Status to Contacted. You might also create a follow up Task to call the Lead again in the future.

  • The Lead is a sales Opportunity

The Lead agrees to a meeting or phone call with a Sales person. Or he requests a quote. In other words, he gives you some indication that he’s a legitimate potential customer. He’s a Qualified Lead.

This time leave the Lead Status alone. Instead, click on the Convert Lead button. Salesforce will convert the Lead into three separate records; an Account; Contact; and Opportunity.

Here’s the process in a flow chart diagram.

Lead process diagram for qualifying a new Lead.

The Account represents the business or organisation. The Contact is the person employed by that organisation. And the Opportunity represents the potential sales deal.

It’s this early stage Opportunity that many Sales people will regard as a Lead.

Indeed Sales people may be reluctant to use the term Opportunity. It raises expectations about the outcome. It creates visibility of the deal in the sales pipeline dashboard. And from the salesperson’s perspective, the Lead may – or may not – have been properly qualified by Marketing before it was converted to an Account, Contact and Opportunity.

All legitimate issues. Before we address them, let’s deal with several other ways salesforce uses the term Lead.

  • Leads that match existing Lead records

Let’s go to back to our person that filled in the Contact Us form on your web site.

In our example, we assumed that no existing Lead or Contact matched our new Lead. We established this by clicking on the Find Duplicates button on the Lead page layout.

What if one or more matching Leads had been found?

Click the Find Duplicates button on the Lead page layout to find matching leads

No problem. Use the Merge Leads button to merge the various Leads into a single record. Then make your qualification call.

Here’s the lead process diagram.

Lead process diagram for qualifying a lead with match to existing lead.

  • Leads that match existing Contact records

How can an existing Contact be created as a Lead in salesforce? There’s a number of ways.

For example, Leads can be created by importing the spreadsheet that contains a list of people that came to a booth at an exhibition. Some of those people may well be existing Contacts.

Or, a Web-to-Lead form on your web site that allows visitors to register for an event. When an existing Contact registers she’s created as a Lead. The same thing happens if you’re using Web-to-Lead to enable visitors to download a document from your web site.

In any of these cases, when you click on the Find Duplicates button you may find there’s a matching Contact.

Click the Find Duplicates button to find Leads that match.

Here’s three ways to deal with the Contact-as-a-Lead situation.

  • Convert the Lead without making a Qualification call

    During the Lead conversion, salesforce will help you merge the Lead into the existing Contact record. If the Account Owner is already actively engaged with the Contact – on an existing Opportunity for example – then perhaps it isn’t appropriate to make the qualification call.

  • Convert the Lead and then make a Qualification call

    This is the common approach when it’s the Account Owner that is dealing with the Lead. He or she merges the Lead into the Contact record and then makes a call to the Contact.

  • Make a qualification call before Converting the Lead

    This approach is used most frequently when Marketing or Inside Sales is dealing with the Lead. They make call to the Lead, cognisant of the fact that the person already has a relationship with the company. Following the conversation the Lead is converted, but Marketing or Inside Sales make a human decision on whether to simultaneously create an Opportunity.

Here’s the process diagram for the last of these scenarios.

Lead process diagram for lead qualification with match to existing account or contact.

To Convert a Lead without creating an Opportunity, check the box “Do not create Opportunity upon conversion” during the convert process. It’s underneath the Opportunity name on the Convert Lead page layout.

At the end of the Monty Python scene, Palin and Cleese continue to argue about whether the argument is finished.

You can do better than that. You can resolve the argument about lead processes in the workshop. And then build the lead process in salesforce. Period.

Free lead process diagram download

Are the lead process diagrams in this article useful to you? Download the diagrams in Powerpoint. Use them starting point for creating your own lead management process.

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When Recurring Opportunities Are Right (And When They Are Not)

When Recurring Opportunities Are Right (And When They Are Not)

Not every sale results in a single, one-off invoice and payment.

Many result in multiple payments over time.

But here’s a common mistake companies make in salesforce.

They use recurring opportunities when they shouldn’t. And sometimes they don’t use recurring opportunities when they should.

Here’s what happens if you do this:

  • Your sales process is far more convoluted than it needs to be.
  • It will be difficult to get accurate pipeline visibility.
  • Key sales metrics such as the number of month close date changes, days since last stage change and open age of the opportunity will be distorted.

So here are five situations where recurring opportunities potentially have a role to play in salesforce.com.

In each of these commonly-occurring scenarios, companies receive multiple payments over time. So when are recurring opportunities required?

Here’s a simple way to answer this question. Determine whether the future revenue is in jeopardy.

If the answer is yes, then recurring opportunities are probably required. If the answer is no, then you probably don’t need recurring opportunities.

Here’s how recurring opportunities apply – or don’t apply – to each of the situations above.

Recurring opportunities with software as a service

Based in Paris, our customer Sidetrade provides predictive software to accelerate credit management and the sales-to-cash cycle.

The platform is delivered on a SaaS basis and customers generally sign-up for a fixed term contract for a number of years. Payment is on an annual basis.

Sidetrade doesn’t need recurring opportunities.

This is because the future revenue on the contract is not in jeopardy. The opportunity is closed won. The customer is committed via the contract.

So instead of recurring opportunities, Sidetrade forecasts future revenue using Schedules.

For sure, Sidetrade will aim to sell additional services or upgrades to the customer. But Sidetrade handle these via additional opportunities. But these are new opportunities for incremental revenue rather than recurring opportunities.

Recurring opportunities with insurance premiums

Based near Toronto, another customer, Aboriginal Insurance Services (AIS) sell insurance products to the Indigenous Native American communities across Canada.

For example, the community will purchase motor insurance to cover all vehicles operated by the municipal community.

The insurance and premium is for one year of cover. AIS will aim to renew the policy with the community. But this is not guaranteed.

In fact the future revenue is in considerable jeopardy. Competitors will seek to undercut AIS or challenge the incumbent company in other ways.

So it’s right for AIS to create a recurring opportunity to manage the renewal. It is a separate sales process. AIS will apply proactive key account planning and optimize their chances of success but there is no certainty of a positive outcome.

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Recurring opportunities with service contracts

Based in Yorkshire in northern England, MAM Software sell advanced software and hardware to support the automotive logistical supply chain in the UK and USA.

The company sells support contracts that cover the software and hardware. These typically run for 3 – 5 years.

The customer pays an annual fee for the support.

But MAM don’t use recurring opportunities. That’s because the customer is committed contractually for the duration of the support arrangement. The revenue is secured. It’s not in jeopardy.

To manage this MAM have a single opportunity. They use Products with Schedules to forecast the future revenue. This means MAM have an accurate, forward looking view of secured revenue.

It also means the pipeline for new opportunities provides a clear picture of future income if the deal is won.

Recurring opportunities with Proof of Concepts

Another London based customer, Modernis, provides advanced analytics and consultancy services to the insurance and re-insurance markets across the UK, USA and Europe.

The analytics products are offered in a software-as-a-service platform. The sales process often involves a two stage process.

First, Modernis sometimes provide chargeable proof-of-concept access to their platform. Then, once customers have experienced the value that the platform brings, Modernis will sell access via a contract that runs for a number of years. This contract incorporates an annual license charge.

To manage this, Modernis create two opportunities. The first represents the sales process for the chargeable proof-of-concept. A trigger then automatically creates a second opportunity, this time to manage the full contract sales process.

So the company uses recurring opportunities – at least of a type. This is because the full contract is not a given. It depends on a successful outcome to the proof of concept.

Modernis also forecast the future revenue on the full contract using Schedules. This is because this revenue is not in jeopardy. Therefore no recurring opportunity is required.

Framework agreements in salesforce

Gilbarco Veeder Root (GVR) is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of petrol pumps and retail equipment. Based in Greensboro, North Carolina, the company has a salesforce deployment covering six continents.

A GVR opportunity may often relate to a major site re-fit program for one of the major petrol retail companies.

The refit program may take the petrol retail company several years to complete. It’s likely to require a large-scale purchase from GVR.

One the one hand, both parties want to benefit from the pricing and security of trading that is reflected in a long term commitment.

On the other hand, the customer doesn’t want all the petrol pumps manufactured and delivered in one go! Rather, they want to ‘draw down’ the units as and when the refit program is ready to install them.

So the total value of the contract is agreed (usually within an agreed range). But the month-on-month revenue is more volatile.

GVR handle this with a single upfront opportunity. The company uses custom revenue schedules to predict the volume and revenue that is anticipated each month. Then, when the actual trading volumes are known, the GVR Account Manager updates the schedule with the actual number and value of orders placed.

This allows GVR to track the projected volume (upon which the commercial terms were agreed) with the actual volume ordered by the oil company.

Recommended blog post: How To Manage 4 Types of Framework Agreement In Salesforce.

Points to consider when you need recurring opportunities

  • You need a process to manage the sales process on the recurring opportunity. Remember, the revenue is in jeopardy. It’s not guaranteed. That means you need a well thought out process that maximizes the probability of securing that revenue.
  • Consider triggering the recurring opportunity automatically. This will avoid the recurring opportunity from being forgotten about. That trigger can happen when the original opportunity is won or at some other pre-determined point in the process.
  • Measure the win-loss ratio for the recurring opportunity separately to the initial opportunity. In other words, the ratio of won / lost deals on recurring. Improve your process.

Points to consider when you don’t need recurring opportunities

  • There are several different ways to track the value of the sales. These include the total upfront sales value and the revenue recognition on a quarterly or annual basis.
  • Use Products and Schedules to forecast the revenue over time. Read this blog post for more advice on how to do this.
  • Consider custom revenue schedules if you need additional flexibility. For example, if you need to record the status (not due, invoiced, paid) on individual schedules then you will need custom revenue schedules.

Not every sale results in a single payment or transaction. Use recurring opportunities when it is right to do so. And if it isn’t right, then try revenue schedules instead.

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How To Stop ‘Closed Lost’ Screwing Up Salesforce Dashboards

How To Stop ‘Closed Lost’ Screwing Up Salesforce Dashboards

No-one likes a loser.

Or to be thought of as a loser.

So the term ‘Closed Lost’ is not going to be a favorite for your average salesperson.

Yet Closed Lost is the standard Opportunity Stage picklist value for removing a deal from the pipeline. And it’s a picklist value that salespeople hate to use.

Impact of not setting deals to Closed Lost

But here’s the problem.

Failing to set dead wood opportunities to Closed Lost has a number of adverse consequences:

  • Over-inflation of the sales funnel. Managers and salespeople do not have a robust view of the strength (or weakness) of the sales pipeline.
  • Incorrect sales performance reports. Effective management of the sales team depends upon having accurate information e.g. opportunity conversion rates. These reports, in turn, require unsuccessful deals to be closed out.
  • Salesforce clutter. It gets increasingly hard to see the wood from the trees in salesforce. This makes it more difficult to focus on the opportunities that have true value.
  • Lack of funnel leakage information. It becomes impossible to understand at what stage opportunities are leaking from the sales pipeline.
  • Reduced competitor information. It becomes more difficult to identify how many deals and of what type of deals that are lost to competitors.

How to use the Closed Lost Opportunity Stage

No self-respecting salesperson likes to set an Opportunity to Closed Lost. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t got a place on the Opportunity Stage picklist.

Closed Lost is appropriate in the right circumstances. It’s appropriate when a deal has been lost to a competitor during a pitch, tender or other competitive situation.

So let’s not beat about the bush. If another business has won an opportunity at our expense then the salesperson should set the deal to Closed Lost.

But many of our clients that have high quality pipeline visibility and sales forecasting accuracy, also use two additional Opportunity Stage picklist values.

Additional Opportunity Stage picklist values

In addition to losing to a competitor, there are two other reasons why deals should be removed from the pipeline.

  1. The customer doesn’t make a purchase. No deal takes place – for anyone. Yet salespeople often have an anathema to using Closed Lost to describe the outcome of these opportunities.So instead of Closed Lost, many companies use an Opportunity Stage picklist value such as No Purchase to remove these deals from the sales pipeline.
  2. The opportunity is qualified-out. In fact this is a legitimate reason for ‘losing’ a deal. As Bud Suse says, coming a close second is a cardinal sin in sales. Don’t waste time, effort and resources on opportunities you are unlikely to win.So instead of Closed Lost, many companies use an Opportunity Stage picklist value such as Qualified Out to remove these deals from the sales pipeline.

Gather additional information on Closed Lost deals

Adding two more Opportunity Stage picklist values in addition to Closed Lost is not necessarily the end of the matter however.

Businesses, quite rightly, often want to gather more information. They want to understand the underlying reasons why a deal was removed from the pipeline.

One way to do this is to create a Reasons Lost picklist field. A validation rule forces salespeople to make a selection from this list.

The problem with this approach is that sales people invariably select a value relating to Price. Which might indeed be the case. But it’s rarely the only reason. (Failure to communicate value might be the true reason!).

There is no killer solution to this problem. However many of our customers gather information on Closed Lost deals in a qualitative format. They have a text field called Lessons Learned in which salespeople identify what could have been done better in the sales process.

It’s not perfect. But experience shows it does provide more information in a useful format than simply selecting from a Reasons Lost picklist. Use this information to analyse sales processes, up-skill and develop salespeople, modify the pricing and discount strategy, develop new product features and create a culture of learning and sharing.

What to do next

The first step is to create additional Opportunity Stage picklist values to Closed Lost. Then educate salespeople and other users on the circumstances when each value is appropriate.

Now that you have done this, here are five ways you can benefit from the removal of dead opportunities from the sales pipeline.

  • Pipeline visibility. Get a robust view of the sales pipeline. Use this blog post to learn how to do this, If You Only Create One Dashboard Chart Then Make It This One.
  • Win Rates / Opportunity Conversion Rates. Analyze variance in win rates between teams, individuals and territories. Use this blog post, Measure And Compare Opportunity Win Rates Across Sales Teams.
  • Stage Movement Analysis. Understand at what stage in the sales process your team is removing deals from the sales pipeline. Determine whether it is early or late in the sales cycle. It’s chart #5 on our list of 12 Charts That Should Be On Your Sales Dashboard.
  • Competitor Analysis. Understand the ratio between deals lost to competitors versus Qualified-out and No Purchase. Apply this information to evolve sales strategy and tactics. Present the data in an informative way using our 5 Tip Guide To Effective Salesforce Reports.
  • Improve sales morale. No-one likes a loser – so don’t force your salespeople to feel like one. Acknowledge to the team that not every deal can be won; not every customer will make a purchase; and that some deals aren’t worth pursuing in the first place.

Closed Lost isn’t the always the only problem with the Opportunity Stage however! Read more about our sales process and opportunity stage recommendations.

And one final step. If you haven’t done so already, sign up to our email list to be the first to receive more advice and tips on maximizing your salesforce benefits.

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Sales Process and Opportunity Stage Hacks

Sales Process and Opportunity Stage Hacks

What if the standard set of salesforce Opportunity Stages don’t match your sales process?

(They probably don’t, by the way).

Then change them. But to what?

The answer can provoke heated discussion. But it’s critical.

Get the opportunity stages right and you have the core ingredient for pipeline visibility and a robust sales process.

But there’s more to this than meets the eye. Here’s our latest guide to sales processes and salesforce opportunity stages.

Sample B2B Sales Process

Imagine a typical B2B sales process with a 3 month cycle. (We’ll come to other sales processes shortly).

There’s usually significant interaction with the customer during the sales process.

In this scenario, action-oriented opportunity stages are better than milestone-based stages. Qualifying rather than Qualified. Customer Evaluating rather than Proposal Sent.

This is because the Opportunity Stages track the status of the deal within the sales process over a period of time. That period of time might be weeks or even months. The sales person is likely to be doing a number of things to move the opportunity on during this period.

In other words the opportunity stage represents a series of customer interactions. It’s not a one-off milestone.

Here’s the sales process and set of opportunity stages used by many of our customers in this scenario.

  1. Prospecting.
  2. Investigating (alternatives might be Discovery, Qualifying).
  3. Evaluating.
  4. Negotiating.
  5. Closed Won.
  6. Closed Lost.
  7. Qualified Out.
  8. No Purchase.

Let’s have a look at each one.

Prospecting Stage

Opportunities in the Prospecting Stage represent your long term pipeline.

No budget or timescale has been identified.  The Close Date is uncertain and likely to be several months in advance. Indeed the customer – if asked – might not agree that a potential deal yet exists.

Many Prospecting opportunities will be qualified-out directly from this Stage. That’s fine. Either there was no solid opportunity that could be driven out. Or the sales person decided this opportunity wasn’t one to pursue.

But some of these opportunities will mature into viable and important pipeline deals.

Sometimes companies will filter opportunities at the Prospecting stage out of pipeline reports and dashboards. That’s fine, if you’re focusing on deals that might close this month or next month. But tracking the size of the Prospecting pipeline is an essential sales management activity.

Investigating Stage

Use a term such as Discovery or Qualification if you prefer. The sentiment is the same.

The potential for a deal exists. Positive actions are being taken on opportunities in this stage to determine two things.

Firstly, does the customer have a genuine need for the type of products and services we sell? Remember, activities during this stage may be more about creating demand rather than simply responding to it.

Secondly, are we a good fit (among potential other suppliers) for the customer?

This stage typically includes determining whether the customer has – or can obtain – appropriate budget. The more your product or service is innovative (at least to the customer) the less likely they are to have set budget aside at the start of the financial year.

This doesn’t mean budget cannot be found. Demonstrate compelling value and it’s often surprising how funding can materialize.

Evaluating Stage

The customer is making a decision on which supplier to work with. A formal proposal or quote may have been given. But it may simply be that indicative pricing or costs estimates have been supplied.

One thing is for sure though. The value your company brings is being communicated to the customer stakeholders.

Other activities might include proof of concept demos, customer reference visits or creation of a short video to demonstrate the solution.

Negotiating Stage

A close plan has been mutually agreed with the customer. This may include agreeing commercial terms and sorting out the legal paperwork.

For advice on how to track each of these stages in a report and dashboard read, “If you only create one dashboard chart make it this one”.

Closed Won

The customer has made a commitment to go ahead. In many cases this is based on a (hopefully electronic) signature on the contract. Time for celebration.

Read about how to create opportunity win rate reports.

Closed Lost

This is the standard salesforce value for deals that are not going ahead. There is though, a problem with this stage value.

Sales people don’t like using it.

The word ‘Lost’ implies that a competitor gained the deal at our expense. And of course that’s not always the case.

We might have ‘Qualified Out’ a deal. Or the customer made no purchasing decision at all.

But Sales’ resistance to mark deals as Closed Lost means that many sales pipelines are over-inflated. They contain deals that are unlikely ever to be won. But no-one wants to change the status to Closed Lost.

So bring on two further opportunities stages.

Qualified Out

Mutual agreement with the customer that there’s insufficient mutual benefit in this case. The sales person is no longer pursuing the opportunity.

Create this opportunity stage to capture management information on deals that are not being pursued.

But here’s the thing. In the majority of cases, opportunities should only transition to this stage from the early stages of Prospecting or Discovery.

Read how the From / To report describes the movement in Opportunity Stages.

No Purchase

The deal is dead but the customer has not made any purchasing decision. Open opportunities in this state are the biggest source of over-inflated sales pipelines and forecasts.

Create this opportunity stage to record the outcome of opportunities that no longer have legs.

Read how to create sales metrics that identify deals that are over-inflating the sales pipeline.

Other sales processes

Not every sales deal has a gestation period of several months or longer.

The sales process for new deals might be protracted. But the same company might sell consumables associated with the core products.

These sales are more transaction-based. Here we can use more milestone-based opportunity stages. ‘Quote Sent’ for example, rather than Evaluating.

The same business might also sell support contracts that are renewed every year. This repeat sales might be covered by a different set of opportunity stages. These stages may reflect the more linear process associated with renewing the contract.

What about the other extreme. Our customers Taylor Woodrow (construction) and Siemens Energy (power) have sales processes that typically span several years. Typically selling to government agencies, these businesses have to operate within procedures and processes tightly defined by the purchaser.

A sub-stage field has been created to manage this additional complexity. The field captures the status of a deal within the overall opportunity stage. This approach is preferable to proliferating the opportunity stages. Once more than four or five pipeline stages has been created it’s hard to see the wood for the trees in dashboard charts.

Tip: Use Opportunity Record Types and Sales Processes to accommodate the variation on Opportunity Stages across different types of deal in salesforce.

Read about the “3 common problems with Opportunity Stages and how to avoid them“.

Opportunity Stage Exit Criteria

It’s essential to remove ambiguity in defining a clear sales process and opportunity stages.

One important way to achieve this is to create clear exit criteria. These define the parameters of when an opportunity can exit one stage and move to the next.

Unfortunately these exit criteria often focus on the sales person’s actions. They act as internal milestones. Tick off all the boxes and you can move to the next stage.

Yet in the customers mind, the deal hasn’t moved on one iota.

Instead, create what Brent Adamson (author of The Challenger Customer and The Challenger Sale) describes as a “customer-verified sales funnel”.

“Sales people and their managers use a combination of rep activities and customer ‘verifiers’ or behaviors to track the progress of a deal. This change explicitly encourages reps to focus on achieving certain outcomes in the best way instead of simply executing activities in the prescribed way” says Adamson.

In other words, it’s all very well to create fields and even validation rules to control when an opportunity stage can be advanced. But base these controls on the customer’s buying behavior, not simply the pre-defined list of activities that the sales person is expected to fulfill.

The standard set of opportunity stages in salesforce might not match your sales process. It usually doesn’t. No matter. Follow the tips and guidance we’ve explained in this article and you’ll have a robust sales process and solid pipeline visibility.

 

Related Blog Posts

Why You Need To Compare Average Closed Won Opportunity Size

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