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Sandbagging Might Be Ruining Your Sales Pipeline Visibility

Sandbagging Might Be Ruining Your Sales Pipeline Visibility

What a Hero!

Last day of the quarter. He’s pulled another rabbit out of the hat. Closed a big deal out of nowhere. Turned our below budget forecast into an above target winner. He’s saved our bacon.

And not for the first time. Warren the Hero.

But is he truly the hero? Or the pantomime villain? In other words, is he a sandbagger?

Recognise the behaviour but not sure what the term sandbagging means? It means “hiding the strength, skill or difficulty of something or someone early in an engagement”. The term was popularised in one-to-one games and sports such as pool, boxing  and wrestling. Lull your opponent (or your manager in this case!) by hiding your true strength then deliver the killer blow when he’s least expecting it.

Have you ever seen this in any sales teams?

For some sales people, the last thing they want on a large deal is the VP of Sales breathing down their neck. Keep it off the radar. Leave it at an early stage in the Opportunity lifecycle. Push the Close Date out a couple of months. If the deal doesn’t work out, quietly close the opportunity. Chances are no-one will notice.

And if it does work out, you’re the star!

So why is sandbagging a problem? After all, our hero has delivered the goods.

It’s a problem because managers should influence sales team behaviour based on a judgement of whether there’s enough sales funnel to achieve the revenue target.

If the sales funnel is too small, the sales team needs to focus on identifying new opportunities. If there’s enough funnel to meet the sales target, there’s more emphasis is on closing existing deals. Having an incorrect view of the pipeline as a result of sandbagging is going to drive an emphasis on one course of action; when in fact you should be taking another.

Spot sandbagging using salesforce reports

So how do you use salesforce reports and dashboards to spot sandbagging?

Here’s how.

Have a look at the salesforce report below. It shows, for the last quarter, the “From” Opportunity Stage for all deals that were set to Closed Won.

Salesforce report and dashboard chart that shows the From and To Changes in the Opportunity Stage.

We can see that in 8 cases, the Opportunity was set to Closed Won from the Negotiation Stage. Another 4 made it to Closed Won from the Proposal Made and one from the Investigation Stage.

But 3 Opportunities were set to Closed Won directly from Prospecting. You can see this in the top row of the report and the first column in the chart.

So what is this report telling us? It’s telling us we might have a problem with sandbagging.

In every business there are deals that seem to jump out of nowhere. The customer calls and says “I need to buy from you today”. It happens. But if your typical sales cycle is several months, it doesn’t happen all that often.

So the report is a starting point for identifying sandbagging. It tells us we need to investigate further. Drill down to each Opportunity to see whether it relates to a new or existing customer. Have a look at the Created Date. Examine the Stage History and Activity History. There’s probably enough information there to determine if this is a case of sandbagging, or whether the deal legitimately moved directly from the first stage to the last.

But can the report be spoofed?

If the Owner moves the Opportunity Stage from Prospecting Stage to the Negotiation Stage and then onto Closed Won, it’s not going to show up on the report. But there is a way to spot-check this.

Have a look at the screenshot below. It’s the Stage History taken from the page layout of an Opportunity that moved from Negotiation to Closed Won.

Stage History on an Opportunity to determine whether the report has been spoofed.

The Stage History shows that this Opportunity moved from Prospecting to Negotiation and then to Closed Won, all on the same day. In this case, all the space of a few minutes.

Quite possibly a sandbagger at work!

Clearly it’s not realistic to do this spot-check on every single Opportunity. But reviewing a few at random, and checking those that close toward the end of the sales period, will quickly reveal whether there are incidents of sandbagging. And the fact that sales people learn your reviewing these deals is likely to be enough to prevent it happening.

Hero’s do exist in sales teams. Lots of them.

But that doesn’t mean you have to let sandbagging ruin your sales pipeline visibility!

PS No rabbits were harmed in the creation of this blog!

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Inside Sales Reps – Who Should You Phone Next?

Inside Sales Reps – Who Should You Phone Next?

Inside Sales Reps can’t phone all of the people all of the time. And nor would you want them to.

Like any other sales team, Inside Sales Reps need to prioritise their activities. But this requires a mechanism that allows Inside Sales Reps to define a schedule of calls to each customer and prospect. One that provides clear guidance on which Account to phone next.

Unfortunately there’s no pre-built function in salesforce.com that does this. So we created one. It allows Inside Sales Teams to establish a routine of calls for each customer or prospect. It means each Rep can easily see who they should phone today, tomorrow, next week or next month.

And for managers it means salesforce.com reports and dashboards provide the management information that allows effective resource planning and staff scheduling.

Here’s how it works.

First, the Inside Sales Team define a call frequency for each of their customers and prospects. This can be anything from daily to annually; monthly and fortnightly are likely to be the most common values for many Accounts.

The Reps record the sales call frequency for each Account using a custom field on the Account Page Layout.

Set the Call Frequency using the custom field on the Account page layout.

Next, Inside Sales Reps define a date for the very first call. They enter this in the Next Activity Date custom field. It’s set at 25th June in our example below.

Define a date for the first call and enter this into the Next Activity Date field.

Remember the date format will show based on the Locale defined in your User Profile. Ours is set to European in this case.

List Views on the Account tab let each Inside Sales Rep know who they should be calling today, tomorrow, next week and so on. These List Views filter using the Next Activity Date defined in the previous step.

List Views on the Account tab show Inside Sales Reps who they should be calling.Let’s say the Inside Sales Rep makes the scheduled call on June 25th. He makes notes about the call using the New Task or Log A Call button. When he does so, behind-the-scenes code automatically updates the Next Activity Date based on the date of the call and the Activity Frequency.

For example, if the call is made on June 25th and Activity Frequency is monthly, the Next Activity Date is going to be automatically reset to July 25th. That is, unless July 25th happens to be a weekend, in which case the date will be set to the next working day.

Next Activity Date automatically updated.

But are there any situations in which you don’t want the Next Activity Date to be reset when you record the call in salesforce? Let’s say the Inside Sales Rep makes the call on June 25th. During the call the Rep also decides to make an interim follow up telephone call on June 28th. He wants to check that a price list has been received.

So what happens is this. The call on June 25th automatically sets the Next Activity Date to July 25th. The Inside Sales Rep creates a Task for himself to also call the customer on June 28th. However the Rep also checks the box marked “Do Not Adjust Activity Schedule” within the Task.

Check the box Do Not Adjust Activity Schedule to prevent Next Activity Date from being updated.

This maintains July 25th as the Next Activity Date and prevents it from being updated to July 28th. The customer keeps his existing monthly call pattern.

This whole function becomes even more powerful if you combine it with the salesforce Sales Console made available in the Winter 14 Release. Customer Service Reps have long been able to use a multi-tab view of the customers with whom they’re interacting. Now this same style of functionality can be used by Inside Sales Reps to easily juggle multiple customers and prospects with whom they’re trying to get in touch.

Sales Console allows Inside Sales Reps to juggle multiple customers and prospects.

It’s a simple but effective mechanism for Inside Sales Teams to keep control of their activities.

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3 common problems with the Opportunity Sales Stage and how to fix them

3 common problems with the Opportunity Sales Stage and how to fix them

Defining the Opportunity Stages that accurately represent the sales process is one of the key tasks facing any business that is using salesforce to track sales pipeline performance..

The standard out-of-the-box Opportunity Stage salesforce values often don’t reflect the terminology or stages that the sales teams use in your business. As a result, businesses that use salesforce often make three fundamental mistakes in defining their sales stage picklist terms.

This blog will help you avoid these three common mistakes and to give you a great starting point for configuring your own Opportunity Stage values.

The screenshot below shows examples of the common problems with sales stages:

There are too many opportunity sales stage picklist values on this chart for the user to understand. This is a frequent problem.

The three most common mistakes are:

  • Too many sales stages.

This happens particularly in industries that have lengthy or complex sales cycles. The result is that on the dashboard it’s impossible to see the wood for the trees when you look at a pipeline chart. Solution: Restrict the pipeline to 4 or 5 key stages no matter how you might perceive the complexity of your sales process. Put other values in a ‘sub-stage’ field using the related picklist function.

  • Ambiguous or overlapping sales stages.

The Opportunity Stage values should represent clearly delineated steps in the sales process. For example, “Needs Analysis” and “Investigation” both imply that we’re engaged with the customer in defining the needs and requirements more closely. Solution: Make sure the sales stage values are clearly defined and agreed and cannot be mis-interpreted.

  • Picklist values represent specific milestones rather than phases in the sales lifecycle.

For example, “Meeting Booked” is sometimes used to denote the start of the investigation or discovery process. Or “RFI Received” to indicate that the Request for Information has arrived from the customer. But these terms really describe entry points into sales stages that will potentially require many meetings and phone conversations. Solution: Make sure each sales stage value represents a phase in the sales cycle that will require one or more independent activities.

So what’s a good starting point for a set of Opportunity Stage picklist values? Here’s a common set of sales stages that apply to many sales processes. Obviously customise and adapt them to your own business.

Prospecting

This is the earliest stage in the sales process. It reflects the probability that we think an Opportunity might exist but that further qualification is required.

Often the Prospecting Stage is used to create an Opportunity on an existing Account whereas a Lead would be created for a brand new prospective customer.

Investigation

Investigation, or Discovery if you prefer. Describes the work we’ll do to find out more about the customer’s needs and requirements so that we can create a quote or proposal.

In some businesses the Investigation Stage will coincide with the receipt of a Request for Information (RFI) or Request for Proposal (RFP). If so then we’ll probably need a field on the Opportunity page layout to store the response deadline date.

Evaluating

The customer is evaluating the proposal. This proposal may not have been in the form of a formal document – it could be indicative costs and pricing. During this stage the sales person will be communicating the value of the proposal through meetings, presentations, re-quotes, phone calls and emails.

Negotiation

In principle the customer has accepted our proposal or quote. Now we’re involved in finalising pricing and agreeing the terms and conditions.

Closed Won

The deal is done!

The definition of what constitutes a ‘won’ deal can vary between organisations. The cleanest approach is usually to update the Opportunity Stage when the contract is signed by the customer. However other organisations may chose to allow Opportunities to be set to Closed Won when the fulfilment process starts or the project is handed over for delivery. In either case the important thing is there’s no ambiguity. We don’t want one sales person’s Closed Won to be another’s Negotiation.

Closed Lost

The emotive Opportunity Stage!

There should be no shame in setting an Opportunity to Closed Lost. No sales team on earth will win 100% of its Opportunities. Indeed in many industries, if the win rate is over 30% then it suggests that only those sales deals that are already well advanced in the sales cycle are being entered into the sales pipeline. And this means you’re missing out on pipeline visibility. You can address this by using these dashboard charts to measure sales pipeline quality.

In order to soften the concept of “Closed Lost”, businesses will sometimes add additional Opportunity Stages – Not Proceeding for example. This reflects the fact that the customer has not chosen a competitor. They’ve simply not made any purchasing decision at all. But this risks clouding the quality of management information by adding multiple Stages to the dashboard chart. Better to collect lost reasons in a separate, related picklist or text field and then report on it using an adjacent dashboard chart.

Of course defining the Opportunity Stages is only the first step. Obtaining visibility of the sales pipeline and sales performance is often the most important benefit that businesses are seeking to obtain from their salesforce licenses. For that reason we’ve published extensively on how to configure dashboards to give full and robust management information.

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