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To Exceed Year-End Quota, Apply These Q4 Sales Strategies Now

To Exceed Year-End Quota, Apply These Q4 Sales Strategies Now

It’s that time of year.

Q4.

When sales teams around the world are under pressure to get deals closed to meet year-end quotas.

I have worked with many companies in that situation.

And here’s what I’ve found:

The most successful executives apply five Q4 sales strategies.

Q4 Sales Strategies Package Just $1,800* 

16 hours consultancy including:

• Dashboards and configuration specific to Q4

• Help with cleaning up out-of-date opportunities

• Recommendations on salesforce benefit quick-wins

*subject to confirmation of scope.

Q4 Sales Strategies

These sales strategies do not guarantee they hit quota. However, they do put these executives and the sales teams in with the best possible chance of success.

Here are the five Q4 Sales Strategies they use:

  1. Sort the wheat from the chaff.
  2. Determine whether there is enough pipeline to hit quota.
  3. Prioritize time and energy on high impact deals.
  4. Create a close plan for each high priority opportunity.
  5. Protect themselves against margin-eating discounts.

So here they are:

Five Q4 sales strategies you can apply right now to achieve year-end quota.

1. Sort the wheat from the chaff

Here’s the first Q4 sales strategy these executives apply.

They weed out deals that with the best will in the world are not going to close successfully in Q4.

It’s February 2017.

Sarah Jones is under pressure to boost her sales pipeline.

The pressure is coming from the VP of Sales. “Come on, Sarah, you’ve got lots of potential in that territory of yours. Let’s ramp up the pipeline.”

You can’t blame him.

The Board set aggressive growth targets for the year and expect the VP of Sales to deliver.

Sarah works through her Accounts.

She picks a prospect with whom she had a meeting three months ago. “I reckon there’s a decent chance with this one,” she thinks.

Sarah creates an opportunity in salesforce.

“It’s bound to close sometime this year,” she says to herself hopefully.

Of course, Sarah doesn’t want to put herself under any unnecessary time pressure. That means she enters the Close Date as December 31, 2017.

The pipeline has increased. Job done.

That scenario plays out in companies around the world.

There are three ways to sort the wheat from the chaff with Q4 deals.

a) Review Opportunity Stages and Get Real

In Sarah’s company, here’s what the pipeline looks like by the time we reach mid-Q4.

There's often a surge of deals due to close in December when we look at the pipeline in Q4.

There’s a surge of deals due to close in December.

But how realistic are these opportunities?

For example, if the sales cycle is typically three months, then are the deals in the prospecting and investigation stages of the sales pipeline realistically going to close in Q4?

In other words, the first step is to review deals by Stage and Close Date. Remove dormant deals from the pipeline. Move deals that still have legs, but realistically won’t close in Q4, to a later date.

b) Review Opportunities by Created Date

Here’s another way to assess the strength of the Q4 pipeline.

Look at deals due to close in Q4 by Created Date.

If the sales cycle is 3 months, carefully examine deals that have been open substantially longer as part of your Q4 sales strategies.

Again, if the sales cycle is 3 months, carefully examine deals that have been open substantially longer.

Shake them out of the tree if they’re unlikely to close this quarter.

c) Analyse Pipeline Quality Metrics

In addition to the age, two other deal metrics provide insight on pipeline quality.

  • Number of Close Date month extensions.
  • Days since last Stage change.

This dashboard table highlights these quality metrics for deals due to close in Q4.

This dashboard table highlights these quality metrics for deals due to close in Q4.

We can see, for example, the Oxted Manufacturing opportunity has been open 237 days, the Opportunity Stage was last updated 100 days ago and the Close Date has moved four times from one month to another.

I don’t know about you, but those figures do not give me a great deal of confidence that the deal will close in Q4.

So that’s the first of the Q4 sales strategies:

Sort the wheat from the chaff.

Doing this will help hugely in subsequent recommendations.

By the way, an easy way to obtain these reports is to download the free GSP Sales Dashboard if you are not already using it.

 

2. Determine whether there is enough pipeline to hit quota

This Q4 sales strategy recommendation is critical.

The answer to the question of whether you have sufficient pipeline to hit quote is a major influence on your Q4 sales strategy.

But first:

How do we know if the pipeline is big enough?

One option is to take the deals you have already won and add the full sales value of the pipeline.

That’s likely to give you a positive feeling. The two added together will likely exceed target.

Unfortunately, it’s not realistic. I doubt you are going to win 100% of your sales pipeline.

A more pragmatic way is to set a realistic probability of winning each deal. Then use this to calculate the Expected Revenue of the pipeline.

Remember, in salesforce you do not have to accept the default probability associated with each Stage. Modify these probabilities on individual opportunities.

An essential Q4 sales strategy is to determine whether you have enough pipeline to meet year-end target.

Then, to determine whether you have enough pipeline to hit Q4 target, create a report based on Expected Revenue. Include both Closed Won and pipeline deals.

Compare the total value in the report with your target.

Now you have a choice:

  • If the Expected Revenue exceeds target, focus on closing the deals you already have.
  • If the Expected Revenue is smaller than your target, you need to decide if it is realistic to increase the pipeline with deals that will close in Q4.

Q4 sales strategies are influenced by whether there is enough funnel to meet quota.

It may not be easy to find deals that realistically will close in Q4.

The circumstances will be different for every business. However,

  • Are there existing customers to whom repeat sales are possible?
  • What about upgrades?
  • Can you make cross sales to customers that bought certain products?

Only you know the answer to these questions.

However, in my experience, it’s a mistake to seek-out new pipeline with smaller prospects.  Often, there’s an assumption these lower value deals will close more quickly.

However, it often takes as long to close a smaller customer opportunity because the relative importance of the deal is greater.

Ideally, don’t leave it until the very end of the year or Q4 to measure pipeline against target.

The GSP Target Tracker is a powerful way to compare won and pipeline deals with target throughout the year. For each month and quarter, it gives a clear indication of whether you have sufficient weighted pipeline to achieve quota.

 

3. Prioritize time on high impact deals

The third of the Q4 sales strategies sounds obvious:

Focus time, resources and energy on opportunities that make the most significant contribution to quota.

However, there are three dimensions to prioritizing Q4 opportunities:

  • The sales value of the deal.
  • The probability of winning the deal, and
  • Whether multiple small opportunities can combine into one larger deal.

You can prioritize on the first two dimensions by creating a report that lists the opportunities by Stage, Amount and Probability:

You may also want to adapt the report to show the pipeline by customer type.

As part of your Q4 sales strategy, prioritize opportunities by stage, amount, probability and customer type.

This helps you prioritize deals with existing customers that despite their Stage may have a higher probability of a successful outcome.

Consider also, whether there are Accounts with multiple opportunities.

In the GSP Sales Dashboard, we include a table and report that shows the pipeline by Account.

In the GSP Sales Dashboard, we include a table and report that shows the pipeline by Account.

In the GSP Sales Dashboard, we include a table and report that shows the pipeline by Account.

In this example, High Hill Estates has opportunities due to close in Q1 AND Q2. Is it possible to amalgamate these deals into one larger opportunity, with a successful close in Q4?

Easily identify the deals you and your team will focus on using a separate field “Q4 Focus” field.

As part of your Q4 sales strategy, focus on deals that will have a high impact on year-end revenue.

Having done this analysis, the goal now is to stick to your higher priority deals. Don’t get distracted!

4. Create a Close Plan for each high priority opportunity

Many businesses will create a Close Plan for important deals.

The Q4 sales strategy brings this to a head.

However, there’s no need to overdo it.

Create the close plan using a simple rich text field on the Opportunity.

Alternatively, enter it into the Chatter feed for each Opportunity.

This is the approach used by many of our customers has the advantage that managers, colleagues and other internal stakeholders can comment and collaborate on the close plan.

Here’s another common element of this Q4 Sales Strategy:

Agree a Go / No Go Date with the customer.

This is not the date you expect the deal to close. Nor is it a commitment by the customer that you will win the deal.

Rather, it is the deadline date by which you and the customer will aim to close the deal. One way or the other.

This date for example, might be 15th December.

The outcome may be a win or a loss, we don’t yet know. The Go / No Go date is the point at which you both agree the deal cannot be closed in Q4 and you will instead revisit the opportunity in the New Year.

In salesforce, record these dates in a custom field. Track them through a report and Q4 dashboard chart.

The previous Q4 sales strategies are about identifying realistic deals, prioritizing effort and achieving a successful outcome.

The final Q4 sales strategy takes a different approach.

 

5. Protect yourself against damaging discounts

We all know discounts and volume related deals are sacrificed in return for Q4 close dates.

Indeed, many companies have inadvertently trained their customers to leave purchases to the end of each quarter.

However, this Q4 sales strategy is to keep track of the rationale for each discount and give-away.

For example, you give a discount or preferential terms because the customer agrees to buy 100 units over three months (e.g. in a framework agreement).

Keep a record of the rationale for the discount or special terms.

That’s because, let’s say, it turns out the customer only ever orders 80 or 90 units.

You won’t always go back and negotiate a retrospective price increase. However, this information is invaluable when negotiating future discounts.

Use this information now when the customer is putting you under pressure on a Q4 close.

Look back over historic deals. Did the customer fulfil their side of the bargain? If not, use this information to strengthen your negotiating hand.

The Chatter feed on each opportunity is a good place to record the rationale for discounts and other terms given away in return for customer commitments.

That’s the fifth of the Q4 sales strategies that successful executives apply:

Keep track of the rationale behind the agreement and make it easy to find when you are under pressure.

Our blog post, 10 Expert Tips To Improving Discount Control gives more advice on avoiding unnecessary give-aways.

If you think others will benefit from reading this blog, please share on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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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5 Easy Tips That Will Make Opportunity Probability Your Trusted Friend

5 Easy Tips That Will Make Opportunity Probability Your Trusted Friend

Mr Opportunity Probability stands in the corner at parties.

Barely getting a second look.

Everyone knows he has to be invited. But no-one really wants to speak to him.

It would be better if he just went away.

But here’s the thing.

Opportunity Probability can be your friend. He’s actually much more interesting than you think.

“Used in the right way, Opportunity Probability will increase your forecasting accuracy and root out deals that should be qualified-out of the sales funnel.”

It’s just a matter of knowing what to do with him.

So let’s understand what that Opportunity Probability fellow is and why he’s so undervalued.

Then we can explain the 5 tips that will turn him into your valuable and trusted friend.

Opportunity Probability defined

Just in case, let’s be 100% clear what we’re talking about here.

Opportunity Probability is the standard field in salesforce (or any other CRM system for that matter) that quantifies the likelihood of winning an opportunity.

If the Opportunity Stage is Closed Won then the Opportunity Probability is 100%. If the Opportunity Stage is Closed Lost the Opportunity Probability is 0%.

If the opportunity is still open, then the Opportunity Probability is somewhere in between 1% and 99%.

Opportunity probability can help identify low quality deals and improve sales forecasting.

Why Opportunity Probability is disliked

In our experience, there are three reasons why sales executives don’t make the most of Opportunity Probability.

Understanding these reasons – and why they are not valid – is key to making the most of this metric.

Here they are.

Sales deals are binary

When all is said and done, the Opportunities are either Won or Lost. Not something in between.

(OK, only 70% of the value of the opportunity might be won but that’s because the customer beat down the price or didn’t purchase all of the products that had been on the opportunity. The deal is still 100% Won, just the Amount was reduced).

The binary nature of sales means some executives don’t see any value in setting an Opportunity Probability for pipeline deals.

But here’s the thing. No-one knows which deals are going to be won and which are going to be lost. (If they did, then there would be no point in having the deals that are going to be lost in the pipeline).

That means that once there’s a critical mass of opportunities – and that number can be quite low – Opportunity Probability can be used to calculate Expected Revenue (or Weighted Revenue if you prefer that term).

Expected Revenue is one proven way to create a robust sales revenue forecast. It’s not the only way. But used in conjunction with other methods, a sales forecast based on Expected Revenue will stand up to scrutiny from colleagues and internal peers.

Providing, of course, that the Opportunity Probability is accurate.

It can be hard to assess the probability of winning a deal

Often there are many unknowns with sales deals.

We can’t be sure what the customer is truly thinking. We don’t know what price our competitors are quoting. We don’t necessarily know which stakeholders are involved.

This means Opportunity Probabilities can be perceived as difficult to predict or having a spurious degree of accuracy. Is the probability of winning this deal 65%? Or 70%? Or some other figure?

However Opportunity Probabilities should be set based on evidence from the customer. This evidence indicates that a deal is more likely or less likely. Every sales process is different, so agree what constitutes positive and negative evidence in your market place.

More about this in Tip #2.

Opportunity Probabilities are locked to Opportunity Stages

Many salesforce users believe that Opportunities Probabilities are irrevocably linked to Opportunity Stage.

Actually they’re not. It just seems that way.

By default, when an Opportunity Stage is advanced, the probability is increased to the default value associated with that Opportunity Stage. Left untouched, the Opportunity Probability may, therefore, not be realistic on specific opportunities.

It’s not always recognized that the Opportunity Probability can be overwritten and adjusted for each opportunity. Use this flexibility to set a realistic Opportunity Probability on each deal.

5 tips to make Opportunity Probability your friend

So here are the five tips that will make Opportunity Probability your trusted friend.

 

1. Adjust the Opportunity Probability on each opportunity

Too often sales people and their managers regard the Opportunity Probability as fixed for any given Opportunity Stage.

As we’ve already mentioned, it isn’t.

Simply double-click on the field or Edit the Opportunity to set the value that’s right for that particular deal.

Sales people can edit the Opportunity Probability on each deal.

Make sure sales people understand how to adjust Opportunity Probabilities and why they need to.

 

2. Set Opportunity Probabilities based on customer evidence

Think about this situation for a moment.

Let’s say four companies are competing for a deal. They all have an Opportunity Stage of Investigation, with an Opportunity Probability of 25%.

All four companies submit their quote and move the Opportunity Stage to Customer Evaluating. Let’s say that Stage has a default probability of 30%.

So now the combined Opportunity Probability is 120%. Which, clearly, is nonsense.

In fact, the only thing that has happened is that the sales process – as perceived by each seller – has moved forward.

This happens all too often. The Opportunity Probability reflects the state-of-play in the selling process. It doesn’t say anything about the buying process.

So instead, base Opportunity Probabilities on evidence from the potential customer. Here are three examples of evidence from the customer that might warrant an increase in probability.

  • You are given preferential access to key stakeholders in order to conduct discovery.
  • After receiving four proposals, the customer selects you and one other for presentation.
  • The customer Sponsor communicates to colleagues that he or she prefers your proposal over the competitors.

Define and agree the customer and buyer behaviors in your specific market place that might indicate a positive intent from the prospect. Standardize and agree these across the sales team.

Admittedly, setting Opportunity Probabilities based on customer evidence is more difficult than simply relying on the default Stage values. But it encourages sales people to think through the sales process and to seek out customer commitment. That in itself, increases the likelihood of a successful sales outcome.

 

3. Use non-standard Opportunity Probability values

No-one mandates that increments of 5 or 10 have to be used in Opportunity Probabilities.

Here’s what a highly successful VP of Sales at one of our customers says to his team.

“I know the chance of winning this deal is 50:50. But use your instinct. Set the Opportunity Probability to 49% or 51%. I want to know which side of the fence you’re on.”

Not every 51% deal is won and not every 49% deal is lost. But the act of coming down on one side or the other encourages thought and analysis.

This blog post is about getting benefit from the Opportunity Probability field that is used in salesforce and most other CRM systems.

In this business, managers work through each deal with the sales executives to coach them on driving the buying process forward. This dialogue – assisted by the Opportunity Probability – contributes to conversion rates well above industry norms for our customer.

 

4. Set realistic default values for each Opportunity Stage

We’ve talked about setting an individual Opportunity Probability for each Opportunity. But the default Opportunity Probabilities associated with each Stage still have a role to play.

These default values should reflect the norm for your business.

Set realistic default opportunity probability values for each Opportunity Stage.

They provide a benchmark for sales people to adjust the Opportunity Probabilities on individual deals.

If the Opportunity Probability is above the benchmark, can it be justified? If it’s below, can the sales approach be improved?

But here’s our experience.

In many cases, the default Opportunity Probabilities set by companies on the early Opportunity Stages are too low. And the default values set on the latter Stages are too high.

Take a hard look at the default Opportunity Probability values in your salesforce environment. Discuss them in a team meeting. Reach agreement on the right values for your business based on experience and input from the sales team.

 

5. Automatically set Opportunity Probabilities based on historical outcomes

Thus far we’ve talked about the standard Opportunity Probability field in salesforce.

But what if you could automatically set the Opportunity Probability field based on past experience?

That would mean the probability is automatically set depending on factors such as:

  • New versus existing customer.
  • Historical sales person performance.
  • Size of the deal.
  • Region or geographical territory.
  • Products associated with the opportunity.

We’ve implemented exactly that functionality for a number of GSP customers.

In summary, historical opportunity probabilities in a custom object. A piece of code then automatically updates a custom Opportunity Probability field on the Opportunity. The probability in the custom field is based on the outcome of historical opportunities that match the current opportunity.

The custom probability field is automatically updated based on the historical data that shows how likely a deal is to close.

Our customers who use this solution still use the standard Opportunity Probability field. This means the sales person can set a different value to the probability that has been automatically set. It has proven to be an invaluable facilitator of discussion between the sales person and his sales coach or manager.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to see this solution in action.

“If you’ve left Mr Opportunity Probability alone in the corner up to now then this is the time to bring him out into the open.”

Used in the right way, Opportunity Probability encourages sales people to think through their opportunities. It facilitates discussion between managers and sales people. It enables accurate forecasting based on Expected Revenue.

It does, in short, lead to superior sales results. It’s just a matter of knowing what to do with him.

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7 Questions About Salesforce Opportunities That Everyone’s Asking

7 Questions About Salesforce Opportunities That Everyone’s Asking

Ever had a question about salesforce opportunities or the Sales Cloud but were afraid to ask?

Looking for best practice advice on using opportunities?

You’ve come to the right place. Here are 7 answers to the most common questions about salesforce opportunities.

And if we haven’t covered your burning question? No problem. Fill in the form at the end of this post and we’ll send you the answer.

1. Converting Leads to Opportunities

When should a Lead be converted to an Opportunity?

Salesforce doesn’t prescribe when a Lead should be converted to an Opportunity. The answer is to convert when it makes sense to do so in your business.

For example, let’s say you have a telemarketing team focused on generating opportunities for field sales. Some of our clients transfer the lead to the field sales person. It’s the latter that converts the lead to the opportunity after the initial meeting.

With others, the telemarketing person converts the lead and assigns the opportunity to the sales person.

Its horses for courses. Although in my experience one benefit of having the telesales person do it is that the opportunity is more likely to be linked to the originating campaign.

Read a full blog post on the difference between Leads and Opportunities including sample process diagrams that you can download.

2. Building your sales process into salesforce opportunities

How do I build my sales process into salesforce opportunities?

Firstly, match the opportunity stage values with your sales process. That’s probably not going to happen unless you change the default opportunity stage picklist values that come with salesforce.

Secondly, to improve reporting avoid milestone based opportunity stages. Each stage should relate to a period of time. For example, Customer Evaluating is better than Proposal Sent. Sending a proposal is one – but not the only – activity you would expect for an opportunity at this stage.

Here’s a sample set of opportunity stages that many of our B2B customers use:

Prospecting (or Qualifying)
Investigation (or Discovery)
Customer Evaluating
Negotiation
Closed Won
Closed Lost
No Purchase
Qualified Out

Bear in mind there may be more than one sales process in your business. The process associated with transactional products, consumables or service contract renewals may be shorter and require a different set of opportunity stages.

Read this blog post for more advice on setting opportunity stages that match your sales process.

3. Highlight doubtful deals in the sales pipeline

How can I use salesforce to highlight doubtful deals?

Just when you thought you were going to be above target this month, a bunch of opportunities slip to the next month. If that’s ever happened to you then you’re not alone.

Deals do slip. It happens all the time. Unfortunately that’s in direct contrast to the sales manager’s desire for a robust pipeline and confidence in this month’s sales forecast.

But here’s what you can do. Use two opportunity quality metrics to highlight deals that have an above average chance of slipping.

  • Number of Close Date changes. Specifically the number of times the opportunity has already slipped from one month to the next. Experience shows it’s these opportunities that have a higher-than-average probability of slipping again.
  • Days since last Stage Change. If the number of days since the last stage change is well above average then it often highlights a deal that is not being actively managed.

These metrics measure the quality of opportunities in the sales pipeline.

In both of these cases the sales manager should work with the opportunity owner to decide on the best course of action. Can the deal be revitalised? Shall we bite the bullet and close-out the opportunity? Can a more realistic close date be established?

Read this blog post about using opportunity metrics to manage your sales pipeline quality.

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4. Make it easier to add Products to Opportunities

Can we make it easier to add Products to Opportunities?

Adding Products to opportunities has many benefits.

It produces more accurate opportunity values. This makes your pipeline and sales forecast more accurate. It provides information on the pipeline at product level. And it opens the door to a raft of ways to streamline the end to end sales and fulfilment process.

There’s only one drawback.

If you have a lot of products then the user interface is not particularly helpful. In fact it’s quite hard to find the right products at times.

There are two ways to solve this. Option 1 is to use a CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote) application. Here’s a link to those applications on the AppExchange.

Option 2 is to use our Product Wizard and / or the Product Bundle Wizard.

Product selection wizard to make it easier to add products to salesforce opportunities.

Read this blog post to find out more about product selection wizards including a short video.

5. Track Opportunity Stakeholders in the buying center

What’s the best way to track Opportunity Stakeholders?

There’s nearly always more than one person involved in a B2B buying center. Gatekeepers, business users, influencers, technical evaluators, executive sponsors, budget holders and project managers. They can all be playing a role.

And they can all make or break your deal.

So how do you keep track of all them all?

Use Contact Roles to relate multiple people to an opportunity.

Many companies use modified contact role picklist values on salesforce opportunities.

These Contacts can even be from other companies – external consultants or advisors, for example.

Read this blog post for advice on using Contact Roles.

6. Calculate sales commission using salesforce

Is it possible to calculate sales commission using salesforce?

If you calculate and display commission in salesforce then you’ve got a built-in sales incentive tool.

The trouble is commission calculation is rarely straightforward. It often includes short term kickers and long term commission bandings. In other words, the commission percentage on a deal increases as total sales in the month or quarter increase.

There’s two ways to calculate and track commission in salesforce.

The custom solution works well if you don’t have an excessively complicated commission structure.

Commission tracking on salesforce opportunities.

Read this blog post to learn about the commission management solution many of our clients have implemented.

7. Measure the trend in the size of the sales pipeline

How do I measure the trend in the size of the sales pipeline?

Any sales manager needs to know whether the total sales pipeline is getting bigger or smaller.

Salesforce has two standard reports to help you measure the trend in pipeline size.

The first is the As-At report. It measures the pipeline on the first day of each month. It’s an excellent report to show the long term trend in pipeline size.

Measure the long term pipeline trend in salesforce opportunities.

The second is more short term focussed. It’s the Historical Trending report.

Dashboard chart showing short term trend in salesforce opportunities.

The report can be built to show the size of the pipeline over the last 4 weeks or other timescales. It’s a good report if you want to understand the impact of recent marketing and business development effort.

Read this blog post two pipeline trend reports.

Any other questions?

Do you have a question about salesforce opportunities? Fill in our contact us page and we’ll send you the answer!

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