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Top 5 Usual Suspects – Opportunity Mistakes In Salesforce That Are Easy To Fix

Top 5 Usual Suspects – Opportunity Mistakes In Salesforce That Are Easy To Fix

I have reviewed hundreds of existing salesforce implementations.

And seen many mistakes.

But there are five opportunity mistakes that jump out all the time.

I call them, “the usual suspects”.

Yet the thing about them is, they are easy to fix.

Addressing each opportunity mistake alone, will:

  • Make salesforce easier to use. In other words, improve user adoption.
  • Improve reports and dashboards. This enables better management decision making.
  • Enable more robust opportunity management. That improves pipeline management.

So here they are. The usual suspects.

Let’s examine each salesforce opportunity mistake and see how to fix it.

Opportunity Mistake #1 – Badly designed Opportunity Stages

The standard opportunity stages in salesforce do not fit well with the sales process in many businesses.

So it is perfectly sensible to change them.

However, I’m sorry to say, businesses often do it badly.

Here are the most common mistakes with Opportunity Stages.

  • Too many stages. This happens when the sales cycle is broken into too many granular stages. Consequently, it’s difficult to make sense of pipeline dashboard charts and reports.
  • Ambiguous stages. When opportunity stages are unclear, salespeople cannot update the opportunity accurately. As a result, managers are unable to monitor the sales pipeline with any confidence.
  • Stages as milestones. This happens when stages represent a specific milestone or task (e.g. Meeting Booked, Proposal Sent). Unfortunately, it is difficult to define a sales process or get a sense of what is happening on the Opportunity over time when Stages are defined in this way.

For example, here’s a real-life scenario.

It’s a dashboard chart taken from a salesforce environment that had far too many opportunity stages.

Example of a dashboard chart taken from a salesforce environment that had too many opportunity stages.

To fix this salesforce opportunity mistake, take these actions:

  • Consolidate stages. Combine two or more existing stages into a single opportunity stage. Update existing opportunities to reflect the new value.
  • Define stages carefully. Think-through the opportunity stages and their definition. Have someone not involved directly in sales, review and challenge your stage definitions.

For more advice on fixing opportunity stage mistakes, read this blog post:

3 Common Mistakes With Opportunity Stages And How To Fix Them.

Opportunity Mistake #2 – Not Using Opportunity Products

Earlier this week I reviewed an existing salesforce environment for a potential customer.

Unfortunately, they were making the opportunity mistake common to many companies:

Multiple ‘Amount’ fields on the opportunity.

In fact, they had created 24 fields. All to capture information about the different products and over-time revenue streams associated with an opportunity.

The result?

Highly confusing page layouts. Low user adoption. Reports that were too complicated, with no workable information.

However, it is a common opportunity mistake.

The solution is to use Opportunity Products. (In some cases, use Product Schedules as well).

Virtually every company that has salesforce should use Products. This is as true for service companies as it is for manufacturing or product-based businesses.

A Product, in this context, can be anything that generates revenue. A day of professional services, manufactured items, maintenance contracts, license fees, widgets. They are all examples of Products.

Here are some of the benefits you get from using Opportunity Products:

  • Accurate opportunity amounts. Base the total value of the opportunity on the specific price and quantity of products.
  • Improved pipeline visibility. Monitor the size, trend and quality of the pipeline by product category.
  • Identify training and development needs. Compare average deal size, number of products and type of products across salespeople.
  • Pricing control. Use approval processes to control price discounts.
  • Forecast revenue over time. Combine products and schedules to forecast revenue over months or years.
  • Streamline processes. Re-design contract and fulfilment processes.

If you have many Products, then consider using the GSP Product Selection Wizard to make it easy for salespeople to add Products to Opportunities or Quotes.

Use the GSP Product Selection Wizard to make it easy for salespeople to add Products to Opportunities or Quotes.

These blog posts that give more guidance on using Products and Product Schedules.

Missing Out On The Value Of Products? Learn The Basics

5 Killer Examples Of Recurring Revenue Forecasts In Salesforce

Manage 4 Types of Framework Agreement In Salesforce

4 Ways To Manage Volume Based Pricing In Salesforce

Make It Fast & Easy To Add Product To Opportunities Or Quotes

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Make It Fast & Easy To Add Product To Opportunities Or Quotes

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Opportunity Mistake #3 – Not Using Contact Roles

Even a simple B2B purchase rarely involves only one person.

“The number of people involved in B2B solutions purchases has climbed from an average of 5.4 two years ago to 6.8 today, and these stakeholders come from a lengthening roster of roles, functions, and geographies.” Harvard Business Review, March-April 2017.

However, not using Contact Roles is another common opportunity mistake in salesforce.

The Contact Roles function in salesforce is not perfect. However, it is a standard feature that is easy to configure and use.

Contact Roles is a standard salesforce feature that is easy to configure and use.

The benefits you will get from using Contact Roles include:

  • Increased rigour in managing opportunities. The simple act of populating Contact Roles, forces salespeople to think about their stakeholder management approach.
  • Improved management team contribution. Often it is hard to define the decision maker, versus an influencer versus the financial approver. Yet surfacing this information in Contact Roles promotes healthy debate about the role played by each individual.
  • Improved long-term visibility. Using Contact Roles makes it significantly easier to identify the stakeholders that keep cropping up over time.

There is more on Contact Roles, including advice on the Role picklist values, in another of our blogs:

The Right Way And The Wrong Way To Track Opportunity Stakeholders

Opportunity Mistake #4 – Not using Chatter on the record

On any major deal – and even on many small ones – there will be a lot of communication between internal stakeholders.

Pricing, strategy, pre-sales demonstrations, stakeholder management and lots more. Often, they are all the subject of extensive discussion.

However, managing that internal communication by email is a common opportunity mistake.

Using email for this dialogue means:

  • It’s difficult to revisit important discussion e.g. on discount decisions.
  • Important dialogue about the opportunity is dis-jointed.
  • Less clogged up inbox. Surely, we all want that!

Indeed B2B pricing consultant, Tony Hodgson, attributes many needless price discounts to email.

“Let’s say you give a 10 percent discount to the customer first time around. The dialogue around the internal justification and approval will nearly always be by email. A year down the line, the customer asks for a further discount. Chances are they are going to use the same justification in their argument that they used previously. Yet you consumed that justification in the original discount. But unfortunately, everyone will have forgotten and it’s virtually impossible to find the documentation.”

Far better, says Hodgson, to use Chatter, directly on the Opportunity.

Use salesforce Chatter directly on the Opportunity.

“Conducting the internal dialogue on the Chatter Feed within the Opportunity leaves no doubt as to where the justification and documentation resides. It’s there forever and a day. Maybe you’ll still agree to the discount – but at least you’re doing it with full knowledge of what went before”.

Read more about Chatter and other techniques to control price discounts:

10 Expert Tips To Give Away Smaller Price Discounts

Opportunity Mistake #5 – Close Dates in the past

Unless you have a time turner, opportunities will not close in the past.

However, this is a very common opportunity mistake. An open pipeline that contains deals with a close date earlier than today.

In fact, many pipelines contain deals that are months out of date. This is a real-life example of what that looks like in a dashboard chart.

Pipeline has lots of opportunities with close dates in the past.

The impact of having out-of-date opportunities in the pipeline includes:

  • Poor quality pipeline visibility.
  • Inaccurate performance metrics e.g. errors in win-rate percentages.
  • Inability to forecast reliably.

The way you fix this problem depends on the scale of the situation and the resources at your disposal. You have the following choices:

  • Sweep the problem under the carpet.
  • Fix the problem yourself.
  • Get the sales team to fix the dates.
  • Take broad-brush approach with a mass update of opportunities.
  • Adopt a hybrid approach incorporating several of the above.

This is such a common opportunity mistake that I have written an entire blog post about it. The post describes the options for solving the problem and explains when each is appropriate:

Don’t Let The Best Dashboard Chart Look Like A Bedraggled Washing Line

So there they are. The top five opportunity mistakes in salesforce.

Go ahead, and fix the usual suspects in your business.

Add Bundles Of Products To Quotes Or Opportunities

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Add Bundles Of Products To Quotes Or Opportunities

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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.

12 Must-Have Charts For Your Salesforce Dashboard

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12 Must-Have Charts For Your Salesforce Dashboard

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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.

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12 Must Have Charts For Your Salesforce Dashboard

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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.

Related Blog Posts

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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”.

12 Must-Have Charts For Your Salesforce Dashboard

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12 Must-Have Charts For Your Salesforce Dashboard

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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.

12 Must Have Charts For Your Salesforce Dashboard

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12 Must Have Charts For Your Salesforce Dashboard

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Related Blog Posts


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How to use opportunity conversion reports for superior results


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5 Easy Tips That Will Make Opportunity Probability Your Trusted Friend