Let’s talk opportunities and with that pipeline management. A CRM is by its name a customer relationship management tool but it goes far beyond just managing your leads. It helps you make accurate prediction of the your company’s business. In fact this is one of the basic expectation from a CRM implementation, isn’t it?
In other words it allows you to predict revenue coming in within the next month, quarter or year, depending on how you look at it. For Sales Reps the opportunity pipeline allows them to structure their day but for Sales Managers the pipeline allows them to make predictions and report his team’s activity. In order to do this though the pipeline needs to be set up to support this and there’s a few ways to ensure this. In this article we will share some practical tips that will empower you to take the most out of your opportunity pipeline, no matter if you are a Sales Rep, who needs the pipeline for his day-to-day work or a manager who needs to report on sales activities.
Over the years, I have gathered best practices from various implementations. When implemented, they led to 145% increase in accuracy in forecast. To have accuracy in reporting, first you need to ensure that the set up of the system is accurate. These are small steps, however, in long run they lead to much better insight and high level of accuracy. They have been put down and categorized in the respective buckets.
Points to consider during CRM implementation
Use these 3 tips at the time you are implementing the application. The sooner you set this right, the better return will you get when you start accumulating transactions into the system.
Most CRMs allow you to customize your pipeline stages. This is important because different products go through a different sales cycle. Some products or services have a rather straightforward sales process and others need to go through different stages to reach the deal. The best way to do this is by sitting down with your sales team and mapping out how your sales process goes all the way from the initial contact to closing the deal. Start by putting this in a flow-chart and from there you can take out the different pipeline stages that reflect your specific sales process.
Similarly to the pipeline stages the fields in the opportunity are equally important. Here we have a fine line to walk between getting enough information to make accurate predictions vs. having too much fields which are just never filled out. When you sit down and map your sales process as described above also think about which information you need at which point. Create fields and map them to different pipeline stages that reflect this needed information. In addition you can also define certain pieces of information that you absolutely need to proceed. If for you it’s for example important to gather information why an opportunity is lost create a field called ‘Reason lost’ that is mandatory to fill out before moving the opportunity to a stage called ‘Closed Lost’. One additional tip at this point: You probably want to create this as a drop down field so you are able to segment the data and analyze it at a later stage.
Sales is a tough job as it is. Most services or products need to be sold to various points in a customer’s organization. Usually you will have to present your solution to several decision makers until the prospective customer can make a buying decision. But that’s not all. Also in your own organization you need to get approvals during your sales process. Maybe you want to offer a discount to your customer as a Sales Rep you probably have a certain range of discount that you can give but what if the customer is asking for more? You need to get internal approval. This approval will typically need to happen before you move your opportunity to the next stage. Say you have your customer in a phase called negotiation and you want to move it to offer. But the customer wants your product at a 60% discount. You can set up your opportunity pipeline that based on certain values you enter in each stage it triggers an approval that will notify for example your boss that he needs to approve the 60% discount.
Having looked at the points to be considered while design or implementation phase, lets switch to tips which can be used in day to day operations. These may require a minor shift in the way your sales processes are structured. Following these will help you in achieving accuracy in your demand forecast.
After all is said and done the only thing that matters is what comes out in the end and in opportunity management that means the actual closed deal is what matters. It doesn’t help anyone to overestimate the value of an opportunity. The only thing that creates is an opportunity pipeline that is blown out of proportion and creates sky-high expectations. Make sure to create accurate estimations for your opportunities. This extends also to the estimated closing date. Be realistic here as well and put down dates that you with your best guesstimate feel are achievable. Otherwise you will just end up spending time to explain why an opportunity hasn’t closed in the expected time frame to internal stakeholders, when you’d need to spend your time with customers.
There’s nothing worse than an out of date opportunity pipeline. There are different reasons why this might happen. Some companies still don’t trust their CRM data and Sales Managers might still rely on spreadsheets to do their reporting. This means a double amount of work for sales or an out of date opportunity pipeline, depending on the Sales Rep. Just think of this in practice, as a Sales Rep you’d be required to fill out your opportunities and maintain the pipeline and at the same time enter the data in various spreadsheets. How likely would you be to do both?
This one as well relates to the need to have an accurate and up-to-date opportunity pipeline. For Sales Reps the pipeline is a great way to structure their work day and who doesn’t like structure? Maybe you want to get your day started on a positive note, in that case you can start by looking at all opportunities that are in a stage before closing. Go through these opportunities and check which necessary actions you need to take to close those opportunities. Later you maybe want to do move some opportunities that are in a very early stage forward, so you just check whatever stage is your initial opportunity stage and work on those opportunities.
This is closely related to the previous point of maintaining your opportunity pipeline. Basing the bonus on the pipeline is a surefire way to get everyone committed to the system. Usually there’s a bonus in place for Sales Reps. If you make sure the bonus is based off on whatever data you have in your system, you will see that the data will always be accurate.
In summary, the opportunity pipeline is a great way for you to manage your day and create accurate revenue predictions. There are important steps that can help you support this but in the end it all boils down to fully committing and trusting your CRM system and one way to ensure this is to set it up so it reflects your business needs and your business needs only.