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Recipe for an Accelerated Sales Pipeline, (Part 1 of 3)

Sales Executives

Overview

In my experience as founder of four companies, I’ve dealt with a board’s aggressive demands on the targeted sales number. This puts pressure on sales management to balance a sales plan that meets the high expectations of their stakeholders with the realistic situation of the market and sales team.

Based on these goals, sales must implement a method to drive deals through the appropriate milestones and stages as quickly and efficiently as possible. This results in more deals being closed. If there’s a lack of visibility on next steps and the health of each opportunity - there will be more losses, more close date slips and more surprises that cause misses on the forecasted number.

So, after Sales agrees to the number - where do they begin?

Understanding and Alignment of Sales team’s goals

In order to make the targeted number, it is important that the sales team understands their role, strengths, weaknesses and are aligned on how everyone will make it happen. The sales team consists of multiple roles and I am writing a three part series of blogs to focus on the roles of sales management, sales representatives, and sales operations. We’ll look at how they can make an impact on hitting the targeted number when their performance is aligned and optimized.

Part 1: Sales Management’s role in the Accelerated Pipeline Recipe

Management requires high levels of efficiency in closing opportunities. In my past experience, it was when we implemented an effective sales process that we would start to understand next steps and status of any sales opportunity - this was key to getting the sales velocity we needed. When we optimized the right sales process for our business, we sped up deal cycle times through the pipeline - and we noticed that since we were driving deals through the pipeline quicker, we were closing more of them. Our process was starting to provide an understanding of status so we could apply the right resources to get a deal closed. Our goal was to have a continuous learning process and understand how we perform against competitors, where deals get stuck, if the reps were getting better or worse and how we were performing in individual markets. This would help in understanding our wheelhouse and in coaching our reps. We wanted to make sure we were chasing the right deals and didn’t waste as many resources on deals that we had a lower probability of closing.

Implementing our sales process with the milestones that were used by active customers helped us have an efficient model. But we still needed more visibility on where we were and what we needed to do next. We needed this information sooner too. We also had trouble collecting data on our strengths and weaknesses. We had some data, but wanted more empirical data.

There were two big problems that stood in our way of completing this optimized sales process.

Problem #1 Timely updates of the right information

One of the problems our sales management faced was having sales reps update the CRM on a timely basis with status and milestone updates. Both qualitative input (ex. how did the demo go?) as well as quantitative status (ex. we are at the executive sign off milestone) helps with understanding probability of close and next steps. Along the way, sales reps need to be updating important attributes about the sales opportunity including competition, market, products being sold, and pricing.

This helps sales management with a day-to-day understanding of status and next steps in order to close deals. It also helps in continuous learning of win rates, profitability, and deal cycle times for the long term to ensure the team is getting better.

But, if the reps aren’t updating this data in a timely manner or at all - how can you make an impact on deals to get them closed? Also, how can you learn if your sale process is working and improving? You can have all the great reporting and analytics that exist, but if you are not analyzing the right data and enough of it, you can’t trust what the reports are telling you.

Problem #2 Predictability of Sales Opportunities

Our management team needed better visibility into sales opportunities. Better visibility into both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of each deal are important to determining the probability of a win and what actions should be taken to increase the chances of the win.

The quantitative measurement is done by reviewing system generated reports. We used a traditional opportunity report that was used for years, but using a CRM generated forecast is a flawed process. It shows each opportunity by stage with a probability percentage. We compared that report to one created by the sales rep that had their gut feeling of which deals will close. The biggest issue with this forecasting process is that you have deals of different sizes. Additionally, just because a deal has advanced to a later stage doesn’t mean it’s going to close - you could be advancing along side a competitor that could win if certain conditions are being met. This report did not distinguish which deals were better than others within the stage. This caused us to ask a lot more questions to the sales reps.

We had a qualitative process involving hundreds of hours of quizzing the sales representatives on each deal. This took up a lot of time in the sales meeting and in each meeting we were usually starting from square one trying to find out which deals were the best ones to go after, why others were stuck and which were going stale.

If sales management could implement an effective sales process that overcomes these challenges - you would be well on your way of meeting the sales objectives set by the board and/or CEO.

My recommendation for how sales management can make this happen will come in Part Three of this three part series - here’s a hint - it involves advanced analytics and implementing a mobile solution for sales.

My next two parts to this series will look at the sales representative's role and sales operations’ role in the making of an accelerated sales pipeline.

 

 

Jim Eberlin