Do you have enough information to give you confidence in your opportunity pipeline and forecast?
For many of our customers this is a significant challenge and research has found that less than a third of leaders are happy with the quality of pipeline data.
Inspection is important
‘Inspection’ is a critical part of the sales management and sales operations roles. It forms part of the regular tempo of calls, meetings and checks to validate the integrity of pipeline data. Often this is done weekly or monthly, and almost certainly it’s required at the time of revising forecasts.
You need the information at your fingertips when building your forecast. Imagine if you could have all of the details for every one of your pipeline opportunities. What would this mean to you? How much time would you save every month asking the same questions of “have they got funding? who are we dealing with? how urgent is their project?” etc.
However, research findings seem to suggest that these efforts are not delivering the predictability and accuracy in b2b forecasts, with 46%* of deals not closing as predicted every month and quarter. This ability to accurately predict the future pipeline and success of the business is a core function of sales management. However, we find, that often managers struggle to have enough insight to manage the sales team and make the right decisions. The result of this is a lack of predictability, inaccurate forecasts and poor productivity
There are two underlying issues that cause this. Quality and time.
Whilst we would all accept that the inspection (for data integrity) is important, it is not always simple to achieve. In complex b2b selling there are many dimensions that must be taken together to act as an indicator of success on a particular opportunity. There are lots of small items that can make or break your win chances. Insight related to questions like “is the project likely to happen? Will it happen on the timescales? Will you win the deal if it is procured?” all contribute to better decision making.
Why then do sales managers rely solely on probability percentage, order value and expected close date (some also look at sales stages) in order to assess pipeline and forecast? Things are more complex than that, and this level of data is just not enough for good sales management choices as it leaves too much unknown for good decisions to be made.
The data you need is often subjective in nature, it resides in the sales person’s head and it is situational as you progress through a sales cycle. For many their decisions depend on how articulately the salesperson is able to present what they know of the deal. But what about the potentially important stuff they don’t know? The best salespeople have this information to hand usually, but the average performer (and most teams have a good number of these) will struggle to have this information when challenged. The result of this for many is that qualification is poor, leaving decisions on whether to pursue a deal is relying on emotion. enthusiasm and bulls**t.
How often are you getting the information you need in a consistent format that can be easily used to compile your forecast. Based on our customers’ experience we are guessing not too often. This requires lots of additional activity to gather the information you need. Typically this will involve regular phone and conference calls that dent the productivity for you and your team.
Time is scarce. Sales managers and sales people do not have enough time in a day to do all of the things required for optimum success.
Many hours of time every month is wasted collecting basic data in order to understand and present the status of your business, and to forecast accurately. For greatest success you must minimise this “overhead”, freeing up time for you to coach your team to greater success.
How do you gather data today?
We find that our customers address this issue in a few different ways. Some expend significant amounts of (valuable and scarce) time every month on the “ring around”, where they are required to ask the same basic questions over and over (and over!) This is hugely time consuming, our research has found that a typical sales manager can spend up to 2 days a month on such activities. This time could be better spent pro actively helping the team to get deals over the line.
Others don’t have the time to do this with other pressing issues of customers, meetings and admin. They take the rolled up forecast on face value and maybe have a forecast, pipeline or similar conference call where they scoot though each deal and get an update. This leaves little time to capture information across the many dimensions of qualified deals we mentioned earlier and even less time to properly challenge. The result is for these people is they are surprised when their forecast often misses.
Get information at your fingertips
To manage sales more effectively you need information at your fingertips on each deal. Define the key dimensions of qualification for your deals and capture this detailed information consistently for every deal. By doing this, and making this more easily accessible, sales managers can be more informed on their pipeline. They can challenge salespeople based on information that seems out of place for deals and minimise data integrity ‘inspection’ (micro-management), instead shifting focus in reviews toward coaching their team for future success.
Tools can help with this, our DealSheet application is one such approach to doing this inside your Salesforce or Microsoft CRM systems.
However you choose to capture information it is clear that it is a vital part of sales management success. However, it is not scalable or sustainable to invest disproportionate amounts of time on simple inspection activities. Consistency is key and you need to find a way to capture this easily from your team.
Good luck with this and please do get in touch if you want to discuss this further.
*Source : CSO Insights research , 2105