Getting out of a world of sales pain!
Does this sound familiar to you:
- Your sales pipeline review meetings either don’t happen, or if they do, there’s no regularity!
- When they do occur, the ‘data’ on your sales opportunities is held in the heads of individual salespeople rather than centrally.
- Any attempts to centralise data have relied on a clunky spreadsheet (or worse, multiple spreadsheets!) that the salespeople forever moan about due to a perception their time is wasted in collating and sharing the data.
If this sounds like your organisation, then you’ve landed in the right place! In this article, I’m going to discuss how you can leverage a CRM system to get a handle on your sales pipeline and to manage the opportunities within it. And I’ll cover how this will also be of great benefit to your salespeople such that they’ll come to love the CRM and the sharing of their deal status!
I’ll also touch on how a good CRM system, along with the right supporting sales processes, can improve the overall sales performance of your business.
A spreadsheet is better than nothing, right?
Let’s begin where most businesses do when it comes to tracking sales – the humble spreadsheet! Here’s what a typical ‘sales’ spreadsheet looks like:
Assuming the above example is from a B2B environment, this list of companies and deals looks fine. There’ll be a description of the product or service that’s trying to be sold (column E in the example), and an expected sales revenue value (column F). However, there are many drawbacks to using Excel which we explored recently in our article, Excel vs. CRM: Which is best? In summary, they include:
- The risk that you end up with multiple uncontrolled versions of the spreadsheet amongst your sales team members.
- Increasing complexity making the spreadsheet cumbersome to use.
- Sales leaders struggling to make sense of the data, and therefore unable to form a cohesive view as to the health of the overall sales pipeline.
Managing your sales pipeline Opportunities and Deals in CRM
If you’ve used a CRM before, you’ll be familiar with the concept of an Opportunity, or Deal. A deal is a specific type of record in the CRM database. It links all the different elements of a deal together.
Note that throughout this article I use the terms Deal and Opportunity interchangeably. They are, of course, the same thing.
Deals progress through the different stages of sales process. This is usually categorised and visualised as different sequential stages of your sales pipeline. [Click or tap to read more about the definition and importance of a sales pipeline]. Here’s a basic example of linking an opportunity (a deal record) to a buyer (organisation).
One crucial benefit of a CRM system is that you can link records in ‘one-to-many’ relationships. In the example above, it means that an organisation can have one or more (many) opportunities. These opportunities may be live opportunities, or they may be past deals that were either won or lost and are now closed.
Even though they may be closed, deals that have been won or lost remain important as they help to build up a picture of your organisation’s sales performance, and that of individual salespeople. They can indicate your win likelihood – for example, if you win 2 out of every 5 deals you win likelihood is 40%.
Over time, trends will emerge in your data. This data enables you to make strategic business decisions. For example, the data might suggest you should focus on one specific service line over another due to closing more sales, faster.
It's simply not feasible to manage this level of detail effectively in an Excel spreadsheet.
Not only that, but for many organisations, deals are seldom straightforward. There can be numerous additional data points that need to be captured, assessed, and monitored, in order to make sense of a complex deal that may take time to reach its conclusion (as demonstrated in the diagram below).
The CRM can be used to track all interactions with a prospect. The purpose of gathering all this data is to increase your chances of successfully closing the deal.
Analysing deals to make sense of your sales pipeline in CRM
Let’s take a closer look at the typical make-up of an opportunity. Each data point is a deal attribute. The table below provides 10 example attributes in a deal record.
Attribute (field name)
Express Insurance plc
A link to an organisation record
Express Insurance – office refit
Anything that is meaningful and helps people to see at a glance what the deal is about
Pick list: New business, Renewal, Repeat Business
An optional field that can be anything that makes sense in your business
31 December 2024
When is the deal likely to close?
Pick list: Online Ad, Media ad, Social media, Referral
Super-important to record this so that the business can analyse from where deals originate
Pick list: Management Insight, Operational Excellence, Growth Solutions
Optional; Anything that helps you to filter your deals and focus on a particular category.
Pick list: Sue Knight, Peter Day
The salesperson responsible for this deal
In monetary terms, the value of goods and services you’re hoping to sell
Pick list: Unqualified, Quoted, Proposal, Closing
Where is the opportunity in the sales lifecycle?
Pick list: 10%, 20%, 80%
Likelihood that the deal will close
Once these attributes (data fields in a CRM ) are populated for your opportunity, you will open up a whole new world of possibilities! Your CRM will enable you to analyse all the deals in your sales pipeline, filtering by attributes such as the deals…:
- …in a particular category, perhaps to highlight where there’s production capacity that you need to utilise.
- …over or under a certain value and thus more or less valuable to pursue.
- …expected to close within the next 3 months.
- …with a probability >80%.
- …assigned to a particular salesperson.
These are merely examples as the opportunities are somewhat endless.
Visualising your sales pipeline in CRM – an example
One of our clients was in the fortunate (or maybe unfortunate!) position of having over 400 open opportunities! You can imagine how time consuming and complex this was to manage. Having implemented CRM, they devised a set of questions that the salesperson must answer - on a scale from 0 to 5 - for each deal. This data can determine:
- The % chance of a deal happening.
- The % chance of winning the deal.
- Clarity on where to focus effort.
The client wanted a dynamic visualisation of their sales pipeline that could be filtered by attributes such as industry, salesperson, and opportunity stage. Below is an example of a bubble chart that we were able to produce using Power BI to analyse the CRM data. The highest priority opportunities will be the biggest bubbles (highest value), towards the top-right.
This chart is updated automatically several times a day, directly from the CRM system.
Using CRM data to improve how you manage your sales team
CRM systems, and the desire to track opportunities with them, can sometimes be viewed negatively by salespeople. They may feel that all this data collection is solely to benefit management and/or to track what they’re up to in an untrusting way.
As managers and business owners, you must stand firm. For any CRM implementation to be successful, everyone must use it. You can use a carrot and stick approach to get your salespeople to adopt CRM . The carrot is where you start having your sales meetings focused on the opportunity dashboard made available within the CRM. The overall performance of each salesperson can be compared so that you can openly celebrate your best performers, and identify where and how everyone can help those that might be struggling.
There can be many factors that result in positive sales outcomes, and they’ll likely be unique to your organisation. The table below provides some potential behavioural factors:
Have a high number of touchpoints with all prospects and customers, such as calls, email and visits.
May have a high number of touchpoints with their favourites customers, whilst others are neglected.
The number of days between touchpoints is low.
The number of days between touchpoints is high.
The sales cycle, from creation to close, is short.
The sales cycle, from creation to close, is long.
Spread their effort among a high number of opportunities, with a range in values.
Focus their attention on a few ‘whales’ i.e. those big opportunities that are seemingly never quite ready to close!
Consistently generate new opportunities.
Poor at generating new business opportunities.
Regular sales meetings, supported by up-to-date sales pipeline data, are essential for healthy sales pipeline management. Getting the whole sales team in a meeting can also be great for exerting subtle peer-pressure. When a poor performer mentions that same ‘whale’ opportunity for the third month running and with no discernible change in their progress, they should start to feel the heat! But at the same time, it's an opportunity for their peers to offer advice and suggestions to get the opportunity unstuck.
Using CRM to improve the lives of salespeople
The disciplines a CRM requires can take some adjusting to. Assuming your salespeople are enthusiastically entering their sales data into the CRM, they should start to see benefits, including:
- Converting more deals.
- Converting faster.
- Converting at higher deal values.
- Increasing their personal reward (bonus!) as a result.
If, previously, you only ever relied on the salesperson’s word on deal progress, the additional scrutiny that a CRM can bring may lead to some dissent. That is to be expected initially. However, it is possible that some people may not be willing or able to make the transition. Others may simply need extended support and training to embed new behaviours.
Individual 1-2-1 meetings will be enhanced with CRM data. Each salesperson can have a tailored opportunity dashboard within the CRM. This can be used to monitor performance and proactively intervene with support and training when needed.
It can also be leveraged to demonstrate the behaviours your top salespeople exhibit. Once salespeople start experiencing the positive effects of CRM, I typically see them voluntarily offering suggestions for improvements to the CRM. This might include things such as the way forms are laid out, or how the sales pipeline stages could be improved, or additional metrics to track in dashboards, and so on.
Something that I’ve seen work well for organisations is to create an atmosphere where salespeople feel they ‘own’ the CRM through the creation of a super-user group - a committee that meets regularly to share experiences and identify potential improvements.
What to do once the CRM is all up and running?
The problems that you seek to overcome with a CRM, like those listed at the beginning of this article, can soon be overcome with the right CRM system, supporting processes, and adoption approach.
In my experience, the initial visibility of the pipeline is a huge revelation to business leaders, and it takes a while to absorb and reflect on that. Having digitally transformed your sales process, and with everything up and running smoothly, attention usually turns to what else can you do with the CRM? I recommend setting a milestone date of 6 months post go-live to review everything with a fresh pair of eyes.
The sales process can usually be honed and optimised, with tweaks to your dashboards and the metrics on which you report. It's also a good time to think broader. Are there other systems that you are using in your business that could benefit from integrating with your CRM system? Are there other areas of your business that might benefit from the disciplines that a CRM instils?