Posts by: Jim Eberlin

Four Steps BI Tools Neglect

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Business Intelligence software for sales reporting is missing the mark.  It makes it easier to build a report with elegant looking graphs – but the substance of the reports doesn’t provide real information.  Most often, sales analytics produced from BI tools is just a roll up of numbers called out in a forecast call.  So the sales leader and the sales rep have a lot of work to do to make these reports provide any value.

The work sales teams go through to get anything out of these reports is the same thing we’ve been doing since the 1990’s with sales force automation – we have a meeting, we talk about deals, then we translate these conversations into the CRM for reporting.


 

What’s wrong with sales analytics from traditional BI tools?

It’s certainly old and well tried – but hardly true.  Very little of the information discussed in the sales meeting makes it into the CRM, and the data that does, is difficult to analyze.  Most of the time,  a separate spreadsheet is used for the forecast, because it’s easier to record the weekly recital of accounts called out that will likely close for the period.  Sales reporting and Business Intelligence tools for CRMs can report numbers but there’s heavy reliance on manual manipulation of numbers by all of the sales team.  Without a consistent and easily understood process, this manipulation is very subjective, qualitative and requires a lot of scrutiny and discussion to get on the same page about which deals are most probable to close, current status and what will be the outcome of the sales period.

Four steps to better sales analytics

We’ve researched and interviewed sales leaders, mostly around how they predict revenue, how they stay on top of hitting their number and how they measure performance of their sales teams.  These are important factors to maximizing revenue production of the team.

1. Implement a well defined sales process

It all starts with a well defined sales process.  Management and sales reps need to understand all the stages and milestones of a winning process.  By having the sales reps follow the same steps, it becomes measurable across the team.  You can coach based on where deals get stuck or lost and compare the performance of team members.  Without a well defined and easily understood process and status nomenclature that everyone follows, it’s too hard to measure conversions and closure rates and therefore sales analytics are of no use.  (click here for how to define a winning sales process)

2. Assist the Reps

Now that the sales process is in place, reps can focus on the next steps.  Knowing the next step and focusing in on that exact activity will help them make progress and make it faster.  Automated enforcement of the sales activities provides for a consistent process that everyone understands and can follow.

Sales reps need to update status after sales meetings and other communications with their prospects and customers.  Updates to the CRM will help keep the opportunities in the appropriate stage and provide for good coaching based on how deals flow through the sales funnel.  Reps need to have as much time as possible to sell so these updates need to be automated and easily recorded.

3. Commit Deals to Forecast

With reps following a consistent sales process and updating the CRM – deals can be committed to the forecast on a quantifiable basis.  Deals that have the right customer profile, progress to the appropriate stage and have the right momentum can be brought to the surface for further inspection.  With quantitative and qualitative rules – only the highest probability deals will advance in the forecast and sales reps will only be focused on winnable deals.

4. Analyze the Right Metrics (and Coach Your Team)

With the right process and more frequent updates to the CRM, you can coach reps with empirical data.  Coaching should be based on how sales reps move deals through each stage, how well they execute on the activity within a stage and on closure rates.  It will be a better conversation than just general academic discussions or the emotional discussion around the subjective status update of deals.


By implementing these 4 steps, sales analytics will be real, authentic, accurate and up to date.  Sales will be predictable and win rates will increase.  Process rigor and adherence as well as automated collection of CRM data make all the difference when it comes to better sales analytics and moving beyond the same methods we used in the 90’s.

To learn more how TopOPPS Predictive and Prescriptive sales analytics helps with sales process and assisting the sales reps, as well as predicting the forecast and applying valuable analytics, click here.

Exceeding Quota with Data-Driven Sales Management

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Maximizing Reps Sales performance is the number one objective for Sales Leaders. We have published a step-by-step guidebook that does just this – Maximize Sales Performance. But in short, the following details what every Sales Leader needs to know like the back of their hand.

Prior 1:1s with the reps, I did what I could in pulling as much pipeline information and history as I could – this was a lot of work and I didn’t trust the information. The various ways deals were closed or manipulated or the lack of sufficient information always seemed to be a problem for my reports. Without a consistent process, what one rep said was a 50%, another might say is 75% – there was a lot to adjust to. With so little time and so many reps to strategize with – it left out the potential to really maximize the chance of winning the deals and to help develop the non A-players. That 1:1 time could have been spent so much better if the rep and I had a head-start.

Having the proper sales management is a great way to increase sales opportunities. Which breaks down into the following 5 steps:

  1. 1. The Number
    1. a) Predict what will close in the pipeline
    2. b) Predict any additional pipe that is yet to be generated and closed within this sales period
  2. 2. Cycle Time & ASP
    1. a) Determine how long does it take to win a deal and what is the Average Selling Price (ASP)
  3. 3. Confirm the Pipeline
    1. a) Build practices that will allow you to look upon past quarters and find consistency
    2. b) Know the composition of the pipeline and what happened to it each quarter
  4. 4. Metrics to Help Reps Improve Performance
    1. a) Look up certain metrics to set benchmarks for your team
    2. b) Example: Are we winning commits?
  5. 5. Tracking Status
    1. a) Follow up, consistency is key!

These strategies will help blow out your number and get the entire team exceeding quota. Using these data-driven best practices, you’ll be able to keep score, react in time and have confidence as you guide your team. Again, there is a free guidebook on this here – I encourage you to download it. Side note – CSO Insight’s, Barry Trailer has an incredibly insightful blog with research that identifies the “Silver Bullet” to increase quota attainment.

What is Sales Pipeline Analytics?

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Most sales leaders analyze their pipeline the same way they’ve done it for years – this is why sales is still a grind, forecasting is still a struggle, and there are still surprises and disappointments at the end of the sales period. Your pipeline analytics should answer these questions with precision:

1. How much new and total pipeline do we need – and will we have enough?
2. Is the pipeline filling at the appropriate rate?
3. Where are deals getting stuck in the pipeline so I can change or coach on those sales activities?
4. Am I converting what’s in the pipeline at the necessary rate?
These questions have to be answered for the whole company, the region or division and for the sales reps. If I don’t know the answers to these questions (and some follow on questions), I may be caught flat footed at the end of the sales period and miss the number. But more importantly, without good answers to these questions throughout the sales period, I can’t make good decisions to improve my process and my reps – costing the company millions in lost deals. Another blog we have related pipeline anatlytics, which is about finding the right sales forecasting tool can be found here.

What’s needed is the ability to understand more about your pipeline – where it came from, what happened to it, and ultimately, to understand and predict if I’ll have enough to hit my number. The fundamental components of understanding your pipeline to see if you’ll hit your number are:

  1. Composition of the Pipeline
  2. Pipeline Prediction
  3. Accuracy of the Pipeline
  4. What Happened in Previous Periods
  5. Conversion Rates

To learn in greater detail how to understand your pipeline better, download the full guidebook “Analyzing the Pipeline”.  A nice follow up to this download is our recent post about increasing conversions through the sales process.

Sales analytics with artificial intelligence is helpful because it can predict the outcome in time for you to make an impact. CSO Insights reports that 94% of their World Class sales performers use sales analytics technologies for better decision making and less digging.

TopOPPS Dashboard

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The TopOPPS Dashboard tells the complete story of your current pipeline.

Will I hit my number?

The dashboard is used to show if we are going to hit our number – and if not, options to fill the gap. … Continue reading

3 Ways to Prevent Zombies in the Middle of the Funnel

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Flawed thinking has it that there’s nothing important or exciting about the “middle.”  Just ask Jan Brady or any nose tackle on a defensive line.  But the middle of your sales funnel is really important – opportunities have to be watched and decisions made based on status and progress.  Which ones will make it?  Which ones will fall out? What’s my next step?  The decisions we make on opportunities in the middle of the pipeline will prevent surprises later and will help us to put the right resources on the right deals at the right time.  If we don’t make the right decisions, or worse, neglect these deals, it usually results in fallout, or what I call “zombie” deals that linger around cluttering up the pipeline. These zombie deals steal time away from us on thought process, manager conversations and important resources.  If we do go about it the right way though, more closes, faster cycles and accurate forecasts happen.

So, in order to make the right decisions and make an impact in time, the focus should be on these three things:

  1. Deal Progress – This is your step-by-step sales process.  Most companies use stages to track deals and move them to the next stage as milestones are achieved and questions are answered.  Sales reps qualify deals for authority, need, urgency and money. I want to emphasize “authority.”  The information received on opportunities must be validated by the decision maker while anyone else tied to the deal is just to win them over.  Having a sales process aligns the reps for consistent behavior.  Details on deals are usually discussed verbally between a sales rep and their manager, but ideally all details should be recorded in the CRM.  By having this data up to date in the CRM, the manager can review deals and spend more valuable time discussing what plays to run and pointing out important pieces of the deal that are missing.  Also, if this detail is recorded in the CRM, analytics can be used to improve the sales process.
  1. Deal Momentum – This is where I look to find deals that are stuck and deals that have the right buyer engaged.  Typical things I look for to determine proper velocity are:
  • When was the last activity date?
  • When was the last communication with someone in authority?
  • Is the next meeting scheduled?
  • How compelling of a need is this that it can make someone buy now?

 

Once again, it’s better to have these things recorded in the CRM.  I do my prep work for the Monday sales meeting on Sunday, and I don’t want to contact reps on the weekend for questions or updates.  Also, at the end of the sales period, I want this information in the CRM for me to apply analytics on sales process improvement and performance.

 

  1.  Ideal Customer Profile – This is information about the ideal prospect, which provides more confidence that a close is inevitable.  For B2B sales, this is usually size, market or industry and whether you are engaged with the appropriate buyer who has purchase authority.  For B2C sales, I know an example of a company that sells solar panels and they look for certain credit scores of residences, homes where the roof faces south and for prospects to bring their utility bills to the meeting to compare the cost savings.  Once again, this is ideally recorded on every lead and opportunity in the CRM to track for analytics.

Do not engage resources or include pipeline deals in the forecast until you have a good handle on the above three things.  Applying a score, as a deal moves through the process on these three criteria helps enormously.  It is critical in determining how many will make it through the pipeline, which are worth resources, and which to apply to the forecast.

There’s nothing more exciting than adding confidence to a pipeline and forecast, but it’s even more exciting to close more deals at a faster pace by applying these three tenets to managing your pipeline.

Click here if you want to learn how to automate these processes discussed in this blog.

 

Grading Sales Opportunities for Predictable Sales

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What information can you extract from your sales forecast or sales pipeline? Does it help management understand which deals will close? Can management and the sales team rely on it? How confident does management feel when they discuss with senior management or the board about deals that are closing?

Having a dynamic method for scoring opportunities can help you identify your best deals so that you can be more confident about the outcome of your sales period. Many rely on static methods such as stage percentage or an sales rep close percentage as a means to numerically score each opportunity. I know from my previous experiences in running sales teams that these methods leave you open for error. The remainder of this piece will describe a dynamic method that better predicts which deals will close and prescribes a way to get a handle on the ones that are falling out of the pipeline.

So first, let’s discuss the difference between a lead and an opportunity. Leads come in at the top of the funnel and are worked through different phases. Usually they start off as marketing qualified leads (MQL) then, based on product fit, progress forward to sales qualified leads (SQL) and eventually become sales accepted leads (SAL). Once the sales rep accepts the lead and has engaged the prospect with the possibility of closing business within the sales period, it becomes a sales opportunity.  Grading leads is important in order to find the hot ones to go after, but is a very different process than grading sales opportunities. For this blog, we are focused on how to grade sales opportunities.

Sales opportunities should be graded for proper health in three distinct areas: progress, momentum and alerts. During the sales process, based on how well the opportunity is worked, you can gain or lose progress and momentum. Alerts are advanced notifications you look for in order to see which deals are advancing and which are falling out of the pipeline, the notifications cause the health to go up or down. Opportunity scoring provides insights  on better forecasting for management, as well as feedback on better opportunity management for the sales reps.

Progress Health is comprised of sales stages, milestones and deal attributes. Stages are major events that occur during the sales process and are aligned with the critical points of selling a product. Some generic examples are qualification, defining, negotiations, and pending.  The milestones are the sub events that occur between stages. So usually you have to answer four or five questions and complete certain tasks to advance an opportunity to the next stage, those are milestones. Attributes are important pieces of information that occur within a stage, such as pain assessment or opportunity demographics. The health of a sales opportunity gets better as you gather more information within the attributes and the opportunity moves along further within the sales process.

Momentum Health is based on the timing and importance of events that occur within the progress of a sales opportunity. For example, communication with the prospect is always valuable, and sales opportunity is considered healthy if the communication is with a C-level sponsor and buyer of the product being sold. The momentum health score would go up on events such as:

  • Prospect communicated last week that we provide value and would be solving a problem, so they are bringing in all sponsors required to move the deal forward
  • Positive communication was in a phone call from the sponsor
  • The sponsor is a Vice President and has authority to approve this purchase
  • We have another meeting scheduled within the next seven days
  • The sales rep provides qualitative updates that confirm the calls have gone well

Likewise, you can have negative momentum that adversely impacts the opportunity. Examples of these include:

  • There is significant pushback from prospect
  • Meetings with the prospect have not gone well
  • There have been delays by the prospect in their decision making progress
  • The prospect has just had a recent change in leadership

Alert Health is based on additional factors that impact whether or not deals are moving forward or falling out of the pipeline.  Examples of alerts to look for in the sales opportunity include:

  • The opportunity is scheduled to close this month, but the next meeting is not scheduled or is past due
  • The close dates have been moved back multiple times
  • We have been on a stage or milestone for too long
  • There are crucial tasks that are overdue
  • There has been no activity in the last two weeks


In order to have a dynamic understanding of a opportunity’s health the data must be both timely and accurate. The process for evaluating opportunities needs to be simple enough that it is easily followed and also robust enough that it presents valuable insight into your pipeline.  A strong process, when paired with predictive and prescriptive tools, can ensure that opportunities remain healthy and provide management with the ability to have better sales pipeline forecasting.

Sharing Your Sales Process for Better Results

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Usually when I hear the word “share”, it’s in a positive connotation and it’s in a sentence declaring something we should do. “We should share” is something we’ve heard since we were kids.  So, what if we completely shared our sales process with our prospects and existing customers that we have opportunities with? Could it be that we could engage more, drive deals quicker and be more predictive of which will close as a result?

In my previous companies, we were sales process hoarders. We created a sales process so that we knew opportunity status and next steps – but we kept it internal. The opportunity status was only discussed in the sales meetings and 1-on-1s for advice and input to get them closed.  And the sales rep privately reviewed opportunity status to strategize next steps.

Sales ProcessBut what I discovered was that if I share the process with the prospect, I could engage them more and learn a lot to help us both come to the right decision quickly of whether we were a solution for their compelling pain or need. By not sharing, or only sharing bits and pieces, it took longer to move someone through the process and sometimes they would get stuck along the way at a milestone within a sales stage. For those that got stuck, it was a struggle to come up with ways to kick start them again, and ultimately we would send the “break up” e-mail to try and get a response. By sharing the sales process early and at each stage, it was easier to explain why we needed to move to the next steps and why it should be at the proper cadence so that we don’t forget anything we learned along the way. This was especially helpful if we were evangelizing a prospect that didn’t have budget yet. It also helped if we were trying to get to additional people in the buying process.

So some of you are thinking, you already do this.  You already share the “close plan” with the prospect.

However, just using the word “close” causes issues. We actually renamed the “close plan” to the “decision plan.” If we are sharing our process, the prospect typically does not want to be “closed.” That would make it harder to get them to agree to the plan.  I don’t know of many buyers thinking to themselves “I hope someone closes me on something that can help my business today.” The right process becomes “the decision plan.”

So here’s three tips that will make the sales process that you share more effective and quicker to get to a decision.

  • Make each stage and milestone about them – don’t use terms that are sales speak or about “closing them.”
  • Make it clear at each stage (and milestone) what value you are offering the prospect and the importance of the next one.
  • Schedule the next meeting date at every meeting (assuming you have multiple meetings in the sales process), explaining the importance of not losing momentum of what was discovered in the current meeting.

By having a shared sales process with the prospect, you’ll be able to drive deals to quicker decisions and have much more predictability. Having a consistent process and getting everyone on the same page and agreement on status is important – so doesn’t it make sense that the prospect should be part of that consistent process?

Jim Eberlin is the founder and CEO of TopOPPS. Previous to TopOPPS, Jim was founder and CEO of Host Analytics and Gainsight, two market leaders located in Silicon Valley that have raised over $150 million in venture capital. Jim has several years in executive management within the software industry and he serves the tech entrepreneurial community by sharing his experience in early through growth stage.