The economic climate we’re currently climbing out of felt all too similar to the great recession of 2008. We knew the story back then: “Work harder and sell less.” That is all we could do, because we didn’t have the technology to help mitigate the impact of the recession through better sales pipeline visibility and better cost control by understanding what was “real” in our sales pipeline.
This time around, we’ve had to work just as hard, but if we worked smarter with the help of technology we could even the playing field and even sell a bit more.
I recently read an article on Investors Business Daily titled “Software Growth Stocks To Buy: Coronavirus Impact Coming in June Quarter.” While the article focused specifically on software companies, I believe the symptoms are applicable to most B-to-B sales organizations. Some of the more notable quotes in the article included:
- “Business spending on software will take a hit as companies reset priorities amid the coronavirus pandemic.”
- "Also, software companies that sell into the corporate market may have hurdles. There seems to be increased concern that the scope of large enterprise projects in pipelines will be downsized and/or time-to-close deals will lengthen," Cowen analyst J. Derrick Wood said in his note to clients.”
- “Large deals already in the sales pipeline may close. But, the cancellation of user conferences and events will take a toll on software stocks, analysts say.”
- “From May to July, we expect software to less violently rally into what will be horrific June quarter results,"
I thought this article screamed of the need for an accurate, up-to-date sales pipeline where it is easy to identify what is “real” and can be closed.
While the first two quotes describe a dark picture, the last two quotes make it sound like it wasn’t a done deal. We had some runway. If we could quickly understand:
- What is real in the sales pipeline
- What company characteristics define our new “Ideal Customer Profile” and the new “sales” normal for us
If you managed those opportunities and did not let anything slip through the cracks, you probably pulled off a decent quarter.
Past vs Present
Prior to March 2020, sales organizations were focused tactically on better sales engagement, better sales enablement, and creating an accurate sales forecast. Since then, it feels like priorities have shifted. Now, it feels like sales organizations need to focus on pipeline forecasting and what is winnable, and understanding what are the characteristics of winnable deals so they can direct marketing to go after them.
I liken sales pipeline management in the "coronavirus environment" to knocking over a shelf full of small porcelain statues. Some won’t be broken, and those opportunities you close. Some will have minor damage, but with a little effort (and glue) you can close those opportunities as well. Some have more damage, and they will take longer to fix and more TLC, but they are salvageable. And the last group is trashed. You need to remove them from the sales pipeline and move on. You have the ability to backfill them with opportunities more likely to close based on the new reality and your new Ideal customer profile.
Knowing what is realistic in the sales pipeline is more important than trying to salvage every deal. Knowing what is realistic will drive the pipeline forecast and allow finance to apply the appropriate expense control and not over or under-react to the situation.
Visibility To The Sales Pipeline
You can’t fix any of the statues on the shelf if you can’t see them and make a judgment on their ability to be repaired. Likewise, you can’t close any of your opportunities if you don’t have visibility into your sales pipeline! [Spoiler Alert: You can’t do it with a sales pipeline that looks like this (below)]
And you can’t do it with a process that looks like this:
The challenge with both of these pictures are:
- Communication is not effective. Sales pipeline management requires a lot of information, both high-level information and detail-level opportunity interaction information, so everyone can easily understand where the opportunity stands without the need to interrogate the sales rep for every opportunity.
- The information is not in real-time. A real-time sales pipeline might sound like overkill. While sales pipeline “real-time” isn’t the same as launching a rocket or steering a car, it still requires rigor. When anyone looks at the sales pipeline, they must be looking at the most up-to-date picture of the pipeline, with all the supporting detail. Otherwise, they edit the Excel for what they think the update is, and all of a sudden you have different versions of the truth.
- Neither of these allows you to analyze and improve the sales process. This is important because studies have shown that improving the sales process is a key theme for the future in the coronavirus economy.
What is needed is a:
- A highly visual, highly interactive view of the sales pipeline.
- A view that allows navigation to the lowest-level information available on a rep, opportunity, sales pipeline level without losing context to the sales pipeline.
- A real-time view that is always up-to-date and doesn’t require “csv” extracts and munging of data in a spreadsheet before you can understand what is going on.
- A way to track the sales process and be alerted to different risks that could impact an opportunity like:
- Risk Alerts
- Content Alerts
- Clean-Up Alerts
- Training Alerts
- AE Action Alerts
The following is an example of a highly visual, highly interactive view of the sales pipeline.
Each tile on the sales pipeline represents one opportunity. They are organized in columns by sales stage, but you can switch the view and have columns represent:
- Forecast category.
- Close date - if your sales measurement cycle is quarterly you can see your pipeline by each quarter to understand how your sales pipeline is building.
- Sales Rep - if you are a level 1 sales manager you can see the sales pipeline for all of your sales reps on one screen and through the health score understand which deals are most likely to close.
The pipeline can be filtered by:
- Your sales hierarchy (rep, manager, leader)
- Sales process (maybe enterprise sales, SMB sales or by product line)
- Any other filters like opportunities at risk, multi-pushed opportunities, deals falling out, etc.
Each tile has links for viewing:
Opportunity detail, going down to email and meeting content
- Opportunity health score and the AI drivers of that health score
- AI-driven sales forecast by stage
- Sales rep and sales team current and historic trend metrics
- A shorter sales pipeline listing
And you can pivot from one view to another based on the question you have and status you want to verify.
To help get a better feel for the meaning of sales pipeline visibility here is a link to a short video walking through the visualization in a live environment.