From Your Sales Reps to Your Forecasting: Best Practices for Getting Good Data

Blog
Apr 06, 2021
4 min read
Implementing data access best practices is a journey. It requires change management, and it is incremental. Learn how to harness industry best practices to unleash your sales performance.

Every sales organization thinks it’s unique - and each one is, in some ways. But when it comes to the data that’s crucial to accurate sales forecasting, most organizations suffer from the same problems: 

  • Sales reps don’t update their sales force automation platform in a timely manner
  • Sales reps don’t have sufficient, up-to-date, and accurate information about their sales opportunities
  • Sales managers don’t have the data they need to accurately forecast sales for the quarter, or coach their direct reports on specific opportunities
  • The end-of-quarter is a mad scramble and there is no visibility into the deals to focus on
  • Forecast accuracy is less than desired

Generally speaking, the more data you collect on the sales opportunity the better. However, in addition to collecting information, it has to be organized in a manner that is easily accessible, in context with other information used to make similar decisions and presented when the user is ready to consume it.  

Solving the Data Problems with Best Practices

Implementing data access best practices is a journey. It requires change management, and it is incremental. It requires technology changes, behavioral changes and a focus on making processes more efficient. To help the implementation of these processes, these best practices are described in terms of:

  • Baseline — Current Status Quo - where the organization is before data collection best practices are applied
  • Good — An incremental first step to streamline the data collection process
  • Better — Enhancements to increase benefits and decrease sales reps’ workload for data collection
  • Best — Development of a description of best practices in collecting data and making it available to everyone in a highly usable manner

Data for forecasting come in four distinct types: sales activity dynamics, opportunity attributes, buying team members and roles, and company attributes. Let’s look at best practices for sales activity dynamics.  Subsequent blogs will look at tactical best practices in the other areas.

Sales Activity Dynamics

Tactical Best Practices in Sales Activity Dynamics

Problem/Business Need:

Sales reps and sales management work in a vacuum. The SFA application is not consistently or frequently updated with changes to the opportunity or sales interactions. Sales reps need help updating all the sales interactions in their CRM system so details do not slip through the cracks and they can spend more time selling.

Requirements:

  • Need to track inbound activity from opportunities in a timely manner to reflect the overall health of the opportunities.  
  • Sales management needs access to most recent buyer/seller interactions to have an unbiased judgement on the current status of a sales opportunity.
  • The more information sales management has on buyer/seller interactions the better position they are in to coach the sales rep on appropriate actions for this opportunity.  

The need is to automate:

  • The data collection of inbound and outbound email activity, including the content of emails.
  • The data collection of all meetings and calls scheduled in the calendar.
  • The content and results of meetings. 

Baseline

Sales reps update their SFA application with meeting schedules, inbound and outbound email content and summarize meeting results.

The baseline is what is currently happening in most companies. The sales reps are expected to keep the CRM system up to date, while gaining nothing in return. This process is flawed for a number of reasons: it takes away from selling time, and the information can be biased by the sales rep. “Happy ears” reps may be overly optimistic about emails, meetings and other interactions. Sandbagger reps may not even update CRM until they know they have the deal in the bag.

Good

Email and meetings count automatically update the SFA application. Emails are flagged as inbound emails from the prospects vs. outbound emails to the prospect.

At the Good level, opportunities are updated with just the count of both inbound and outbound interactions. The interactions are sequenced by date. Inbound interactions are more important than outbound interactions. An outbound interactions count shows that the rep is managing the opportunity. Inbound interactions show the opportunity is interested in what you have to offer. No inbound interactions from an opportunity for two to six weeks (pick time appropriate for your situation) show the opportunity is going dark. Measuring counts is a step in the right direction, but will fall short in assessing the overall health of an opportunity and subjectively assessing the health of that opportunity.

Better

Email, meeting, and calendar content details automatically update the SFA application. The sales rep has the ability to add personal notes and observations to the activity as well as score the activity as positive or negative. Meeting transcripts are available.  

At the Better level, emails, calendar invitations and meeting results are updated to your SFA application. This includes full email and meeting content. This saves sales rep time by not requiring them to summarize the email in the CRM application. It also saves reps time by allowing them to easily reference the most recent correspondence and understand the issues without digging through their email. It saves sales managers time to have a better understanding of the overall health of the opportunity without needing to grill their sales reps.  

Best

Activity is automatically scored based on content messages and AI-driven sentiment analysis. Sales reps personal activity rating serves to update the lexicon used for sentiment analysis. Email interface allows editing opportunities while in the email

The Best level includes two parts. The first part is rating the interactions. The second part is enhancing the email interface with an add-on that allows the rep to take action on the opportunity from within the email application.

Taking Sales Performance to the Next Level

Rating emails can be done both by AI and buy allowing the sales rep to also rate the interaction. When sales reps rate the email content, the AI can also analyze the rating and update the AI lexicon for analyzing email content in the future. This provides an early warning system to potential deals going south, many times even before the sales rep has a chance to read an email. It also provides an unbiased interpretation of the email, which helps provide a basis for unbiased opportunity assessment.  

Enhancing the email interface with an add-on goes beyond just pulling in emails from the email server. It allows sales reps to update their opportunities from within their email application. It allows the system to work where the reps work, rather than requiring the reps to log into the CRM application to change anything. The key is to make it as easy as possible for the sales rep to do their job.

Author
Ric Ratkowski
Ric Ratkowski
,
Chief Operating Officer, TopOPPs

Ric Ratkowski is the Chief Operating Officer at TopOPPs. He is a strategic thinker with experience as a finance executive, Certified Public Accountant, and IT executive, who integrates complex business challenges with technology to find innovative solutions.