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Customer relationship management (CRM) adoption has been a hot topic for as long as companies have invested in the technology. Management wants CRM users to take advantage of the tools, not only so they see a return on the investment, but also to get visibility into customer interactions and the revenue pipeline. Sales struggles with both taking on more time-consuming tasks, and trusting the organization with its precious opportunity information.

At Salesforce, we believe we’ve succeeded to this point, and continue growing, partly because of our dedication to something we call opportunity management rigor (OMR). If sales reps are interested in generating revenue (most are), they should have a keen eye on: 1) how many active opportunities they have, and 2) how much pipeline they need to generate. OMR is about keeping detailed records of #1 so you know how much of your time you need to spend on #2.

To properly manage sales pipeline, you need to know: How many of my opportunities are real? Is the amount real? Is the close date real? What stage is it at? If all of that is real it’s just a matter of execution. If dates are optimistic and early, deal sizes too high, and stages inaccurate, both the salesperson and sales manager will have a false sense of security and will end up being disappointed, frustrated, or frantic at the end of the quarter.

If you can be rigorous and accurate with opportunity management, you can ask yourself if you have enough pipeline. If you don’t have enough, you know where to work, and sales goes back to being a numbers game. Like any muscle, opportunity management rigor takes work to build. But it’s worth the time and effort, and becomes easier to maintain as time goes by.

Time is money for a rep. You need to know the most important thing to do right now, and what to do next. If you’re not clear on which opportunities are accurate, you’re relying on your memory to know which ones need work. As you take on a bigger book of business, with more opportunities, quarter after quarter, relying on your own memory means mistakes and wasted time.

If you only have one deal, it's not an issue. But if you're responsible for more deals than you can remember, you need a way to manage sales pipeline and sort them. Ideally, you’re always spending time first on the deal that needs the most attention now, which is usually the one that’s about to close.

Maintaining rigor in CRM is also a proven best practice of the most successful sales organizations on the planet. Bravado and confidence are often a good thing in sales, but are you willing to bet your commission check and career against best practice? You will also need to use opportunity information, like stages, to communicate to others where a deal is and where you need help. Other peer groups will use that information to make decisions about how to spend their valuable time. You may need help from an engineering team, product management, or even marketing. Inaccurate or missing information could mean your deals are de-prioritized. It could also mean you miss out on the support that could help them progress.

There can be many reasons reps might avoid keeping opportunities updated. You may think your managers are lording over you, wanting to inspect your work and micromanage. You may not want them in the weeds of your deal, or are worried about deals being slowed or needing extra approvals at each step. Opportunity management rigor requires trust and creates accountability. Giving your team, including your managers, visibility is an occupational hazard in sales. Remember, sales is a team sport.

In my experience, 95% of the time, reps are not “sandbagging” or hiding details so they can show a sudden, unexpected burst of performance. They just haven’t yet built the strong muscles of paying attention to detail and adding rigor to the management of their book of business. In the long run, more people are successful by being transparent and getting additional help and support on a deal, than they would be by hoarding it.

 

In my time at Salesforce, I’ve developed a dashboard that I consider a critical tool for coaching opportunity management rigor.

As an example: It shows that Jack had seven deals for $14,000 that closed this month from the “pipeline” category. That's not good. Ideally we'd have deals progress through each of our six stages in a more linear fashion. But these all jumped directly from stage two to stage six. Everything in between was skipped. The most likely explanation is that deals had advanced and Jack hadn't kept the CRM system up-to-date. If that's the case, it's likely Jack hasn't been trained well or his manager has not reinforced the sales process.

Here's an example of a message I would send Jack after reviewing the dashboard:

 

Hi Jack, part of our “secret sauce” here at Salesforce is opportunity management rigor, which is a muscle all great salespeople build. And we would like to help you be great at it, as well. If you master this skill, it will make it much easier for you to manage your book of business. I see so far this month you’ve had seven deals close for $14,000 that went from stage two to closed. This typically happens either when salespeople forget to advance a deal to later stages during the sales cycle, or if they aren’t close enough to their deals to know where they are. Neither choice is a good one.

It's OK to have a few of these now and then. Sometimes an order just comes in. And we wish that happened more often. We don’t want to make it mandatory for each deal to go stage to stage, or you'll just move it from stage 2 to stage six in the few minutes after you get the order. I want you to be successful, and we’re confident that maintaining rigor will benefit you and the business. Please reach out with any questions you have, or if you need additional training on the process.

 

I don’t check the dashboard everyday — only once per month, or a couple times per quarter. The purpose is not to penalize or call out sales reps, but to coach them and help them develop that OMR muscle. Once your team adopts OMR, you’ll see sales reps, managers, and even customers start to reap the promised rewards.

Like any muscle, opportunity management rigor takes work to build. But it’s worth the time and effort, and becomes easier to maintain as time goes by.”

Tony Rodoni | EVP, Commercial Sales & Market Readiness, Salesforce