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BI for Sales: Pipeline Analysis

by Dan Everett, BI Specialist, SAPTuesday, July 12, 2011

Although it is sometimes said that sales is an art, the reality is that sales is a process. This process requires specific skills and activities that can be measured and managed to improve a salesperson’s performance. Unfortunately, front line sales management has a tendency to operate at the individual opportunity level instead of the process level.

Consequently, reps don’t have the required skills to be successful and sales managers have to act as “Super Sellers” at the end of each quarter to bring deals home, which makes it hard to scale. Furthermore, lack of focus on the entire sales/pipeline process means large deals can’t take their natural course and are frequently discounted to bring in “the number” for the quarter.

Some common challenges that have to be addressed to create a more efficient and effective process include:

  • Correctly diagnosing rep selling challenges – A sales person needs a number of skills to advance an opportunity from one stage of the pipeline to the next.  The stages can be broken down into Prospecting, Solution Development, Buyer Qualification, Sales Process Management, Value Justification, Negotiation, and Account Management. Sales managers need to be able to identify which area of the pipeline the rep is having trouble with, as well as identify the skills which need to be developed to improve performance in that area.
  • Balancing forecast and pipeline conversations – It is essential to have forecast conversations that focus on specific opportunities.  These conversations should include an estimated close date, deal size, and any activities completed or pending – this will help to minimize uncertainty.  While increasing deal sizes and shortening closure rates are essential activities of the sales process, sales managers should not neglect pipeline conversations that address broader concerns.  These concerns include the proper distribution of clients along different stages of the sales pipeline, the core selling skills of the rep, and the long term health of the business (beyond the current quarter).
  • Balancing deal and skill coaching – Deal coaching targets performance obstacles within a specific deal across the sales process. On the other hand, skill coaching targets a few, key development areas based on analysis of trends in rep behavior across all deals. Although deal and skill coaching are equally important, managers tend to over emphasize deal coaching because deals are more urgent than skills. It’s easier to focus on the tangible details of an individual deal than on conceptual sales skills. Balanced coaching helps decrease on boarding time, increases process adoption, improves rep performance, increases deal sizes and creates more predictable and sustainable revenue streams.

The following screenshot is from a pipeline health analysis dashboard, which was designed to address the challenges outlined above.

  1. Pipeline Distribution Analysis: Displays reps’ revenue performance at each stage of the pipeline
  2. Revenue Detail: Shows gap to goal for selected month based on goal distribution over the year
  3. Weighted Future Revenue: Displays revenue which reps will produce for the current and next quarter (based on the current pipeline)
  4. Scenario Planning Capability: Allows reps and managers to plan scenarios by altering sales cycles and deal sizes
  5. Coaching Guidance: Suggests coaching based on the selected pipeline stage
  6. Prospecting Metrics: Displays recommended baseline prospecting efforts based on quota and historical sales profile

Managing reps to a standard pipeline size (e.g., always having three times the sales goal in the pipeline) encourages reps to enter unqualified opportunities — leaving some reps unprepared to hit goal. And comparing individual rep pipeline against an organizational average does not create a believable gap for sales reps.

Therefore, a pipeline analysis solution should use rolling history to create a rep-specific actual to ideal pipeline that reps cannot dismiss as irrelevant to them. As this graphic illustrates, unique selling patterns result in different pipeline needs in order to hit the goal. Showing reps the gaps between their current and ideal pipeline based on their historical selling creates urgency for correcting gaps.

Once credible baselines are established, pipeline stage-specific development guidance can be initiated. Determining where opportunities are stacking up in the pipeline and which stages have significant gaps helps sales reps and managers identify skill development needs. Focusing on skill development enables a sales person to address multiple opportunities all at once rather than having to solve them one deal at a time.

Based on the credible gap selected, a pipeline analysis solution can highlight the skill deficiency most likely causing the gap. Prescriptive functionality can suggest possible underlying causes of the skill deficiency and provides a series of questions to aid reps and managers in issue verification. Once the underlying issue is identified, action steps and practical examples of implementation can be provided to aid in gap resolution.

About the Author
Dan Everett has more than 15 years of experience in business intelligence and analytic technologies. For more information, contact Dan at dan.everett@sap.com or visit BI_4SalesForce

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