The first component of Sales Cycle Management (SCM) is Opportunity Management. In traditional sales pipelines, salespeople and managers do not spend enough time focusing their efforts on the most promising sales. Instead, effort seems to be misplaced or spread evenly over all possible sales, even the ones that will probably not close. To counteract this, Opportunity Management is the process of tracking the work done before the sale, and adjusting resources and effort accordingly. It may seem at first to be more work than it’s worth, so let’s take a look at the benefits of OM.
First, tracking the work before the sale allows you to focus on the most promising sales. In traditional pipelines, even the “maybe” sales or the ones that may never close seem to stay in the pipeline. By focusing on the most promising, the effort goes full steam into closing and creating a relationship. Along these lines, OM allows sales managers to create a budget based on the expected return and expense on the client. Since you’re tracking the work the salespeople are doing, sales managers can look at that work and specifically coach to it. This specialized coaching will lead to improved results for the entire organization. But how can you go about creating an OM system?
The first step is to take the time to accurately identify the opportunities. Salespeople should initially come up with their own top ten list of promising clients. Each person should analyze the current pipeline and determine which potential sales should fall out of the top ten based on future possibility. Next, salespeople need to explain what’s happening with each of the top ten. This is where salespeople have to spend some time recording their activities accurately. In order to identify opportunities, they should record what’s being done on the sale at the current time: is a site visit scheduled, does the salesperson still have to get past a gatekeeper, has a presentation been made? To bring the identification full circle, they should go back and record past activity. Once this initial listing occurs, the top ten clients will be current and accurate. With this first step, you’re honing in on the most probable sales – and moving the “maybe’s” further down the line.
Next, it’s time to prioritize the top ten list itself. The first question is usually, “how do we record and prioritize?” A simple spreadsheet is the best way to start. There are full SCM software systems that require input from salespeople and sales managers – if your organization is ready for that step then the groundwork is done for you. If not, sales managers should impress on the sales force that the spreadsheet is like a golden scroll and should be updated and discussed at every sales meeting. Sales managers should hold the sales force accountable for what’s happening on their OM top ten list. If someone shows advancement on a particular client that suddenly stops, the salesperson should be able to give an explanation – and the sales manager can intervene or coach as necessary.
The third step is to analyze the results based on the OM list. During the sales cycle, determine what the expected expense and expected return will be for each client on the top ten list. Determine if a relationship is possible with the clients, and, if so, what is the next product or service up? Sales managers can look at the big picture of what activity has occurred and determine if those can be better managed in the future. The analysis of the OM list prepares the sales force for what’s to come – and helps sales managers and salespeople carry out the last step of the OM process, which is allocating resources.
A sales manager can finally make the determination of where resources go in order to drive potential sales to close. Does the salesperson need a senior person with them? Are there other obstacles that need to be cleared in order to move the sale forward? From the salesperson’s perspective, proper allocation of resources can help them from being overwhelmed by the process – and can help them learn the budget, expense, and income formulas, as well.
Opportunity Management is only the first step in a full SCM system, but this step alone can point the way for the sales force and its managers. The next step in SCM is Sales Forecasting, and we’ll discuss that next.