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How to fix a broken CRM pipeline

David Taber | Feb. 10, 2016
To misquote Tom Lehrer, your company’s sales pipeline is a sewer: What you get out of it depends on what you put into it.

It’s best that these criteria be checked automatically, although that can involve some fairly complex code.

A deal’s 'likelihood of close' reflects the customer’s behavior, not ours

  • This is tricky, because your internal activities and sales cycles are easily monitored but your customer’s intentions are not. In big deals, the customer has an incentive to hide information.
  • Ideally, customer actions and intentions (e.g., downloading of install guides, trial/pilot usage, request for quote, asking questions in customer forums, etc.) are monitored and collected in the CRM system. It’s a best practice to have email exchanges or forms filled out by the prospect as part of your sales process, so that you have objective evidence of their state of mind.
  • Obviously, these indicators are much more readily available for deals involving SaaS products and direct sales cycles. But with some creativity, almost any sales cycle can be instrumented.

Institute automatic pipeline cleaning

For example, two weeks after the end of a quarter, all deals that were supposed to have closed at the end of the quarter but haven’t been updated by the rep are automatically closed out. If you want to be ornery, make it so they can’t be re-opened. But don’t take it too far, as this kind of thing can become an engraved invitation for reps to game the system (e.g., automation that re-assigns in-progress deals to another rep if they haven’t been updated in 30 days).

Channel/distributor forecasts incorporate data from partners

  • This one is really hard, unless your company has significant market power. Your channel partners have to work with a lot of vendors, and they have little time to fill out forms for you.
  • Provide a portal that makes it really easy for them to get leads, download information, hear about specials, and get sales support. Make the portal a magnet, so they are in there at least once a week. Only when this is working do you start requiring them to register their deals and update the state of the business on at least a bi-weekly basis. Give them spreadsheet templates and an easy way to upload their pipeline and inventory data directly into the CRM.
  • Make sure you have incentives for accurate forecasts, not big ones. Make sure they understand that discounts and allocations are contingent upon the best data, not the most optimistic.

All fields and related entries of the deal should have audit trails turned on

“Audit trails” means a date/time stamp, user ID, and before vs after values for every single change (i.e., this is not a weekly snapshot). Keep these audit trails for at least three years, just like the rest of your CRM data. This is for your own protection when the lawyers come a-callin’, so just do it.


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