Managing Your Sales Funnel

The development of web based sales force automation (SFA) tools like Salesforce and SugarCRM have made access to and demand for accurate sales performance data grow significantly.   Gone are the days when the sales manager kept a hand-typed list of deals in the pipeline which he scurried about at the end of each quarter, checking in with each team member to confirm deal status and the likelihood of a close.  A sales manager can now develop a detailed sales process with multiple stages, capture data on age, stage, probability of conversion and display this in reports and dashboards for all of senior management to see.


But with more powerful tools comes the potential for greater confusion – it takes a fair bit of discipline to manage all the data that a web based SFA tool captures and do so in a way that actually aids senior management.  A few pointers on the same.

For the data captured in your SFA system to be meaningful the tool needs to be seen as core to your sales process and you will need 100% compliance with whatever processes you set up.  Not much good if a couple of your old school sales reps are keeping separate lists of their key accounts in notebooks or on Excel sheets.  One of the ways to ensure compliance is to keep your sales process very clearly defined and not too complicated.  As well, limiting the amount clerical work that your sales team has to undertake is key: sales people like to sell.  If you burden them with too much database maintenance you demoralize them and find that they are only inputting a portion of the data you said you required.

Precious Marketing Dollars

Marketing dollars are precious and you want to ensure that they are being spent to maximize lead generation.   To do so it is essential that you link your sales stages tightly to the  the Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) your marketing effort generates and that there is solid agreement on what constitutes an MQL, and Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) and an Opportunity.

The stage definitions in your funnel should be clear and simple, with concrete actions (e.g. “Send and LOI”) indicating a stage change whenever possible.  I like like to keep the stage count to 4 – 6; more than this and you add unnecessary complexity to your tracking and reporting process.   Educate your team about the stages steadily and continuously – they need to have these internalized.

Part of this education takes place in your weekly exception review with each sales rep and when you review his/her entire pipeline on a quarterly basis.  Reviewing each deal and comparing to the stage definitions with your rep is about the only way you can all get aligned and ensure that the date in your SFA tool is complete and that opportunities are categorized consistently.

As you clean up and conform the data in your SFA tool and your team is treating opportunities consistently, you can begin to track stage age and conversion figures: you will develop a sense for how your pipeline feels and what stats it is throwing off and, if the data is complete and well documented, running reports or setting up dashboards for senior management will be pretty straightforward.

You can use the statistics you gather to direct how you  model sales, building a financial model in Excel with lag times and conversion probabilities for each stage using data collected in your SFA system.  This gives you another set of numbers to use to estimate your sales team’s production and to test that estimate for reasonableness.  Add to this a bottom’s up estimate of how each sales person should perform under stable conditions and you now have, along with information from your SFA system, three sets of data to use to get your mind around your sales production.


  1. I wish you had put up an image from one of these sales force automation tools. I felt lost while reading this entry.

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