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Salesforce.com has revolutionized the way sales teams track and analyze their performance. Since its arrival on the scene, it’s given sales teams drastically improved visibility into and control over their sales processes, and, when used correctly, it can have a massive impact on sales behavior and activity.

But there’s one thing that Salesforce can’t provide, and it might just be the single most important thing for sales managers who want to optimize their sales process: historical sales pipeline analysis.

(For even more detailed information on pipeline management, check out our FREE eBook: The Definitive Guide to Pipeline Management.)

 

The backbone of your sales process

Your sales pipeline is one of the most foundational elements of your sales process. It shows you what your reps are working on, how well you’re set up to hit your goals, and whether your company’s marketing and prospecting efforts are reliably converting into opportunities.

Unfortunately, Salesforce can only provide a static snapshot of your open pipeline, going back 90 days at most. While this is a good start, it doesn’t give sales leaders the context they need to make the right decisions to hit their goals. Bookings is inherently a lagging indicator, and if you can’t look back at your pipeline over at least several quarters, it is impossible to unearth the important trends and changes that help you make the right strategic decisions to improve your sales process and hit your number.

For that, you need the ability to analyze your pipeline over time ‒ how its volume has changed, how it has converted into deals in the past, what stages tend to make up the bulk of it. In other words, you need historical pipeline analysis.

And this fact is not lost on sales and sales ops leaders.

A much-demanded report

The fact that Salesforce can’t offer historical pipeline analysis is a well known fact among an important segment of its user base. In fact, it is one of the most requested and sought-after sales metrics year after year. Sales VPs and Sales Ops professionals know how important pipeline history is to their sales strategy, so they are unsurprisingly frustrated when they realize they can’t get it.

Because of this, many of them take to Quora or other social platforms for advice from others in their industry. Or they simply bemoan Salesforce’s analytics shortcomings as a way to vent. Whatever path they take, the outcome is the same: They want the ability to analyze their sales pipeline over time, but Salesforce leaves them disappointed.

Discover Jason Jordan's Secrets to Pipeline Management »

Why is pipeline history so important?

All of this just raises an obvious question: Why is analyzing your pipeline over time so important? What information does it give you that you can’t get from a snapshot of your open pipeline?

The short answer is a lot. Just as you can’t plan a full season of baseball strategy from a single game, you can’t hope to understand your sales process and forecast from an isolated, static view of your current pipeline.

Here are 3 reasons you need to analyze your historical pipeline if you want to create the most effective sales strategy:

1. So you can tell if your pipeline is real. It’s a well known fact that many sales pipelines are filled with hope and mistakes. Reps get happy ears and include opportunities that they really have no chance of winning. Or else they forget to remove an opportunity from their pipeline that is closed-lost in anything but name. This makes it incredibly difficult for sales leaders to accurately forecast how many deals their team will actually close. That’s where historical pipeline analysis comes in ‒ it allows sales leaders to look back to previous months and quarters and see what percentage of their pipeline actually turned into deals.

2. So you can make sure your pipeline is growing fast enough. A single snapshot of your pipeline doesn’t give you much information about how your sales team is performing. If you want to see if your team is actually set up to hit its goals, you need to make sure that your pipeline is growing ‒ and growing in the right ways. If the end of a quarter is approaching, it’s not enough to simply know that your pipeline has enough value in it to cover your bookings goals ‒ you must be sure that you are consistently adding enough late-stage opportunities that have a good chance of converting in time to help you hit your quarterly goals.

3. So you can tell if you’re replacing closed opportunities fast enough. A static snapshot of your pipeline gives you a fair amount of information about where you stand against your goals, but it can’t give you the whole picture. One place it come up especially short is when you try to determine if you are not just adding new opportunities to your pipeline, but adding enough to replace opportunities that have flowed out as either won or lost deals. Most sales leaders pay close attention to the new opportunities that enter their pipeline, but without comparing this number to the opportunities that have exited, you can’t have a clear picture of where you stand.

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Why is pipeline history missing from Salesforce?

If pipeline history analysis is so important, and if Salesforce has proven itself to be one of the most effective and essential pieces of business software out there, why does this glaring gap exist? The short answer is that pipeline history is an extremely difficult and expensive report to produce. Salesforce has so many customers, with so much data, that reaching back months, quarters and even years to provide historical pipeline analysis is a difficult feat to pull off.

As a result, Salesforce has made the understandable decision to only provide a slice of pipeline history to its customer base. For many businesses ‒ especially those with in-house reporting and analytics functions ‒ this reporting gap isn’t the end of the world. But for smaller companies, the lack of historical pipeline analysis is not only limiting their ability to grow and make the right sales strategy decisions ‒ it’s actually endangering them. Hence the thousands of searches each month for questions like “How can I view my pipeline history in Salesforce?”

Because Salesforce does so much else for its customers ‒ and because they have such a strong foothold in the market ‒ it is not a crippling weakness that they don’t provide comprehensive pipeline history. But as more and more sales teams become increasingly data-driven, this fact might change.

How do I analyze my pipeline history?

All of this, of course, puts data-driven, analytical sales teams in an interesting dilemma. Is there a way for them to work around Salesforce’s limitations to get access to their historical pipeline data. Many sales teams have admirably done their best to keep track of their own data, and use inelegant but serviceable solutions like Excel to sidestep Salesforce’s shortcomings. But this option has a lot of pain associated with it, and is ultimately too limited to provide true insights and consistent answers.

But InsightSquared is proud to step in and offer a powerful, easy-to-use, completely free solution to this frustrating problem. With InsightSquared’s new FREE Pipeline Historical Analysis app, sales and sales ops leaders can see exactly how their pipeline has changed over time, and what these changes mean for their ability to hit their bookings goals. InsightSquared’s mission has always been to level the analytics playing field ‒ so naturally we’re thrilled to be able to share 4 completely free tools on the Salesforce AppExchange.

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Mike Baker
Mike Baker is the Content Strategy Manager at InsightSquared, where he helps distribute original eBooks, articles and guides about data-driven sales and marketing. He has a BA in English and Journalism from Oberlin College.
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