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The sales funnel. The opportunity funnel. By either name, the funnel is a classic metaphor used by sales leaders. It is powerful because it provides a physical image for understanding and visualizing abstract data. It tracks the sales process, step by step. It is insight into the strengths and weaknesses of your team and how they are changing over time. At the end of the day, you are only as successful as your most vulnerable opportunity stage. Let’s dive in with an introduction to understanding your complete sales funnel reports with three actionable metrics. Your team’s success depends on it.

1. What is the current state of my sales funnel?

What is it? The most basic sales funnel report is a snapshot of your total pool of open opportunities, broken down by the stages in your sales process. Manually extracting this data from a CRM like Salesforce.com and analyzing with Excel is a manageable task as long as you keep your CRM up-to-date. Most sales managers have these numbers in mind already, but if you haven’t started tracking it yet, the right time to start is now.

Why is it important? Breaking down your opportunity pool by stage is important for two reasons. First, you now know how many opportunities are sitting in each stage. Pairing this knowledge with an understanding of your average sales cycle, you can prioritize your sales team’s efforts. Use this information to put your efforts into the opportunities which are ripe for closing in terms of their current stage and age. Second, the breakdown of your current pipeline by stage allows you to calculate your forecast based on your probabilities to close.

How can you act on it? Forecasting is a primary responsibility for sales managers. Without an idea of where you will be at the end of the month, it is nearly impossible to set the right expectations inside your organization.  Further, you can use forecasts of individual performance to motivate your team members, especially those who are “coin operated”.  Estimating your pipeline by instinct alone is not enough. Know exactly what to expect from each stage so you can accurately project deals weeks and months out from the end of your measurement period.

2. What are your conversion rates?

What is it? Conversion rates are the percentage of opportunities that progress from one stage to a later stage in the sales funnel. Rather than a snapshot of your current pipeline, conversion rates provide insight on your historical performance. Let’s do an example from the screenshot below. If you started with 323 opportunities in the demo stage and 275 of those progressed to the trial stage, your demo-to-trial  conversion rate is 85%.

Why is it important? Tracking opportunities through the entire process gives you a more complete understanding of where you are strong in the sales process and where you can improve. By focusing on conversion rates for each step of your sales process, you can prioritize you coaching, training and your overall investments for acceleration of your sales.

How can you act on it? Now that you have identified where you are bleeding opportunities from your sales funnel, you can aggressively move to improve that aspect of your sales process. Are you losing opportunities between the consultation and demo stages? How about creating an email campaign to keep customers engaged during that timeframe. Or if opportunities are dropping out during later stages, block off time to coach your team on improving their negotiation skills. Identifying your weak points is the first step to creating an efficient sales machine.

Furthermore, you can use conversion rates to identify market segments where you perform better than others. Conversion rates measure performance independent of the volume of opportunities. That way, you can compare performance in different segments of your sales funnel, without worrying about arguments about the number of opportunities in each segment. Do you perform better in different states? Do you perform better with smaller companies or larger? Which lead sources are the best? Conversion rates give you the best answers to these questions so you can adjust your business’ efforts in the best direction moving forward.

3. How are your conversion rates changing over time?

What is it? Your conversion rates, as defined above, can and will change over time. As such, you should track these conversion rates month-to-month.

Why is it important? Conversion rates help to identify the weaknesses in your team’s execution. Once you’ve identified your weakness, you can’t just rest on the laurels of a great analysis! You need to take action to improve upon this weakness and monitor the changes in that conversion rate.

How can you act on it? You have an action plan. You need to stay agile with your plan to ensure its having the desired impact. Monitor your conversion rates by ensuring your entire team has access and visibility into the conversion rates and how they are changing. Distribute the data over email. Ensure your entire team has easy, intuitive web access to the current data. Display the data on big screens. Give you conversion rate trends a prominent place in your monthly management reports. Keeping the spotlight on your identified weakness is key to strong execution and follow-through.

This is where the reporting provided by CRM systems like Salesforce.com becomes burdensome and difficult to use. These kinds of taking historical snapshots and tracking those snapshots over time requires foresight, planning and a lot of daily work in Excel.

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