Your sales rep has just talked to a potential customer for the first time. He feels great about how the call went, is optimistic that the opportunity will be converted soon and fills in his estimated close date in Salesforce.com. Based on the date he entered, it’s clear that this opportunity will be closed by the time his manager is looking at the Salesforce report for the month.
Fast forward to the next month. Your sales team struggled to convert opportunities this month, resulting in the company failing to reach its quota. That rep who filled in the optimistic close date on the aforementioned opportunity not only did not close that deal – he didn’t even realize that the close date had expired! Expired close dates do not raise alerts on Salesforce.com and overdue opportunities are omited from forward-looking Salesforce reports, which means that the rep did not realize he hadn’t engaged with this opportunity in quite a while. Now, this once-promising opportunity has slipped through the cracks. This is why it is critical that you monitor close dates in Salesforce.com.
The threat of having opportunities fall by the wayside is very real, and very dangerous. Sales teams handling hordes of opportunities and potential clients at once might find it difficult to keep tabs on all of them. When something like this occurs – where the estimated close date has passed without any alerts – sales reps might forget to give these opportunities the engagement and attention they require. Sales managers don’t know to ask because they simply can’t keep track of every opportunity their reps are working on. They can’t help their reps hunt overdue opportunities if they don’t realize these opportunities are overdue in the first place.
Another reason for thoroughly monitoring close dates in Salesforce is to provide more accurate sales forecasts. If your reps are overly optimistic and filled in a bunch of close dates for the end of this month, that might swell your pipeline and make it look healthier than it actually is. The truth is that most of these opportunities might take longer than the end of the month to close, or might not close at all. When sales managers forecast for the month using that pipeline information, they would be deceived into producing a robust sales forecast that is ultimately not true. Inaccurate sales forecasts can drive the wrong business decisions, such as prompting a sales manager to hire more unnecessary employees, purchase a surplus of raw materials or present overly optimistic revenue projections to board members.
The problem is that most sales reps simply push the close dates on all their opportunities to the end of the month, whether that’s an accurate representation of these opportunities or not. When that happens, you end up with a report like the one below, with clumps of opportunities at the end of each month. That inevitably leads to a scramble at the end of the month as the rep attempts to discern which of these opportunities should be prioritized and engaged with.
This also presents a tremendous headache for sales managers in trying to understand and manage each rep’s individual opportunity pipelines. Look at this table below that displays a whole host of opportunities stockpiled for the end of the month. Without diving deeper, each of these opportunities will look the same to the sales manager. Sales managers are there to help reps perform better, and a big part of that is in helping them narrow down which opportunities should be prioritized and engaged with. If all opportunities look the same due to poorly monitored and maintained closed dates, then sales managers can’t offer much help or advice.
To overcome these issues, sales managers must first instill a culture that emphasizes data accuracy and quality among their sales reps. Reps must understand the importance of maintaining accurate close dates to help themselves prioritize opportunities while helping sales managers produce more accurate sales forecasts.
Salesforce.com’s issue with not sending alerts for overdue opportunities cannot be fixed, unfortunately. To prevent opportunities from slipping through the cracks, it would be better to adopt a more conservative approach to close dates from the onset. After the initial call, instruct your reps to set close dates farther out than they normally would, aiming toward the end of the month, quarter or just the average sales cycle. With each subsequent call, additional contact or any other progress through the selling stages, that rep can then move the opportunity’s close date forward as necessary. Being prudent about close dates and adjusting accordingly is a much safer strategy than being overly optimistic about all opportunities and their close dates, only to see them fall short.