Sales is based on close dates. Anyone who’s ever had to face a demanding sales manager or VP knows the three questions they’ll have to answer: “Who’s the customer?”, “What’s the deal size?” and “When’s it going to close?” The timing of a deal is just as important as its value, if not more so: sales reps have monthly and quarterly quotas, sales VPs have company-wide revenue targets, and CEOs expect “hockey stick” growth as soon as possible.
But how do you ensure that your close dates are accurate? How can you really know you’ll close that big deal this quarter, not next? Sales reps are not terribly concerned with data entry in Salesforce reports. Moreover, many sales reps and VPs tend to think of close dates as “guidelines” rather than firm commitments – a problem exacerbated by the eternal difficulty of getting customers to agree to a concrete buying timeframe. As a result, many organizations find themselves struggling to predict how much revenue will close in a specific period – and thus struggling to run their business in a predictable way.
The challenge of getting reps to accurately forecast a close date is compounded by the occasional data error after a deal has closed. A rep may close a deal – celebration ensues! – but then forget to change the close date projection in your CRM to the actual close date. In other words, Sarah may close a deal on June 23, 2013, but the close date in Salesforce still says September 30, 2013. Now your sales and bookings reports are off: you successfully landed a deal a quarter early, but your Salesforce reports don’t reflect it.
All is not lost, however. There’s a great deal you can do to improve close date accuracy. We like to break it down into three themes: 1) building your sales process to emphasize close date accuracy; 2) creating workflow rules in Salesforce to take a measure of data quality control out of your reps’ hands and; 3) leveraging InsightSquared for greater insight into your sales process.
On the sales process front, managers and VPs need to think about how to break the “end of month/end of quarter” closing mentality that pervades much of the sales profession. Too many reps push close dates to the final two weeks of a month or quarter, assuming the “crunch-time pressure” will help them close deals, and too many managers and VPS tolerate that thinking. You can break your reps of the habit by doing two things in particular: first, issuing a blanket rule that no opportunity can have a close date in the final week of a month or quarter without solid justification; and second, always asking your reps to justify every deal’s close date during regularly scheduled pipeline reviews. These two practices, simple as they are, will drive more critical thinking by your reps when they consider close dates.
Salesforce offers several ways to build process rules into your particular instance, ensuring that reps are entering accurate data. Two rules in particular are rather useful. The first is a workflow rule that will automatically update the close date of a deal to the date on which the deal was designated “Closed Won”. This prevents problems of sales reps closing a deal but not updating the date on which it happened. The second rule is a validation rule that will prevent reps from editing and saving any opportunity unless the close date is greater than the current day. This rule ensures that close dates don’t come and go without the rep – or a manager – knowing about it. (You can also closely monitor close dates in InsightSquared: the “Pipeline Today” and “Fix List” reports will quickly pinpoint opps with close dates in the past.)
Lastly, the “Sales Cycle” report in InsightSquared is extremely useful for driving more reliable close dates. This report shows your average sales cycle for a given period, giving your reps a benchmark to use when calculating close dates. If they’re not sure when a deal may close, they can safely substitute your average sales cycle until they have more data. The same report can also show you the velocity at which deals move through your sales process – in other words, how quickly an opportunity goes from one stage to another before closing. Sales reps can use this data to inform their close date projection, while managers can use it during pipeline reviews to question whether a rep has really put thought into a given deal’s timing.
Promoting close date accuracy is a never-ending battle, but the above ideas should give you more firepower. You can control close dates, as well as every other element of your business, with the right practices. Happy selling!