The ultimate guide to sales opportunity management
Opportunity management is the process of tracking sales opportunities as they move through the pipeline. Here’s everything you need to know before you start.
By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer
Last updated March 21, 2022
In the world of sales, nothing’s a done deal unless there’s a signature on the dotted line. Until then, every deal is just an opportunity.
The word opportunity can have a positive or negative connotation, depending on your outlook. On one hand, it can mean something hasn’t happened yet, and there’s no certainty it will. On the other hand, it means there’s still a chance. And in business, sometimes that’s all you need.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the basics elements surrounding opportunity management, including:
What is sales opportunity management?
Opportunity management—sometimes called pipeline management—is the process of organizing and tracking the deals in your sales pipeline. This helps you prioritize the deals that are most likely to close and strengthens your sales approach so you can achieve your sales goals.
Think of opportunity management as planning a party. And not just any party—the most incredible party. To do that, you’d need to make sure every single attendee is 100% satisfied with their experience.
Of course, not everyone you invite will actually come. To plan and execute the best party ever, a system like opportunity management would help you determine which invitees are most likely attending, what their likes and dislikes are, and how you can continue enticing them so they don’t lose interest. Using this information, you could feasibly throw an unforgettable party.
For now, pipeline management is probably best for sales—not party planning. But you get the idea. By gaining a better understanding of who’s most likely to cross the finish line and analyzing the wealth of data you gather from every interaction with them, you can plan to deliver a stellar customer experience that builds loyalty and profits.
Opportunity management and lead management—what’s the difference?
The key difference between opportunity and lead management is the focus. Lead management is all about driving the individual sales prospect—the person or business—toward making a purchase. Opportunity management, on the other hand, revolves around the deal itself, including the dollar amount you stand to gain if the deal closes.
For example, imagine your company sells accounting software for small businesses. One of your leads is a business owner who you’ve been in contact with for several weeks. At first, the owner expressed interest in your most budget-friendly package. The opportunity at this point includes the dollar amount of that package—let’s say $150 a month.
However, over the course of your relationship with the business owner, you’re able to convince them that another package would benefit them more in the long run. As your lead learns about the perks of a slightly more expensive package, the opportunity in your pipeline changes to reflect the increased dollar amount of your potential sale. The opportunity has changed—even if the lead hasn’t.
5 signs you need opportunity management
If you’re not sure whether this process is necessary for your business, here are five clues that strongly indicate a need for an opportunity management system.
- It’s difficult to determine which opportunities to prioritize.
- You don’t know the value of your sales opportunities at any given time.
- You don’t know the ratio of opportunities lost to opportunities won.
- Opportunities move slowly through the funnel, often with large gaps between touchpoints.
- You spend a lot of time figuring out what the next steps are.
Opportunity management resolves all these issues. As a result, businesses using an opportunity management system tend to handle account planning and sales cycles with much greater speed and efficiency.
While opportunity management covers a lot of ground, it’s an easy process to manage—if you have the right tools.
How to manage an opportunity pipeline
First, let’s review an opportunity pipeline: It’s a tool that lets you track your prospective deals through the sales process. By glancing at your opportunity pipeline, you should have a good idea of the number of potential sales and the value of your prospective earnings. This helps you determine what activities you need to plan for your day-to-day and how close you are to hitting your sales goals.
At first, it’s difficult to gauge a lead’s potential value. When a lead first enters your sales funnel, you don’t truly know how much opportunity they hold for you. As they learn more about your brand and your offerings, however, they become qualified as an opportunity—that is, you gain enough information to assess the potential value of that sales deal.
A pipeline enables you to monitor the progress of discovering the qualifying information. It also lets you track the activities you must do to get that information and the estimated worth of each potential deal.
You could manage your pipeline by using a spreadsheet and manually tracking each individual as they move further down your sales funnel. But such a task would require a lot of hours and effort. Plus, data entry—when performed by humans—is typically fraught with errors. That’s why many businesses choose to use a CRM opportunity management software platform.
Digitizing the opportunity pipeline makes it much simpler to track opportunities. It reduces the amount of time, effort, and mistakes that are associated with human data entry. Additionally, many pipeline software programs create visual pipelines so the information is easier to digest—most people find them preferable to staring at a wall of cells filled with text.
6 opportunity management best practices
Every business operates differently. But there are a few universal tips that can be applied to managing your opportunity pipeline successfully.
1. Research your leads
Even though lead management and opportunity management are different, they both start from the same place—the lead. Once someone enters your funnel, you should learn important facts about them, including:
- What’s their budget?
- What’s their position at their company?
- How quickly do they respond?
- Who is the decision-maker at their company?
- What is their purchasing process like?
- Who was their last provider/vendor (if they had one)?
It’s unlikely that you’ll have all this information up front, but it’s vital to collect it. It will show you whether a lead is an opportunity or someone who’s just browsing.
2. Create stages for every discovery
As you learn more about your leads—and they learn more about your business—they move from stage to stage in your pipeline. It’s kind of like a board game. As you move your game pieces closer to the endpoint, they encounter different challenges or tasks.
Each stage should be clearly defined to bring opportunities closer to a sale. For instance, you might have a stage labeled “Identify the decision-makers.” For the sales team, this is an indication of the next step to take before moving onto the other pieces on the gameboard. Once you get the name of the decision-maker for that opportunity, you move them along to the next step, and so on until the deal is closed.
3. Focus your efforts where they’ll matter most
Every opportunity has potential value for your company. It might make sense to focus on the opportunities with the highest value, but the value isn’t only expressed in a dollar amount. There are other contributing factors that can determine which opportunity to hone in on.
Imagine there are three sales opportunities in your pipeline. Here’s a breakdown of some of the factors that can help you decide which one to prioritize:
Based on the information above, which opportunity would you focus on first? Without more details, you’d have to make your decision using gut instinct. The problem with gut instinct is that it isn’t always reliable.
But there’s also a problem with having more information—you have to analyze it. And analyzing tons of data can eat up many valuable hours.
This is where opportunity management tools come in handy. The data-processing power of these systems helps you identify which opportunities to prioritize, so you can spend more time pursuing them.
4. Automate the repetitive steps
Automating portions of your opportunity management process will accelerate your sales cycle. Pipeline software and other platforms typically come with automation tools that cut out the repetitive work from your day-to-day.
Here are some opportunity management examples of using automation to speed up the process:
- Automatically send follow-up emails to leads
- Automate sales prospecting tasks to instantly locate qualifying information
- Automated scheduling apps for sales meetings
- Pipeline features that automatically move opportunities from one stage to the next
There are many ways to integrate automation into your opportunity pipeline. The key is to let the software handle the most time-consuming tasks so you can focus on your leads and their individual needs.
5. Don’t fall off the radar
Today’s consumers have a lot going on. That means the best time to contact them is when you know they’re already thinking about you. Respond quickly to leads, and once an opportunity reaches a new step, don’t wait too long to take action.
Even if you think a lead is sticking around, don’t let yourself drop off the radar—every bout of absence is an opportunity for them to find solutions elsewhere. Establishing a clear sequence of steps and automating tasks will help you stay on top of communications with potential customers, even when there are a million things going on.
6. Track your success
Use your CRM to evaluate the effectiveness of your opportunity management process. Looking at the data can reveal a lot about your customers and your sales cycle. In turn, you’re better positioned to strategize more profitable practices in the future.
The simple act of implementing an opportunity pipeline won’t magically make you close more deals. The trick is to fit it neatly into your process, then track, strategize, and refine your process with each passing quarter. Eventually, patterns will emerge that lend even more insight into how your activities directly correlate with the outcomes.
Keep in mind that the tools you use—like your contact management software program—will play a large part in how you monitor and evaluate your opportunities. An easy user interface is critical to making the process more intuitive and, as a result, increasing the likelihood that it’ll have a productive impact.
Zendesk Sell’s CRM opportunity management tool
Zendesk Sell is a CRM platform that you can use to manage your opportunities, create easy-to-view pipelines, and automate tasks without sacrificing your brand’s personal touch. It offers many features, including but not limited to:
- Email notifications that alert you when a prospect has read or clicked on your email
- Activity reporting that provides at-a-view performance metrics
- Omnichannel communications so you can reach leads on their preferred channels and gather all interactions in one place
- Call recording and logging for accurate records of every phone conversation
- Call analytics that help you track key call metrics, such as length and outcome
- Mobile CRM for when you’re on the road and need fast access to customer data
- Forecasting tools that enable you to predict sales and plan for growth with greater accuracy
- Task and project management for tracking your activity, sharing tasks with others, and monitoring progress toward your goals
- A contact database for easily storing and accessing the most up-to-date customer details
- Pre-made templates that cut down on preparation time so you can get down to business faster
The beauty of using a CRM to manage your prospective sales deals is that it stores and analyzes all your data from a single point of entry. This makes it possible to align your sales, marketing, and customer service efforts in one place. That way, everyone can work with the same data—without having to juggle dozens of browsers, apps, and platforms.
Opportunity management examples
Imagine you decide to sign up for Zendesk Sell’s free trial and explore its opportunity management features. To paint a clear picture of this scenario, we’ll provide a few examples of exactly how you could begin managing your opportunity pipeline.
Example 1: Viewing your pipeline
Zendesk Sell has a sales pipeline feature that already includes several built-in stages: Incoming, Qualified, Quote, Closure, Won, Unqualified, and Lost. The software allows you to customize and rename your stages, so you can mold them to fit your distinct process. If you have a complicated negotiation process, for instance, you can add a stage called “Contract Negotiation” after the Quote stage, and so on.
As you populate your pipeline with deals, you’ll be able to instantly see where your deals are, how much they’re currently worth, and the next step in your process.
Example #2: Generating reports
Let’s say you’re trying to eliminate bottlenecks in your process. To start, you’d need to determine how many deals are in each stage of your pipeline so you can pinpoint where the bottlenecks are happening.
Using the Stage Distribution report feature, you can produce a graph that illustrates the exact number of deals in every pipeline stage. This makes it easier to identify the bottlenecks so you can focus on coming up with a plan for eliminating them.
Example #3: Automating tasks
The automated task actions feature is a tool that helps you streamline your workflow. You can set up specific actions to happen automatically based on certain triggers.
For instance, you can automatically assign a deal to the appropriate salesperson the moment it’s created. As soon as a lead enters the pipeline (trigger), the sales rep receives a notification (action) that alerts them of the new deal. This cuts down on the dead space between actions, allowing reps to get their foot in the door sooner than their competitors.
Opportunity management process flow
Just like every process in business, there’s a flow to opportunity management. And when it comes to flow, the key factors are reliability and repeatability.
A reliable opportunity management process flow is one that’s backed by data. Gut instinct is all well and good when it comes to personal interactions. But when it comes to creating a streamlined process, you need the hard numbers to justify your decisions. Reporting and analytics will do wonders for providing visibility into what works and what doesn’t, which allows you to eliminate the actions that are hindering progress.
A repeatable opportunity management process flow is only possible if you’re tracking and recording your current actions. This is where using a sales CRM is especially helpful. Having all your data, records, and communications on one platform lets you see exactly what you did before—and how you did it. As a result, you can build a clearly defined step-by-step process that you can repeat over and over again and refine when the data reveals an opportunity.
A sales performance management process enables you to analyze and actualize your business’s progress and move you toward success.
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