Answer Center

Need an answer?  Send your questions to us here!     Get Free Newsletter
 

keyboard

 

Look here for more than 250 articles on CRM best practices!

 

Q:  We're evaluating are a bunch of outsourced lead generation services, with models ranging from Google's Pay Per Click to By Appointment Only's Pay Per Appointment.  How do you manage these in SFDC?

A:  Several lead generation services have sprung up with a variety of models and price points.  The big thing about using any of these services is carefully negotiating your service level, lead quality, and qualification criteria before you sign the contract.  Set up criteria by which you can reject leads without penalty (they'll want a cap on this, but make the initial cap quite high, so you don't pay excessively for learning curve).  Lead price point or  volume per se are meaningless without these issues being nailed down!  In fact, before you even call the services for quotes, think through the following:

  • What is your target market?  What 5-10 list selection criteria can you set?
  • What are your sales folks' lead qualification criteria?  They have to be black-and-white, with 5-10 "yes/no" items.
  • Do your reps actually need to qualify the leads themselves?  Would they trust anyone else to do this?  If not, you probably can't afford the "pay per appointment" model
  • How many leads can your team actually handle?  If each rep really got 5 new leads per week that were all worthy of follow up and sales calls, could they keep up (or would they start to ignore many leads)?
  • What's your threshold of spending before you start a sales cycle?  "Cost per lead" isn't meaningful -- it's "cost per first meeting."  Create a model with a budget showing the cost of leads at various stages of development.

Generally speaking, the leads that are produced by these services should not go directly to sales.  Almost inevitably, you have to put in work in a telesales/ telemarketing function to nurture and grow the leads.  The good news is that you can rent that kind of service -- you don't have to hire personnel.  But no matter what you do:

  • Find out if their service or product has an SFDC plug-in.
  • Manage them tightly.  Set up specific reports, views, and alerts in SFDC for the Lead Gen service metrics.
  • Have them using SFDC on every call so you can measure them (they may resist this, but hang tough). It's best if they actually work the leads in your system, not just drop them in at the end...that way, you know the nature of the contact/conversations they have had along the way.  This helps you score the quality of the lead. 
  • If they have their own SFDC instance and don't want to log into yours all day, use the free "salesforce to salesforce" feature to bridge them so you can see what they're doing without interfering with their normal way of doing business.
     

Q:  Too often, the results that marketing produces just aren't that tangible.  How should we use our SFA system to measure marketing effectiveness?

A:  Marketing efforts are focused on programs designed to create brand awareness, build marketplace awareness, and most importantly, to prime the pump for your sales teams.  Demand generation is tricky to measure precisely, but we can still go a long way if we think about it.

First, you need a model and some rules.  Does Marketing get credit only for “new” business brought in to the organization?  What about programs that reach out to existing accounts but create new demand from different people?  What about programs that increase "re-up" rates for services and bump up recurring revenue streams?  Every one of these touch points contributes to profitability, so they all need to be tracked and measured.  This translates into  carefully designed "filters" for your demand-generation reports.

Everyone talks about the “Sales Funnel," but the funnel is a lot longer -- starting a lot earlier -- than when Sales becomes involved.  That's where Marketing needs to get credit, because the “Lead to Opportunity Funnel” can last a year or more before Sales even sees anything from it.  Marketing owes Sales real Opportunities, and Sales in turn owes marketing specific feedback about the Opportunities that were bogus.

The “Lead to Opportunity Funnel” consists of:

  • The Lead Funnel is everything from the first time we initiate contact (inbound or outbound) with a prospective buyer.  Track each prospect through the lead and contact stages so you'll be able to see if you have enough marketing activity to keep prospects moving through the process. 
  • The Qualification Funnel is the process best handled by your Telesales/ Telemarketing/Inside Sales team.  This part of the process is almost never done by Marketing, but it provides key metrics about lead quality.  You'll want to track statistics on time-to-first-touch, unresponsive leads, and qualification percentages.  For every Lead or Contact rejected by the qualification team, you'll need to get a rejection reason so Marketing can more finely tune their efforts.  Leads or contacts that have been unresponsive for 45 days or so should be demoted to the newsletter (or "remarket") list, and taken out of the qualification team's queue.
  • The Opportunity Funnel is where you already have lots of metrics and process in place.  But there's a key area for process improvement:  the outside sales reps should be handling only Opportunities and converted Contacts.  It is not a good use of their time to be chasing and evaluating leads (that might keep them busy, but it's lowering both your conversion rate and profitability).
     

Q:  There's a really useful field called "Last Activity" visible in reports for Leads, Contacts, and Accounts.  But I'm going blind trying to find it in the page layouts.  Where is it?

A In its never ending quest to drive system administrators ape, the Salesforce.com engineers created some really clever fields that see "beyond the object."  For example, "Last Activity" is a helpful thing to know for a Lead, Contact, Account, or Opportunity.  But if you think carefully, you see that Last Activity is an attribute of the Activity related to the Lead, Contact, Account, or Opportunity.  But it's not a field that is part of the underlying object:  it's a roll-up field showing the most recent date of child (related) objects.  Why does SFDC calculate this field, make it available for reports, and then not allow it to be posted on the page where it could be useful?

You have to ask people smarter than us.

But here's where redundancy (or in database-language, de-normalization) can be your best friend.  You set up a custom field that's a formula.  For fun, you can even call your new custom field "Last Activity," and have the formula (with the return type be "Date") be "Last Activity = LastActivityDate".  This new custom field can be used in reports just like the original one, but it can also be used in page, related list, and search layouts.

Pretty cool, huh?  Takes about 90 seconds to fix.
 

Q:  We're really careful about honoring opt-outs, but once a Lead converts to be a Contact, I don't see an "email opt-out" checkbox.  What's up with that?

A The CAN SPAM act, as well as common sense, dictate that you minimize unsolicited or even obnoxious email.  The moment you get an unsubscribe request, you need to honor it in all your systems.

SFDC has an Email Opt Out flag that prevents bulk mails from being issued from the system.  Almost everyone uses external mailing systems or services for email blasts, and they have their own opt-out mechanisms.  However, many email blasters do not automatically update SFDC's Opt-Out flag:  you have to do that yourself using spreadsheets and the Excel connector or Data Loader.  For Leads, fine.

But convert a Lead and look for the checkbox on Contacts:  it ain't there.  You can't run a report on it.  SFDC has the checkbox off the default page layout for Contacts, probably using the logic that Contacts wouldn't be Contacts unless they wanted to hear from us.  Well, that's just not a good assumption any more (particularly if you use the Named Account Model of selling).  How to fix it?  Go into the page layout editor, drag the Opt Out checkbox and put it right below the Email field on the Contact page.  Now you an see, update, and report on the flag as you'd expect to.  For Contacts, fine.

But what about the field sending mails on their own?  How do prevent sure that some knucklehead from running a report of all email addresses in his territory, not knowing to filter for email opt-out, and importing that list into his Outlook.  In minutes, you can have hundreds of spam complaints on your hands.

The answer is to use an email address corruptor that makes the opted-out address automatically bounce.  The address information is not lost, it's just put into a bad form.  What we do is add ".nospam" at the end of the address (as in "dtaber@saleslogistix.com.nospam") using a hidden field and a couple of workflow rules.  So, for Enterprise Edition, fine.

What to do for Professional Edition?  Well, it's back to spreadsheets and the Excel connector for you.
 

Q:  We're just about to pull the trigger on an SFDC purchase, and some consultant came in saying that it's not a CRM system, it's only an SFA.  Now the VPs are all confused and asking us to justify what we're doing.  What's the difference, and who cares?

ASFA vs. CRM is really a continuum of functionality and business practices. And I argue that SFDC can be used as either an SFA or a CRM system, depending on how you invest and what behaviors your team takes on.

SFA systems typically start out as software for direct sales or telesales people, providing simple contact and account management.  If all you need is to track calls and manage lead maturation, you might get away with using Outlook, Excel, ACT, or Goldmine. But those simple tools run out of gas as the sales organization tries to manage opportunities and the pipeline. The customers may use SalesLogix or other PC-based tool for this level of SFA functionality, or they may use SFDC.  All these “SFA only” systems are driven by the sales team, and are basically stand-alone. Consequently, they can’t really do much to deeply improve sales efficiency.

To make a difference in efficiency as well as performance, as the business starts to integrate their SFA system into the rest of the enterprise.   The first area for system expansion is the marketing function, as this is the source of the leads, programs, and collateral that feed the sales cycle. The next natural area for expansion is quoting or order entry, as the objective of any sales team is to close deals faster. As this functionality is usually handled by other systems, the natural expansion strategy is to integrate the quoting or ordering screens into the SFA system.

After a customer has done this, they are moving their SFA incrementally towards a CRM system: the focal point for acquiring, retaining, and growing customer relationships. CRM systems have loftier goals than just sales productivity:  the system helps to convert content (expertise) into conversations, moving the customer toward shared experiences (and values), proceeding to relationships, and finally creating a long term revenue stream as a trusted advisor.  A full CRM system ends up touching the customer from several angles - sales, marketing, support, consulting (if applicable), channels, web, and to a small extent accounting (invoicing and accounts receivables) - so it is inevitably integrated with several existing systems.

Here are three questions that help identify where you are on the continuum:

  • Do you want to monitor sales rep behavior (SFA) or customer behavior (CRM)?
  • Are you trying to manage the transaction (SFA) or grow lifetime value (CRM)?
  • Are you worried about quarterly revenue (SFA) or annual profitability (CRM)?
     

Q:  When working with Excel for SFDC imports and exports, sometimes numbers get corrupted.  Leading zeroes are gone, phone numbers show up as scientific notation, and data fields somehow end up in the wrong columns.  Is this an Excel bug?

AWell I'm sure somebody in Redmond would call these things features.  As irritating as they are, they're part of Excel hell.  Most of the things you brought up typically occur with CSV files, the lingua franca of file exchange.  Even though the CSV files may contain quotation marks around all field entries, Excel "treats things that look like numbers as numbers" during the import process, and graciously auto-mangles integers.  Isn't that nice?

This becomes quite the issue when you're using the SFDC Data Loader or any other tool that likes to save data in CSV files.  The first solution, if it's available for the tool you're using, is to save the data as an Excel worksheet.  Excel's internal format is strongly typed, and you'll avoid this problem (except for some Mac / PC interchanges, particularly if you're dealing with different vintages of Excel).

The second solution is to rename the CSV file as a .txt file (on a PC), as this forces Excel to use its import wizard.  Within a few short clicks, you'll be presented with the choice of data types you want for each column in the spreadsheet.  Look at each column carefully, and select "text" as the data type.  Isn't it ironic that the only way to preserve the integrity of numbers is to call them text?  The guys in Redmond definitely have a dark sense of humor.

But wait, there's more.  You'll find times where a single field's input has been strewn across several columns in the excel spreadsheet.  This happens because of foreign character sets or illegal character sequences that cause the importer to think there's a delimiter, when in fact there isn't.  This is a little harder to solve if you really want to be elegant, but can be brute-force resolved by simply removing the weird character sequences directly from the CSV file. 

But be careful with this if you're using tools from the Redmond Rambos.   Word or WordPad will do all kinds of crazy things to auto-mangle your CSV file, so use a very plain text editor that doesn't try to fix format for you.  Be careful to use a text editor that knows what to do with multi-byte characters, but doesn't change anything by itself.
 

Q: We've got lots of leads, but they're very low quality and have a bunch of dupes.  For some reason, they don't respond even though they took the time to register on our web site.  What gives?

AHere's the irony of most sales and marketing departments:  they respond to leads too slowly, yet stop responding too soon.  Time is at the root of both lead quality and lead quantity. 

The defining characteristic of Leads is a very short life:  lead response rates drop dramatically within minutes of web registration.  Within two days, few leads will remember even visiting your web site, let alone your marketing message.  On web sites and in other campaigns, it's almost impossible to be too quick in responding to a lead.  The only situation where it pays to delay lead response is tradeshows:  you want to wait until they're back in the office so that your lead responses don't get buried in the pile of email and vmail that grew while your prospect was on the road.

Make sure that leads get into SFDC very fast, and set up metrics, escalations, and incentives to optimize “first touch” response times calibrated in hours.  Get Leads in the system using a deduping tool, and use Campaigns instead of Lead Sources so you can see their activity history.  Use automatic lead scoring so the telesales team knows which ones to call first.

Once a Lead has declared interest, Marketing needs to initiate a specific "drip marketing" (aka vertical) campaign via email.  Drip marketing is not an email blast, but a series of autoresponse mails driven by the user's  behavior.  Think of it as an automated conversation, à la "Cluetrain Manifesto."  The lead first comes into SFDC system with a context (a web page, a product offer, a tradeshow, a webinar, etc.), and they get a series of emails tailored to that area of interest.  The mails typically become less frequent over time, and last for a month or more.  If the user responds to one of the emails, or takes an action on your website, the email thread is adjusted to account for the areas of interest.  In this way, you're cultivating the leads so they become increasingly engaged.  If you are using a system like Eloqua, Marketo, or Predictive Response, the lead's score will be bumped up (or fall down) to reflect their level of engagement.  This score will be used to focus telesales on the most promising leads.

Telesales (or inside sales, or telemarketing...whichever you call them) needs to do the human side of lead nurturing.  They shouldn't be trying to sell:  the goal is to get the prospect increasingly aware of and interested in the benefits of your product.  Every time they inside sales sends something to or contacts a Lead, they need to change the lead status and add campaigns to reflect what's going on with the lead.

Although leads are quite perishable, paradoxically they don’t have a real “expiration date.”  Sure, they shouldn't be given a lot of attention if they've not responded for 30 days or more.  But you never know when they're going to come back to life with a new project, a funded budget, or a job change that makes a sale immanent.  Industry statistics indicate that over 40% of leads that have been declared "dead" by sales will make a purchase from someone in the next 6 quarters.  The question is, will you be on the list of vendors they consider?

So when Leads don't respond for a while, take them off inside sales' call-down list while keeping them in the blast list for newsletters and periodic invitations to informational events.  Don't take them off that list until they unsubscribe or all their contact information is invalidated by "bounces."
 

Q: What's a great book for answering the tough SFDC questions?

AIt would be dereliction of duty if I didn't mention the ultimate answers book.  It's Salesforce.com Secrets of Success, by yours truly.  Available now at a nifty discount from Safari, coming in hard-copy from Prentice-Hall.

In a best-practices book on Sales Force Automation from a major publisher, things are supposed to be serious.  But that doesn't mean it has to be dry.  I've been sneaking in as much fun as I can into the nooks and crannies where editors don't look carefully.  At some point, they may catch me and chop out some of the fun ... but in the electronic draft version that's available now -- so far, so good.  For example, in the footnotes I've been able to squeeze in some goodies.  I'll let you imagine what's going on in the main text that has footnotes like these:

  • The SFDC sales reps hate me when I say this.
  • The SFDC sales reps love it when I say this.
  • Awards for meaningless adoption metrics are about as lame as the ones for “tidiest office cube” or “most recycled coffee cups.”
  • You should be so lucky if this is what the sales reps are actually doing.  The browser history of sales folks – particularly those who work from home – represents a freak-show that you really don’t want to know about.
  • “Buy now or we break-a you face” does not count as subtle.  Except in the NY/NJ area.
  • Not even if somebody dies?  NOT EVER.
  • To my international readers, I apologize for this slight against the citizens of Bologna, Italy.  But you have to admit that Bugati, Maserati and Lamborghini – the city’s most famous marques – have been about as reliable at forecasting as they have at manufacturing.
  • Although I try to be gender-neutral in this book, knuckleheads are always male.  Ditz is the female form, but I haven’t found a situation to use that in this chapter.
  • Sounds dirty, doesn’t it?  Wipe that from your mind.
  • The BPM purists are sure to object to this line of discussion, but let’s face it – they’re boring.  The author believes that their books are much duller than this one.
  • Visits by SEC investigators are not happy occasions.
  • In the immortal words of Brian Biles, "This new product has a number of advanced features -- zero is, after all, a number."
  • Generally speaking, the difference between marketing and sales people is their relative strength of IQ vs. EQ.  Marketers love to think (about selling) for a living.  Sales people love to actually sell something for a living.
  • This is cleaning up the Cuyahoga river so that Lake Erie can be brought back to life.
  • Some people might say they’re lazy, but we’d never put that in print.

You can get the "rough cut" version of the book right now at this Safari link.  If you sign up to the rough cut program, you get access to the content months before anyone else, and you get a nice discount off the printed book when it ships next spring.  Here are the chapter titles (the first five are available now, the next five in a few weeks, and the last bits in December):

  1. Planning Ahead -- making the buying decision and getting resources allocated
  2. Reports and Data -- designing the user interface and the data model
  3. Preparing your Data -- data cleansing, conversion, and migration
  4. Implementation Strategy -- using Agile to deliver business value fast
  5. People and Organizational Readiness -- the SFA Maturity Model™
  6. Working the Politics -- you have to handle the political issues to succeed
  7. Products you will Need -- what AppExchange products will you need?
  8. Improving Business Processes -- SFDC can streamline key workflows
  9. Best Practices in Sales -- from the sales rep to the VP, what's the best way?
  10. Best Practices in the Executive Suite -- key behaviors for corporate success
  11. Best Practices in Marketing -- for field marketing, product managers, the VP
  12. Best Practices in Customer Support -- optimizing the post-sale processes
  13. Best Practices in Legal and Finance -- contracts, controls, and compliance
  14. Best Practices in IT -- what the IT department needs to do for SaaS
     

Q:  We've got a solid plan to upgrade our SFA system.  How can we overcome user resistance? 

A:  The single biggest cause of SFA failure is lack of user adoption.  The biggest single mistake companies make in SFA implementations is focusing on functionality rather than credibility. Who cares what the tool can do, if nobody believes in the data?

In many cases, the root of resistance is hard to find because people don’t want to communicate about the issue.  They’ll invent a never-ending series of problems to slow things down, looking for ways to undermine progress.  The first step is to figure out why they don’t want to talk about the real issue – discovering that will lead you in the direction of progress.

Watch out when you sense that individuals are worrying about:

  • Losing their job to automation (particularly sales administrators)
  • Their job changing too much
  • Not being able to make as much money (particularly people who have been choke-points for information)
  • Losing power or stature
  • Being over-measured or micro-managed
  • Being exposed as incompetent, useless, unprofitable, or boring

Below are some of the toughest sources of resistance:  you may not be able to do anything about them directly, but at least you can talk with the person’s manager so they can work on the individuals or groups involved. 

Many of the objections will be smoke-bombs that are set off to misdirect attention.  If arguments are being raised that are totally false, you can deal with those head on.  But as soon as you get rid of one objection, another will be raised because the emotional energy – the real reasons for the objection – hasn’t been dealt with.  Try to figure out what the real issue is, and get to that as soon as you can.  The underlying issues are typically:

  • Fear:  of change, of being monitored closely, of making errors
  • SFDC represents extra work for the users, with no real payoff
  • SFDC will make it harder to get the real job done
  • SFDC represents a step backwards in functionality or integration (particularly when it is replacing a system that was highly customized to the needs of a few pet organizations)
  • SFDC represents a significant new learning curve

Most of these issues will be temporary, so you can counteract them with discussions about future enhancements and temporary work-arounds.  Sometimes, just talking through the issue dissipates a lot its power.  If you hear an issue that’s just plain wrong, you need to get the correct information out there quickly.  Putting “the right answer” up on the Wiki is not enough.  Outreach strategies – at least an email plus an internal podcast – are essential to overcoming the subterranean grumblers.

When the issue isn’t completely erroneous, you need to show the good things that will be coming to users of the SFDC system.  The passive resisters will be much more likely to listen to internal mavens and techno-geeks than to official channels, so make sure there’s a constant stream of emails and hallway conversations from these informal, credible sources.
 

Q:  When migrating data from an existing system into SFDC, it seems like everything in the system seems to refer to everything else.  What's the correct order of migration? 

A:  When migrating data into SFDC, it’s important to understand the big picture of the system's data model. Things get even more fun when there are more than one source system, due to mergers or reorganizations.  Because of interrelationships among data items, the sequence for importing -- or for deduping data in place -- should almost always be:

  1. Before you start, do a complete system backup of any system's data you are touching.  As you go through the steps below, keep checkpoint files every few minutes (with different version numbers each time) so you can retrace your steps in case of an error.
  2. Leads, which may have many data elements to clean and enrich, but which are not connected to many other things in the system.  Typically, the system will have more Leads than any other record type, so the deduping needs here are most severe.  To really solve that problem requires creating a coherent set of campaigns to replace "lead source" prior to the deduping cycle.  This may take a while!
  3. Accounts, which have few data elements but typically have the most pointers to other records. As Accounts are at the top of the SFDC information pyramid, there will be few of them, but each will have the most pointers to other records.  It's essential create a hierarchy of Accounts (e.g., headquarters, division 1, division 2...) where relevant before deduping them.
  4. Contacts, which typically have the most data elements for cleansing and enrichment, as well as a couple of pointers to other records (e.g., Accounts and Opportunities). Typically, Contacts will be the #2 population of data records in the system and they need to be deduped against each other as well as against Leads.
  5. Opportunities have only a few data elements, but have the most interesting time sequences for update history. You’ll need to process both current (open) opportunities as well as historical (closed) ones.  Do not delete "closed lost" Opportunities!
  6. Price lists, in contrast, are highly static. But you’ll have to make sure that all the product’s attributes (such as pricing models and terms) are represented in the SFDC table. The stock table almost always needs to be expanded to accommodate products and multiple price lists.
  7. Contracts and Customer Assets represent the history of customer purchases; usually, the assets are just the summary inventory of purchases, with little or no detail about the purchase history. These asset summaries typically have to be generated from roll-up tables stored in excel. While there is rarely a big data cleansing task here, but processing of the customer purchase roll-ups needs to avoid double-counting of inventory.
  8. Cases typically contain relatively few data items, but they typically have pointers to other data records and there may be a lot of cases to process.
  9. Activities, Notes, and Attachments typically have few data elements, but several types of corruption are possible in the fields. Clean the fields, but don’t be so aggressive as to remove text formatting (tabs and carriage returns) embedded in them.
  10. Contact Roles (for Accounts, Opportunities, and Cases) contain almost no data, as they are just pointers to other data in the system.  But they still need to be populated, and this can involve some tricky maneuvers.
     

Q:  How long does it really take to convert data from other systems and import it into an SFDC system?  

A:  Here are our ball-park estimates -- ranges that depend on what kind of shape your data is in. 

Please reply with arguments about these numbers, or give us better ones.   The results of the "community argument" will be available soon on our blog.

  • Leads info import, including data cleansing, deduping, reorganizing, and enrichment:  1000-10000 records per person-day.
  • Contacts info import, including data cleansing, deduping, reorganizing, and enrichment:  500-5000 records per person-day.
  • Lead/Contact activity and campaign history, including data cleansing, deduping, reorganization, and enrichment:   500-5000 records per person-day.
  • Opportunity history import, including data cleansing, deduping, reorganizing, and enrichment:  50-500 records per person-day.
  • Price list, product structures (SKUs), and quoting rules:  50-500 line-items per person-day, depending on the complexity of your products, pricing models, and business rules.  Due to the nature of price lists, integrating the full price list may require several weeks of additional analysis and restructuring.
  • Contract history import, including data cleansing, deduping, reorganizing, and enrichment:  50-500 records per person-day.  Many companies actually have to key-in data from paper contracts, which obviously means much lower productivity rates.
  • Customer asset inventory import (such as serial numbers, license keys, and other purchase history info):  500-5000 records per person-day.
  • Support “ticket,” “case,” or “customer incident” data import, including data cleansing, deduping, reorganizing, and enrichment:  50-500 records per person-day.

Q:  The number of junk leads we receive is annoying our users.  How can we get that stuff out of the way so people will believe in SFDC more?

A:  Lead quality can vary highly, depending on the source.  Web leads tend to be particularly full of asdf@asdf.com email addresses and companies named "aaaa."  SFDC has no features to really help with this, but there are several partner products in the App Exchange that do lead scoring, filtering, and automated qualification.

But now there's also a new free plug-in for SFDC that does lightweight lead filtering for the Enterprise and Unlimited editions.  Lead JunQueis an APEX plug-in we wrote to filter bad leads, based on email domains, company names, job titles, and full lead profiles that you define.  Your end users can even nominate their own favorite leads for the JunQue pile.

The plug-in doesn't actually delete Leads (which would be a Very Bad Thing), but instead changes Lead ownership to the JunQue queue.  This makes those leads invisible to most users, but keeps them around for your marketing people to analyze and process as they see fit.  If you want to find out more, check out the product overview.  It's a freebie, so go get it!

JunQue will help a lot to improve lead quality, but you can do even more: 

  1. Make sure your website registration forms are designed for the best data quality.  The form should ask for the right amount of information (depending on your particular audience, anything beyond 3-5 data entry items will frustrate visitors and make them more likely to enter trash data).  Use pull-downs (pick-lists) rather than free-text fields for as many items as you can.  Use JavaScript to validate phone number formats.
  2. Use a confirmation cycle for email addresses, so that users must respond to an email before they can get the download (or whatever) item they are requesting.  This guarantees not only that the email is in a valid format, but is an active account.
  3. Use RingLead, CRMFusion, or other tools that does duplicate checking, and use the "fuzzy match" options to trap typos and careless user entries (e.g., "Joe" is the same as "Joseph.")  Make sure to use their tools on all your landing pages and on Lead imports from tradeshows, WebExes, and other outside sources to keep the lead quality up.

The whole point is to make SFDC users believe that the Leads (and other information) coming to them through the system is relevant and a good use of their time.  Anything that undercuts the credibility of system data must be expunged as thoroughly and rapidly as possible.


Q:  We've been using Lead Source to track the productivity of our marketing and lead-nurturing efforts.  But we touch our leads several times, and it gets really hard to figure out what's working.  What should we do?

A:  Lead Source is the most intuitive part of Salesforce.com.  Ironically, it's the first part of the system you need to stop using.  A specific Lead can only have one Lead Source, so keeping track of historical activity is a real pain.  And associating closed deals with marketing events is nearly impossible.  Lead Source is standard fare on Professional edition, but it's "training wheels" for the real system.  Lead Source is deliberately hidden in Enterprise and Unlimited editions -- this is SFDC's subtle way of saying "move on."

Campaigns are the only way to understand your prospect's behavior and properly assign "wins" to marketing activities.  All your "lead sources" need to be converted to campaigns -- even sources that continue indefinitely like web site registrations or cold calls.  When a Lead is Converted, the most recent Campaign is automatically assigned as the Campaign Source for the Opportunity.  Used in conjunction with ContactRoles, Campaign Source allows sophisticated analysis of prospect behavior and conversion criteria.

Here are the basic steps you'll need to take on the way to Campaigns:

  1. Run a report of all existing Lead Sources.  Then, draw a picture of all the lead flows you expect this year, including web and other online campaigns.  Summarize all these past and future lead sources in an excel worksheet.
  2. Create a naming convention for your Campaigns.  You need the names to be intuitive, descriptive of important characteristics, yet fairly short (40 characters or so).  Well-structured names look like this:  Email Base-GUI Tool upgrade-US-24Mar08.  Map each of the rows in your Lead Source spreadsheet to a new Campaign name.
  3. Embed the appropriate campaign name in each of your registration or download pages, as well as in the codes used by your email blasting system.  Make sure they are being properly fed into SFDC when the prospect responds.
  4. Use RingLead, PeopleTools, or your own code to make sure that new Leads are not being created when there is a Lead or Contact for the same person is in the SFDC.  When a known prospect attends one of your events or responds to one of your solicitations, just add another Campaign to his list.
  5. Use the SFDC Excel Connector (be careful!) to create a Campaign response for each of your historical Lead Sources.  Unfortunately, the date of the "response" will be today, not the original historical response date.
  6. Design reports that use Campaign information rather than Lead Source.  Remember that most Leads and Contacts will have several Campaign entries, so you'll need to think through how you want the reports to work.
     

Q:  We've had SFDC in operation for months now, but most of the reps still aren't using the system...or worse, put in no useful information.  What can be done?

A:  Salesforce.com can be configured as an excellent Sales, Marketing, and Support system that can be integrated with accounting, licensing and inventory systems to provide a full 360-degree view of your customers. 

But only if the users use it. 

Ironically, in most companies the Sales reps are the last people to use the Sales system.  This is largely human nature... don't fight it or try to mandate good behavior.  Instead, leverage human nature.

The first part of the solution here is to set expectations correctly:  plan on having the Sales Rep be your last users.  Get everyone else using the system first, so the information in the system is high quality and attracts the Sales Reps naturally.  The first users should be inside sales, telemarketing, and marketing.  The next wave is management, consultants, and SEs.  And the last is the pesky field rep.

The next part of the solution is to make the system valuable to the reps with information and functionality that will make their jobs easier.  For example, make sure that Lead/Contact information is really complete, with valid titles, email addresses, phone numbers, and company profiles.  Further, use SFDC workflows to streamline approval processes for loaner machines, quotes, and orders.  Give the SFDC users faster response than most reps.  Every time you ask the reps to fill out some new piece of information in the system, give them a new toy that will make their lives a little easier (i.e., mashups of maps showing local restaurants near their prospect). 

An important step is to get rid of stuff that's annoying to the sales reps.  Use record types and page layouts to make the rep's perspective clean and simple, even if other users have a lot of complex screens to deal with. 

As usage progresses, gently apply some pressure:  for example, make it so that no deal can be part of the company forecast until it's in SFDC.  Make certain resources available only via requests made through SFDC (and its workflows).  The key with these kind of stipulations is to apply them gradually, to minimize the passive- aggressive behaviors that we hire the sales reps for. 
 

Q:  We've got a problem with quotes, because our reps are sending out quotes unapproved, or making changes to approved quotes.  What can we do to stop this?

A:  The quote to invoice cycle is a common problem area because most SFAs only handle quote generation -- and many don't really handle that.  The process of getting quotes approved, converted into contracts, and issued as invoices is handled entirely outside most SFDC installations.

But it doesn't have to be that way.  And it does need to be automated, so you can enforce policies and best practices.  SFDC provides the core tools and interfaces to handle the following with controls that are good enough for SOX compliance:

  • Quote generation -- SFDC Quotes and Line Items can be configured for almost any pricelist.  The native UI is a bit tedious for big orders, but it's usable.
  • Quote lock-down and approval -- SFDC's Workflows, Rules, and Triggers can be configured to handle pretty complex quote approvals, including delegation of approval authority and exceptions.
  • Approved quote printing -- By using some free plug-ins, SFDC can be configured to print out approved quotes - and only approved quotes - for customer review.  However, the free plug-ins have some restrictions, so getting things to look pretty on paper can be, well, ugly.
  • Conversion from approved quote to contract -- SFDC workflows can be configured so that The Right Things happen when an opportunity is closed.  As Right Things are different for each company, some configuration is needed.  
  • Issuing an invoice upon delivery of an order -- SFDC doesn't really do much here, as invoices will typically be issued from your accounting system.  But SFDC Workflows, Triggers, and call-out API can automate the transfer of all relevant data to your accounting system for its invoicing.  You'll need to use application connectors from Pervasive, Cast Iron, or others to make this automatic and flawless.
  • System lock-down -- using SFDC's internal security controls, you can make sure that the process is followed for all quotes, that approved quotes can't be changed, that opportunities and contracts can't be opened again after they're closed, and that unauthorized changes to the system can't be made.  Don't forget this topic or you'll fail your SOX audit.

SFDC can handle all of this, but it involves a lot of configuration, custom objects, plug-ins and S-controls.  While there are complete quoting applications that work with SFDC, they're expensive and pretty complicated.  So most companies stick with modifying SFDC.

 

Q:  We just acquired a company and are integrating the sales teams.  How long should we run with two SFA systems?

A:  These are dangerous waters, because a wrong move lowers your sales and raises your costs at the same time.  It's even an issue if you've got two instances of the same brand of SFA system.

The quick answer is, integrate the SFA systems as fast as you can, hopefully faster than you're integrating the sales teams. This can be hard to do, particularly if the SFA systems have been heavily customized and are relied on by the sales folks.  Ironically, the less seriously they take the SFA system, the easier it'll be to convert.

Here's the 12-step program you'll be going through:

  1. Decide which system is going to be the survivor (usually, the acquiring company's system wins).
  2. Do a complete system backup on both systems and set up a Sandbox area to work in. 
  3. Cleanse and de-dupe the data and adjust the object / data model.  DO NOT SKIMP on this step.
  4. Modify the SFA workflows to match the new integrated sales model.
  5. Add any custom fields, and then test the extended screens with a telesales person, a rep, and a manager.
  6. Re-create any reports and dashboards in the new system, and test them with a manager and a VP from sales.
  7. Identify any gaps, and get management agreement that it's OK and they'll change any procedures that depend on items in the gap.
  8. Integrate the structures of price books, quotes, invoices, contracts, etc.
  9. Develop a superset of the Accounts so that all customers are in the surviving system, but there aren't duplicates.  Do the same for contacts and leads.  This step can take weeks of processing!
  10. Move the Opportunities and Contracts into the surviving system.  This step can also take a ton of processing, particularly if there's a long history.
  11. Transition other system interfaces (such as license management) to the master SFA system.  This step can take months, but is much easier with SFDC.
  12. Move over tasks, activities, notes, and attachments.   Do triage -- some of these items may not make it over properly without ridiculous effort. 

Preparing for all this will take a minimum of a month (and can take 18 or more), but the actual cutover should happen at a quarter-end.  In the mean time, keep using your dual systems and use excel to merge reports and forecasts for management.
 

Q:  It's quarter end, and people keep making changes to Opportunities even though the deal is closed.  What do we do?

A:  This is dangerous territory, especially if you're a public company.  Sales reps seem to like mucking with Opportunity data after the customer has signed.  But Senators Sarbanes and Oxley have a treat awaiting any company with lax controls on orders and revenue recognition.

Fortunately, Salesforce.ccom has a number of built- in features that can really help:

  • Security Controls let you remove buttons like "Delete" on Opportunities.  Some sales reps want to delete opportunities rather than have them be "closed-lost."  An Opportunity should never be deleted from SFDC except by an administrator who has determined that it is truly a duplicate deal.
  • Record Types allow you to present different page views under different conditions.  Data items can be locked down (made uneditable) or can be hidden when an Opportunity is closed (its status changing to "Closed-Won" or "Closed-Lost.") 
  • Workflows can be set up to enforce deal review cycles, so that an Opportunity can't be moved to Closed status until it has been approved by sales management and finance.  Workflows can automatically send off notification emails, set up escalations and exceptions, and enforce "timeouts" if action hasn't taken place by a deadline.  In conjunction with Record Types, Workflows can enforce business process rules and prevent subsequent modification of Opportunities. 
  • Contracts provide a partitioned area for legal and administrative records.  Using Workflows, Activities, and Attachments the Contract object provides a secure workspace for Sales Operations and Legal.
  • The SFDC API with triggers provide a way for SFDC to automatically notify outside systems (such as legal and accounting) of data updates and status changes, and to push data for a closed Opportunity into your invoicing and accounting software.

Of course, there's no such thing as a free lunch.  You have to be using SFDC's Enterprise edition for this, and configuring all these features can be quite the adventure.  But with these built-in features, you can enforce solid business practices and keep your closed deals out of harm's way.

 

Q:  We've got tons of leads, but the quality is all over the place.  We don't have time to follow up on all the leads, and reps complain they're junk -- what do we do to prioritize them?

A:  Everybody has this problem, and it's a juicy one.  Before we answer it, though, here's some industry data:

  • Your competition is contacting Leads within 48 hours of lead collection.  Leads go cold fast, so get on it!
  • Most companies are getting more leads from their website than anywhere else.
  • Most companies get the cleanest data from their web leads, although they typically collect only 4 fields per lead.
  • Everybody has duplicates (one person is two Leads) and shadows (a person is a Lead and a Contact), and it's not economical to keep them much below 10%.  But if dupes and shadows are more than 20% of the Leads, it's a serious problem for user productivity and system credibility.  Fix this!

So, to fix the Lead prioritization problem you need to do the following:

  1. Get beyond Web2Lead.  The basic SFDC function is an OK start, but you really want dupe-prevention logic and email validation code leveraging the SFDC API.
  2. Use a lead enrichment service to validate and enlarge the scope of the data in your lead base.  SalesLogistix has a nice one.
  3. Score leads using the characteristics of the Lead data and the behavior of visitors over time.  A time-decay model for scoring works best.
  4. Configure Lead views and reports to put the highest scoring ones at the top.
  5. Use a sequential autoresponder system to increase the response rate and yield of leads.  You can configure SFDC to do a simple autoresponder without buying any other software, or you can add products like Market2Lead or Eloqua if you have some money to throw around.
     

Q:  Last quarter, the forecast blew up because our Sales VPs disagreed about the definition of sales cycle stages.  How do we fix this embarrassment in front of the board?

A:  The way to stop the embarrassment is to stop doing it.  Exactly how will take a little longer to answer.

To get the most out of SFDC, it is incredibly important to agree on terms and criteria for key items and transitions in the system.  I can't tell you how often we trip across inconsistent definitions for Leads, Qualified Leads, Contacts, and even Customers.  So, you can imagine how often the sales cycle length and stages are confused. 

Out of the box, SFDC provides a set of 10 sales stages that should be a superset of the activities that must be done for any Opportunity.  Inevitably, sales teams will claim that their territory is different, or their sales methodology requires separate metrics, or their product line is special.  Of course, inside sales will say their sales cycle is much shorter and involves fewer steps.  Tough.  Everyone has to come to agreement on one master set of stages -- put the sales managers in a room and don't let them out again until they've agreed on 5-10 stages (described by a single word) with consistent criteria (defining actions or events).  Perhaps the single most important stage is "stage 0" -- the Conversion even which transforms Leads into Contacts associated with Opportunities.

SFDC's sales stages are tied to percentages.  Even though the percentages are problematic, you can't turn them off so you need to make them reflect reality as closely as possible.  (Compare last quarter's "80%" opportunities -- if only 60% of them closed, you need to change the percentage on that stage to 60%.)

Finally, you should come to agreement on the expected time in each stage.  Again, expect lots of winging -- but this time, listen.  It's ok to create a couple of variants to the stage lengths, for example inside sales vs outside sales, or US vs Japan... as long as sales stages are being consistently applied.

 

Q:  But how do I measure the time-in-stage, once we've set it up?

A:  The simple answer is, write a report, usually with SFDC's Matrix Report option.  But if you've tried to do anything clever with differential sales cycle timelines (e.g., SMB sales take 6 weeks, Enterprise 6 months), you'll need to export the Tabular Report data and crunch the data in an outboard spreadsheet.

There's another quick measurement, too.  To validate sales people's predictions for close date and stage, you can use a calculated field to show what stage the deal ought to be in by now (given how far away the closing date now is), using a formula like this:

Stage Should Be

IF(CloseDate<today(),"Past Due",CASE(
IF(YEAR(CloseDate)=YEAR( TODAY() ),
MONTH(CloseDate)-MONTH( TODAY() ),
MONTH(CloseDate)-MONTH( TODAY() )+12),
0, "Stage0name", 1, "Stage1name", 2, "Stage2name", 3, "Stage3name",
4, "Stage4name", 5, "Stage5name", 6, "Stage6name", 7, "Stage7name",
8, "Stage8name", 9, "Stage9name", "Stage10name"))

This Stage Estimator gives you a field you can compare against what the sales rep has forecasted, giving you can indicator of how accurate they are going to be.  This example calculation assumes a 10 stage sales process and a duration per stage of no more than 30 days.  "Stage#names" need to be changed to reflect your actual name for each stage.
 

Q:  It's bad enough that French names are confusing to Americans -- Valery and Dominique are men -- but they use accented characters that seem to make their names disappear in the SFA system.  What do we do to stop this?

A:  It's not just French: nearly all European languages use accents and special characters in names for people, streets, towns, and companies.  On your web forms or badge-scans, you'll find people have entered things in their native character set.  When an unsuspecting English speaker looks for a prospect from Cologne, even if they know it should be Köln they're likely to search for "Koln" and not find anything in the system.  The internal search treats accented characters as different from unaccented ones.

There's no simple way out of this, because Europeans will insist upon putting the accented characters in, and most English speakers don't know how to make accents on their keyboards, even if they knew which kind to put on the letters.  But there are best practices that work:

  • For people's names, create a "shadow" name field that removes the accented characters.  The shadow name can be populated using a calculated field.  For your European users, use a page layout that shows only the original name...and for your US/UK users, use a page layout showing only the unaccented version.

  • For Account names, create a new field called "Legal Entity" which is the formal full name of the company -- accents and all.  The standard Account name should be shortened (removing "the," "inc.", and similar prefixes and suffixes) and have accents removed.  While this field can be populated automatically, there's a lot of subtlety and it will have to be done outside the system using triggers and API call-outs. 

  • For addresses, most companies don't use the Shipping Address as well as the Billing Address.  In most cases, you can make the Shipping Address the Anglicized version of the city and country names.  How many of your users know it's Köln in Deutschland?  Populating these fields is usually done by hand, but can be automated if you're willing to do some outside processing.

Q:  OK fine, but how do we actually create these shadow values in SFDC?

A:  To the degree you can, automate.  But really solving this will require some clever web-services code or some manual procedures.  Sorry, but no application out there really solves this all-to-human issue.

For simple character conversion, you can use the Calculated Field functionality of SFDC.

For more complicated stuff -- particularly account naming -- you'll need to set up a set of rules / checklists for a manual procedure or do some clever coding in a system outside of SFDC.  The outside system's Account name conversion logic would be invoked by a web service call-out from SFDC, and that would be triggered by a Create or Edit event of the Legal Entity field.  While many of the name changes can be done by CASE statements in outside code, your developers will need to have a database lookup for the "friendly names" (like "A&P") that can't be derived systematically from the legal entity name (like "The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company").

This may all sound daunting, but there's really no alternative if you're running an international sales team.  Sooner or later, language catches up with you.
 

Q:  Marketing says there's 1000 new leads in 6 weeks.  Sales says they don't have any leads, but then they put up a $50 M pipeline...with a "blood commit" forecast of only $8 M.  How do we stop all these garbage numbers?

A:  Gaming the system started about two days after you put the system in place.  There are lots of political and psychological incentives for this, and it won't get any better until you put solid and rational financial incentives in place.  It's not just sales reps who are coin-operated.

You already have incentives for the reps to make their revenue commitments, so you need to add metrics and incentives for realistic forecasting.  We like the model that uses worst case ("blood commit"), best case ("upside"), and pipeline (everything that could conceivably close this quarter) numbers, although we see lots of variants in the rules and terminology.  Put incentives in place for the accuracy of the "blood commit" forecast from week 9 onwards, as that's the number that can really hurt you if it's wrong.    Note that Salesforce forecasting module's terminology often confuses people, so make sure you don't misinterpret SFDC's standard reports and dashboards. 

Construct dashboards in SFDC so you can see what's going on, and run your forecasts only using data in the system.  If you're having trouble with the features of Salesforce's forecasting module, definitely consider our SalesVision and ForecastVision add-on tools.

Looking earlier in the pipeline, you'll need a rock-solid definition for the conversion criteria for Leads.  A Lead should be converted to a contact only when it is really ready to become part of a sales cycle.  The conversion process should be the Sales Rep's signal that he's investing his time in this deal, and that he'll need resources from the rest of the company to move the deal forward.  The Leads that Marketing produces are almost never ready for conversion.  They need to be cultivated and brought to a boil -- and this can take many months.  Marketing usually can't do this, and reps shouldn't be spending all their time on it.  This cultivation is best done by a really tight sales development group (the may be called telesales or telemarketing, but the key is that they're cultivating and growing Leads that are worth converting).

Again, you need metrics and incentives.  The sales development group should be measured on the number of Leads accepted by the field and converted.  The Marketing group should be measured on the number of Leads that were accepted by the sales development group (who should reject Leads that are junk data, have no interest, or simply don't respond).

The revenue engine should be a machine, not a miracle.  You can't fix what you don't measure...and SFDC can give you all the metrics you need.
 

Q:  What metrics should be used for these?

A:  Starting with the Sales Rep, closed revenue (or bookings, depending on your situation) is the ultimate metric.  But a lot of times we see commission systems that are too complex, and they often don't align with overall corporate objectives.  Commission plans should be trying to incent a few (no more than 3) important behaviors in the reps. 

The next metric for the rep is the accuracy of the "blood commit" (worst case) forecast.  To be useful to management, this forecast number needs to be pretty accurate from week 9 of the quarter onwards.  So, provide points toward commissions, SPIFs, contests, President's Club for reps whose blood-commit forecast is at or below the revenue they achieve at the end of the quarter.  Once this is being achieved by 60% of the reps, you can put in incentives for reps whose "upside" (best case) forecast is halfway accurate (upside forecasts can never be that reliable. 

These metrics can be easily measured with excel spreadsheets fed out of SFDC.  You shouldn't need data from any other source -- if you do, that's a red flag that your SFDC data isn't where it should be.

The sales development team should be measured on overall number of conversions, and the percentage of Leads they produce that are accepted by Sales.  This is simple to set up with reports and dashboards looking at Leads and Contacts.  You'll also want to set up metrics for each sales development person regarding the amount of revenue their cultivated Leads produced.  If nothing else, this is a good motivational tool.  Note:  this "revenue leverage report" cannot be produced directly from within Salesforce (you'll need to export the data and do a join using Excel or, better, Access).

Finally, the marketing metrics are easy to set up:  it's number of Leads accepted by the sales development team.  You'll also want to have a "revenue leveraged from Marketing events" report, so you can tell where you investments are paying off ... but again, this can't be produced directly within SFDC's reporting tool.

 

Q:  Our sales organization has geographic territories with a national accounts overlay.  When reps start to work a new prospect, they seem to create a new account every time.  How do we avoid the confusion that comes from all these duplicates?

A:  Duplicate Accounts are one of the most dangerous things you can have in any SFA / CRM system.  When there are duplicates, people will scatter information across the copies.  Later, they'll be frustrated because they can't find a complete picture of what's going on in any one of the Accounts in the system.

Before we get into the SFA solution, we've got an emotional issue to deal with.  Sales reps are used to being independent:  it's their patch, their Account, their contact management, their personal forecast.  But an SFA system is a shared resource -- and this becomes critical when there are national accounts and levels of sales management.  A rep, thinking of their territory as their universe, can muck things up for everyone around them.  So the first step is getting the rep to think of the SFA system as a bulletin board, not his personal notebook.  The behavioral changes needed:  never create a new Account without searching for it first, and never (never) (did I mention "never"?) delete an Account.

The next step is all about naming:  Accounts will be in the system forever, and you have to expect that mergers, divestitures, and organizational name changes will happen among your clients.  So your naming convention has to last a while and accommodate changes.  Here's the drill:

  1. Account names should be your internal name for the customer, not their legal entity name.  The internal name should be as short as possible yet remain distinct (you can lop off "company", "Inc.", etc.).  To take an extreme example, it's "A&P", not "The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, Inc."

  2. Legal entity names should be put in the Account as a user-defined field. 

  3. In large companies, Accounts should have levels (parent-child relationships).  For example, "GE" (General Electric Company, Inc.) has children like NBC, GE Medical Systems, and GE Financial Services.  If your SFA system doesn't explicitly support parent-child relationships, add the "Master Account" as a user-defined field.

  4. Child accounts need to include the abbreviation of the parent account.  You typically want to create child accounts by sales region (at least by country) so it's easy to see things geographically.  With really big companies, this can look a bit complicated but trust me, you'll regret it if you don't insist on some structure.  For example, "GM--GMAC--DiTech Mortgage--USA"

  5. Set up the SFA security settings so that reps can see only the accounts they (or the people on their team) own.  This makes it less likely that information will be put in the wrong place (and effectively lost).

Q:  How do we get rid of duplicate Accounts that are already in our system?

A:  Dealing with duplicated accounts requires discipline and attention to detail, so it should be done only by your SFA system administrator.  The very first thing to do is do a local backup of all your Account records (using something like SFDC's Data Loader or Excel connector) because mistakes can be deadly and data recovery done by Salesforce.com is quite expensive.

Using the system reports or a download into Excel, identify what are the candidates for duplicate Accounts.  Often, the candidates actually aren't duplicates because they are different divisions of the customer.  In these cases, rename one (or both) of the apparent duplicate Accounts and create a parent/child relationship between them.

If you really have a duplicate, the best thing to do is use a tool like CRMfusion's DemandTools.  These tools consolidate duplicates rapidly and intuitively.  Of course, they cost money.  If your organization has only a handful of duplicate Accounts (consider yourself lucky!), you can instead use SFDC's well-hidden Account Merge wizard (http://na#.salesforce.com/merge/accmergewizard.jsp) or use the following manual procedure:

  • Identify which of the Account pair should be the survivor, and which is the phantom.
  • Move all the attached objects (Contacts, Opportunities, Attachments, etc.) from the phantom to the survivor.  You may need to change ownership on these attached objects to match the ownership of the survivor.
  • Look at all the fields in the phantom Account record, and copy any valid ones into the survivor record.
  • Depending on your site policy, either delete the phantom or change its name to "XYZ Account -- IGNORE (duplicate)"

Q: Here I am at the quarter end close, with a bunch of deals that are stuck.  I can't tell whether they're already dead, or worth trying to bring back to life.  How do we tell which deals are worth putting executive time into?

A: There's really two strategies here.  The first strategy is to focus on deals with signs of life that indicate a realistic chance of fast closure.  If you're real smart, you already have an SFDC dashboard that helps you spot these.  But if you don't, run a report that highlights SFDC Opportunities with these life-signs:

  • Probability/stage that's moved in the last few weeks, but seems to be stuck.  Find steps to expedite or even skip altogether.
  • Deals in negotiation/contracts stages where there are a lot of "activities" (phone calls, emails) focused on price or Ts and Cs.  You may be able to break the log jam in just a few hours of hard negotiation.
  • Deals that can be accelerated because of an external compelling event, such as fiscal year-end (Japan), regulatory deadlines (US), or important industry events (CTIA for the cellular industry).

With deals that really are alive but the decision can't be closed this week, don't spend any time on them now.  But do take a few moments to update the Opportunity and change its close date to next quarter. 

For the deals you find that really aren't going to make it at all, do not delete them from SFDC.  Set their Opportunity stage to closed-lost, so that your marketing folks can analyze what went wrong and improve their materials and operations to avoid similar deals going forward.

Your second priority strategy is to focus on the deals that you can understand and make clear choices about using only the information you can see right now in SFDC.  This second strategy has two effects:  first, it helps you focus on the things you can see and influence the fastest -- without a lot of phone tag, delays, and unclear choices.  Second, it clearly signals the reps that their deals will get more executive attention when they put up-to-date, relevant, actionable information into the SFDC system.  This helps you sow the seeds for next quarter, when you won't need lengthy account reviews because the account situation is in the system in real-time...just like it's supposed to be.

 

Q: What do we do with deals that get pushed out to the next quarter?

A: Unless a deal is really dead, the Opportunity should be kept in whatever stage it's in now -- but the close date should be moved out of the quarter.  If you're using SFDC's forecasting system, you may also want to move the deal from commit to pipeline, but that's a judgment call. 

The two things you don't want to do:  deleting any Opportunity from the system, or closing the existing Opportunity and creating a second one for next quarter.  While there are sometimes scenarios where doing this close/open sequence makes sense, it's rare.  What you want to avoid is losing data or losing history about a deal that's just taking a little longer than the rep original, optimistic guess.

 

Q: We're 7 weeks into the new year, and our pipeline shows over $145 M!  Since the company is supposed to close $42 M this year, I should be happy, right?  But I just don't trust those pipeline numbers -- they look like mostly fantasy deals.  How can I tell which deals in the pipeline are junk?  And how do I get the reps to put in only solid stuff?

A: You asked your reps to put their deals in as SFDC Opportunities.  And they put in stuff that's just wishful thinking.  As Rosanne Rosanna-Dana said, "It's always something -- if it isn't one thing, it's another."

Unfortunately, Reps and Managers will game any system if they think it's all just for show...they'll do anything  to get management off their backs.  So the first thing you've got to do is set up a solid, credible set of sales stages that you and the reps will really (really!) use to guide your sales cycles.  It doesn't matter how many stages you have, it matters how realistic / representative they are of they way you close deals.  That said, keep it simple -- between 4 and 10 stages. 

The next step is to have the reps update each of their Opportunities with its current stage, following the guidelines (such as, you can't do a quote until you've done a demo).  Once they've done this (give them no more than a week!), use the sales stages to categorize the maturity of each of the deals.  In SFDC, the system can automatically set deal status as pipeline, best case, and commit from the sales stages.  You'll quickly find that a huge percentage of your $145 M pipeline is really pipe-dream...don't be surprised if your solid pipeline only covers you for a month or two (instead of looking rosy through the whole year).

 

Q: How do we keep this from happening again, and how do we firm up the pipeline that we have?

A: Essentially, this boils down to Sales Management.  You'll want to have pretty thorough region reviews where you demote deal stages if you don't get realistic answers to basic questions.   Most of the time, we find that there are 3-4 common bad practices in a sales force that simply need to be eradicated.

One of the great ways to enforce good habits is to put check-boxes in the Opportunity pages that the reps can see.  Use SFDC's Record Types, Page Layouts, and Dependent Fields to show the reps the specific actions that they need to complete before they can get to the next Opportunity Stage.  Use History Tracking to put people on record, and time-based Triggers to alert management when progress on an opportunity has stalled. 

At the end of the day, you do want every possible deal in the system... but you don't want the low-probability stuff to cloud your vision about what's really going on with the prospects.

 

Q: We closed the books on our fiscal year (ended Dec 31) and are writing the annual report.  But we can't explain what went wrong with the deals in Q4.  How do we identify which deals "slipped out of the quarter" vs the ones that are really lost... or the deals that were never really there in the first place?

A: Forecasting is tough, particularly when it comes to Sales.  There are lots of financial and psychological incentives for reps to game the system, and even those who aren't hiding information don't really know what's going to close until it actually does.  Without a statistical model of the funnel and pipeline, explaining what went wrong is just  guesswork.

That's the whole point of an SFA system:  to help upper management develop a model so they have visibility at an aggregate level even if the rep can't see at an individual level.  What's the pipeline coverage you need at week 10 of the quarter?  In week 5?  In week 1?  How many days does the POC/demo stage really take?  After how many weeks in the ROI/business case stage do you know a deal is in trouble?  That's what the pipeline model will tell you.

But even if you have an iron-clad model of the pipeline, you need data to work with.  If reps have put opportunities into your SFA from the first sales call, and if people didn't track activities and action items through the system, you don't have enough data to analyze anything.  You can't confidently identify the "delayed" deals from the "lost interest" losers. 

So make sure that your team has financial and other incentives to put the deal in from the beginning.

 

Q: We have lots of good data on the progression of opportunities through the pipeline and a decent number of activities in the system.  Now what?

A: If you've got the raw materials for analysis, you're way ahead of the game.  Now what you need to do is create a logical grouping of the information around each deal (whether it was won or lost).  This means you'll need to do database joins to link all the contacts, activities, lead conversions, campaigns, and associated information for each opportunity.  This can't be done in Salesforce (or any other SFA / CRM system we know of), you have to dump all the data to an outboard analysis engine like Access or Crystal Reports.  Getting all the data related to each deal requires some real skills in the database/BI tools as well as SFA semantics (so you're working with the meaning of the data, and don't get lost in the weeds).

Once the opportunity data is grouped together, you'll be able to see patterns of wins and losses.  You'll be able to see which reps follow consistent sales processes, and which ones seem to live by the seat of their pants (you probably know that already, but now you'll be able to quantify the impact on your sales cycles).

Once you have analyzed 30 deals or more, you can start to build your model of the sales pipeline.  This model needs to indicate the length and conversion ratios at each stage of the sales cycle, and provide norms for forecasting amounts and probabilities.  Most companies don't get this far, but if you do...you'll notice that sales cycles for different product lines may be different, and you'll definitely see differences among your sales territories.  As you get better and better at this, you'll find that each sales VP will need his own variation of the model to reflect the realities of her territory.

 

Q: A lot of deals won't close until the last week of the quarter.  I just can't see what's going to close vs what's going to slip out of the quarter.  How do I get some visibility so I can avoid this stress?

A: Let's face it, Enterprise selling involves emotion, tight negotiations, and a degree of gambling.  The buyers know they can get a few extra points by squeezing the sales reps at the end of the quarter.  So the hockey-stick effect is real ... and real stressful.

During weeks 10-13 of the quarter, the executive team needs to maintain singular focus on the small number of deals that really will close.  To do this, you'll need three things:

  • The reps must identify which are the key deals through a flag in the SFA system's Opportunity record.  This can either be a check-box or a pull-down selection, but it's a custom item you need to add to the record and they need to keep updated.  The reps need to use Tasks to highlight the key action items for each of their deals.

  • Sales Managers must have a View that shows just the key deals, and must look at the Opportunity Activities and other data on a daily basis.  If your company has a "war room" for the end of quarter close, you need to move it into your SFA system so everyone can see what's happening, even if they're on the road.  (If your company doesn't have a war room, create one for next quarter to bring things into focus.)

  • Executive Management needs a dashboard and big deal alert emails so they can see the big picture on at least a daily basis.  To properly allocate deal-closing resources (e.g., customer references, executive visits/phone calls, discount approvals, etc.), the executive team needs to see all the key deals on a level playing field.

The sales forecasting tools in SFDC and other popular SFA / CRM systems just aren't good enough to run an enterprise sales force of more than 25 reps or so.  You'll need to develop some very fancy spreadsheets, or use a tool like SalesVision that provides the dashboards and metrics you need to forecast for the board and bring the quarter in.

 

Q: The forecast numbers are jumping around every week.  What's going on?

A: A lot of things cause this, mainly as a result of weak process and bad rep behavior.  Forecasting is inherently inaccurate and driven by emotions, so you've got to have specific processes to keep things under control.  It's the end of the quarter, so let's focus on the short run first:

  • Get your system admin to run a report that dumps all the Opportunity details every week.  Save these.
  • Write a report that looks for deals that have gone backwards --probabilities that went down, dollar amounts that decreased, or deals that magically disappeared altogether.
  • Talk to the reps about each of these deals and ask them why / how things went backwards.
  • Write a report showing sales reps forecast versus quota.  Quotas aren't in the system yet?  Get on it!
  • Write a report showing all the deals that haven't been updated in the system for more than 3 weeks.  You'll find a lot of old deals that maybe are going somewhere, but maybe not.  Talk to the reps about each of these deals, to see which ones are real.  Keep bugging them until they get the Opportunity records resembling reality.

There's a dozen other things to do, but you've got to close your quarter. Early next quarter, you've got to set up some tough standards about deal stages, close probability, and sales process (like, "I won't review a quote if the Opportunity isn't in the system").  Train the reps, and use both the carrot and the stick approach. 

Also, you should check out our SalesVision forecasting system, that makes an awful lot of these problems go away.

 

Q: I can't make any sense of the pipeline report in SFDC -- the numbers include deals I know I've lost, and miss out on the key deal of this quarter.  What's wrong?

A: During the pipeline formation stages of the sales cycle, only the reps really know what is going on in each of your deals.  And a lot of times, management just can't see how the pipeline is shaping up.  All too often, the pipeline is managed through a stand-alone spreadsheet, instead of the system you're paying for.

First thing to do is make sure everyone is putting the data in the right place.  Opportunities are where all deal-related data should go, but many people erroneously stuff deal information into Account or even Contact records.  You can't get anywhere if you don't fix this problem first.

Next thing to do is write some quick reports that show the basic health of your Opportunity data.  If Opportunities haven't been updated in 3 weeks, they're either dead deals or the reps aren't doing their jobs.  Start enforcing good behavior by only providing needed resources (loaner machines, pre-sales consulting, executive visits, customer visits to headquarters) for those deals that have good data in the system. 

The next thing to look for is inconsistent use of sales stages and probabilities.  These two are often misunderstood and even more often misused to "game" the system.  Sales management must dictate what the exact meanings and "triggers" for sales stages are, and get everyone underneath to use them consistently.

The reps will invariably complain that they're too busy selling to keep the data in the system up to date.  Grant exceptions to those who are over quota, for as long as they stay over quota.  For those who are under, tell them how much time they'll save by spending 3 minutes a day to update their Opportunity data -- avoiding lots of "update me" emails and phone calls from upper management.  Even when you're using a "stick," present it as a carrot.

 

Q: But what if I'm using the SFDC forecasting module, and the pipeline still jumps around every week?

A: The same issues apply, and then some.  Forecasts are still based on good (or bad) data in Opportunities.  In addition, the "opportunity forecast" screen must be filled out properly.  A classic problem is inconsistent or erroneous use of the My Forecast Category field on that page.

At the end of the day, the big problems in forecast accuracy come from erroneous or misleading data entries in the system.  The "knee jerk" corrective action seems to be "go back to spreadsheets" -- but that doesn't solve anything.  In fact, it's a step backwards.  If the reps won't put good data into the system, get on the phone with them and have a sales admin do the data entry as you talk through the status of your deals.  Eventually, you an shame them into doing it themselves, once they see that you mean business about using SFDC as the source of info for all deals.

 

Q: Often, leads disappear and can't be seen by the Sales Reps.  What gives?

A: There are a lot of reasons why this can happen.  First off, the leads may have been entered as Contacts, or have been converted to Contact status.  Once a person becomes a Contact, he won't show up in Lead views or (most) reports.  Sometimes, people even try to enter Leads as Opportunities and they get really lost in the system.

But even when the Leads have been properly entered, they may (should!) have been put into a queue, and the rep may not be looking in a queue, or looking in the wrong one. 

First step is to use the View selector to move from "my leads" to "region XYZ leads."  If they still don't see the lead, have them select the "all leads" View on that page.  Still can't find them?  Somebody may have changed ownership of the lead.  Or the leads may be hidden from view because of SFDC Role and Profile security settings.  Contact your system administrator to troubleshoot this issue.

Unfortunately, there are many fixes for the subtle variants of this problem.  In virtually all cases, you'll need to change how Marketing and Sales people handle the leads...you'll need to figure that out and train everyone so that lost-leads problem really goes away.

 

Q: But what if the leads really are gone, deleted by users or administrator error?

A: Don't panic.  First, make sure they're really gone by running a report on "Leads with Converted Information."  Converted leads will seem to have disappeared.  Second, go into SFDC's Recycle Bin (which is at the bottom of the left-hand navigation area on most pages.  The recycle bin only holds so much, but you can usually find and recover deleted stuff in there.  If someone has emptied the recycle bin, go get the ZIP files full of data you've pulled off the system as backups (via the SFDC Data Loader, SFDC's internal
"data dump" function, or the Excel connector) before you made any big changes.  You don't have any of those ZIP files?  OK, now panic.

Put in a support ticket with SFDC and ask them for a quote on recovering the objects you need.  Do not be surprised if they come back with a number of $10,000 or more.  It's true, they back up the system on a pretty rigorous basis for free...but recovery can just kill you.

The best practices in this area are to pull down archival copies of the important system objects on at least a monthly basis, preferably weekly.  Sounds like manual backup, doesn't it?  There are some automated backup and replication products available, but they aren't cheap and they aren't widely deployed yet.

 

Q: We're worried about SPAM complaints, and we use the "Email opt-out" check-box to avoid problems.  But sales reps are still sending out emails to people who've opted out.  How can this be?

A: SFDC does have the check-box, and it's enforced when somebody sends HTML mail through the system.  But those wily sales reps, they like Outlook for sending mail and they get the email addresses either from running an SFDC report or using the Outlook plug in to synchronize addresses.  If they don't' do it right (and nobody ever does), the "opt out" flag is ignored and the email is sent.  What we recommend is a tighter solution:  corrupt the email addresses of people who've opted out.  This way, you still have the email address if you need it, but if the address is used in an email blast the mail won't go out.

To answer the question you didn't ask, you need to make sure that the unsubscribes that you get back from your email blast service are properly reflected in SFDC's data.  The best answer is to use a fully integrated blast engine (Vertical Response is one, but there are lots of others).  If you can't do that, you need to make sure to pull a report of the unsubscribes from the blast engine and update SFDC's records with the corrupted email addresses.  Use Excel and SFDC's Excel Connector to do this (but be careful!!! you can destroy data if you do it wrong).

 

Q: Our reps are frustrated because they can't find the updates they put into the system.  Some of the updates make it, others seem to come and go.  What's going on?

A: This is a common symptom of a Big Problem:  duplicate records.  Think of one of your prospects that's a big company with lots of locations (let's say, GM).  You may be 10 Account names, 20 Opportunities, and 80 people in the system all saying "GM" somewhere.  Even further, there's Joe Smith at GM and Joseph Smith at G.M. and J. Smith at Pontiac. When your rep is updating data (like the forecast, or the next call required), s/he may be updating the wrong Joe Smith.  If there are five Joe Smiths (and this is all too common), data is scattered all over the place and each record is only a fragment of the picture.  Any one record will be wrong, even if the sum of all records might be perfect.

This drives Sales Reps crazy, and will soon make the system unusable even by management.  The only answer is to consolidate the records -- all of them -- so the complete picture is told with one set of records.  There are a number of techniques for doing this (including Demand Tools, which sells a fine product) but you can't really start on this until you fix all the sources of the duplicate records.  They may be coming from your web site, your marketing campaigns, your accounting system, and from your people.  You need to get your mind around this problem and start fixing it...yesterday!