Sales Pipeline Management: How to Automate (Part 3)

26 June

The first two parts of this sales pipeline automation blog series have dealt specifically with a traditional sales process. However, the Opportunity feature exists to track virtually any process. In this final post of the series, I'm going to blow open the doors on two case studies showing how you can use opportunity stages to track other types of processes.

If you haven't already done so, read my earlier blog entries on this subject explaining how sales opportunities work and how to automate your sales opportunity pipeline. They're both great posts because they'll give you context into opportunity management.

Case Study 1: Tracking an Event Acquisition Process

I was born and raised in Florida and went to college at UCF in Orlando. While living in a house close to campus, one of my neighbors ended up being Steve Gabriele of Gabriele Photography. He is a passionate photographer and turned his art into a viable business that produces action sports posters from youth sporting events. His work is much cooler than the typical "kneel down with a ball under your arm and take a photo" type of photos you see everywhere. We quickly became good friends and being the business oriented types, we would often pow-wow and use each other as a sounding board for our businesses; I was working at jiveSYSTEMS at the time running their Infusionsoft application. Steve has always wanted to use Infusionsoft, but his business couldn't support the cost and time commitment. Earlier this year, I got a wonderful opportunity to represent Infusionsoft at an event in Orlando and the chance to visit with Steve a bit. Through our conversations, I learned that his business is doing very well, but it is the process of acquiring new sporting events that needs improvement. Then it hit me ... "Let me help one of my close friends build his business using the opportunity module!" I set Steve up as a user in my Infusionsoft account and we built a set of sales stages to help him get more events. :-) Event Acquisition Sales Stages

Sales Stages You Could Use for Event Acquisition

What Do These Stages Mean?

The first four stages are the standard for any sales pipeline, in my opinion. You can learn more about what they mean in my previous post.

Once Steve identifies that a particular event/tournament is a viable option, then the rest of the stages kick in.

Proposal Sent - This one is probably obvious, but his first step is to send the tournament director a proposal that they must sign and return. If someone is in this stage it means it has been sent but we need to follow-up and get a signed copy.

Signed Proposal Received - Again, probably obvious but this one is to indicate that he has received the signed proposal and now has to start his pre-event administrative stuff. This includes booking hotels, calculating expenses (fuel, equipment, human capital), and other things.

As part of Steve's admin processes, he also needs to get the tournament schedule but this usually doesn't happen until much closer to the event, which is why he has ...

Pre-Schedule Admin Complete - This means that Steve has done everything he can to prepare for the tournament without knowing the schedule. If someone is in this stage, it means he needs to follow-up to get the schedule immediately.

Event Schedule Obtained - This stage means Steve has the event schedule in hand and he can finish the pre-event admin stuff that is critically dependent on that information. Basically, if an opportunity is in this stage, he still has some stuff to do before the event. Once he has finished all those items, he moves the opportunity into ...

Pre-Event Admin Complete - This is a beautiful little holding stage. By looking at the count of opportunities in this particular stage, he can see how many events he has coming up that require nothing other than actually doing them. Once the tournament is over, he then moves to the...

Event Complete - This is basically the 'Won' stage for Steve's pipeline. When moving here, it removes the opportunity from his active pipeline and triggers a few critical tasks for post-event fulfillment and follow-up.

How Steve Uses Custom Fields

On the Opportunity records there are two tabs, GP and GP-Admin. The GP tab contains information about the event itself such as the event date, sport type, organization website, as well as information about the facility where the tournament itself is taking place. This way, he can export Opportunity information for his reporting and track his experiences across different facilities; sometimes a facility can host many different tournaments.

The GP-Admin tab is where he keeps track of the pre-event admin information. For example, there is a custom Yes/No field for 'Hotel Booked?' This makes it easy for him to filter further through his opportunities that need some love. He also has some fields for other stuff such as the number of workers he needs and the estimated man hours. He uses this information with his proprietary event documents for ROI calculations and such.

Event Acquisition Take-Away

While this is still a sales pipeline, we had to come up with a few special stages for tracking his specific acquisition process. This was definitely the most challenging part of my conversation -- explaining how stages are 10,000 foot milestones and not ground-level events (like booking a hotel, which is merely a few custom fields).

When you are building out Opportunity stages for different types of processes, focus on making sure each stage exists as a specific milestone. Ensure that the name of the stage is clear and easy to understand and that there is a clear delineation between what caused someone to get into the stage, and what causes someone to leave. For example, if someone is in the Pre-Schedule Admin Complete stage, it means Steve has done all his pre-admin stuff which implies the next big thing is getting his event schedule.

Case Study 2: Tracking a Coaching Process

I started at Infusionsoft in July a few years ago as a Success Coach. The coaching model was much different back then. As coaches, our KPIs were focused around specific consumption of the application. By the end of the (old) 60-day coaching process, it was considered a success if our students had reached a proprietary usage level of four (they should have been at a usage score of two or more by 30 days, too). There were a over a dozen things you could do inside the software that awarded points. Sending an email broadcast, adding people to a Follow-Up Sequence, making a sale through e-commerce and stuff like that which at the time we saw as a indication that people were getting value out of the software. The point here is that we had a need to track the myriad of activities new users would take when implementing our software.

I wanted my pipeline to track where people were in their coaching process and track these usage metrics separately.

To do this, I setup my stages like so:

Sales Stages to Track Coaching

Sales Stages Setup to Track Success Coaching

There are also stages at the bottom of that list for Coaching-Graduated, and Coaching-Lost, but I wasn't able to take a screen capture that long.

The top chunk of stages are used to see if people are scheduled, or if they were a no-show, needed to reschedule, etc. This was before the Sales Pipeline widget for the dashboard existed, so I created my own saved opportunity searches and put them into a Little Box o' Stats. This is how I could, at a glance, know exactly where my pipeline was. (You can learn how to customize your Dashboard in this article on the Help Center.) 

What you need to be aware of is that all this was happening in my own personal Infusionsoft application (which is no longer how we track our customers' success) and I still needed to record my metrics in the company's system of record. At any given time, it was entirely possible to have 30-40 clients at once. Going into all my student's applications and checking for usage each Friday was quite a daunting task. I realized quickly that recording what people had done when I was on the call with them was the most optimized way to track this.

How do you do a global usage check each Friday without losing your mind?

This is where the Usage stages come into play. Those were there to indicate when someone hit a certain usage metric. For example, after someone did their first broadcast, I'd move them to the 'SC-Usage-S1B' stage. I also had a custom opportunity date field for Usage 1/2/3/4 to record when someone achieved it.

Each usage stage also had a stage move action associated with it. Using some rules, this action would apply either a tag of 'Usage 1', 'Usage 2', 'Usage 3', or 'Usage 4' depending on what they needed. I connected these Tags as criteria for my lead scoring so if someone had all four tags (meaning I hit my goals as a coach for this one person), they would have five flames.

I created saved searches for people who did not have a date recorded for the 'Usage 2' field and another for people with a date in the 'Usage 4' field.

Every Friday, all I had to do was check up on people in their first 30 days that did not have 3 flames; this means they hadn't hit usage of two yet. Same thing for the people with a usage of four. (Also, I recorded this date as a custom opportunity field, too.)

Rather than pick through 30 or so apps, I was able to focus only on those who I knew needed additional help. When you were doing six hour-long coaching calls (often back-to-back) every week, every second saved was precious. This allowed me to easily track my KPIs while also easily keeping my finger on the pulse of my pipeline.

For example, if I had some spare time, I would look at my low usage people and give them a call to see where they were struggling. Many people appreciated this extra attention to them. :-)

"C'mon Paul, that really isn't that ninja. You had to have some other stuff too!"

Yes, astute reader, there were other cool bits running in the background. For example, if you moved someone to the SC-NS stage because they missed a call, it automatically sent a remorseful "Are you ok? Did I do something wrong?" type email automatically. I had a desire to not only gain visibility into my clients' progress, but also wanted to save some time when I needed to send emails following up to customers.

Whenever we were assigned a new client, we received an automated email with their information. In order to get people into my pipeline, I created an internal form that collected all the information I would need to coach (email, app name, master ID in company system, etc). This created the opportunity for me and also kicked off a new client welcome email to introduce myself.

There was also another external form I needed to fill out to register them with free coaching resources. Upon adding them using the internal form, it would create a task for me that merged into the URL of the form along with their personal information into the task body. This way, I literally just had to copy the task body, paste, hit Enter to register them!

We used GoToMeeting on coaching calls and often I would record the call. Since these were an hour long, it would take a while to render the video file after the call was over. However, it was critical I didn't forget to send this. I created a note template that made a task for me to send it out. Now, whenever I started a call recording, I just applied that note and continued with the call trusting there would be a task on my dashboard waiting for me later.

After someone was done with their coaching, we had to send them a post-coaching survey from the company. I was also on a personal mission to help 1,000 people launch with Infusionsoft and promoting the journey through Twitter using a #RoadTo1000 hashtag. To support this, when I moved someone into the SC-Graduate stage, it would create two tasks for me. One to remind me to send the survey and another reminding me to Tweet this student's graduation. If they had a Twitter account, I would mention them in my update.

Moving them to the graduate stage also tagged them as a Graduate, removed the Active Client tag and started a quarter long post-coaching follow-up.

Coaching Process Take-Away

Stage moves with an Opportunity do not have to be linear and I leveraged this fact with the usage stages. I could move someone to a broadcast usage stage, hit Save, and then move them back to Scheduled so they correctly showed up on my dashboard, but that was all I needed to do to record their usage and updated my usage reporting. If you have a process you want to track where part of it can happen in any order, you might be able to leverage this non-linear stage moving in a similar manner.

Another thing to be aware of is your own actions. Every step of this coaching process was optimized to ensure no time was wasted. This is why I had an internal form to register them. Not only did it make adding a new client into my pipeline easy, it ensured that they were always tagged properly and put into my welcome sequence every single time! Yes, I could have used the regular 'ol Add New Contact form and added the tags/opportunity manually, but even that was too much sometimes plus that opened it up for human error.

Where Do You Go From Here?

If you've been reading this series on opportunities and haven't set them up yet, I'd recommend chunking off a section of your calendar and focusing only on getting that built and running; assuming you need opportunities. If you are already using them, maybe now is a good time to step back and look for bottlenecks and inefficiencies in your process. Maybe you can use some internal forms to streamline the sending of a "custom" email that everybody gets. Maybe it is as simple as setting up some Note templates for FAQ emails or other stuff.

Super Bonus PDF Resources to Get Quick Wins ... FAST!

Ok, so maybe that headline is a bit overhyped, but I created some PDF resources for a talk I gave about opportunities at InfusionCon this year. My talk was on the third day and is available in the InfusionCon 2013 video library. Rather than have these resources collect digital dust, here they are in all their glory. My hope is that with these you'll be able to setup and start using opportunities faster than you thought possible.

The free download links are listed below:

So what do you think, fair reader? You think you've got a better understanding of why Infusionsoft's Opportunities are the most powerful piece in the software?

Photo credit: [phil h]

Paul Sokol
I'm Infusionsoft's mad scientist around the visual campaign builder and spend my days creating automated marketing campaigns for the masses. It is literally the most fun I've ever had!. I'm an electrical engineer by trade with a passion for music, skateboarding and life in general; I love being given a challenge and figuring out a solution!

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