Sales Planning: Visibility Matters For Sales Reps
Last Revision: 03/06/ 2021
Our last post introduced the science of sales enablement for sales reps and outlined the main variables in the formula: planning, preparing and engaging. Now it’s time to break out the steps and dissect the elements. So what makes sales planning tick? For starters, visibility.
Why pipeline visibility is the first step to controlling and growing your bottom line
Sales visibility isn’t a piece of technology. It’s not a new app, trend, or buzzword. It’s a simple philosophy at the root of success in any professional industry. It all starts with visibility. Your reps need clarity far and wide across the sales pipeline, along with a defined, in-depth snapshot of each opportunity. This unhindered insight opens the door to analysis and prioritization leading to calculated sales efforts that keep deals moving forward.
One of the top five strategic actions that contribute to effective sales enablement is to gain better insight into buyer engagement. And on average, enterprises will miss the equivalent of 10% of total annual sales in ‘lost opportunity’ revenue that could have been captured as a result of better visibility on sales activities and insight into target markets.
The more awareness your sales reps have, the better. An elevated perspective reveals the entire sales landscape: What are the vitals of your pipeline and opportunities, how do buyers respond to your touch points, how consistent are you with your follow-up and process.
What is Sales Visibility and Why is it Important?
Sales visibility, at its core, is all about control. It’s about empowering sales teams with the knowledge and tools to make the most out of every opportunity. It’s almost eliminating error wherever possible.
Sales visibility turns sales into a science; a repeatable system that you can scale up and duplicate.
In this post, we’re going to dive into the importance of sales pipeline visibility for modern sales teams. We’ll examine sales visibility from many angles and offer a simple, yet comprehensive definition.
Then, we’ll talk through:
- Why you should care about visibility in your sales team
- The implications of visibility on both the manager and rep level
- Practical ways to implement it for sales success.
Let’s start by defining our terms.
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What is Sales Visibility?
A basic definition of sales visibility is as follows:
“The ability to see the entirety of your sales pipeline – at both a granular and zoomed-out level – and know what opportunities exist in which funnel stage, understand at-risk opportunities that need attention, and forecast results with confidence.”
This is all true. But let’s see if we can simplify it further. Sales visibility is “professional awareness.”
A true expert (in any discipline, not just sales) is keenly aware of all the variables that lead to their success.
They move through their days with confidence and intentionality. They don’t “wing it” or throw stuff against the wall hoping it sticks.
To put it in the negative, sales visibility is a lack of ignorance. There are many things outside of our control as sales professionals (but fewer things than we like to admit).
One thing that sales teams can do is reduce ignorance. We can eliminate any shred of doubt on the state of a current deal or opportunity.
We’ll get into some practical ways to reduce ignorance and increase awareness. But first, let’s go over a few concrete reasons sales visibility is so important.
Why is sales pipeline visibility important?
In other words, why should you care? When we break down the definition into its simplest form of “professional awareness,” it should seem obvious.
Any ignorance in business, especially in the complex world of B2B sales, is a hindrance to success.
Any time sales reps and managers can be more aware of what makes an opportunity fail or succeed, they’re in a much better place to replicate that success or mitigate that failure in the future.
Here are a few major benefits of implementing sales visibility on your team:
Sales visibility helps you detect patterns and connections
Visible pipelines are not places where one-off deals are one. They’re microcosms of larger phenomena.
What do I mean by that? I mean everything that happens in sales is a pattern and a system.
Trends that seem unrelated in how a particular demographic responds to your value prop are not unrelated at all.
How a particular customer receives and interacts with collateral, the speed at which certain leads close – these things aren’t random.
They might feel random when your funnel is shrouded in mystery, but the “aha” moment comes when you clear the mist and see these patterns with your own eyes.
Once you detect patterns, you can decide if those patterns are good or bad. You then replicate the good patterns and cut the bad ones.
But if you can’t decode the patterns in the first place, then you don’t have a roadmap for solving them. Sales visibility affords you the knowledge you need to unearth these patterns.
1. Sales visibility enables true prioritization
Prioritization is a zero-sum game. If you value everything the same, you value nothing. Every deal feels urgent when it first hits the pipeline, but that’s not the reality.
Pipeline visibility helps you see deals that seem urgent, but aren’t. Also, it helps you see deals that are at risk of falling through the cracks or need desperate attention. Deals you had forgotten about or never noticed.
Of course, this point assumes that you have some sales process in place, even a basic, manual process.
If you don’t, no problem. We’ll talk through that a bit later in this post.
2. Sales visibility allows you to engage and correct problematic areas
Pipeline visibility reveals blind spots not only at a systematic level but at an individual level. Sales reps reading this, don’t raise your defenses just yet. This isn’t Big Brother (more on avoiding that pitfall below).
The point is that sales visibility can help managers identify weaknesses in their team and correct them. The net result is more success on both sides of the org chart. For this reason, visibility should be (but isn’t always) a welcome addition to the life of a sales rep.
3. Sales visibility helps you see “growth levers”
In every business, there are “growth levers.” That is to say, levers you can “pull” to expand your business.
For example, a growth lever might be the production of a particular type of collateral that increases your lead’s funnel velocity by 3x.
Or, a growth lever could be a particular marketing channel (email, conferences, web) that attracts a higher tier of qualified leads.
Here’s the bottom line. You can’t ever hope to understand these levers (much less pull them) until you have sales pipeline visibility.
Without this knowledge, rather than pulling growth levers, you’ll be grasping at straws.
The whole point of a growth lever is that you alter certain variables while maintaining the others. This the basic principle of the scientific method; you want to isolate the thing that causes the growth.
You can’t know or isolate those variables until you see your pipeline as a living, breathing organism.
4. The impact of sales visibility on managers and reps
Sales visibility carries with it a lot of unhelpful preconceived notions.
Many sales reps hear the term and think leaders will scrutinize their every action against unrealistic goals. Some sales reps, whether for noble reasons or not so noble reasons, may buck under any sort of accountability.
On the flip side, some managers may see sales visibility as a way to micromanage their employees.
We’d recommend those folks do some serious soul-searching before moving forward. That’s nowhere near the point of sales visibility.
It’s important to go back to the core role of a sales leader – to actually lead.
That is, to empower, equip, and support their sales team for success. Anything less than that will sow seeds of discord and resentment on the team.
The only way sales visibility succeeds is with full buy-in from the entire team — top to bottom.
5. What sales visibility means from the manager’s perspective
So how does sales visibility impact the day-to-day workflow of sales managers? The core value is understanding what the sales team is doing and how they’re doing it.
They can then identify problem areas and address those areas with training, coaching, or other resources.
Sales visibility also means leaders can discern patterns, both positive and negative. For example, if you’ve got a particular sales rep who’s weak in lead qualification, you’d want to pair them up with someone strong in that area.
If you have a sales rep who’s killing it in a new market, study their patterns and best practices. Those practices might include how they talk on the phone, what collateral they’re using, and how they position your solution. Use that as a basis for training your other reps and new hires.
You can also use these best practices as onboarding materials for new employees. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Here’s one more example. If you’ve got collateral that’s resonating with a target audience and helping them move down the funnel, you’ll want to create more collateral in that style or of that same format.
It’s pretty simple, but these are things that you can’t do without sales visibility.
Sales managers can better train employees when they have visibility into their patterns and processes. Leaders can tailor their management style to the needs of particular reps.
Not everyone has the same strengths and weaknesses. Sales visibility gives you the tools to address things surgically and tactfully.
And, from an analytical perspective, sales visibility empowers more confident planning. The future is less uncertain with a visible pipeline.
Avoiding the “big brother” effect
First off, let’s address the elephant in the room: nobody likes to be micromanaged.
I don’t have scientific data on this, but I’d venture a guess that nobody likes to be micromanaged less than salespeople.
The last thing you want is to equate sales visibility with surveillance. That will breed discontented sales reps with a temptation to update their LinkedIn profiles and look elsewhere.
This is a tough problem to solve and requires both tact and proper framing of the purpose of sales visibility. Here are some strategies for avoiding the big brother effect and getting full buy-in from your team.
It starts with the culture
Before we talk about technology, systems, or specific tactics, there must be one foundational element in place: A culture of feedback and constant improvement.
This needs to be an understood pillar of your sales team.
Reinforce this with every new hire, at every sales meeting, and at every one-on-one meeting. Your team must be open to feedback and open to improving.
When ego or pride gets in the way, that’s when errors go unchecked and quotas go unmet.
This applies to managers, as well. Leaders can’t buck up against reasonable criticisms from their staff. That type of arrogance flows downhill and will infect the rest of the team.
Managers must set an example in humility, teachability, and professionalism. Establishing this as a guiding principle of your sales time is essential. Otherwise, you’ll be spinning your wheels in the sales visibility conversation.
Eliminate, don’t add busywork
The thought of implementing new initiatives can make sales reps bristle. They might assume it means more menial tasks to please the suits in the C-suite and less time selling.
Whatever tools, systems, or processes you put in place, be sure they save time.
I know this sounds obvious, but it’s very easy to overlook all the required tasks when introducing something new.
All those added steps subtract valuable time from their day.
That’s why we built the Accent suite of sales enablement software. To take the busywork away from sales reps.
We’ve developed tools to automatically transcribe phone calls, visualize pipeline health, and prescribe real-time recommendations for driving leads down the funnel.
Increase trust by demonstrating buy-in and value
Your team should trust you as a leader, and by extension, trust your judgment. If you recommend a particular solution, system, or technology, you must yourself believe that it will help.
I’ve seen sales leaders begrudgingly introduce new software or tools with nothing but grumbles and complaints.
The refrain goes something like this: “I know, I know. This is the worst. It’s something we all have to deal with.”
It’s obvious that kind of attitude toward sales visibility will breed resentment among your team!
It’s not rocket science: you yourself must have buy-in toward a solution if you’re going to expect that from those you lead.
If you want success in sales visibility, you must articulate why it benefits the entire organization from the top-down – and actually believe it.
Oftentimes, sales visibility means two new things. One, new processes, and two, new software.
Again, this may sound obvious, but it’s important to mention. Make sure your people are comfortable with these before implementing them.
They don’t have to agree with you 100%, but they should respect you enough to be well-versed in these new tools and techniques.
As you’re researching software solutions, consider the following essentials:
- Robust help documentation
- Quality support staff
- Testimonials of happy users
- A comprehensive onboarding plan
The last thing you want is for sales reps to try it once, get frustrated, and return to old processes.
Reiterate and recap the added value
Buy-in is like a plant. If you don’t water it, it’ll die. You must reiterate the value of your new sales visibility strategy on a consistent basis.
Show your team year-over-year metrics on how the visibility of your sales pipeline has corresponded to success.
Getting started with sales visibility
Alright, let’s get practical. Consider the following six steps as a foundational primer in the art of sales visibility.
Many of you may have already walked through these six steps. For you, your mission is optimization, automation, and continual improvement.
Some of you might be knee-deep in step three, implementing a CRM. Others of you might not even have sales goals in place.
Whatever the state of your sales team, moving through the following steps will help you take strides toward sales visibility. At the very least, it’ll be a helpful reminder.
Step 1 – Establish your goals
Nothing that we’ve discussed so far and nothing we discuss beyond this will matter if your team doesn’t have clear, actionable goals.
What good is the world’s best marksman if they can’t even see the target? Such is a team without a plan.
The most common goals are revenue-based. But there are other, less obvious metrics that matter. Churn, customer retention, lead qualification, funnel velocity, and quota attainment, for example.
When setting goals, make sure they’re SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-specific).
- An example of a bad goal: Close deals faster.
- An example of a good goal: Decrease the average sales cycle from 24 days to 18 days (25% reduction) by the end of Q4.
Step 2 – Put a plan in place
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
You’re not going to wake up overnight and suddenly have a 25% reduction in your sales cycle. There have to be concrete steps to get there.
This means a written plan of execution to meet your newly-set goals.
Most of the time, this plan will involve milestones. Milestones are a great way to break up sales goals into smaller, more manageable chunks.
In the case of our example goal, a milestone might be reducing the sales cycle by 5% each month.
Then, you need to get granular and talk about how you’re going to reduce them by 5%. Perhaps that means attacking a new market, trying a new piece of collateral, or identifying bottlenecks in the funnel that draw out the sales cycle.
Of course, you must know what’s actually in your pipeline to address the bottlenecks. That’s where sales visibility comes in, specifically in the next step
Step 3 – Set up your CRM
CRM, or Customer Relationship Management, is both an idea and a software category. Managing relationships with customers is nothing new.
Businesses have been converting interested browsers to full-fledged evangelists for as long as time itself.
But thanks to software, we can now automate much of the manual CRM work.
The best-known CRM is Salesforce, with newer contenders such as Hubspot offering similar functionality at a lower price.
What you choose is far less important than how you use it.
Any good CRM includes the ability to include basic details about opportunities. This means contacts, notes, and their stage in the funnel or pipeline.
Pipeline stages are similar from organization to organization, and include things like:
Each of these stages represents a snapshot in the life cycle of a prospect. Here’s where the visibility comes into play: everyone must be crystal clear on when prospects move up or down the funnel.
One sales rep might think that a Qualified lead means someone who showed passing interest at a conference.
Another might consider Qualified to mean documenting pain points and purchasing power of the prospect.
Whatever you decide matters far less than simply deciding something. And getting everyone on the same page.
This simple act of getting everyone aligned on sales pipeline criteria will be an absolute game-changer for your forecasting and sales visibility.
Setting these standards requires writing comprehensive SOPs, which leads us to our next step.
Step 4 – Establish SOPs
SOPs, or standard operating procedures, are the small, granular tasks that govern the day-to-day operations of sales reps.
This isn’t a secondary topic: it’s linked to sales visibility.
Sales visibility doesn’t only mean visibility into the pipeline, but transparency into what’s expected of sales reps.
It’s these small actions that, compounded, lead to success. Examples of SOPs are:
- How often to follow up with leads
- The format for leaving contact notes
- Expense reporting protocols
- CRM data maintenance
As a general rule, if it’s a repeatable task that moves deals forward, you should write an SOP on it.
It’s helpful to create a repository of written SOPs that employees sign off on. This way, there’s no question that they’ve read and understand what’s expected of them.
Using Google Drive or an intranet server to store these SOPs is a good idea for easy access. When a situation arises, employees can immediately consult the relevant SOP and understand the best practices for moving forward.
Step 5 – Track KPIs
If you follow the above steps, you’ll soon realize some metrics are nothing more than “vanity metrics.”
They might look good on a graph or a chart, but they don’t actually translate to won deals or a beefier bottom line.
As with most things in life and business, the 80/20 rule applies here. That is, 80 percent of your results are likely driven by 20 percent of your metrics.
Your job as a sales leader is to find those metrics, chart them, and focus on how to optimize and improve them.
For example, you might notice a direct correlation between leads moving from the “Lead” stage to the “Qualified” stage with phone calls made early in the morning.
In this case, you’d want to create a KPI for early morning phone calls, track those using your CRM or sales enablement software, and study whether the evidence proves out your hypothesis.
The obvious KPIs are quota attainment percentage and revenue. But it’s important to think outside the box and identify these granular KPIs that really move the needle.
And in the spirit of sales visibility, share your KPI tracking with the team. Make it abundantly clear what KPIs you’ll be tracking, specific KPI goals for sales reps, and their progress in achieving those goals.
Step 6 – Utilize sales enablement technology
Phew. We’ve talked about a lot here. Sales visibility is not something that happens by accident. It requires effort, upkeep, and intentionality. Thankfully, the Accent Technologies suite of software exists to help both sales managers and reps alike achieve “professional awareness” in all aspects of their livelihood.
How to choose a Sales Enablement Platform that prioritizes visibility
When shopping for a solutions that will bring visibility to your team, it’s important to know what you’re looking for and identify what their offering may be missing. Here’s a checklist of capabilities to look for in a Sales Enablement Platform that promises to use catalyze sales success and deliver complete visibility:
Clarity with context?
- Doe the platform provide a clear picture of each opportunity, its history, and it’s health?
- Does the platform provide clarity on the health and energy of your the entire sales pipeline?
- Does the platform score and prioritize top opportunities with the most potential for return?
Activity, events and monitoring.
- Can you see the complete timeline of all actions taken and materials sent or shared with buyers?
- Can you track events to view upcoming and historical events for each opportunity and lead?
- Can you gauge the success of your follow up actions and which resources were most effective?
Pipeline urgency and top-opportunity reports.
- Does it help reps recognize follow-up urgency with clear visuals presenting variables such as deal size, engagement strength, fit and opportunity velocity?
- Does it calculate opportunity strength and prompt personalized follow-up activities with help from specialized algorithms?
Engagement analytics and dashboards.
- Do you get real-time buyer behavior notifications – opens, views, downloads, shares and even “cold spots” where buyers lose interest – on all messages and content?
- Can you see the impact your sales team is making on each persona on the buying team?
Accent’s Sales Management AI dashboard gives leaders everything they need on one convenient dashboard. This includes seller performance, pipeline health, and forecasting data.
Using AI-driven tech, Accent’s CRM Supercharger platform works with existing CRM data to guide reps on how to sell better. This includes offering prescriptive next steps on how to move deals down the funnel and data on the most historically-successful actions.
If sales visibility is a priority for your organization (and it should be), we’re here to help. Accent’s software is the perfect companion to empower sales success for both leaders and reps. Forget trying to manually sort through pipeline data and discern deal health. Let us do the heavy lifting for you.
Reach out to our team today to see the software in action.