My company sells CRM software and every year I get a few sales managers calling me that pretty much say the same thing:  “Gene, I just changed jobs.  At my last company we used one of the software products you sell.  I’m not saying it’s the greatest, but I’m OK using it again at my new job.  Please come in here, get it setup for my guys, and most importantly:  get me my pipeline report!”

Got a salesperson?  Or five? Or ten?  Then you have to manage them.  And today’s technology allows you to do that.  Whether it’s a simple spreadsheet or a full blown customer relationship management system it’s critical that you’re getting the right reports to make sure your sales people are as productive as possible.  My company has about 600 active clients.  And our very best ones rely heavily on reports to make sure things are heading in the right direction.  Which reports are the most popular for the sales group?  There’s a bunch of useful ones.  But the most important, by far, is the pipeline report.  Do you have one?

This is a report of all your open opportunities.  What is an opportunity?  Different people define one different ways.  In my company, an opportunity is created when we send a formal quote to a client or prospect.  But for others, it may be from a first meeting, a bid proposal, a solicitation or a conversation.  You need to define what, in your company, is an opportunity.  And then get the word out to your sales people.

You will want to see the company and contact information.  You’ll want to see the value of the opportunity, who’s responsible (i.e. the salesperson or account manager) and when you expect it to close.  You definitely want it weighted – let your salesperson give a subjective percentage (we use 20%, 50%, 80%) depending on the chance it’ll close.  The total value of the opportunity is meaningless.  The weighted value is the most important number.  That’s the value discounted by the probability that it will actually happen.  The weighted value should change frequently because sales opportunities change frequently – some get hotter and some get colder.  The sum value of all the weighted values of your opportunities gives a better picture of what’s in your pipeline.  Also, include on it the last few things that happened with the opportunity (an email sent, a call made, an appointment) and the next few things scheduled as a follow-up. Because you will always want to know two things:  who spoke to this guy last and when’s the next follow-up?

Make sure you can filter this by salesperson or region.  Maybe you exclude opportunities under a certain value so you can concentrate on the higher dollar deals.  And make sure it’s aged.  You want the older opportunities popping up first.  Why is this opportunity still on this report?  Will it ever close?  Is anything being done with it?  If not, get it out of there.   You need to focus on what’s real, what’s live, what’s important and what’s most profitable.

It takes time to do this right.  Your salespeople may complain.  Tell them to stop complaining.  It’s 2013 and this is a very common exercise for companies.  Opportunity reports are typical and critical.  And besides these opportunities are not just their opportunities.  They’re the company’s opportunities too.  How else can you know what’s going if you’re not getting the information from them?

Some people prefer dashboards.  Others prefer a spreadsheet.  It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re getting your information in a form that makes sense to you. Get the report automatically delivered.  Most systems now have automatic email for reports.  Just ask your tech guy to set this up.  Print it out.  Carry it with you.  Read it on the go.  Make notes on it.  Ask your sales team to do the same.  And then bring it with you to your weekly sales meeting.  This is a report you should be reviewing at least once a week with your team.  They will help you with updates.  After only a few weeks you’ll get a much better picture of your revenue stream in the months to come. Great business owners and sales managers manage their sales operations around a good pipeline report.  And so should you.