The dust has started to settle on 2008, and from what we hear, a number of organisations ended up below their initial Q4 forecasts. Fewer end-of-year "bluebirds" seemed to have come in, and a number of apparently solid deals ended in "no decision".
I've spoken to a number of sales leaders about their resulting New Year forecasting resolutions, and I uncovered a common theme - they all expressed the desire to know when the status of deals have changed sooner rather than later, when there may is enough time to do something about the situation - rather than discovering that circumstances have changed after the event.
This is going to put a big spotlight on pipeline data quality, completeness and accuracy - but simply extolling sales people to do a better job isn't going to be enough. Unfortunately, things which are not inspected, cannot be expected - and most CRM tools do a pretty poor job of highlighting "what just happened".
As a result, sales managers or sales operations professionals often end up spending an inordinate amount of time trying to work out what just changed in the pipeline. What's required is an ability to track changes in close to real time. Finding out that a deal is likely to slip after the event gives managers little chance to react.
The flip side, of course, is being able to identify where things haven't progressed as you expected in deals you might have been counting on for the quarter.
So if the need to know what's changed in the pipeline has assumed even more importance in 2009, what tools can sales leaders or sales operations professionals turn to? Well, the traditional approach would be to run spreadsheet extracts even more frequently and go through a mind-bending "stare and compare" routine to try and get to the facts - but that's awfully wasteful and inefficient.
The better approach would be to be able to manage by exception - and to be able to immediately see what has or hasn't changed. We've seen great success from pipeline analytics tools - but don't let the analytics word scare you off. I know that the idea of analytics and BI conjures up visions of projects that take too long, cost too much and are complex to administer, but it does not have to be that way.
In the same way that salesforce.com and other SaaS vendors have transformed CRM as a sales tool, so vendors like Cloud9 Analytics are transforming CRM information as a management tool. I'd suggest you check it out while there's still time to positively impact Q1!