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optimizing the middle of the funnel

Deals in progress: 6-step scorecard to optimize middle-funnel conversions

Reading time: about 10 min

Posted by: Chris Ortolano

In December of 2018, I spoke with several VPs and directors who were all struggling with the same problem: how to increase the accuracy of their sales forecasts and not resort to workarounds such as shadow CRMS and complicated spreadsheets. It got me thinking—we live in such a data-driven environment, why can’t we figure out a more predictable sales forecasting process? 

There is so much thought leadership on prospecting and closing, and we have all these powerful sales development tools and curated close plans, but for a lot of sales orgs, the middle of the funnel remains uncharted territory. It’s time to stop blindly “adding value” in the middle of the funnel and start solving strategic business problems that lead to new business. Many of these problems are related to how we adapt to stakeholder requirements during the middle stage of the sales cycle, after the discovery process and before the proposal is sent. Without an adequate stakeholder engagement plan, many account executives chase the wrong deals, which is one reason why close rates have hovered just below 50% across many B2B Sales organizations for well over a decade. 

When it comes to the mid-cycle deal stages I think we’re often treating symptoms, not problems. Low engagement, deals stalling and slipping, discounting, low ACV, and longer sales cycles are all symptoms which are related to much deeper problems. 

Treating the symptoms (or firing the sale rep) do not make the deeper problems disappear. At the root of the problem is a fundamental lack of business process, or change management, relative to the complexity of the deal. 

Yet we often put band-aids on when deals start to stall when what we really need to be doing is assessing the root causes of the problems to determine the resources we need to fix them. 

Many managers just don’t have sufficient time for this process due to how complex this stage of the funnel can be, and spend an inordinate amount of time updating their best guess sales forecasts, and the broken forecasting cycle continues.

Middle funnel deal scoring does not have to be overwhelming. When sales leaders take the time to break down their deals and examine key aspects of it, the complexity of this stage becomes much less daunting. 

Standard CRM pipeline reports routinely display ACV, close date, and probability C/W based on the sales reps’ best guess, with no metrics to support the probability analysis. This leads to a confidence gap between reps and their managers that may result in two different sets of forecasts, and lots of unnecessary work. 

That’s why I used Lucidchart to create a “middle-of-the-funnel scorecard” to help account executives complete a quick middle-of-the-funnel stakeholder analysis to normalize and score deals based on common metrics. This allows reps and their managers to verify specific stakeholder engagement strategies, and not rely on “happy ears”.

By making this six-step evaluation part of your organization’s account planning, teams will be able to identify where a deal stands, why it has stalled, and what the necessary next steps are. 

*Keep in mind that this scorecard is just a template. Take the time to tailor it to your organization and the specific metrics you need to focus on in your own middle of funnel.

mid funnel scorecard
Mid-funnel scorecard template (Click on image to modify online)

1. Know your stakeholders 

I work with big companies and small companies, and regardless of the size, I find that very few have a concept of who the stakeholders in a deal are. They often have a single point of contact who is their champion, but that single contact can’t tell the whole organization’s story or help you understand all of the different priorities within the org. 

That’s why before even addressing this scorecard, reps need to take the time to understand each of the players involved in the deal—otherwise it isn’t going anywhere. One of the most effective ways to gain this understanding is by building an account map that outlines each individual and demonstrates the relationships between them.

Using this visual, reps can group your stakeholders into broader categories—I like to use advocates, influencers, adversaries, and partners. By doing so, you start to see the relationships and overlaps that exist between them. 

Pro tip: Reps can easily create account maps in Lucidchart when you import your Salesforce contacts. 

account map template
Account map template (Click on image to modify online)

This process is all part of the first category on our scorecard: stakeholder engagement strategy. Reps need to evaluate whether they’ve identified each of the stakeholders for this account and determined the role they play. Because you can’t talk to them as one big group—your message to an influencer is very different from your message to an adversary. You need to know who is who in order to know how to best reach them. 

2. Tailor your message

So how do your reps tailor their message to the individual and not the masses? 

This question leads us to our next category: product narrative. Reps need to move beyond the demos and whitepapers to focus on real customer stories. This narrative should focus on the individual, not your product or service, because that focus is what makes it memorable and relatable. Many of the solutions we sell are very technical, but narratives can move the audience to a different state of mind where they can look past functionality to values and benefits—after all, our brains are wired for stories. 

A product narrative allows reps to create a four-part business story that includes goals, outcomes, process, and requirements. You need to show why and how your solution solves a specific problem, and again, the narrative you choose should speak directly to the specific stakeholder on your account map that you’re targeting. In order to get their buy-in, you need to show that you are on their side and want to help them solve their problems. 

3. Evaluate the status of the deal

Next reps need to take time to honestly evaluate the current status of a deal, which is why our third category involves looking at pipeline barriers. During deal reviews or 1:1s, reps should be able to report the average contract value (ACV), stage of the deal, anticipated close date, and partners. These elements serve as verifiers that hold the rep and the buyer accountable. 

If any of this information is missing, the rep needs to ask themselves, “Why won’t this deal close?” This is a powerful question that can shed light on blind spots. For example, if all your rep has is the ACV and stage, you know that’s not enough to move the deal forward to the next stage and that your rep should investigate the close date.

At this point, you should tally up the score for this first level of our scorecard. You have all the data regarding a specific deal in one spot within this template, which allows you and your reps to focus on addressing next steps instead of wasting time trying to put all these pieces together.

4. Understand the ecosystem 

Now let’s move on to the second level of our scorecard. A complex deal basically involves modifying an ecosystem, which means as part of your middle-of-funnel evaluation, reps need to examine how your solution fits into the customer’s existing ecosystem. Your reps should evaluate their ability to do each of the following:

1. Diagram your product/service in the tech stack.
2. Highlight the value of specific data elements. 
3. Clarify how data is summarized in dashboards
4. Show integrations to other products in their ecosystem. 

This category is especially important because since reps are so solution-specific, they don’t always see the entire ecosystem or think about the data and complex reporting. For example, in filling out this scorecard, the rep might realize they’ve discussed the tech stack and reporting, but that they don’t understand the underlying data set or the complete suite of integrations—now they know where to focus their efforts to hopefully nudge the deal along. 

5. Develop a transition plan

You’ve likely heard about the mutual action plan, which is like your close plan for the fourth quarter to make it to the end of the game. In my opinion, sometimes the game is won or lost in the third quarter, which is why you need something a little lighter, which is what I call the mutual transition plan. Reps need to take a serious look at the deal in terms of true buyer verifiers: resources, timelines, milestones, and constraints. 

For example, reps need to be able to answer these sorts of questions: 

  • Who is responsible for managing implementation?
  • What is the timeline for rolling out the solution to the organization? 
  • What milestones need to be reached during implementation, such as a certain number of people using the solution after a certain amount of time?
  • What are the constraints associated with implementation? 

If you can nail downs these elements, you’re much closer to predicting probability. That clarity is key as you’re getting closer to a close date.

6. Proactively disqualify

Finally, we reach our last category, and these elements act as negative scores on our scorecard. Your rep needs to take an honest look at aspects of the deal that could indicate it’s not ready to close: timing, maturity, authority, and adoption. Maybe it’s a tumultuous time at the company, maybe the company is young and not mature enough to deploy the tool yet. Maybe the stakeholders you’ve been talking to don’t really have the authority to roll out your solution, or maybe there is no real adoption plan in place. 

This step is crucial: You need clarity inside the middle of the funnel. By evaluating how things stand, you can proactively disqualify and take some deals out of the funnel, which can ultimately increase your win rate. 

Now you’re ready to score this second level of your scorecard and carefully evaluate the totals for both levels to take an honest look at how your deal is doing. By doing so, you and your reps will gain new insight into this stage of the funnel and where your deal stands, which will hopefully help you both determine the next steps needed to push a deal to the finish line. Don’t let the middle of the funnel be the blocker—take advantage of this scorecard to easily break down complexities, identify the root problem, and find the right way to engage your stakeholders to help them stay motivated and work with you to solve critical business problems. 

Defining a middle funnel sales process takes time to test, measure, and modify, not unlike similar marketing and sales funnels. Take advantage of a platform like Lucidchart and use additional templates to help you hone in on key contacts and develop mutual transition plans. Doing so will differentiate you from your competitors and help you understand exactly which business problems you need to solve.

Get started easily! Sign up for Lucidchart to access the scorecard template.

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About the author

Chris Ortolano profile picture

Chris Ortolano is a process improvement consultant with Outbound Edge focused entirely on improving middle funnel conversion rates. Chris has developed knowledge transfer systems for onboarding new sales reps at Cience, built a sales enablement portal at DiscoverOrg, and helped implement call coaching programs at ExecVision. Chris also served as project manager for marketing agencies and consulting groups where he honed his process improvement skills in. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn, Twitter, and find him in the SalesStack Slack group.

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