Say you have a lead that's demonstrated a very real interest in your product. They need the kind of product you offer, have the budget to pay for it, are looking to purchase on a reasonable timeline, and have the authority to actually make those kinds of decisions for their company.

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At that point, that lead is no longer a lead — they've become an opportunity. Now, the efficacy of your sales process is put to the test. It's a real "put up or shut up" moment for how you handle your sales efforts.

But let's say you have no overarching structure, milestones, or reference points for converting that opportunity to a customer? And what happens if you have multiple opportunities to keep track of? Would you be putting yourself in the best position to handle those kinds of situations?

If that were the case, you'd be selling yourself, your business, and your sales process short — all because you weren't practicing sound opportunity management.

Effective sales opportunity management can be a significant, multifaceted asset to your business. For one, it allows you to better understand your potential customers and prioritize your interactions with them based on their business potential.

It also helps you determine the best way to approach them based on the interest they've demonstrated and the stage of their relationship with your company. Finally, it can help expose flaws in your sales processes, allowing you to consistently improve how you interact with potential customers.

Considering how much sound opportunity management can do for your business, it's important to have some concept of how to do it right. Here, I'll offer some perspective on where to start.

How to Start Opportunity Management

1. Establish your pipeline.

The basis of all sales opportunity management is a well-defined, functional sales pipeline. But determining what yours will look like can be a tough process to navigate. There's no be-all-end-all model that's going to work for every business by default.

In many cases, the effectiveness of your pipeline is measured by your ability to keep it neatly partitioned and easily observable. There are certain resources available to ensure that's the case — namely, CRMs.

Many CRMs have tools dedicated specifically to pipeline construction and maintenance, allowing you to set your own stages to serve as reference points for the maturity and feasibility of deals as they progress.

Here's an example of a very basic pipeline put together in HubSpot's CRM:

HubSpot CRM opportunity management pipeline

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In all likelihood, your stages will look different than the ones in the example. Pipelines often include stages like Appointment Scheduled, Qualified to Buy, Presentation Scheduled, Decision-Maker bought in, Contract Sent, Closed Won, and Closed Lost.

The endgame in designing your pipeline is to give your deal tracking a roadmap. Without it, your opportunity management won't have the structure it needs to be as effective as it can be.

To learn more about sales pipelines, check out this comprehensive guide.

2. Do your homework on your opportunities.

Your potential customers aren't all going to fit the exact same mold. And understanding the nature of each one's habits and business potential is central to effective opportunity management.

Contacts are going to respond at different speeds, have different budgets, and wield different levels of decision-making authority. Those factors — among others — will inform your concept of an individual deal's viability. They can also help you ascribe potential dollar values to the deals you're tracking.

The point here is that research is crucial to the success of opportunity management. It allows you to prioritize more lucrative, feasible deals and be better equipped to understand and interact with contacts.

3. Maintain and track contact with your opportunities.

Always keep a pulse on your opportunities' interest in doing business with you. That means remaining in consistent contact with them. Follow up any inquiries they might have quickly and professionally. Touch base with them at every stage of the sales process.

By defining your pipeline, you're establishing that what it takes to move from stage to stage isn't arbitrary. There are concrete actions that indicate where an opportunity stands in the context of your pipeline. Unless you remain in contact with them, you can't know if they're ready to make those moves.

It's also important to track those interactions once you make them. Many CRMs include resources to log any communication between your company and your opportunities. Features like automatic sales activity logs, shared inboxes, and email tracking make that process possible.

4. Maintain a holistic view of your sales pipeline to identify room for improvement.

One perk of constructing a sales pipeline model in a CRM is being able to identify where you're losing opportunities. That kind of perspective allows you to scope out holes in your sales process that need to be addressed.

Sales opportunity management is about more than tracking individual deals. It can demonstrate a lot about your sales efforts on an organizational level.

For instance, you might find you're losing a disproportionate amount of business between giving presentations and getting buy-ins from decision-makers. If that's the case you'll know you have to address how your reps give presentations. That could mean reevaluating their training, restructuring demonstrations, or revamping your presentation materials.

Well-executed opportunity management is all but essential to sustaining successful sales processes. You have to be able to track and understand your deals before they close in order to know how to best approach them.

If there's anything to take away from this article, it's this — CRMs make the sales opportunity management process a whole lot easier. Many will allow you to set up a pipeline of your own to keep tabs on your opportunities, their potential as customers, and the best and most appropriate ways to win their business.

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Originally published May 11, 2020 8:00:00 AM, updated May 11 2020

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