Stage Gating – From a CRO’s Perspective
So your team doesn’t like to enter deal information, related contacts, update stages appropriately… I bet you’re wondering, should I stage gate?
To “Stage Gate” is to put barriers in the CRM such that an End User (Salesperson) may not progress to the next stage of an Opportunity before they complete specific fields or processes.
The basic rule of thumb is that Sales people will HATE stage gating, but it’s necessary for Sales leaders and Revenue Operations to maintain and speak towards pipeline and the quality of the deals. It’s a trade off and Sales Leaders have to answer the following…
“Is the following…”
- Improved deal forecasting accuracy.
- Better alignment between Sales and Marketing.
- Greater Scalability and Cross-Team Efficiency.
- Establishing buy-in and overcoming the team’s resistance to change.
- Defining (with exit/entry criteria) stages.
- The Risks
- Inadequate training.
- Future changes to stages.
- Over-reliance on stages and over-homogenization.
In this series of two articles we will explore the CRO and the RevOps perspective as you try to balance between competing priorities and strategies to manage your team.
Our first article, written by David Weiss of The Sales Collective, navigates the subtleties of how teams react to stage gating. Our second article, written by Michael Venman of The Sales Nerd, walks through operational techniques to build beyond stage gating and play offense with your data.
From a CRO Perspective
I completely understand the hurdles that sales representatives encounter with CRM adoption and deal information updates. I’ve walked in your shoes. In my professional journey, I’ve grappled with five different CRMs, each one a test of my patience. Except, of course, for those gratifying instances of unlocking new opportunities or marking a deal as ‘Closed Won’.
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Stage gating may feel like an obstacle. However, it serves an essential purpose, capturing critical deal information for current analysis and future reference. When implemented correctly, stage gating acts as a strategic tool for incremental improvements and long-term goal setting as territories and personnel change over time. It’s not a luxury; it’s a necessity for comprehensive business evolution.
Admittedly, your sales force may not see the big picture, focusing instead on their immediate tasks and targets. While we should attempt to broaden their perspective, this approach seldom yields significant results. After all, you’re asking them to carry out a task that benefits the business more than them, which can be a hard sell.
So, how can you navigate this challenge?
Balancing User Experience and Data Quality:
Start with identifying your non-negotiable data – the information vital for business functionality and transition periods, such as territory splits or when hiring new people that will inherit the accounts. Make this data entry mandatory. Everything else is optional, and it’s the leadership’s responsibility to ensure its entry through deal and pipeline reviews.
Remember, every administrative task takes away from a sales rep’s selling time, a fact they won’t hesitate to remind you. In a high-volume sales environment, excessive data fields can hinder productivity. So, weigh the benefits against the costs. Is the information worth the potential revenue loss and additional admin load? If yes, make it a requirement; if not, make it optional.
Enhancing Collaboration and Communication:
Stage gating can foster synergy between sales, marketing, and other departments, improving collaboration and communication. This enhanced alignment helps understand the buyer’s journey better, providing valuable data to accelerate the revenue cycle. If every department can leverage this data – marketing to refine strategies, operations to manage capacity, product to review loss reasons – the benefits can be enormous. So, think about these data requirements and their potential uses. If you can demonstrate to the sales team that their input will enhance support from other departments, they are more likely to provide better data.
As an example, if marketing wanted more data from sales, I would want to ensure they we’re going to use it to better target our audience, or improve messaging, or leverage it to update collateral, something to help us down the road. Same with product, happy to give product details if they will actually use it to make enhancements to the products. Remember, to change behavior, show them the win-win situation.
Driving Sales Performance and Accountability:
Consistent data entry and stage updates foster a culture of accountability among salespeople. This transparency allows sales leaders to identify performance gaps and fine-tune their coaching strategies. However, the onus is on leaders to actively engage with the CRM for deal reviews and coaching. One of my successful strategies was to assign certain fields to the rep and others to the leader, making leaders equally accountable for data accuracy during pipeline and forecast discussions. For example, reps could get MEDDPICC fields to red / yellow, but leaders needed to mark them complete through a line of deal inspection questions. Another example is that reps can make things pipeline, and upside, but leaders move things to commit. This ensures proper levels of accountability and inspection.
Leveraging Generative AI & Conversational Intelligence for Efficiency:
Two promising AI technologies can augment these behaviors. First, combining a conversational intelligence platform with generative AI can automate opportunity updates in Salesforce by analyzing rep calls. With the correct backend integration, this solution can deliver all the data you need without burdening your reps. Though still in their infancy, these platforms show immense promise and deserve serious consideration.
Second, AI platforms that aggregate win, loss, and stage movement insights from your CRM data can drive better results. You can use this data to spot patterns, make informed decisions, and refine your sales process. Several AI tools in the market can simplify this process, and combining the two can provide a potent engine to understand what’s working and what isn’t.
While salespeople may view stage gating unfavorably, it’s an integral part of sales success. As sales leaders, we must strike the right balance between upholding data quality and ensuring a seamless user experience for our teams. By championing stage gating and investing in the right tools, training, and processes, we can nurture a culture of accountability and data-driven decision-making. The result? A sales strategy that is not only more efficient but also more effective in driving growth.
In the end, it’s about using technology and processes not as hurdles, but as enablers. It’s about viewing data not as a burden, but as a powerful resource. It’s about transforming our approach from a narrow, short-term focus to a broad, long-term vision. Only then can we unlock the full potential of our sales teams and foster a dynamic, successful sales culture.
Remember, the goal isn’t just to make your salespeople work in the system. The goal is to make the system work for your salespeople. Because when the system works, everyone wins.