As a seller, the term “opportunity” conjures images of potential growth, success, and of course, profit. But sales opportunities can also muddy the waters for already-busy teams, making it difficult to properly track, prioritize, and tackle leads.
This is particularly true when teams don’t have the right opportunity management strategy and tools to back them up. Account executives (AEs) often must jump between tabs and systems to effectively manage their deals, which reduces their efficiency by up to 9%. They struggle to understand where each deal is in the sales cycle, which hinders their productivity and ability to run effective deal review meetings with managers.
But competitive teams understand the importance of strong sales opportunity management, and reap the benefits of leveraging the right tools and processes. From faster sales cycles to higher productivity to improved pipeline visibility and more, effective opportunity management can take a team's progress and performance to the next level.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about sales opportunity management, including common challenges, benefits, stages, and best practices for success.
What is a sales opportunity?
A sales opportunity is a prospect that’s already been deemed a qualified lead. Keep in mind, while 61% of B2B marketers send all leads directly to sales, only 21% are actually qualified; so it’s important to understand the exact moment a lead becomes an actual sales opportunity.
The qualifying moment differs from one organization to the next (depending on a variety of factors), but effective and standardized lead qualification helps sellers to avoid wasted time and to focus on the right types of leads. The thresholds and criteria by which sellers qualify leads might include the prospect’s pain points, interests, budget, readiness to buy, and more.
Once you’ve identified a prospect as a sales opportunity, you can begin moving them through the sales funnel and managing their progress.
Sales lead vs sales opportunity
It’s important to note that, while every sales opportunity is a lead, not every sales lead is an opportunity. A sales lead is any potential prospect who has demonstrated interest in your business’s products or services. They may have downloaded a gated asset from your website, attended a webinar, or filled out a "contact us" form.
But that initial interest doesn’t necessarily mean a sales lead meets the criteria to eventually become a paying customer. Let’s say Sam is a content marketer at a technology consulting firm. He might download a gated asset from a sales organization that offers digital marketing software; but that doesn’t mean he’s actually ready, willing, or authorized to make a purchase. For now, he’s just considered a sales lead.
On the other hand, if Sam downloads the gated asset, is contacted by the seller, passes the information on to an interested, authorized buyer at his organization, and an initial meeting is subsequently scheduled between that prospect and an AE, the lead is officially transitioned to a sales opportunity.
Common sales opportunity challenges
Converting sales leads into opportunities seems pretty straightforward, right? So why do so many sales teams struggle to manage them properly?
Although they’ve been qualified, not all sales opportunities are created equally. Because of this inequity, sellers often struggle to determine which opportunities they should prioritize. They waste time chasing opportunities that eventually stall out, and miss out on those that would have otherwise made it across the finish line.
For teams that use several disparate systems and tools, keeping track of where each deal is in the sales cycle becomes the primary obstacle. They’re slowed down by toggling between tabs and systems and often don’t have the most up-to-date information possible to fully understand an opportunity’s progress.
These inefficiencies — coupled with a lack of visibility across the pipeline — make managing sales opportunities a time-consuming headache; and one that doesn’t yield the results sellers want. Instead of moving opportunities forward with ease and confidence, sellers spend excess time identifying next steps, determining the actual value of each opportunity, and calculating lost/won ratio.
What is sales opportunity management?
Sales opportunity management is the practice of tracking, organizing, and acting on deals in the sales pipeline. It’s an essential component of maintaining a healthy pipeline and more reliable growth.
The opportunity management process includes tracking and analyzing who’s in your pipeline, their exact location, and whether they’re likely to close and win; then retrospectively comparing this to the same period’s wins and losses. These insights help you understand what went right, what went wrong, and what needs to be fixed.
Over time, you can fine-tune your processes, activities, and interactions so opportunities get exactly what they want and need at the exact right time, making them more likely to make the purchase. Plus, real-time opportunity data allows teams to forecast with greater accuracy and ease, which saves time, instills confidence in leaders and key stakeholders, and supports better business decisions.
Benefits of sales opportunity management
Laying the foundation for strong sales opportunity management can feel daunting, especially for teams that will need a complete overhaul of existing tools and processes. But the juice is well-worth the squeeze, as proper opportunity management can help businesses reap some significant benefits, including:
- Greater visibility: With streamlined processes and centralized tools that update in real time, sales managers have complete transparency into the pipeline. This makes it easier to monitor the progress of each opportunity and to identify (and ameliorate) issues before they arise. Managers have a single view into all deals in progress for each rep; and for reps, it’s a breeze to get the up-to-date information they need to keep deals moving forward.
- Stronger customer relationships: The average professional toggles between different tools and websites 1,200 times per day, which adds up to 5 weeks of wasted time per year. But with a fully integrated system and a more strategic opportunity management process, businesses can greatly reduce that otherwise expensive “toggling tax.” As a result, reps have more time to focus on high-value selling activities — like timely response and follow-up — rather than burdensome administrative tasks. They’re empowered to keep customer conversations going at the right time, which is a crucial advantage since sales reps only have a 14-day window after first contact to engage a buyer before it’s too late.
- A more data-driven approach: Vital to improving efficiency, performance, and pipeline control is the ability to iterate on what did and did not work in the past. With the right tools, sales teams can effortlessly collect, analyze, and act upon their most important metrics to better understand and improve the health of their pipeline. Robust data provides the insights required to spot gaps in the sales process or identify and standardize activities that yield successful results; which, in turn, can reduce the time it takes to close deals.
Sales opportunity stages
In order to qualify and convert a sales opportunity into a paying customer, sellers must move leads through their (ideally) well-defined sales pipeline. Though the pipeline may vary slightly from one company to the next, the most common stages include:
- Lead generation: A prospect can only become a lead if they know about your company’s offerings, and lead generation is the vital first step to getting in front of those potential opportunities. In this initial stage, sellers identify prospects that they think might fit their ideal customer profile. This phase might include prospecting activities (e.g., sending outbound emails, cold calling, or messaging through LinkedIn) or inbound marketing tactics (e.g., collecting customer information through resource downloads, product demo requests, or surveys). Regardless of how it’s done, lead generation is crucial for drumming up new potential opportunities. In fact, 82% of buyers say they’re willing to accept meetings from sellers who proactively reach out, leveraging a take-charge approach to lead gen can attract even more prospective paying customers.
- Qualification: Without a reliable qualification process, sellers often waste time chasing their tails rather than focusing on prospects who are actually likely to convert. Unsuitable leads jam up the pipeline and distract sellers from high-value opportunities. Effective qualification leans on thorough research into prospects to determine their budget, pain points, purchasing authority, readiness to buy, and more. At this point, a prospect either becomes a qualified lead or is removed from the pipeline altogether.
- Contact: 62% of buyers want to hear from sellers once they’ve actively started looking for solutions, so engaging them as soon as they’ve been qualified is a must. Sellers should contact qualified leads with custom messages that have been tailored to their unique pain points (based on that handy research they previously conducted), then continue following up until they book a meeting. Once that first meeting is scheduled with the right stakeholder(s), the qualified lead officially becomes a sales opportunity; and should be tracked and managed with greater priority moving forward.
- Relationship building: Sales teams that take a customer-centric approach build stronger bonds with customers, and can sell 4 to 8% more than competitors who don’t focus on nurturing those relationships. But modern buyers are smart and can smell a phony deal-closer from a mile away, so it’s vital to lead with authenticity and empathy. Practicing effective listening, building and sharing helpful content, personalizing interactions, and capturing and addressing customer feedback can all instill confidence and trust in each lead. And when leads feel connected to and engaged with sellers, they’re more likely to convert from opportunities to customers.
- Meeting, demo, sales call: Getting together with a lead (either virtually or in-person) is a seller’s first chance to make a great impression. Since 58% of sales meetings are not valuable to buyers, it’s crucial to ensure your conversation, demo, and shared content are top-notch to gain an edge over competitors. This requires a deep understanding of how your offering can positively impact the buyer, how it’s unique from competitors’ products or services, and why it’s worth the potential investment. Sellers will almost always face questions and objections at this stage of the process, so having a strong objections-handling process (and great tools for support) is essential for maintaining buyer interest.
- Deal closing: The final stage for managing a sales opportunity is, of course, closing the deal. To make the sale official, sellers must send a detailed proposal to the buyer, then negotiate terms as the customer sees fit. Scope of work, price, and expectations are some of the most common terms that undergo a back-and-forth, which can make this final step complex and lengthy. Since 47% of sellers say competing against lower-priced competitors is the biggest obstacle to closing deals, learning how to confidently negotiate is vital for wrapping up sales opportunities.
Sales opportunity management best practices
A solid sales pipeline is a great jumping-off point for managing your team’s opportunities. But revving opportunity progress and seller performance also requires the use of some tried-and-true best practices.
- Automate repetitive tasks: Reps typically spend only about a third of their time actually selling; a staggering reality that can make it difficult for them to properly monitor and manage their various opportunities. They’re often inundated with manual, time-consuming, repetitive tasks that distract their attention away from engaging with leads. While these essential tasks (like email campaigns, sales outreach, and data entry) can’t go ignored, they can also get in the way of contacting or following up with leads before it’s too late. By automating these tasks, sales teams can boost their efficiency, interact with and prioritize more sales opportunities, and close more deals at a faster rate — all without missing a beat. Plus, modern tools can even automate personalization for a better customer experience that still benefits from a “human” touch. Look for technologies that automate segmentation identification and execution, content creation, results testing, and follow-ups. Since 80% of consumersare more likely to purchase from a brand that offers a personalized experience, automating personalized interactions at scale can create a win-win for buyers and busy sellers alike.
- Conduct thorough research: Understanding the ins and outs of what they’re selling is no longer enough to ensure sellers impress their prospects. These days, higher customer expectations and increased sensitivity to “salesy” jargon and pushy tactics mean reps must also conduct deep research into prospects, key decision-makers, and competitors. Then, they can use those insights to fine-tune messaging and content that goes far beyond basic features or generalized value. Research can also help teams better identify and solve for their customers’ needs and offer competitive solutions that attract even more opportunities.
- Track metrics and act on them: To make sure their opportunities are flowing through the pipeline at an acceptable rate (and that there are enough of them at each stage), sellers need to track and analyze some key metrics. Pipeline metrics (e.g., number of deals, number of new leads per month, pipeline value, etc.) and performance metrics (e.g., response time, win rate, time spent selling, etc.) help managers and reps understand what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to change. To uncover insights around sales opportunities, start by establishing the best set of metrics. Then, collect, monitor, and analyze those metrics in real-time and over longer periods to determine what’s contributing to opportunity conversion rates.
How to manage your sales opportunities effectively
Because effective sales opportunity management requires the right processes and tools, some businesses take a fragmented approach. They still rely on manual, outdated, or disjointed systems in lieu of investing in modern tactics and technologies.
Some smaller businesses use spreadsheets to track and monitor each lead as they progress from prospect to opportunity to closed-won or closed-lost deals along the pipeline. But as they land more opportunities and as the business grows, this approach is difficult — if not impossible — to scale. Efficiency deteriorates, details fall through the cracks, and opportunities are lost before sellers can intervene.
Other organizations use their CRM system to digitize the process. But while these tools are great for managing customers after a sale has closed, they’re limited in terms of engagement capabilities. Yes, they can collect customer contact information and track activities, but they aren’t robust enough to streamline engagement interactions across channels or ensure speedy follow-up to keep leads hot.
To effectively and reliably manage your sales opportunities at scale, your team needs an intelligent deal management platform. The right technology offers insights-driven deal inspection to improve AE and manager efficiency so they can focus on closing more deals at a faster pace.
Some solutions even include conversation intelligence, real-time coaching, live notes transcription, automated follow-up, and actionable data. That way, sellers can spend more time actually selling, and less time on the repetitive, mundane tasks that otherwise divert their attention. Plus, a centralized, real-time view of the pipeline enables sellers and managers to easily inspect and resolve at-risk deals before it’s too late.
Powerful technology for successful sales opportunity management
Sales opportunity management can become your team’s secret weapon in tracking and nudging deals through the pipeline. But your existing tools and processes might be holding you back. To improve deal progress and sales performance, your team needs a holistic solution that helps them create quality pipeline, maximize rep productivity, and drive predictable revenue growth.
Outreach’s Sales Execution Platform harnesses the power of effective deal management, pipeline management, sales engagement, and much more in a single, user-friendly platform. Its intelligent tools give leaders, managers, and sellers a snapshot of every deal with insights across the opportunity lifecycle; plus everything else they need to win more deals at a faster rate and with greater predictability.