There are lots of metrics that integrators can examine on a daily basis to track the health of their business … revenue per employee, profit per project, employee utilization rate, website traffic, etc. But no metric might be as important as tracking the number of proposals you have out over a rolling time period.
According to Paul Starkey and Steve Firszt, the veteran business coaches behind Vital Management, integrators often underestimate the importance of having a consistent sales funnel, instead relying too much on referrals.
“The idea of the classic marketing/sales funnel may cause most of us to roll our eyes in kind of a 'what's-the-point' reaction,” say Starkey and Firszt. “However, the nature of our business offers a real and useful view of the sales funnel, that may be easier than you think to exploit and manage.”
They point out how important it is to understand your sales funnel to manage sales, especially in a business where 50 percent of the revenue comes from historical six-digit earners and lifetime supporters that represent less than 10 percent of an integrator's client count.
Vital Management recently analyzed its members and discovered that integrators rarely, if at all, sell a significant systems without a proposal. Likewise, companies tend to carry lots of unconverted proposals and revisions along the way, continuously adding to the pile of proposals.
“However, we don't treat this database of opportunities with any respect,” say Starkey and Firszt. “This collection of work is our insight into future business.”
The eight key questions integrators need to ask themselves are:
- How many proposals were made in the past two years?
- How many were converted to contracts/projects?
- What was the typical incubation time?
- What was the mix and margin on these proposals?
- Are we trending up or down on bid activity? What is our close rate on bids over $50K?
- Is there any differences between our salespeople in any of these?
- Is there any understanding that helps us predict or determine the future well in advance of it happening?
- Shouldn't we have an upstream view of the business to protect and guarantee its success?
Starkey and Firszt understand that tracking website hits, click-throughs, conversions and inquiries can be a bit tedious, but understanding the bank of proposals is critical.
“A low rate of bids and a constantly aging bid portfolio would send red flags to me. Yet most CI companies simply look at what they booked in new business to monitor sales. I get it … we can all see that scoreboard. I suggest sales activity and sales results are two time-separated events in our business. In any four-month period, I suggest that less than 35 percent of the new contracts come from proposals made in the same period. Some of you may have had better experiences,” says Starkey.
Vital Management recommends integrators:
- Run by month the last 24 months of bids based on created dates.
- Audit it to make sure there aren't duplicates or expired bids that are known dead.
- Can you see which ones become estimates (converted)?
- Catalog those by month closed.
- Keep track of new bids each month and last four-month closing percentage vs. total bookings
- Track new bids each month to assure you are building your funnel, not draining it. (Click here for a sample worksheet from Vital Management)
“What might result?” they ask rhetorically. “First, you will see the rate of new bid activity; keeping the fire stoked. Second, each month you will get a better feel from where businesses is coming from; age and size. Third, reduction in the total bids outstanding will give you early warning signs. Fourth, and probably the most important is, now the sales team is focused on upstream activity not production slowdowns or capacity issues.
“One of the richest assets you have in the business is your link to future business. Manage the sales funnel and protect it.”