Are opportunities flowing, or are they silently killing your year? It’s impossible to deliver predictable results if you cannot look forward to see where your business is coming from. Pipeline stagnation is often due to the lack of a process for releasing opportunities from the sales process and returning them back to Marketing for nurturing. It’s difficult to grow revenue faster than your industry’s growth rate and faster than your competitors. Leverage the How to Make Your Number in 2018 Workbook to access a revenue growth methodology to hit your number quarter after quarter, and year after year.


In this article we will describe why it makes sense to formally enable a Return to Nurture.


The Symptoms of Stagnation


  • Opportunities that are endlessly open and bloat the true size of the pipeline
  • Reps keeping inactive opportunities alive for fear of seeing them assigned to someone else if they are closed
  • Marketing pointlessly nurturing returned leads without the benefit of understanding who they are and how they have interacted with the company in the past.


Overcoming Stagnation


Since the beginning of this year, our firm has been engaged with a global B2B technology firm to develop and implement a customized sales process. During a design workshop we talked about the start of the process where the leads become opportunities and enter the sales process. That made sense. Then we talked about how opportunities become leads when they stop moving forward. That idea was completely foreign.


The Dreaded Open Loop


Their sales process lacked a way to handle opportunities that had stalled and needed to be recycled for more nurturing. They had just 2 choices:


  1. Discard the work-in-process as “Closed – No Opportunity”
  2. Let the opportunity linger in the CRM system


By choosing “Closed – No Opportunity,” any chance of winning the deal later was lost because it had disappeared from all radar screens.  The alternative was to leave the opportunity in active status in order to attain a pipeline target. This option encouraged reps to waste additional time and energy on stagnant deals. It also distorted essential CRM process metrics like sales cycle length and forecast accuracy, compromising the data needed to manage the business. These were both ugly alternatives.


The Solution


The answer is to put a process in place to enable a Return to Nurture (RTN) loop. This is the equivalent of ‘reworking’ a lead rather than scrapping it or pretending it isn’t utterly dormant. (The term ‘Return’ implies that the opportunity originated from the lead management system, but it works equally well for opportunities that are initiated by the sales force.)


What Happened to My Deal?


The most common reasons for Return to Nurture include:


  • The decision maker has changed jobs
  • Funding for the purchase is delayed or cancelled
  • Business conditions and/or priorities have changed
  • Timing is significantly extended or uncertain


Shift the Workload


Sales reps are an expensive resource for nurturing leads into opportunities. They also lack the temperament to assist buyers in the early stages of gathering information and educating themselves. The pressures to build a pipeline, commit revenue to the forecast and earn a commission check are just too great. A robust lead development system offers not only an on-ramp to the sales process, but it provides a re-work loop for RTN opportunities.


How and When to Close the Loop


An effective Return to Nurture (RTN) loop flags all opportunities that have stayed in one sales stage for too long. A rule of thumb is that the duration is 3 times the average number of days for all opportunities in that stage. This requires a disciplined cadence for reviewing aged opportunities.


The RTN loop must enable reps to:


  • Transfer the opportunity to the lead development process
  • Provide background information for nurturing
  • Designate the type of effort that is needed
  • Direct the opportunity to the correct stage of lead development


Putting it All Together


The Return to Nurture loop is a component of an integrated Lead Management and Opportunity Management workflow. Best practices in enabling it include the use of an Return to Nurture Checklist. An example that you can customize is available by clicking here. Leverage this word document in your planning efforts to determine how you want to set this up in your CRM. Tracking this step is an important element that leverages the work that has been done to date on the opportunity and provides direction to the lead development organization. Once the manual practice is proven, automating is the next advancement.


Now It’s Your Move


Tight integration between Marketing and Sales with a closed-loop process allows leads and opportunities to flow in accordance with the real dynamics of the customer’s buying process. Return to Nurture is an advanced concept that distinguishes world-class operations from those who simply aspire to hit the quarterly number. Imagine how effective your sales process could be with a comprehensive and staged approach to closing this costly gap.


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