Advisory Insights – Driving Confidence into Your Sales Forecast

What are the critical success factors in winning sales opportunities? The most frequent answer is the quality of your company’s relationship with the potential customer, particularly the relationship with the customer’s decision maker(s) . Other success factors include the quality of your company’s value proposition and experience delivering the required solution, the level and quality of the competition in the deal, and/or the price sensitivity of the customer.

Most organizations maintain some type of list of future revenue opportunities and usually assign a probability to winning each one. Multiply this probability factor by the projected revenue associated with the opportunity, and presto, a weighted average sales funnel is created. Increasing funnel size is seen as a proxy for future revenue growth.

But what about the quality of the information in your sales funnel? Specifically, do you link the critical success factors of winning deals to the probabilities used in your sales funnel calculations? In many organizations, this handicapping process is not really a process at all, but a “gut feel” of the salesperson chasing the opportunity.

We believe there is a way to identify the highest probable opportunities in your sales funnel and to drive behavior within your organization toward the most important activities to actually win deals.

Managing the Critical Success Factors in Sales Pipeline Management

We have identified nine critical success factors that, if assessed properly, will help you both win opportunities and also increase your confidence in the quality of your sales funnel. These factors are primarily designed for organizations that deliver relatively large dollar, more complex solutions to customers, but the approach can be tweaked to better fit your particular sales environment or industry.

Each factor is designed to be answered “Yes” or “No”. In most cases, assessing the presence of the success factor is subjective, but the assessment itself will also generate positive behaviors in the sales process and foster a positive atmosphere of accountability in doing the things that win deals.

The critical success factors have been grouped into four categories: prerequisites which assess how well your organization fits the opportunity, probability factors which evaluate the likelihood of the customer moving forward with the project, positioning factors which assess your organization’s ability to put your best foot forward with the customer’s decision maker(s), and process factors which assess your competitive position in the deal and your overall ability to do business with the prospective customer.


  • The potential customer is an existing satisfied customer or a strong friend of the organization.
  • Your organization has demonstrable and unquestionable experience required for the opportunity.


  • Compelling Event. There is a known existing or impending event compelling the potential customer to move forward with the transaction in the next [#] of days/months (defined by your organization).
  • We have the customer’s “Authority for Expenditure” (AFE) or equivalent written evidence that the proposed project or transaction will occur in the next [#] of days/months (defined by your organization).


  • Decision-maker. We presented our proposed solution in person to the decision-maker(s).
  • Value Proposition. The value proposition of our solution is compelling and we are confident it is well understood.


  • There are either no competitors or fewer than three, one of which is clearly inferior.
  • The decision-maker has confirmed that price is not the sole driver of the decision or that we are the low bidder.
  • Terms and Conditions. We have successfully contracted with the customer previously or we have reviewed and approved the proposed contract language.

Use the Critical Success Factors above to assign a probability of success to each opportunity as follows:

  • 0% Probable – those identified opportunities not 50% or 80% probable
  • 50% Probable – at least 3 of the 4 Prerequisites and Probability Factors are present
  • 80% Probable – at least 7 of the 9 Critical Success Factors are present

The graphic below further illustrates the process of using the 9 Critical Success Factors to drive positive sales activities and greater confidence in your sales forecast. By using the success factors and limiting the probabilities to 0%, 50%, and 80%, the sales force will be motivated to focus their efforts on the right opportunities and on executing the most important actions to win deals.

The most important part of evaluating sales opportunities is not in assigning a percentage; it is in doing the right activities to actually win deals. In our proposed approach below, the assignment of a probability is the by-product; assessing the factors that help you identify the business opportunities that you are most likely to win and then confidently moving toward those opportunities is the goal.

The graphic below illustrates the process.

Sales Funnel Probability Management_v2