Improving your company’s sales pipeline management

“It’s in the pipeline!” Business owners often hear this rather vague phrase, which may be good news in some cases or code for “don’t hold your breath” in others. Your sales pipeline, however, is a very real thing. Simply defined, it identifies and quantifies the prospective deals in progress at various stages of the sales process. Properly managing your pipeline can help your business avoid losses and meet or even exceed its revenue goals. 

6 commonly held stages: Many people confuse the sales pipeline with a sales funnel, but these are two separate concepts. A sales funnel is a visual representation of the sales process from the buyer’s perspective. It typically begins with someone becoming aware of a product or service and then moving on to interest, decision and finally action. The sales pipeline also has several commonly held stages, but they’re a bit different. Most models identify them as: Lead generation, Lead qualification, Engagement with the lead, Relationship building, Deal negotiation, and Closing. As you might suspect, volumes could be written and discussed about each stage of the pipeline. Suffice to say that effective sales pipeline management entails knowing precisely where each prospective deal lies among these six stages. Then you must push those deals, with appropriate pressure, through closing to become sales wins. 

From data to done deal: Like so many other things, sales pipeline management in today’s business environment is data driven. Succeeding at this task generally begins with identifying, calculating and tracking the metrics that provide the best insights into how to efficiently and effectively run your pipeline. These may differ somewhat depending on your mission and customer base, but common ones include: Average deal size (the sum of total revenue achieved in a given period divided by the number of sales wins for the same period), Sales win rates (the total number of sales opportunities created in a given period divided by the number of sales wins in the same period), Number of deals in the pipeline (simply the number of vetted, bona fide leads in the pipeline), and Sales pipeline value (the total estimated value of all active, viable opportunities currently in the pipeline). The purpose of these and the many other pipeline-related metrics isn’t to create data in a vacuum. Your objective is to channel this raw data into accurate sales forecasts that enable you to discern which customers and prospects offer the highest likelihood of success. From there, your sales team can devise broad strategies and specific tactics to move deals through the pipeline as quickly as possible. And while your salespeople are out on the front lines doing their thing, management and company leadership need to be able to keep a close eye on progress. 

For this purpose, many businesses invest in software that provides real-time info and “dashboard” visuals. Dedicated sales pipeline management software is available. However, if you already have a customer relationship management system, it may offer suitable functionality. Optimize, optimize, optimize. Your ultimate objective in sales pipeline management is optimization. By mindfully building, vigilantly monitoring and constantly improving your pipeline, you’ll improve the odds that your sales team will meet its goals and, in turn, your company will achieve its profitability objectives. 

Reviewing and adjusting your marketing strategy

As summer slips away and fall shuffles forth, business owners and their leadership teams might want to look at the overall marketing strategy they’ve pursued this year. How’s yours doing? It may not be entirely too late to make some adjustments to ensure your sales numbers wind up where you want them.

What success looks like:  The simple question you might ask regarding your marketing strategy is, “What are we trying to accomplish, and can we still get there?” (Okay, maybe that’s two questions.) Determine as specifically as possible what marketing success should look like this year. If the goal is indeed to increase sales, what metrics are you using to calculate whether you’ve achieved adequate growth? You should be able to lay out these metrics in a report or chart to help you determine whether your money has been well spent so far.

Many companies divide their marketing efforts between recurring activities and “one off” or ad-hoc initiatives. For example, they invest in advertising on certain websites, social media platforms, or in a magazine or newspaper. Then they look for special opportunities, such as a local festival or annual trade show. You should have data indicating whether these initiatives are paying off, too. Fine tune your efforts going forward by comparing inflows to outflows from various types of marketing. Will you be able to create a revenue inflow from sales that at least matches, if not exceeds, the outflow of marketing dollars?

Tracking methods:  It’s imperative to track sources of new business, as well as leads and customers. Be sure your staff is asking new customers how they heard about your company. This one simple question can provide invaluable information about which aspects of your marketing strategy are generating the most leads. Further, once you’ve discovered a lead or new customer, ensure that you maintain contact with the person or business. Letting leads and customers fall through the cracks will undermine your marketing efforts. If you haven’t already, explore (or upgrade) customer relationship management software to help you better track and analyze key data points. In addition to generating leads, marketing can help improve brand awareness. Although an increase in brand awareness may not immediately translate to increased sales, it tends to do so over time. Identify ways to measure the impact of marketing efforts on your business’s brand. Possibilities include customer surveys, website traffic data and social media interaction metrics. It can pay off. Sometimes business owners look at marketing as a sunk cost. You know you’ve got to allocate dollars to it, but the results may seem random and unpredictable. By refining your approach and tracking the right metrics, however, you can help ensure that your marketing strategy pays off. We can assist you in analyzing your marketing costs and picking the right ways to measure this mission-critical activity.

Call to speak with one of our advisors 518-693-7446 or check us out on the web


Why Outsource Your Finance Function?

Outsourcing certain functions for your business has been widely recognized as a business strategy since the 1990s.  Businesses such as Kodak began outsourcing its IT functions in 1989 as a result of identifying its core competencies and realizing IT was not one.

I opened CEFO Advisors (Strategic CFO Resources, LLC) in 2013.  I started building a team in 2018 as I saw opportunities for supporting my clients on a deeper level.  It was tough at first to introduce the concept to potential clients.  The concept was not widely used or understood until COVID changed the way the world thought about doing business. 

Outsourcing specific functions of your business is now seen as an effective strategy to accomplish duties that are not within the core competencies of your business at a fraction of the cost of hiring full time staff. 

The average worker clocks in 8.8 hours a day, but only a small portion of that time is spent working. According to studies, the time we spend being productive at work is 2 hours and 53 minutes or 39% of a working day.1 Time off for vacation, illness, and other non-work-related absences, often create a backlog of work.  Staff spend a good portion of their day catching up with co-workers, watching and interacting with social media, making personal calls, taking breaks, and performing other menial tasks that are not actual productive time.

 Outsourcing your accounting to CEFO Advisors is a strategic decision that many businesses are embracing for its undeniable advantages. There are considerable cost savings as noted above. Instead of bearing the overhead of an in-house team, companies can harness the economies of scale provided by specialized firms like CEFO Advisors. By entrusting these tasks to experts, businesses can ensure precision, consistency, and adherence to the latest industry standards.

Furthermore, this approach allows companies to sharpen their focus on core operations, knowing that their accounting intricacies are being managed by a team of seasoned professionals. A notable advantage is the seamless scalability of services. As the business landscape changes and companies grow, CEFO Advisor’s outsourced services adapt without missing a beat. By leveraging the latest accounting software and tools, we spare businesses from making substantial technology investments, allowing them to stay ahead of the curve without incurring additional costs. 

While there are considerations like ceding a degree of control and ensuring clear communication, these concerns are mitigated when partnering with reputable providers who prioritize client needs. Confidentiality, a paramount concern for many, is one we take extremely seriously, deploying robust security measures to protect sensitive financial data.

In essence, outsourcing, when done right, can transform a company’s financial operations, elevating efficiency, accuracy, and strategic focus. The minor challenges that come with this decision are far outweighed by the myriad of benefits it brings to the table. 

Call CEFO Advisors to schedule time to review your needs and how outsourced accounting functions could save you time and money while creating accuracy and efficiency.  518.693.7446 or check out our website at




Look carefully at three critical factors of succession planning

The day-to-day demands of running a business can make it difficult to think about the future. And by “future,” we’re not necessarily talking about how your tax liability will look at year-end or how you might grow the bottom line over the next five years. We’re referring to the future in which you no longer own your company. Succession planning is an important task for every business owner. And i t’s never too early to start thinking about three of the most critical factors. 

1. The involvement of your family Among the primary questions you’ll need to answer is whether you want to transfer ownership of the company to a family member or sell it to either someone already in the business or to an outside party. If your children are involved in the business, or there’s another logical successor from within the family, you’ll want to start mentoring this person long before you want to step down. An intrafamily successor should be someone who objectively has the education, training, experience and temperament to fill your shoes. Depending on the amount of support your replacement needs, it may take years for this individual to be truly ready. Also bear in mind that succession planning and estate planning are linked. You’ll want to create a clear, legally defensible ownership transfer plan while you also fund your retirement or next stage of life. In addition, you need an estate plan that equitably divides your wealth among family members who participate in the business and those who don’t. 

2. The market for your company If it appears unlikely that you’ll transfer ownership to a family member, you’ll probably want to sell your company. The primary question then becomes: Will there be a market for it when you’re ready to leave? If mergers and acquisitions are relatively common in your industry, you may have little to worry about. But if companies like yours tend to be a tough sell, you might be in for a long and perhaps frustrating process. To put yourself in a better position, start developing a list of potential buyers well before you’re ready to depart. These may include competitors, business associates and private equity firms. Essentially, you need to get a good idea of the “size and shape” of the market for your company so you can fine tune your succession plan. 

3. The structure of the transfer or sale If you do decide to name a family member as your successor, you’ll need to work with an attorney, CPA and perhaps other advisors to transfer ownership in a legally secure, tax-savvy manner that also accounts for your estate plan. On the other hand, if you’re going to sell the company (or ownership shares) to someone outside your family, you’ll need to structure the deal carefully. One option is to sell the business to your employees over time via an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). But ESOPs come with many rules and complexities. Alternatively, you might set up a purchase via an internal buy-sell agreement that stipulates your partners (if you have them) must buy your shares. Or you could sell to one of the potential buyers mentioned above — again, typical parties include competing businesses, perhaps someone you know through networking or private equity firms. The specifics of stepping down Granted, these three factors are general in nature. There will be many specifics that your succession plan will need to cover as you get closer to stepping down.

The CFO and Relationships During the Rise of AI

As a seasoned professional CFO, I have always held steady that building relationships are critical to the success of any CFO. I find myself now questioning how that has changed and how will it continue to change as AI becomes more prominent. How can AI take the place of a CFO, when so much of the relationship building is conversational. How does AI “read the room” so to speak?

Building relationships with key stakeholders requires active listening skills and showing interest in their concerns and priorities. It’s best to be in person so the CFO can read the non-verbal ques through body language, tone, and facial expressions. How will AI be able to read those non-verbal ques in the future? Empathy is also a key component of relationship building. It must be genuine. Can AI be genuine and show true empathy? Reliability and showing up and following through on promises are also a key to success. How will a machine be able to do this and really do it well?

So of course, by now, you have probably guessed what I decided to do…. I asked ChatGPT to tell me if AI could replace the CFO as the relationship builder. In very quick order and after 3-4 iterations of updating the tone and style to reflect that of myself, here is what I got back:

“In my years, I’ve seen the business landscape evolve, and AI is one of those game-changers. It isn’t about machines replacing the human touch, but rather giving us an edge. AI helps us ‘listen’ by analyzing the tone of our emails and communications. It’s like having an assistant that picks up on patterns – who prefers a call over an email or who consistently engages with certain topics.

It keeps the lines of communication open, reminding us of check-ins and even tailoring our messages to resonate more with each stakeholder. AI is also brilliant at gathering feedback, sifting through responses, and highlighting what truly matters.

In essence, while my experience and intuition drive my decisions and relationships, AI acts like a reliable aide, making sure I’m always a step ahead. It’s not about being tech-savvy; it’s about being smart with the tools at our disposal.”

Sounds pretty good, right? Makes sense. I couldn’t stop there. I really wanted to know if it could tell me the answer as ChatGPT:

“In the vast world of AI, I’m designed to help streamline and enhance tasks. While I don’t “feel” relationships in a human sense, I can certainly provide tools and insights to bolster them. I analyze patterns, offer reminders, help decipher tones in communications, and make sense of vast amounts of feedback. While I don’t replace the seasoned intuition and experience you bring, think of me as a digital aide, here to ensure you’ve got all the information and tools to nurture your relationships effectively.”

I was with some friends from the Entrepreneurs Organization last night and told them about this blog. It spurred an interesting conversation around change and the newest generation. I wasn’t called a dinosaur; however, I was reminded that my generation feels one on one contact and conversation is critical but is that true of the younger generation (those under 15?). This is the generation of the future. The CFOs of the future. They are learning so much faster and using tools that are so much more advanced than anything we had to learn on. Will they care about relationship building?

Here’s what ChatGPT had to say about this:

“Relationship-building remains crucial due to the inherent value of direct interactions, which foster teamwork and business opportunities. However, the rise of remote work and online communication preferences among younger generations suggest evolving methods of connection. While technology might change the way we interact, the importance of genuine professional relationships is likely to persist.”

For now, I continue to stand by my beliefs that success is still driven by strong relationships with all key stakeholders. AI can help with adding more value through data gathering, and research, but it does look like it will continue to change and add more and more value to our ability to strengthen those relationships even for generations to come.