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Iceberg Blog

How to Distribute Inbound Opportunities

Posted by Taft Love
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Taft Love

In a previous post How to Distribute Sales Pipeline, I talked about how Revenue Ops teams should think about distributing inbound vs outbound sales opportunities.

  • Outbound pipeline should be distributed at the account level. “Fair” in outbound is an equal amount of potential pipeline.
  • Inbound pipeline should be distributed at the opportunity level. New inbound opportunities should either be distributed based on pre-set rules or enter some sort of round robin.

This next post is about the ways that sales operations teams can distribute opportunities that were not generated by sales reps. This generally includes inbound marketing opportunities and opportunities created by Sales/Business Development teams on behalf of sales reps.

Sales and marketing teams often struggle to set up an effective and dependable solution for distributing opportunities. Ad hoc distribution based on subjective decisions or rules that are never clearly documented can lead to infighting and will ultimately damage morale.

In this post, we’ll review the four most common strategies sales operations teams use for distributing opportunities and explain when it makes sense to use each one. As you’ll see at the end of the article, these are not mutually exclusive. I’ll end with a real world example from an Iceberg client.

Manual Round Robin

Within the context of sales, “round robin” is a method of distributing records (usually new leads or opportunities) evenly across a group of people. This is the most simple and transparent form of opportunity distribution. If you’re able to use it, you should. All you need is a spreadsheet that is accessible to whomever is setting meetings (usually Marketing or SDRs). The key is to make sure that every stakeholder has access to it. Sales reps tend to police each other well when it comes to round robins.

Sometimes it makes sense to set up multiple round robins. For example, if Industry A has a win rate twice as high as Industry B, then you should probably set up a separate round robin for each industry.

Channels or sources of opportunities that have different projected values (inbound marketing vs cold outbound, for example) should have separate round robins, especially if lead volume is low. However, it is not necessary to have a different round robin for sources that are similar in projected value; an example might be inbound marketing vs client referral.

You should use this if:

  • You have a small number of opportunities (100/mo is a good cutoff point)
  • There are few variables that affect value

Best software:

  • Google Sheets
  • Excel in cloud storage

Automated Round Robin

There are situations where a round robin makes sense, but a manual one is not a good option. If you have a high volume of inbound opportunities, a large pool of opportunity recipients, or a complex set of rules that determines which round robin pool an opportunity belongs to, then an automated solution is probably best.

Another reason you may consider employing an automated workflow tool to handle your round robin(s) is if there are complex routing rules that need to be considered prior to deciding who will receive the opportunity.

For example, you may decide that an opportunity will NOT be subject to a round robin if there are old opportunities associated with the account; often in that case the deal will be routed directly to the owner of the previous deal. That kind of complex routing logic may require a more advanced tool than Salesforce’s standard functionality, in which case you will probably have access to a round robin feature anyway.

You should use this if:

  • You have a large number of opportunities (100/mo is a good cutoff point)
  • There are multiple round robins operating simultaneously
  • There are complex rules to consider before an opportunity reaches a round robin

Best software:

  • LeanData
  • RingLead

Manual Rule-based Distribution

For companies where sales reps are assigned to territories or verticals, a round robin may not be the right answer. In this case, there may be some rules that govern which sales rep is assigned to which opportunity.

For small teams, territory models are often based on states or large regions. If your team splits North America into a few giant territories, then you probably don’t need a computer to figure out where an opportunity should go. Often this looks like: “The headquarters is in North Carolina, and Sarah is assigned to the Southeast region, so this goes to Sarah”.

One important consideration for this type of distribution is that you need trustworthy data in your CRM related to your routing rules. If 20% of your accounts are missing an address for the company’s headquarters, then you need to make sure that your sales process pre-opportunity involves finding that data and entering it into the CRM.

You should use this if:

  • The rules that govern assignment are simple


Best software:

  • Google Sheets
  • Excel in cloud storage

Automated rule-based distribution

As your sales team grows, you may find that manually checking opportunity information against routing criteria can become too cumbersome for your team. Another common problem is that as routing complexity increases, so does the frequency of human errors (usually).

Once you reach a point where manual routing becomes unsustainably difficult, it’s time to think about implementing an automated solution to handle opportunity distribution. Shifting the work from humans to an app with the ability to make complex decisions quickly can save lots of time and prevent countless errors.

You should use this if:

  • The rules that govern opportunity assignment are complex and determining where an opportunity should go takes more than one or two steps
  • You want to incorporate complex rules that rely on information not on the opportunity record (information related to the account or old opportunities)

Best software:

  • LeanData
  • RingLead

Real World Example

For many companies, a combination of the aforementioned distribution options is required. If the opportunity assignment rules are complex, then it may make sense to use an app designed to get Salesforce records to the appropriate owner based on rules. There are several great options on the market today - some that are flexible enough to accommodate complex rules required by huge organizations.

Recently the Iceberg team worked with a mid-sized client (~30 sales reps) that needed to route leads according to the following rules. The list below is an abridged version of their routing rules for simplicity sake.

The following rules were to be evaluated in this order:

  1. If an opportunity is associated with an account considered a “Tier 1” company (high priority outbound target), route that opportunity directly to the account owner.
  2. If an opportunity is associated with an account that has past opportunities, route it to the owner of the most recently closed opportunity UNLESS the Closed Lost Reason on that opportunity was “Poor Sales Performance”. If “Poor Sales Performance” was selected, then skip this step.
  3. If the account associated with the opportunity has a HQ location in the US, then route it to the territory owner based on the state.
  4. If the account associated with the opportunity has a HQ location outside of the US, then distribute the opportunity via the Non-US round robin.
  5. If the account associated with the opportunity is missing HQ address information, then route the opportunity to the Sales Operations Manager and send him an alert so she knows to update the HQ address.
  6. If the HQ address isn’t updated within 24 hours, then send an alert to the VP of Sales letting her know that an opportunity is unclaimed.

The leader of this company’s assigned Iceberg project team implemented a third-party app to automate routing based on these rules. He also set up lead routing and account routing, which assigned ownership of new leads and accounts based on similar sets of rules.

Over the course of a month, the in-house operations team went from spending dozens of hours manually routing opportunities each week to spending less than an hour a month filling in missing address information.

If you need help determining which opportunity routing approach is appropriate for your team, request a free consultation from the operations team. An Iceberg operations strategist will work with your leadership to form a plan and, if appropriate, implement a solution to save your team time and frustration.