Updated: Sep 13
Follow these simple guidelines and you will be amazed at how predictable and understandable your sales process can be!
The Close Date field is one of the most important operational values you maintain. Close date should represent the estimated closing date for open opportunities, and the actual close date of won (or, less importantly, lost) opportunities. Many Salesforce reports filter on Close Date.
When creating an opportunity, the estimated Close Date might be far in the future and only very approximately known — that's OK!
As you actively near closing time for an opportunity it's important to keep Close Date up-to-date. For instance, open opportunities with Close Dates in the past (forgetting to update them — easy to do!) sends a confusing signal to your Salesforce reporting systems.
Did you know that Salesforce automatically updates opportunity Close Date when you set the stage to a won stage but only for opportunities with close dates in the future, not in the past? That software design choice makes it really easy to over-run Close Dates and end up with bad data in Salesforce.
Sometimes it may be necessary to back-date a Close Date for a given won opportunity into the last quarter, for example for compensation accounting. That's OK! But be aware that sales forecasting models predict when opportunities will transition to a won state, not when opportunities get back-dated.
If you find your organization frequently moving close dates around to past or future quarters after opportunities are won for whatever reason, you might consider accounting for those dates using another field instead–say, “Bump Date“ or “Supplemental Close Date“ for instance–and keeping the meaning of the Close Date field closer to “Expected Close Date” instead. That clarifies the exact meaning of close dates and enhances predictability of your business.
The Forecast Category field usually contains only five or so values like "Commit", "Best Case" (or sometimes "Upside"), "Pipeline", "Omitted", and "Closed". Forecast Category is related to the Stage Name and Close Date fields, but should convey an opinion about whether or not an opportunity will close in this quarter. It provides an easy way to tally up opportunities likely to close this quarter.
Generic active open opportunities normally are marked "Pipeline". Open opportunities definitely not expected to close this quarter are marked "Omitted". Those that you estimate have a better than average chance of closing this quarter are marked "Best Case" and those that are definitely expected to close this quarter are marked "Commit". (Note that, by default, Salesforce considers "Omitted" synonymous with the "Closed Lost" stage. However, "Omitted" can also be used to signify opportunities pushed out to a future quarter.)
Opportunities in the "Commit" Forecast Category should have their Close Dates also in this quarter. Similarly, "Omitted" opportunities that were pushed out should not have Close Dates in the quarter. (Otherwise this sends mixed signals.)
By default, Salesforce automatically updates Forecast Category based on Stage Name, but you can manually adjust it. Because Forecast Category represents your judgment that an opportunity will close in the quarter you should adjust it accordingly. Forecast Category is usually updated on a regular cadence, typically at a weekly sales call meeting.
Salesforce sets the Probability field automatically based on the Stage Name field — that is, each Stage Name is assigned a Probability based on a lookup table that your Salesforce admin curates. You can additionally modify the Probability field to indicate a more nuanced judgment about a specific opportunity, although the same effect can usually be achieved more simply using the Forecast Category field.
Normally, Probability roughly approximates the actual probability of an opportunity being won eventually (that is, without respect to a specific point in the future).
Your Salesforce admin should be careful to assign reasonable default Probability estimates to each Stage Name. The Probability Values are less important than consistency between Stage Names. For instance, all "Closed Won" stages should uniquely have Probabilities of 100%. Similarly, "Lost" stages should be uniformly assigned 0%.
Because Stage conveys both a step in a sales process and a waypoint along a generic path between created and won, differently-named stages may have similar (or identical) probabilities. That’s OK! An important use of Probability is to help identify different stage names with similar chances of ultimately closing.
A running joke at Funnelcast is that we can tell when a new CRO is hired by looking at when the Stage Names all change. When new stages are introduced, it's vital for modeling purposes to connect them to historic behavior and the Probability field can help do that. This requires diligence on your Salesforce admin's part to set reasonable default Probabilities for each new Stage name. It's an important field, but mostly in the background.
Funnelcast can identify and help you correct issues in default Stage Name/Probability pick-lists, and even indicate what the probability values should be.
Opportunity History and Tracked Fields
Salesforce automatically tracks a history of all changes for the following super-important Opportunity fields: Amount, Close Date, Stage Name, Probability, Forecast Category.
Since you get this for free, use it! That is, using the default "Amount" field for the primary deal size amount is wise because you automatically get visibility into a complete history of changes to it. Sometimes, though, you may need to use additional deal size fields. You can track changes in those and other fields by Enabling "field history tracking" for the desired fields (see https://help.salesforce.com/s/articleView?id=sf.tracking_field_history.htm).
Field history tracking has some limitations: the number of fields that can be tracked is limited, and values are only tracked over the previous 18 or 24 months. Since Amount, Close Date, Stage Name, Probability, and Forecast Category are always automatically tracked for free, there is never a reason to enable field history tracking on those fields (even though Salesforce lets you do this). Similarly, there is never a reason to track constant-valued fields like Created Date for instance (that should never change).
Additional important fields to consider tracking include additional deal size amount fields, management-level forecast categories, and next steps.
Importing Data? Preserve Dates
If you are importing data to Salesforce, it is good practice to preserve dates. Follow this article for detailed instructions.
Following these simple best practices will enhance basic Salesforce reporting as well as more so- phisticated forecasting and modeling from Funnelcast. Your sales process will be more predictable and understandable.