We’ve come to part 3/3 in the Smarter Sales Process article trilogy. In the earlier posts we talked about customizing the lead qualification process and using calculated fields for opportunity estimated revenue, to get more out of Dynamics CRM 2015 than what the standard sales related functionality offers. To close things off, let’s have a look at how we can gain more insight into the data in our sales opportunity pipeline and particularly how it has developed over a period of time.
Capture the Sales Pipeline Trend
With the data that Dynamics CRM collects about sales opportunities we can easily draw charts about how many deals were won or lost at any given time, presenting these as a monthly trend of both estimated and actual revenue. It’s also very simple to visualize the current contents of our sales pipeline by looking at the open opportunity records via standard visualizations like the… well, pipeline chart, obviously!
What we can’t do quite so easily is to present how the sales pipeline has developed over time. For example, has the number of opportunities in a particular stage of the sales process gone up/down, or how the total estimated revenue from open opportunities is developing. An average CRM user may not understand why such a visualization wouldn’t be included in the application by default, but for a system customizer that knows the data model and behavior of Dynamics CRM this should be fairly obvious. The fundamental difference between closed opportunities and open opportunities is that for the former we have a permanent record of when they were closed and with what values, whereas the records that are currently in an open status represent transient data. It will change over time, based on the future actions that CRM users will take.
So, what’s the problem with such data? The fact that an open opportunity may have been open last week or even ten weeks ago makes it impossible for us to draw a chart that would show a weekly number of records, since only a single record exists in the database, even though it might need to appear in the bar for each week in a chart showing the size of the pipeline on a weekly level. While technically we would have the information needed to project the number of opportunities that have been open at a given time by looking at their creation date, this would be a more complex exercise than what the ASP.NET charts in Dynamics CRM allow us to draw (although I wouldn’t be surprised if CRM Chart Guy would prove me wrong on this one).
At the end of the day CRM is an operational system focused on managing individual records and transactions, which means it doesn’t bother archiving copies of records in their historical state. Sure, we have the audit log that will keep a record of the individual changes to tracked fields, but that’s data which isn’t accessible for reporting. But the question to ask is: if we wanted to capture such historical data for our analysis purposes, could we do that with Dynamics CRM? Sure we could! In fact, already back in 2008 when CRM didn’t yet have a built-in auditing capability, CRM MVP Guy Riddle showed us how the use of custom entities and workflows allowed us to build our very own audit log feature to capture changes for record field values.
Sure, our use case here is a bit different, since we’re not looking to only capture entries on when a record changes. To provide us visibility into how the sales pipeline has developed over time, we would need to capture a snapshot of the pipeline status at predetermined intervals.
Scheduling Snapshots of CRM Data
One of my favorite features in CRM 2015 version is Rollup Fields, which I’ve already covered in a number of earlier posts on this blog (including the gotchas you need to be aware of). This feature also comes in handy if we want to build a custom snapshot entity to store the count or sum of records related to it. In this scenario for monitoring sales pipeline development, which I presented in my MSDynamicsWorld.com webcast “A Non-Developer’s Guide to Smarter Sales Processes in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015”, what we’ll do is make a 1:N relationship between our custom Snapshot entity and the opportunity entity. This in turn will allow us to create Rollup Fields that will summarize the count and revenue of the related opportunities onto the Snapshot record. By having a snapshot per each stage of our sales process, we will get the attributes needed for drawing the kind of chart shown above, to visualize the trend of opportunity count and estimated revenue development per week.
The detailed steps for the required customizations can be found from the following SlideShare presentation:
The one missing ingredient that we still need to think about is how to automate the capture of these snapshots. What Dynamics CRM still doesn’t offer out-of-the-box is the ability to schedule recurring workflow processes in an easy way, to perform an automated task every X days. Luckily there are workarounds for scheduling such bulk data processing tasks with using nothing but the CRM platform, and one of the best solution’s I’ve come across is the Scheduling recurring Dynamics CRM workflows with FetchXML solution from Lucas Alexander. I’ve already shown you how to use this solution for monitoring Rollup Field Values with workflows and the same logic can be applied in this scenario, too. Only this time we don’t send a weekly email blast to CRM users, rather we’ll just create new snapshot records to store the opportunity count and total estimated revenue per sales stage.
Alright, that concludes my Smarter Sales Process for CRM 2015 series, at least for now. As mentioned at the start, do check out part 1 and part 2, as well as the YouTube recording of the live demos if you’re interested for more details on the topic. Hopefully these examples have given you some new ideas on what kind of solutions you can build with the Dynamics CRM 2015 customization tools. If you’ve got any thoughts on what kind of no-code customization scenarios you’d be interested in seeing in the Surviving CRM blog in the future, please feel free to leave a comment!