A culture of trust, a mindset of growth, a rejection of complacency and an ability to interpret data correctly are all crucial contributors to accurate sales forecasting.
Growth doesn’t just magically happen in a sales environment. First, there must be a mindset of growth and a plan to support your salespeople towards their goals. If these essentials are in place then the main challenges and difficulties around accurate forecasting are removed.
Why are these aspects important? Because without commitment and planning, complacency exists. Complacency arises from a lack of discipline and is an enemy of accurate forecasting.
Within Salesforce, every sales employee knows what our expected year-on-year growth is. That expectation is clear and it offers a focus. Then it’s the business’s job to create an environment in which the goal is possible.
Our forecast isn’t just an annual or twice-yearly set-and-forget task. A plan is made and, in my case, weekly team meetings are combined with weekly one-on-ones to help my team meet their goals.
These meetings should be constructive, not simply checking targets are ‘on track’ but rather to problem solve: to remove roadblocks, to provide advice and the tools to get the job done and to help to prioritise leads.
Every week I also forecast with my peers and managers, so the information works its way up the chain.
Every salesperson in my team knows how important it is to get their numbers right. If they don’t, they are not only damaging their own brand, but they are impacting the brand of the entire management team.
How does forecasting impact personal brand? A key part of our role as sales professionals is to know our business, to have control of our deals and to be accurate with our views around when deals will land. Missed forecasts suggest we’re not close enough to the action.
For accurate forecasts to be possible, sales professionals must operate within a culture of trust. A sales rep must feel comfortable posting a low number, rather than having to paint a more falsely positive picture.
As sales managers, we need to have the trust in our sales reps to accept that. Then we can have an open and honest discussion around their plan to address any gaps, what support they need and whether there are any external pressures that the business can help them with.
If there isn't a culture of trust, people will instead tell you what they think you want to hear.
Accurate forecasting relies on the interpretation of many data points, and there are likely hundreds. What type of opportunity is it? What products are being sold? How old is the opportunity? Who is involved from the customer end, and from your business? How well do you understand their buying process? How well do you understand their decision-making process? What success have you had with similar opportunities?
If your salespeople see sales automation tools only as enablers of reporting, then the tools haven’t been implemented with their needs in mind. Technology must enable the sales staff.
It must help automate mundane tasks such as generating proposals for quotes so sales reps can spend their time building valuable relationships instead. It should prioritise leads and inform forecasting, and give them the ability to customise their own dashboards and view the health of their own business. In essence, technology should enable and empower sales teams to understand their business and hit their quotas.
In terms of the types of deals that deserve attention when forecasting, I like to focus mainly on the deals that are closing within the month, as well as on high-value deals in closing within the next two to three months. I look out for deals with high engagement with the client and with good momentum, where our client has a well-defined problem they’re trying to solve and where there’s clear ROI.
It’s also vital that the right people are involved. A lack of executive engagement in deals, whether it’s on the customer side or on our side, should ring alarm bells. Similarly, deals that are constantly pushed from one month to the next, or that demonstrate a lack of clarity regarding the path to closure, are also problems. There must be clear timeframes outlined in a mutual plan with the customer.
Great forecasting relies on a lot of factors that must be closely managed, and statistics tell us that not all businesses are getting it right. For example, a recent Frost & Sullivan report found there has been a 15% drop in the number of salespeople achieving their quotas in the past five years.
In all companies, the impact of poor forecasting will be negative. In some companies it will be catastrophic. But get forecasting right and, no matter what type of business, the results will be personally and professionally positive and profitable for all involved.
If your sales team isn't enabled by modern technology, they're missing out on opportunities and so is your business. Download the Frost & Sullivan ‘Modern sales team, yesterday's CRM?’ ebook to find out more.