5 Questions to Consider if Your Sales Forecast is Off the Mark

Big businesses conduct deep research and analysis, forecasting sales and measuring results against projections. For a company to be successful, sales managers must perform without being pulled in too many different directions, or overwhelmed with too much customer data.

One of the first things to focus on is getting a better understanding of what’s not working. Donal Daly, CEO of The TAS Group, says these sales management problems are generally not the result of a deficit of data, but a deficit of insight. Even though 81 percent of companies have analytics projects as one of their top priorities, 55 percent of analytics projects do not get completed.

One of the most common reasons for failure is lack of business context. Algorithms by themselves can provide reports and charts, but unless the data is complemented by sales management expertise, they provide little accuracy. You can only get the right answer if you know the right question. Therefore, essential questions are asked to frame the problem.

In his experience, Daly says there are five key sales performance questions to consider, and discusses each in a new ebook, Winning Sales Performance Management.

1.  What is the best cadence for managing my sales business?

One key observation of effective sales managers is that they can balance short-term, current revenue activities with future business pursuits. Good sales managers manage the opportunities, focusing where they can win and applying resources accordingly, while at the same time securing future business by working on the pipeline.

Weekly meetings should focus on issues arising from what is changing in your team’s Must Win deals, managing risk to short-term revenue, and seeing what has impacted your forecast. You need to know where your team stands, real time, or else seeing the way forward is nearly impossible.

2.  How can I understand the sales performance KPIs in my business?

To improve the operations of the sales business, managers first need to understand the key performance indicators (KPIs) that matter. What drives new business? Most often it’s things like number of deals, average deal size, win rate and sales cycle. A sales manager needs real-time access to historical KPIs and an understanding of how these have evolved over time. Such stats might not be used every day, but it’s necessary have them as a reference point as a sales manager interacts with his or her team, coaching them to improve.

3.  Can I avoid surprises to make my sales forecast?

Any business practice is most effective when it is consistent. People get into a rhythm, know what to expect and what they need to do for results. A sales manager’s meetings should focus on issues arising from what is changing in his or her “must win” deals as well as management of risk to short-term revenue. We all know that a forecast is a moving target. A manager needs to know where he or she stands, real time, or else seeing the way forward is nearly impossible.

4.  Are there enough real deals in my pipeline?

Without a healthy pipeline, your business is in trouble. Pipeline management is too rarely treated as urgent, even though the strength of the funnel is one of the most critical indicators of future sales. Many teams do a regular monthly pipeline review to ensure the health of the business going forward.

For example, Ruslan Fazlyev, Founder and CEO of Ecwid, discovered some missed opportunities in his funnel. This caused Fazlyev to look more closely at the needs of small business owners who wanted more of a mobile solution. This led him to develop Ecwid mobile for Android tablets and phones. That platform resonated more with customers and is now delivering a healthy pipeline of real deals and potential ecommerce customers.

5.  What happened to my forecast last quarter?

The value in regular quarterly business reports (QBRs) is the insight they give into past performance. They help drive change in process or behavior as well as improve next quarter’s performance. Unless the sales team has an effective rear-view mirror, it won’t have the insights to learn from past experiences. A forward-looking view may be hazy at best.

Instead of swimming against the tide, start collecting and analyzing data that tells you which opportunities are most likely to close, when and how. Work smarter, not harder. Use this information to hone in on the best opportunities, boosting your success rate and accuracy, and proving your prowess in the process.

Perhaps the best way tackle this is to find a top-notch technological solution that integrates with a CRM like Salesforce. Ideally it would track which deals are being closed, what’s projected in the short term, and what possibilities are hovering on the horizon. A system that helps you prioritize low-hanging fruit without losing sight of bigger, high-impact deals is essential.

About the Author

A journalist and digital consultant, John Boitnott has worked at TV, newspapers, radio and internet companies for 20 years. He's an advisor at StartupGrind.com and has written for Fast Company, NBC, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, USAToday and Venturebeat among others.

Want to learn more about how your business can close more deals in 2016? Download the free Salesforce e-book.