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The Secret to Better Forecasting? Data, People, and Processes

Sales rep accessing revenue forecast data from work computer
Good forecasting also relies heavily on using the right (and current) data and an understanding of your historical performance. [Accenture]

Bring in the right people, then emphasize data accuracy at every stage of the sales process.

Picture this. Another week begins, and so does another revenue forecast call with more questions than answers. Leaders from your different regions show up with estimates they all calculated in different ways, some of them in spreadsheets. There is $1 million in revenue that disappeared since last week, but it’s hard to track down exactly where all those small opportunities went. Worse still, the huge deal you were expecting from your recent acquisition is now pushed out to early next quarter. 

As a sales leader, you’re expected to produce accurate revenue forecasts to guide the rest of the company. But how can you drive precision and completeness in your pipeline data? And how can you make forecasts against your short- and long-term revenue goals?

Good forecasting also relies heavily on using the right (and current) data and an understanding of your historical performance. Effective analysis relies on tracking the right market factors, customer needs, and changes in the world at large. None of this will matter if the right people in your company don’t have access to the tools to help them explore and act on this information every day.

With all these factors in play, what’s the trick to generating accurate revenue forecasts?

Use predictive analytics and AI to boost revenue growth

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Involve the right people in a consistent process

Keep the right people involved and accountable so everyone has ownership of forecasting accuracy. While it can be obvious that the seller and sales leadership play a key role in setting their revenue forecasts for a given period, it’s also important to consider the role of customer success or account managers, technical resources, and even channel sales. Anyone who touches or creates opportunities can work to improve the quality of your pipeline and drive accuracy. 

Defining a consistent process can give your sales teams the framework they need to keep forecasts up-to-date. Participation in forecasting should be linked to business goals and even personal performance, so everyone understands the importance of their contribution. Then, set cadences for revenue forecast calls to review pipeline generation and broader business planning. At Salesforce, a weekly cadence that rolls up from each layer of the organization keeps everyone on the same page. Each leader takes the time to review recent changes, monthly and quarterly outlooks, and big deals. This gives each layer of management the context they need to confidently forecast their number. 

Identify key success metrics

A forecast is only as good as the pipeline it is based on. To drive the quality and accuracy of opportunity data, sales leaders must align on the metrics that are most important to the business. For example, at Salesforce we require that every opportunity has a close date, amount, stage, manager judgment, next step, and activities. It’s important to standardize the stages of the sales funnel for all your sellers, to ensure they’re working with the same set of exit criteria. Then everyone can see clearly what stage each potential deal is in and where there are missing milestones or data. 

Make data quality a priority

One common myth is that analytics is only useful once you’ve already got excellent quality data in CRM. However, ensuring ongoing data quality is actually a key objective of your analytics strategy for the sales organization. At Salesforce, for example, the Clean Your Room dashboard helps sales managers see what’s missing in Sales Cloud and know if deals remained open for too long or if a sales rep was slow to respond. Managers can review this dashboard with their direct reports to verify the CRM data is complete. 

Good quality data also pays off when you use it to power predictive models and analytics to supercharge your process. Using a revenue intelligence solution, you can proactively identify opportunities or renewals at risk, find high-growth accounts, and drive predictable revenue growth so you and your team can sell better. The ability to do deeper data exploration through revenue intelligence tools helps sales leaders more easily identify historical trends for sales velocity and pipeline generation, as well as access performance data across teams. The data from a good revenue intelligence system can be used to coach your sales reps and guide them through every step of the sales process. 

Guide revenue forecast decisions with data-driven insights

Activate your data culture by encouraging your team to use data to inform their decisions. With predictive analytics and AI capabilities, you can enable sellers and managers to inform their daily decision making. Decisions like — what close date to add to an opportunity, who the seller should call next, and even what assurances can be made on incoming opportunities. Solutions like Salesforce Revenue Intelligence deliver insights right in Sales Cloud where many of these decisions are made. By putting valuable context into Salesforce, you also help the data benefit your sellers directly. Revenue Intelligence can help predict win rates, shorten sales cycles, and maximize deal sizes. 

Of course, tools are only as good as the data and the people using them. Your data must be trustworthy and used in a transparent way. No one wants to follow recommendations from an algorithm without visibility into how AI arrived at its conclusions. You can build trust with your whole team if they’re able to see how you achieved your results. 

Empower your team at every level to plan ahead by giving them access to comprehensive data. That means giving sales reps access to revenue insights to examine gap to quota, commit, and pipe coverage. Managers get access to sales data to perform robust scenario planning, determine what number to commit to, and drill down on areas where support is most needed. And sales leaders need access to business data to find new opportunities and gain a deeper understanding of current customer investment. By enabling Sales Cloud features like Pipeline Inspection and Collaborative Forecasts, you can get the tools and data you need to accelerate your revenue growth. With new views from Revenue Intelligence like the Commit Calculator, you can plan for different scenarios and find multiple paths to your target number.

Create an analytics feedback loop

After you ensure that your teams have the basic skills to explore new data and do their own analysis, they can uncover new sales strategies for their territories. For example, they might discover a group of accounts where sales cycles are longer, and set more regular touchpoints with those customers to keep opportunities moving.

Hold regular reviews where sales reps can help each other identify successful tactics and areas of improvement. If a rep is excelling in how they position a particular product, that can inspire others to do the same. You can even work with your sales operations team and your marketing team to grow business with sales plays based on these best practices from the field.

Operations analysts are pros at bringing data and technology to the sales process. They can reduce manual work for reps, add efficiencies, and identify areas of opportunity. Operations analysts can also address questions about sales programs, marketing campaigns, market sizing, and so on. Now, Revenue Intelligence is backed by the full power of Tableau, so Operations teams can help sales reps quickly and accurately identify customer needs, develop targeted sales strategies, and tailor customer experiences.

The goal behind all this collaboration is to get the most out of the sales knowledge and talent in your company. As operations analysts and sales teams discover new problems, solutions, and strategies, they can share these insights in the CRM. With the right tools, your teams can analyze the health of the business across your revenue lifecycles and all customer interactions.

By incorporating AI and data into your sales process, you can grow revenue and improve sales forecasting accuracy. After you get the right people involved and processes established, AI-supported revenue intelligence tools make both sales and forecasting more efficient and accessible. Your team will receive trusted, personalized insights directly in the apps they already use. They can clearly see sales KPIs and identify where deal milestones are delayed or missing. They can also see a single customer identity across the marketing journey for better deal tracking and to reconcile data across systems. After you establish this new data-driven process, your operations team can drive even more AI-supported value by refining sales strategies and customer experiences. It all adds up to better sales results and stronger revenue for the entire company. 

See how analytics can improve your revenue forecasts

Learn how NTT Ltd. used analytics to empower sellers, and how Revenue Intelligence can reduce attrition risk, and fuel up-sell and cross-sell

Lizzy Perruzzi, Senior Product Manager, Salesforce
Lizzy Perruzzi Senior Product Manager, Salesforce

Lizzy is a product manager on the Revenue Intelligence team at Salesforce.

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