We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful, to better understand how they are used and to tailor advertising. You can read more and make your cookie choices here. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.


How to Know If Your Sales Pipeline Forecast Is Accurate


Sales forecasting is crucial. We all know that. But it’s also incredibly tough to do. What’s the first step to getting a better sales forecast that actually gives you real insights and predictions? Admit you have a problem.

That’s what our team at Xactly Corporation had to do in order to clean up the dirty data that plagued our customer relationship management (CRM) system. Too often, sales reps were tossing things in the pipeline and loading up incomplete and underqualified opportunities, leaving a trail of more question marks than answers. We just weren’t keeping up with what was really accurate — or not.

One of the biggest challenges of a high-growth company is the fact that you’re adding tons of new salespeople and different types of sales organizations all the time. Everything becomes somewhat disparate. With the data that was accumulating in our CRM, it was very challenging to do my job to predict sales for the quarter and maintain pipeline integrity. So we set out to change all of that.

Finding zombie opportunities

A huge hurdle we faced was the fact that there were lots of opportunities in the pipeline, but many were pushed from quarter to quarter. They were alive in the system, but probably shouldn’t have been. They should have been classified as “dead”. We even coined the term “zombie opportunities” to describe a live opportunity that should really have been dead.

It was then time to tighten the sales process across our enterprise, mid-market, and small-business sales teams, and finally bury the zombies for good. Our team went deep on specific criteria, especially any time an opportunity was inputted. At any stage of the sales process, we started to require that this new criteria be met. This made an immediate impact that helped immensely.

You can have the process and criteria down pat, but there isn’t much you can do without an intense level of inspection and analysis. We built dashboards and reports to inspect the opportunity-level data and ensure it was real — and not masquerading as a zombie. If management and sales reps can't inspect the data, then you're right back at square one.

The “WTF” report

We also took it one step further and created the “WTF” report. Now, we weren’t getting too crude here. Very appropriately, the “F” stands for forecasting. A member of my team is a real data sleuth; putting bad data in the system would be like taking a shovel of dirt and dumping it in her living room. We both really despise this “dirty data.”

She created the daily “What the Forecast” report so we can always be sure reps are meeting the criteria. There are five stages to our sales process, which is pretty typical: Qualify, Develop, Discover, Envision, and Negotiate. For example, let’s say that in stage four or five, the SSA (subscription software agreement) contract hasn’t been sent. A stage four or five opportunity and no SSA in process? That would immediately get flagged in the WTF.

This report allows managers, reps, and me to have a view every day into the pipeline. It flags where and why criteria aren’t met — whether it’s early or late stage. The goal is to always keep it empty. If this happens, then we know the data is sound and the opportunities are meeting criteria. But if there’s still a lot of data, that’s a problem. It means managers and reps need to get involved and fix it.

In the end, the process of admission, discussion, process tightening, and inspection have made a huge impact on our forecasting. Managers and sales reps are accountable. We all have better and more accurate views into the pipeline. And I can do my job to forecast to the best of our abilities.

You can have the process and criteria down pat, but there isn’t much you can do without an intense level of inspection and analysis.”

Steve De Marco | VP, Worldwide Sales and Alliances, Xactly Corporation

Learn More

The 7 Sales Skills That CAN’T Be Taught By Dan Ross,
Sr AVP, Commercial Sales, Salesforce
Why It’s Now or Never for Social Selling with LinkedIn’s Mike Derezin Interviewed by Laura Fagan,
Product Marketer, Sales Cloud, Salesforce
Making the Tricky Transition from Sales Peer to Sales Manager By Keith Rosen,
Author of "Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions"



Created by Salesforce