Shooting Darts at a Sales Forecast

 

One of the most pressing problems for Sales Operations leaders is poor forecasting. Your CEO and Sales Leadership need an accurate forecast. Without it, their jobs – and by extension, yours – are at risk.

 

Most people can calculate a forecast from your CRM with high school math.  Do you look back afterwards to see how close your forecast was?  I’ve met many sales ops leaders that consider being within 15% of actual as good.  Seriously – how well will that go over with your CEO who answers to the Board?  Bad forecasts drive bad decisions and erode senior leadership’s confidence. It’s not usually an issue of math, it’s the reliability of the input.

 

Avoid much of your forecast errors. Start fixing your pipeline forecast accuracy by downloading our Pipeline Opportunity Audit Tool here.  With it you’ll get the actions to take and the tool to use to improve your forecast.

 

Think about your current sales forecasting process. It typically starts with periodic snapshots from your CRM. You should also be applying conversion rates and sales cycle length. However, there’s often a ton of manual intervention that takes place. Pipeline review calls and one-off changes to win percentages. And the conversions and cycle lengths are based on bad inputs.  You rush to do deal by deal reviews where data gets changed.

 

Here’s one of the biggest reasons this doesn’t work. It doesn’t cuase a change in behavior in the field. Every month or quarter, the fire drill starts again. Expected close dates slip and you create a manual work-around.  Deal values change. The cause of your work-around rests mainly with a lack of execution in the field.

 

Inspection of the individual components of the forecast should not be a once-a-quarter activity. The main responsibility of an accurate forecast rests with sales managers and reps.

 

Why Does This Happen Every Quarter?

There are multiple reasons your CRM-based forecast can be out of whack. The three biggest reasons for bad forecasts from your CRM are:

 

  • Lack of adoption / accountability at the sales manager and rep level for CRM Pipeline reporting accuracy.  Telling everyone they have to use your CRM isn’t enough.  Deals need to be evaluated through regular dialogue between rep and manager.
  • Lack of a defined sales process that is based on specific, observable buyer behavior.  Moving opportunities from stage to stage must be triggered by a clear buyer action.
  • Lack of concise definition of a qualified lead that’s consistently applied.  Leads converted to sales pipeline opportunities without specific criteria yields inconsistency.

     

So, as the Sales Operations leader, how will you get these things to happen? There’s an obvious sequence to the above items. Improved CRM use without a clearly defined sales process is almost worthless. Inconsistent definitions of qualified leads cause conversion rates to bounce and leads to be ignored.

 

If you don’t have a buyer defined sales process, you need one now. If you don’t have a clear definition of qualified leads, this must be addressed. For the purpose of today’s post, let’s assume these are in place. Making these assumptions, the greatest improvement in forecast accuracy comes from front-line sales.

 

Getting It Fixed

Here’s the process I recommend you follow to improve your sales forecasting accuracy. This process requires the backing of your sales leader. Help them understand why this process is essential to fixing a large part of your broken forecasting.

 

  1. Engage with your sales leader before your next forecast is published.  Review the plan, why it’s needed and what you need from them.
  2. Preferably, have your boss send out the alert that Sales Ops will be doing random audits of the pipeline.
  3. Once or twice a week, select 8 random opportunities in the pipeline.  Make sure they are from 4 different reps – 2 opportunities each.
  4. Follow the steps in our Pipeline Opportunity Audit Tool here.
  5. Ensure the entire sales organization is held accountable to this standard.  Continue random audit checks.  Begin to focus more of your audits on these reps and managers that are non-compliant.

     

An important note to consider: Very big deals will often require special treatment.  Deals that represent more than 20-25% of a reps annual quota need close inspection.  These big deals may still require some manual intervention.  For more on handling big deals check out this blog post

 

Get started fixing your sales forecast now.  Download our Pipeline Opportunity Audit Tool here.