A sales forecast isn’t just a bunch of numbers: it implies a stake in the ground around where the company aspires to be, and a set of priorities and actions that the organization will need to execute against to get there.
We’ve already discussed the importance of training your team and getting them invested in forecast accuracy; now, let’s take a closer look at the process piece of the puzzle.
Building a solid process plays a fundamental role in taking your forecasting to a better place. Here are three tips to build a process that will increase your sales team’s ability to more accurately call the number.
Lay Clear Groundwork
To arrive at any destination, you need a very clear view of the road you’ll be traveling, and the possible potholes to avoid along the way. This has everything to do with coming up with a common vernacular to define the buyer’s journey through your sales process, and making sure you take the time to really operationalize it so that sales rep and front-line sales managers are consistently and objectively driving their conversations accordingly. Fuzzy definitions will bring unspoken assumptions that will create downstream issues around opportunity management, pipeline inspection, and forecasting.
Set Up a Cadence of Reviews
The best sales managers are true coaches: they balance trust and belief in their teams with process and the wisdom to know exactly when to check in for a review.
In terms of a predictable process, first, establish basic sales deadlines and meetings; e.g., have reps and managers commit numbers no later than a few weeks into the quarter, establish Mondays for weekly sales calls to nail down goals, or set up meetings for Fridays to check in on progress.
Then, think about the message your review cadence sends to your team. Does it convey your trust in their ability to keep a deal moving — without micro-managing all the details? An overbearing number of meetings may indicate that you don’t trust your team. Giving reps autonomy and empowering them to be CEOs of their territory will inspire better performance. On the other hand, are your meetings so few and far between that it signals lack of method and rigor, or reps feel like they lack support? The way you run your team sends strong signals to your team members, so experiment to find what works best.
Inspect, Identify, Adjust
A sales forecast is an evolving target that requires continual attention and adjustment. Has a sales rep given you a verbal update? Drill down into his data to make sure the instinct is well-grounded. Compare the differences between the commits of reps and managers — if a manager is committing above her reps, dig into those numbers and find out whether it’s risky optimism or data-driven confidence.
This way, you are continually adjusting upside deals or close dates — to leave enough space to accommodate risks. Over time, this practice will also help you build a deeper understanding of your team and the individual tendencies of reps and managers. Which are most likely to over-commit, and which are most likely to sandbag? With that knowledge, you can tailor your management style in 1:1s and team meetings. This method will also show your team that verbal updates and gut instincts are fine — but only when backed by the data to match, inspiring strong, honest performance across the organization.
By developing a robust structure and establishing groundwork that is clear, you will be fostering long-term success in sales forecasting. You will set and hit realistic goals, with data to back up every instinct and flag potential risk.
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