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June 25, 2020
The Ultimate Guide to Your Forecast Call
The forecast call can make or break your business growth. When your forecast call is informed by a real-time, holistic view of activity happening across your accounts, you're able to identify at-risk opportunities and know which steps to take to push deals forward.
The forecast call benefits more than just sales leaders and sales reps. When you use the forecast call as an opportunity to identify the biggest opportunities for the entire revenue team, executives, sales, marketing, finance and customer success can all align and focus their efforts to make the biggest business impact.
- Marketing will know which accounts to target for a campaign.
- Finance has visibility into expected revenues and how to invest and grow the company.
- Customer success can plan resources to align with incoming deals for seamless onboarding.
- Executives can step in as needed to push deals forward.
Those are only a few examples of the benefits of well-executed forecast calls. To unlock this power alignment, you first need to know forecast call best practices so you can run yours like a master. Whether it’s a weekly 1:1 or a larger forecasting call, we’re breaking down the steps you should take before, during, and after.
At Clari, we’re helping you go from forecast uncertainty to revenue confidence.
How is your forecast accuracy, right now? Most sales leaders’ forecasts don’t get within 10% accuracy until week 10 or 11 of the quarter. But with forecast accuracy, consistent revenue processes, and operational rigor you can pass the ultimate predictable revenue test — calling your sales forecast number. And reap the benefits of a fully aligned revenue organization.
Why is an accurate sales forecast important?
For too many organizations, the forecast call is just another time consuming task that you don’t see a ton of ROI from and don’t prioritize. But when you consider the incredible impact an accurate forecast call has to your entire business, you might rethink those priorities.
Anthony Cessario, Clari’s VP of Enterprise Sales, gives this great example: “Last quarter, my reps started the quarter saying that we would beat our plan by 252%. However, the projection based on historical data (Clari’s AI) told us that, at best, we would end the quarter at 133%. This is still very good, but vastly different from the team’s call. We ended up at 131%. Clari clearly saw risk in our pipeline that our reps were not seeing.” Achieving 131% above the planis a huge win, right? On one hand yes, but on the other hand...
Let’s say Cessario went to his revenue leaders with the gut number of 252%. Marketing, executive, finance and customer success teams would all have based their activity and investments around that forecast. Based on that number, a 131% win becomes a major loss in comparison.
Under-forecasting or over-forecasting puts the organization at risk. Not only can you lose board trust, but leaders can’t make decisions with enough lead time, especially around hiring, marketing or research and development (R&D). They miss out on opportunities while competitors move in.
Clari CRO Kevin Knieriem captures it best: “The forecasting process is so much more than just calling a number. It represents the entire operating rhythm of the whole company. Hitting your number at the end of the quarter doesn’t just happen. It requires careful inspection and execution throughout the quarter.”
That brings us back to your forecast call. Let’s dive into the forecast call best practices to ensure you execute yours with accuracy and confidence.
Before you make the forecast call
Your forecast call requires accurate, up-to-the-minute deal data. You want to prepare all the numbers around the following questions so you can come into the meeting with a strong point of view and action items:
- How much business has your team already closed?
- How many deals are legitimately still in play?
- How much pipeline coverage do you have?
- Where did you stand last quarter (or last year) at this time?
To answer these questions your team needs and agreed upon definitions of pipeline terms. And they need to be able to track both sales and marketing activity. When you consider the prospect’s experience, they aren’t just receiving emails from the sales rep. The marketing team is nurturing them, providing educational content and inviting prospects to events to keep them engaged. Successfully closed deals require marketing and sales to work hand-in-hand. But pulling both sales and marketing data from siloed tools and trying to line everything up manually is simply a misuse of time. That’s why you need a tool that helps you automatically track sales and marketing activity. Basically, to set yourselves up for a successful sales forecasting meeting, you need to make sure you have the right tools and processes in place.
Bill Binch, the CRO at Pendo, holds weekly forecast calls with his marketing, finance and SDR teams. He considers them these gatherings the most important meetings in the company.
“I want to understand what we’re doing to inspect deals or drive more in certain categories,” he says. “[Reps] can go find that in a CRM, but that's just a lot of work. If I’m a front line manager, [forecasts] are never going to happen on a weekly basis if I have six, seven or eight direct reports.”
The key to a successful forecast call is ensuring reps and sales leaders can easily view the real-time data they need. You’ll want to:
- Identify your sales forecasting method of choice.
- Establish a clear sales process and accountability.
- Incentivize accuracy by offering spiffs to reps who consistently meet their quotas each quarter.
- Use scoreboards to gamify accuracy.
- Leverage a sales forecasting tool that gives you visibility into activity data on the account and rep level.
That last point is key, especially activity data like meetings, emails, file attachments, Marketo engagement, account-based marketing engagement and so on. Ideally all of the information is automatically tracked and attached to the proper opportunity so reps don't have to manually do so.
With the right tools and processes in place, you can answer those questions quickly and easily. You can also go into the call confident in where those numbers came from—meaning you can spend that call focusing on strategy.
During the forecast call
Forecasting isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. It starts with weekly 1:1 pipeline inspection calls and individual forecasting between a sales leader and rep. When done right, these calls help the rep understand where they should focus their energy. That focus rolls into the larger forecasting call with all of the revenue organization working to align their efforts.
1:1 calls between sales leaders and reps
Who should attend: Sales leader, AE
Optional attendees: SDR, Sales Engineer
If you’re a sales leader, 1:1 calls with your reps should be “90% coaching around risk mitigation, sales pipeline acceleration and deal execution, and 10% reporting the news,” says Cessario. Unfortunately for many teams, the opposite is true. Nothing is worse than a 1:1 going from a strategic conversation to a game of “21 Questions” between reps and sales leaders. It’s frustrating for the rep and the sales leader, lowering morale, breeding mistrust and misusing everyone’s time.
During this meeting you’ll want to:
- Discuss pipeline health
- Review key deals and next steps
- Coach on productivity
The reason why many of these 1:1 dissolve into a questioning game is because they are using a mess or spreadsheets or stale reports which leads to inaccurate insights. However, new tools today can provide a full overview of pipeline and potential forecast backed by data. A tool that offers a full overview of your pipeline and potential forecast armed with data thanks to your preparation and tools you can focus your sales forecast meeting agenda ontowards the deals that need your attention.
Forecast calls with the revenue organization
In this meeting, sales, marketing, finance, executives and customer success can all play a part in ensuring you hit your forecast. Review the deals in motion and measure progress towards goal so that everyone stays in lock-step and can pivot if needed.
Besides sales, who else in the revenue organization should attend and what questions should they have prepared?
- VP Finance:
- Is the company on track to achieve its goals?
- When will the deals close?
- How much revenue is at stake?
- What are the payment terms?
- Are there price adjustments needed to close?
- VP Product:
- Are the customers truly a fit for the product?
- What customizations might be needed?
- What use cases do we need to consider building products around?
- VP Customer Success:
- How many deals are closing in the next 30/60/90 days?
- What are those customers expecting?
- Does the rep need any customer advocates to close a deal?
- VP Marketing:
- Where are big deals coming from?
- Where do they need support in the funnel?
- What persona needs more messaging?
- Are we nurturing deals properly?
In a meeting like a QBR, you’ll want to analyze your MVP—mix, volume and pipeline health:
- Mix: Zero in on the deals that make up your number to see how they’re tracking. Is there the right mix of deals where we’re covered in case a larger deal slips?
- Volume: Is there enough pipeline coverage to hit your forecast? Review closed deals, open pipeline, deals closing soon and deals that slipped.
- Pipeline Health: What deals are at risk? Can you pull deals into this quarter to make your number? Can you use the current customer community or executive networks for an introduction to help push deals forward? You can also examine sales and marketing activity between the rep and the prospect to make sure everybody’s still engaged.
In the end, this call is all about prioritization, alignment and discovering how each of the revenue organizations can help support one another. By having clear visibility into the forecast, the entire organization can pull their efforts together for bigger impact.
After the forecast call
The forecast is just a number if there’s no accountability for the action items each team member takes away from the forecast call. At each meeting, take notes on the action items and ensure that in the next week’s meeting you include those items in your sales forecast meeting agenda. Did everyone do what they said they would?
As a sales leader, use your weekly 1:1s as follow ups to make sure deals are properly being worked. By making forecasting an integral part of a sales reps role, they’ll feel more accountable for the number they’re calling and that means more buy-in to close the deals they need to.
Ready to level up your forecast call?
The forecast call is your moment to call your number with confidence. To do that, you need access to accurate, up-to-the-minute deal data. Unfortunately it’s seldom handy when you need it, which means you can’t discern the true health of the pipeline without badgering reps and managers.
See how best-in-class revenue teams use Clari to drive accurate forecasts. Learn how bringing in powerful AI can help you bring this level of sophistication into your next forecast call. Here's a sneak peek of our Forecast Call Cadence and click here to Download the full guide.
Rev Up Your Forecast with AI
The ugly truth is that most forecasts fail. But it doesn't have to be that way. Learn how leading B2B companies are leveraging AI to predict business outcomes more accurately.
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