THE IMPORTANCE OF BUSINESS FORECASTING
Failing to plan is planning to fail. I have discussed this concept at a micro level as it relates to planning sales calls. It is even more applicable at a macro level when it comes to business planning from a financial standpoint.
Some common financial questions that business owners ask themselves are:
- When can I invest in additional products or services to grow my business?
- How much money can I take out of my business?
- How do I make payroll???
THE CHALLENGE: SALES FORECASTING
A huge barrier in answering these questions is understanding how much business will be generated in the coming months. While he or she may be far removed from these questions, the sales rep is a critical factor in this. Effective business planning starts with the ability of the sales team to deliver an accurate forecast.
The ideal state here is that reps understand how prospects move through their buying cycle so they understand when they will close the business, enabling business planning at the top of the organization.
So, why is it so hard for a sales rep to deliver an accurate forecast? Some common causes of inaccurate forecasting:
- Sales rep’s lack of awareness- at a high level, many sales reps lack fundamental business acumen. Digging a little deeper, this results in a lack of awareness of how and why clients make decisions.
- Sales managers focusing too much on the bottom of the funnel when it is too late to impact the number.
A way to address these two challenges starts with a look at the buying process. Why the buying process and not the sales process? It is no secret that buyers behave differently today. What is a bit mysterious is that a lot of sales processes are legacy processes that or even just the process that came in the CRM when they took it out of the box.
THE SOLUTION: IMPLEMENTING AND COACHING TO A SALES PROCESS
If your sales process has been aligned with Buyer 2.0 that is a good start! If not, aligning the company marketing and sales strategy with how your typical buyer goes about their decision is the first step. Once the process is established, sales reps and managers alike have a common language and basis for moving in the right direction.
This sales process should include client-focused exit criteria- the different actions that must happen before moving to the next stage in the process. For example, before a proposal is given, the rep gains confirmation of agreement on:
- Business goals (depending not the product, both high-level and departmental)
- Gaps- Challenges with the current way things are done.
Creation of the process is the first step, making it stick is the next step. This involves:
- Education- Managers first, and then the sales reps. There is a change management element on this for alignment and buy-in
- Ongoing utilization of the process- this all about the managers coaching to the process. If managers do not coach to the process, reps will not use it
Seems simple enough, right? A lot easier said than done, as this can be a big change. Rep and manager discussions shift to further up the funnel, not about “what is going to close this month.” The opportunities that are going to close this month have already been discussed in previous weeks or months when they can be coached to and impacted.
If you remember, the ideal state was that the reps understand how prospects moved through the buying cycle so they know when they would buy. The simple answer is focusing on and coaching to this process. This involves a change in both manager and rep behavior.
While it sounds simple, it takes time and the benefits will not be realized overnight. If sales forecasting is important for your business planning, the sales process is the first place to look.