When it comes to sales forecasting, people usually talk about the big five forecast data points: forecast category, stage, amount, next step, and close date. Problem is, while these data points are enough to create a sales forecast, they’re not enough to ensure the forecast is realistic.
Your sales forecast is meaningless without the sales process information to back it up and ground it in reality. By training your team to gather supporting evidence based on your sales methodology, you’re cutting through the subjectivity, lack of evidence, and inadequate oversight that get in the way of accurate forecasting.
And here’s how.
Sales Forecasting Suffers from Subjectivity and Inadequate Investigation
There’s always going to be a margin of error when it comes to sales forecasting. However, some things, like subjectivity, fear, and lack of context, widen that margin to the point of making your forecasts useless or even detrimental to your team’s success.
Sales Rep Subjectivity and Fear
Sales rep subjectivity gets in the way of accurate sales forecasting. In fact, 47% of sales leaders identified subjectivity as the main challenge impacting sales forecasting accuracy, according to a 2018 CSO Insights study.
Something as simple as differences in sales rep personalities can influence and confuse sales forecasting. For example, you may work with a sales rep who’s overly optimistic about their deals and tends to favor positive indicators over warning signs. On that same team, you have another sales rep who prefers to be pessimistic when measuring the health and potential of opportunities. Asking them to gauge the health and potential of the same prospect would give you two very different reports.
Your forecasts may also be subject to sales rep fear. Anxiety and fear make people do strange things, and sales reps are no exception. Your reps might overlook conflicting evidence, ignore warning signs, or drag less-than-ideal opportunities through the sales pipeline if they are afraid of missing sales targets.
Inadequate Investigation and Context
How do you know the amount or close date your sales rep assigns to a deal is accurate? What information does your rep know (that you don’t) that justifies that data point?
When sales teams rely on only five data points for sales forecasting, they’re not prompting sales reps to question their assumptions and dig into the nuances of a sales opportunity. What’s more, they're not giving sales managers the information needed to make sure a forecast can stand on its own merits.
Without knowing the reasoning behind the forecast, sales managers have little choice but to trust their reps and take the forecasts at face value.
Imagine you’re a Mercedes-Benz sales rep, and you’re forecasting the $70,000 sale of an E-Class Coupe. Everything’s going according to plan until the prospect’s spouse enters the conversation and cuts the budget almost in half. It’s then that the sales rep realizes they haven’t been talking to the economic buyer, the one who makes the final call.
The rep could’ve avoided this scenario if they thought to make sure they were speaking to the right person. Likewise, a sales manager could have prompted the rep to further investigate the opportunity had they had enough context to suspect something was off.
Now consider two opportunities, each forecasted to bring in $100,000. The first opportunity has a strong business case with a CRO in full support of your solution. Your champion for the other opportunity is the company’s VP of sales. However, the purchase relies on buy-in from three different teams (BDR, CSM, and sales). Both of these opportunities forecast the same sales amounts, but both of them are very different.
We’ve seen this happen all the time in B2B sales. Teams base their forecasts on bad information because they don’t dig deep enough or question what they know. It’s disastrous for a team’s forecast but entirely avoidable.
Sales Process Information Grounds Your Sales Forecasting in Reality
Enter sales process information. It’s like showing your work in math class. You can write down the correct answer, but you won’t get credit unless you demonstrate how you arrived at that conclusion.
Sales Forecasting Accuracy
By getting your reps to back up their forecasts with sales process information, you’re guiding them to question their assumptions and use evidence to arrive at a more accurate forecast.
For example, sales process information forces a sales rep to understand the nuances of a deal before forecasting a close date. Instead of taking prospects’ promises at face value, they use sales conversations to hone in on potential challenges like:
- How many stakeholders need to review and sign off before I close this deal?
- Is there a formal process we have to step through?
- Are there are any compliance frameworks, legal agreements, or other contractual needs we need to fulfill before the prospect is ready to work with us?
Sales Manager Visibility and Coaching
Your sales reps might have good reason to land on the close dates, amounts, or stages they chose, but that information is useless unless it’s documented somewhere. By requiring reps to fill sales process fields in the CRM, you’re providing the context sales managers need to understand the logic behind their reps’ forecasts.
With this visibility, sales managers get a better idea of where reps need coaching. They see what valuable information their reps are (and aren’t) getting from sales conversations, as well as whether they’re unpacking that context effectively in the CRM.
What Sales Process Information Looks Like with MEDDPICC
The exact sales process information you’ll ask your sales reps to collect depends on your team’s sales methodology. For example, we use the MEDDPICC sales methodology to support our sales forecasts.
MEDDPICC prompts sales reps to dig deeper into sales conversations. With these sales process fields in Salesforce, our sales reps ask themselves (and their prospects) tougher, more pointed questions to get at the reality of their opportunities.
- Metrics: How does the prospect plan on measuring success? What quantifiable goals do they need to achieve?
- Economic buyer: Am I talking to the real decision maker?
- Decision process: Who is involved and what steps does the company take to make a final decision? How does the process change depending on the amount of money at stake? What can we do to make this go smoothly?
- Decision criteria: What’s driving their decision? Do we need to meet certain technical, budget, or ROI requirements?
- Paper process: Do we need to have any compliance frameworks in place, meet any regulatory requirements, or make any legal agreements to work with this company?
- Implications of pain: What problem is the prospect trying to solve? What’s the risk in terms of lost revenue, opportunity cost, etc.? How soon before this problem becomes unbearable?
- Champion: Who in the company feels the most pain from the problem? Who will go to bat for the solution you provide?
- Competitors: What other companies is your prospect considering? What are your competitive advantages/disadvantages? What do you need to do to win this prospect?
This information backs up our sales forecasts. We use it as evidence to support our assertions as well as to identify challenges that could get in the way as the opportunity moves through our sales funnel. By addressing these challenges upfront, we’re able to set more accurate categories, stages, amounts, next steps, and close dates.
How to Use Sales Process Information to Improve Sales Forecasting
Your first step in improving your team’s forecasting is to decide which sales process information to capture. Once you know that, you can teach sales managers to inspect and coach reps on how to glean that information from sales conversations.
Capture the Right Sales Process Information
Begin by asking yourself which of the five sales forecasting data points you need to validate. This can be informed by previous experience (in what ways are your sales forecasts proving inaccurate?), as well as by the information your team relies on the most for forecasting. Is your team consistently missing close dates? Start there.
Then, decide which sales process fields in Salesforce you want to use to support the sales forecasting information you want to validate. For example, if your team struggles to accurately define close dates, pick sales process fields, like decision process and implications of pain, that will best help your team get at the information they need.
Train Your Sales Managers to Inspect and Coach to the New Criteria
To make sure your sales reps are capturing the new sales process information, you need to train your sales managers to inspect and coach sales reps using the new forecasting criteria.
Success here means getting your managers to coach sales reps on what they need to start thinking about, looking for, and asking in prospect calls. However, it’s equally important to train managers and reps on the quality of the information that should be added to sales process fields in your CRM. That way, you’re making sure your sales reps aren’t just capturing the new sales process information for the sake of moving their deal into a new stage. Quality matters in sales forecasting.
Back It All Up With Sales Behavior Reinforcement
To change sales behavior over time, you need a system to reinforce it.
Sales behavior reinforcement is as simple as using Troops’ automated, contextual Slack sales alerts. These alerts prompt sales reps to fill in sales process fields immediately after they finish a sales call or a meeting while the information is fresh in their minds.
Troops alerts also notify sales managers when their reps move deals to new stages, giving them real-time opportunities to inspect and coach to the new behavior.
By using Troops to update Slack channels with sales communication, you’re allowing everyone to see what’s going on and to learn from others. It also provides sales leaders with the visibility they need to make sure their managers are training the new sales forecasting criteria consistently and effectively.
Beware of Overwhelming Your Sales Reps with Information
Too much information can be a bad thing. How do you decide how much sales process information is enough to back up your forecasts?
The complexity of your information needs depends on the velocity and importance of your deals. If you’re focusing on a handful of opportunities to meet your sales goals, it makes sense to dig into as much information as you can to make sure you close those deals. However, if you’re juggling lots of smaller opportunities with fast-paced cycles, you need to find the balance between level of effort and payoff.
We’ve found that fewer required fields = better adherence and information. Sales reps are more susceptible to filling in fake or sub-par data when tasked with a long list of required fields to move their deal to a new stage. Have you ever seen “X”s in your Salesforce fields? That’s the sub-par data we’re talking about.
Prioritize quality data over busywork. Instead of requiring sales reps to fill in all sales process fields at once, prompt them to focus on the information that matters the most depending on the deal’s stage in the sales funnel. You can even eliminate required fields entirely, opting instead to prompt sales reps after submission if they leave important fields empty.