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Four Principles For Great Sales Forecasts

To say that forecasting is the bane of existence of most sales managers and leaders is a bit of an understatement. For most representatives, the choice between working on the forecast and getting a root canal would lead to a trip to the dentist. And yet, most organizations rely heavily on the "data" that is produced in forecasts to make decisions on everything from budgets to bonuses. I use quotes around the term data, because while the term is appropriate, many a forecast are a "wish-cast." That is, the data is based on too much hope of what will happen and not enough empirical evidence to be accurate.

If you want to produce better sales forecasts, then it is incumbent upon sales leaders to take a different approach. Simply providing routine inspections of the numbers reported up the chain of command and making adjustments based on gut feel is not enough. In order to produce a good forecast, sales leaders need to pay attention to the following principles:

  • Good forecasting requires a good sales strategy. When a map is wrong, it fails to accurately depict the reality of the landscape, and the same is true when a forecast is incorrect. In short, a forecast does not a strategy make. Good sales strategies take into account the outcomes that need to occur in order to move closer to closing business. A good strategy may include a SWOT analysis, or a clear understanding of the customer criteria for decision and how you rank against the criteria, but most importantly, it will direct your tactics and help you determine the logical series of next steps. And if an account is worth occupying space in your sales funnel it deserves the strategic consideration and attention required to move deftly through your pipeline.
  • Good forecasting requires an understanding of your buyer's behavior. "If you want to learn how sellers ought to sell, learn how buyers buy," frequently admonished one of my mentors. And if you want to have an accurate forecast, the same holds true. Too many forecasts are simply lists or histories of what the seller has done without taking into consideration what the buyer is doing. The sales process, however, only moves forward when the buyer takes action, so it is incumbent on the sales organization to get very clear on how your buyer is making the decision. What is the process they will use? What stages of the decision cycle are ahead? And what should you be doing differently at each stage.
  • Good forecasting requires a milestone driven pipeline process. Once you are clear about how the client is buying you can apply your pipeline process. Ever looked at a forecast and said, "This account is not in the late stages, it is an early stage opportunity?" The key to being effective here is to make sure your pipeline process addresses the key milestones in your selling environment. Are needs analyses, field studies, or demo's important milestones that client's commit to in the sales process? Pre-proposal review meetings? If so include them in the appropriate stages of your pipeline process and manage to the events that lead to the completion of these milestones. Whatever milestones they are, or whatever your unique vernacular calls them, make sure they are embedded in your pipeline process so that they serve as guideposts for where you really are in the pipeline.
  • Good forecasting requires continual improvement. A forecast is a snapshot not a movie. At any given time you need to remember that, done well, forecasting represents a moment in time, and since the landscape is constantly changing, forecasts need to be continually refined. You may experience changes in your business or in the marketplace that indicate that an additional milestone be added to your process. Or perhaps you find that over time, the values you placed on each of the stages in the pipeline need revision because you have more predictive data about closing rates.

With these principles, forecasting can become a strategic endeavor with a positive impact on results versus an inspection exercise that produces an educated guess. The best sales leaders I have worked with use the forecast as a tool to help them manage and lead the business, support strategic decisions, and determine how to allocate resources. Not just another spreadsheet to check the box on. Use these principles to help your sales organization to forecast more effectively and you will have created great value for your company and made your job much easier in the process.

Sales Interview Questions and Answers

When you are interviewing for a sales position, your goal is to sell yourself to the hiring manager. A sales job interview is among the most challenging of interviews, because candidates need to do more than just respond to questions. Every response you give to interview questions should include concrete examples of your sales achievements. It's important to be clear about how you can help the company and how you can grow sales. In addition, tailor your responses to reflect the company's products, services, and goals. Spend time on the company website and researching the company online, so you are clear about the company's mission.

Here are examples of common sales interview questions, along with sample answers you can use to frame responses based on your own qualifications, skills, product knowledge, achievements and sales experiences.

Building a Strong Foundation for Your Sales Career

by Toby Haertl

The sales world is a wonderful place - a place where hard workers are rewarded for their efforts and have complete control over their own destiny. The sales world can also be a horrifying and intimidating place, where a constant stream of competitors tries to purloin every prospect, client or product away from you in an effort to enrich themselves and leave you empty handed.

Sales is a place where go-getters thrive and the hesitant lose. In order to get ahead in one of the most competitive career fields in this economy, I've found that two characteristics set you apart and help you build the foundation for a promising sales career.

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Top 10 Ideas for Improving Sales Performance

  • Selection - Recruiting and selecting the right talent needed for each sales position is the single most important skill of sales management.
  • Raising the Bar - Sales and service improvement is an outcome of deliberate, planned actions over time, at all levels. "Raising the bar" must be the primary objective of sales and service leadership.
  • Sales Process - Documenting your sales methodology and Best Practices both for salespeople and sales managers provides a "Framework of Excellence" for improving your selling system. Once documented, the sales process drives hiring, coaching, training, and marketing support efforts.
  • Change - People change behaviors because they want to, because the value of change is compelling, and because it benefits them significantly as individuals. If you want to change selling behaviors, actively engage your people in the solution. It is their ownership that ensures long-lasting change.
  • Measurement - The essential ingredient of process improvement. Without clear expectations for activity and performance, sales improvement efforts seldom hit the mark.
  • Support Systems - Includes activity scorecards, technology, pipeline forecasting, territory plans, lead generation and strategy worksheets provide the tools to implement change. Tool development is not a one-time effort, but a continuous process of enhancing the tools, modifying them, and applying them to the business.
  • Focus Coaching - Sustains excellence and builds employee loyalty. Coaches are the catalysts of team and individual effectiveness. Their ability to tap and stretch the capacity of each individual generates power and momentum.
  • Training - The #1 intervention to communicate expectations, to stimulate growth, to lift individual performance. It must be a core practice, consistently applied and customized to fit your organization.
  • Compensation and Recognition - Practices must be aligned to strategy. Alignment creates leverage and increases the potential to maximize revenues.
  • Customer Retention - The ultimate barometer of success. Its focus is indispensable, and everyone in the organization must take ownership for their role in adding value and enhancing the customer experience.

Inside the Millennial Mind, From a Gen Y Recruiter

by Brent Grinsteiner

There have been many articles written about my generation - the millennials, or Generation Y - and the disconnect we have with employers. We've been called lazy, entitled, and even job-hoppers looking for the next best opportunity.

As a millennial myself, I view this as a rite of passage that each new generation experiences when they enter the workplace. There's tension that exists between the newcomers and the veterans, and some negative stereotypes get all the attention. Like each generation, millennials have unique experiences and backgrounds that shape who we are, how we behave, and our expectations. Understanding these nuances will help employers see that many of us are driven and want to make a bright future for ourselves and our organizations. You just need to take the time understand how we engage and interact.

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To Hire Well, First Define What You Need

by Jay Forte

A friend of my neighbor manages a call center. He has had, as he puts it, the worst luck in finding people who both do a good job and stay. I asked how he sources his talent, and he showed me his boilerplate posting:

WANTED - EXPERIENCED CALL CENTER EMPLOYEES

There was some other generic ad text, but that was about it. You can believe that no two people have the same definition of what this means. His lack of clarity about the behaviors, skills, and experience he needs in his roles encourages his swinging employment door.

As a workplace consultant and executive coach, I see the reason recruiting is so difficult is that most organizations don't have and religiously use a process to clearly, fully, and accurately define the role's qualifications; this includes behaviors in addition to skills and experience.

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