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Weathering the Storm of Better Sales Forecasting

July 31, 2013 | By Mark Levinson

SiriusDecisions’ research continues to demonstrate that predictability and accuracy in sales forecasting is one of the top challenges in b-to-b organizations. While there is no single activity or process to solve this issue, using well-defined processes, metrics and supportive tools can deliver a predictable and accurate sales forecast.

I have always said that in my next life, I want to be a meteorologist on television. I understand the difficulty of predicting what Mother Nature will deliver, but I like the idea that I could deliver a forecast that turns out to be completely wrong, yet not lose my job and still be a celebrity.

Of course, the ability to provide a more predictable and accurate weather forecast might have a lot to do with location. I would choose to be a meteorologist in San Diego – sunny weather and a temperature of 70 to 75 degrees every day.

SiriusDecisions’ research continues to demonstrate that predictability and accuracy in sales forecasting is one of the top challenges in b-to-b organizations. Many clients ask me for a “silver bullet” best practice they can implement to deliver better forecasts. I wish there were a single activity or process I could offer to solve this age-old question.

Sales organizations must consistently implement a formalized forecast methodology. This methodology must outline the criteria that the organization will use to define the opportunities committed for the month or quarter. Specific criteria could be based on certain stages in the sales process, using probability factoring or pure sales rep intuition (though the latter is not a best practice).

But without ensuring that surrounding processes support opportunity quality, the forecast methodology alone will not provide the improved outcome that sales leaders expect.

A meteorologist uses radar to look at past weather patterns, current situations and changes moving toward the local area, comparing new information with historical data to try to predict what will happen tomorrow or next week. Similarly, sales operations must use the sales force automation platform and sales analytics tools to analyze sales data.

Organizations must also formalize a well-managed lead and sales process to support proper qualification of opportunities based on buyer alignment. Finally, they must apply a core set of sales metrics to define sales history, provide current insight and allow for future predictions.

So, when a sales leader asks if it is going to rain or pour this quarter, be sure to use well-defined processes, metrics and tools that support the delivery of a predictable and accurate sales forecast.

Mark Levinson

Mark Levinson is Vice President and Group Director of Sales and Channel Services at SiriusDecisions. Mark’s nearly 20 years of experience includes a wide variety of sales operations issues including strategic planning, territory optimization, compensation plans, account management, sales tools and sales analytics. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkBLevinson.

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