Here’s to 2021: Accurate, Agile Sales Forecasting

When it comes to sales forecasting, it’s a simple truth: if you can see what’s coming, you can prepare and react accordingly. In many cases, you can even change future results before they become foregone conclusions. 

If this year has shown us anything, it’s that sometimes it’s impossible to know what lay ahead. Sometimes you have to react on the fly, act on the best information you can find, and just give it all you’ve got. That’s what many of you have done during the extreme and unpredictable challenges of 2020.

But what if you could really, truly see what’s in store — both during this quarter, and into next year — clearly and with confidence? How would that impact your Q1 pipeline — and beyond?

Jumpstart your Forecast Strategy with the Ultimate Guide to Sales Forecasting.

Knowing the future is every CRO’s dream. But here we are in late Q4, when time can feel like it’s slipping away. Too late to make meaningful operational changes? Don’t you believe it! It’s possible to take steps now to improve your forecasting and funnel reviews with automated, reliable, and actionable data from across your sales organization. Your team (and your 2021 self) will thank you. 

Accurate forecasting is, for all intents and purposes, the whole ballgame. It’s how you inject your organization with predictability. Predictability leads to good decision making. And good decision making leads to more wins. The question is how to get good, actionable data that’s relevant to the opportunity and immediately apparent to everyone working on the deal. Imagine using your weekly pipeline review meetings as they were intended — to coach your reps and speed deal progression, instead of chasing down data.

Bottom line: you deserve a better way to forecast. The best time of year to start building a more accurate forecast? Now. If you don’t get started, you’ll spend January digging out of a hole (we’ve all been there) instead of acting on validated opportunities. 

No matter what came before, you can make this the Q4 of your dreams. 

Sales Forecasting Step 1: Get a CRM Reality Check

Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news, especially when it comes to systems that your organization has spent considerable time and money researching and adopting. But like clockwork, CROs are tasked with explaining underperforming pipelines and limited visibility, quarter after quarter, year after year. 

On top of that, sales managers are seemingly forever reminding reps to “update their opportunities” — an all-too-familiar refrain on many sales floors, perhaps including your own. But more troubling than just the repetitive nature of these issues and the annoyances they bring, are the problems they create. Big problems like managers running out of hours in the day to actually coach, reps putting time and effort into the wrong deals, forecasts based on guesswork or spotty data, and risks going unidentified until it’s too late to do anything about them.

Sales leaders must finally recognize what CRMs do, and don’t do. Are you leaning on yours to do too much — and to do things it was never intended for in the first place?

Here’s a CRM reality check: 

  • CRM platforms were built to give companies ownership of territory data and to manage change in those territories. CRMs were not built to benefit sales reps. Let’s all repeat: CRMs were not built to benefit sales reps.
  • There remains little or no incentive for reps to update opportunities in your CRM, so it should be no surprise that reps routinely do the bare minimum on this front. 
  • The question isn’t why are your reps so hesitant to do repetitive, manual data entry tasks, but why WOULD they spend their time doing so? The more you think about it, the less sense it makes.
  • CRM systems were not built to capture the kind of information that actually improves sales outcomes. The fact is that the data we spend so much time and energy begging reps to enter into the system rarely has much of an impact on active deals. 
  • Most CRM systems don’t track or retain history. This point is key. In order to learn from the past, you must understand it. That includes the ability to effectively coach your reps based on past deal experiences as revealed by deep opportunity analytics. But because most CRMs are “live systems” they don’t have this capability, often leaving you guessing.    

Once you free yourself from over-reliance on your CRM, better possibilities for accurate forecasting begin to immediately open up.

Sales Forecasting Step 2: Look Beyond Your CRM

So we’ve established that CRMs don’t benefit reps, leading to repetitive manual tasks that they rarely complete and amounting to wasted time and effort. Consider also how CRMs impair your ability to get out in front of your data. Sales leaders need more than just scattered puzzle pieces. You’ve got to be able to quickly put the pieces in place to effectively lead your team. And you’ve got to focus your time where you can make the biggest difference to your organization.

Easier said than done — unless you look past CRMs toward sales automation. Modern automation systems are how forward-thinking CROs are able to finally roll up and manage their forecasts and track historical data, accurately and efficiently. With access to a much better dataset, forecasting becomes so much easier. And funnel reviews become much more effective. You’ll be able to improve your commit by having a much better understanding of your committed deals and upsides.

Imagine drilling down on a deal, and then coaching them in the moment. Or taking the mystery out of understanding the activity profile for a successful team by seeing why they’re winning and replicating their methods across your sales org. 

CRMs do not help you do any of these things. That’s why improving your sales execution means adding AI-powered automation tools or platforms to your tech stack, now rather than later.

When you weigh different sales automation tools to help you forecast better than ever before, here’s what to look for:

  • Make sure it’s user-friendly: A good automation tool should radically simplify the data submission process for everyone on your sales team. The point is to automate activity capture and maintain records of all ongoing changes while at the same incorporating your complete historical sales data, with little or no manual data entry and exactly zero spreadsheets involved (hooray!). Working from this active data set, you should get AI-driven updates in real-time that you can look at from many angles, breaking them down by month, quarter, or year — and it should all be an easy lift.
  • Make sure it’s AI-powered: The benefits of AI for sales leaders has become more than just a future possibility — it’s something you’ve got to leverage fully to stay competitive. AI-powered forecasting reports allow teams to visualize their progress and take accountability for their work, without making excuses. It’s also instrumental in helping reps improve their accuracy over time. You’ll be able to predict the likely outcome of your pipeline and take advantage of historical trends. AI assistance helps you identify errors and missing steps before they introduce inaccuracy into your forecasts. You’ll be able predict and hit the mark — or even exceed it.
  • Make sure it’s collaborative: Effective automation tools help your sales organization work together to conquer deals right and left. That’s because they allow everyone to quickly and accurately understand which deals to pull forward and which deals are not worth further effort. New opportunities for coaching pop up automatically, letting you know how to best make use of everyone’s time. With a complete and reliable view into all sales activity, there’s greater transparency and less guess-work associated with each rep’s number. Everyone can move forward as a team, wasting less time on disagreements about data and spending more time replicating (and celebrating!) wins.

CRMs serve a purpose. But they don’t serve your reps. And they don’t give you the answers you need to make the best decisions for your organization’s future. It’s time to set aside static systems and stale reports and adopt an automated approach to gathering and parsing data. You deserve fresh, actionable insights, renewed constantly, without the manual burden on yourself and your team. The surefire way to significantly improve your forecasting outcomes is through advanced machine learning and collaboration that will give you a jump on your competition.

See the future and act on it like the pro you are. Here’s to finishing out Q4 strong, and an even stronger Q1.

Don’t forget to grab The Ultimate Guide to Sales Forecasting.

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