How Sales Forecasting can Help your March Madness Bracket

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If you’re reading this, you’re probably part of the estimated 45% of Americans who fill out an NCAA Basketball Tournament March Madness bracket each year. Whether you’re in a competitive league with friends or just participating in a low-key office pool, filling out a bracket (and the accompanying friendly trash talk) can make the tournament even more fun and exciting than it already is. This year, the financial stakes have been raised – Warren Buffett is offering a billion dollars to the first perfect bracket in history!

We’re here to help you win that billion dollars. If you’re a regular reader of our blog – or a user of our award-winning product – you’re probably already an expert in sales forecasting. But just how can you apply that knowledge toward filling out the perfect bracket?

1. Learn from history

Much of our present is shaped by our history, an adage that holds true in both sales forecasting and March Madness brackets. The more historical data a sales manager has about their conversion rates between various sales funnel stages all the way down to a closed-won deal, the more accurate their present-day forecast will be. Look at your sales funnel for the past 12 months. Based on this data, you know that if an opportunity makes it to the Technical Fit stage, it has a 65% chance of being closed-won. If it can make it one stage further to the Closing stage, the odds of a closed-won deal jump all the way up to 83%.

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When choosing your Final Four teams, think about seeds as sales funnel stages, and consider how each seed has done historically. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the most likely Final Four lineup will include two No. 1 seeds, a No. 2 seed, and a seed in the 3-5 range. Historical data suggests that this is the most common seeding range for Final Four teams, so start here in choosing these four teams and working backward to the first round.

Our pick: #1 seed Florida, #1 seed Arizona, #2 seed Michigan and #4 seed Michigan State looks like a reasonably likely Final Four.

2. Momentum matters

Remember University of Connecticut star Kemba Walker? He led UConn on an unlikely run to the 2011 National Championship, winning 5 straight games in the Big East tournament before sweeping all 6 games in the NCAA tournament. On the eve of March Madness, Kemba hit one of the most memorable game-winners in college basketball history:

Kemba – and his team – were ON FIRE entering the tournament, and opposing teams could not douse them. Simply put, momentum matters in both basketball and in sales. Our Pipeline Today report notes which opportunities have received the most effort and engagement recently, as indicated by the size of the bubbles. For this forecasting period, you should consider the larger bubbles over the smaller ones – opportunities that have received more recent engagement have more momentum going for them. Their positive trajectory can carry you to a closed-won deal – just like Kemba and the UConn Huskies.

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Our pick: Stephen F. Austin University has won an incredible 28 straight games! Look for the #12 seed to upset #5 seed Virginia Commonwealth University in the first round.

3. Be wary of forecast killers / giant killers

Forecast killers are inevitable – ignoring them can egregiously sink the accuracy of your sales forecast. However, being aware of them – and knowing how to manage and sidestep them – can save your forecast. For instance, opportunities that are 3x greater than your average should be flagged and treated differently. Timing kills all deals, and opps that have languished in certain stages longer than your typical historical win cycle should be considered risky, “stuck” opportunities.

Upsets in March Madness are inevitable – they’re part of what makes the tournament so exciting! Unless you’re Nostradamus, you can’t accurately predict which upsets will happen; that’s why they’re called upsets. However, history can give us some indication as to which giant killers are more likely to slay higher seeds than others. Since 1985, there have been 35 instances when the #12 seed has beaten the #5 seed in the first round. Look here for a more likely upset pick in the first round.

Our pick: Along with Stephen F. Austin University above, we could also see #12 seed Harvard University knocking off #5 seed Cincinnati in the first round.

4. Put away those happy ears

Opportunities are like basketball teams – you can fall in love with them, and fall hard, throwing all logic to the wind, only to get burned by them in the end. Your reps will sometimes have ‘happy ears’ on opportunities where, despite all signs pointing to the contrary, they will believe that they can win that opp. You want to make sure you have a solid data-backed reason supporting your sales forecast.

Similarly, fans sometimes fall hard for certain teams based on recent performances or other factors, ignoring the larger body of work. Take Wichita State University. The #1 seed didn’t lose a single game all year! They’re entering the tournament with as much momentum as possible. It’s easy to fall in love with them and pick the plucky Shockers to keep their unbeaten streak alive all the way to the National Championship.

Our pick: Not us, though. We see Wichita State as the classic case of a team punching above its weight class all year. Come March Madness, that weight class catches up to you. Look for #4 seed Louisville to upset them in the Sweet Sixteen.

Chances are you’re not going to have a perfectly accurate sales forecast, nor a billion-dollar winning perfect bracket. All you can do is put yourself in the best position possible, taking all associated factors into consideration. Follow our best practices – for both sales forecasts and your bracket – and we think you’ll get pretty damn close.

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