Forecast, project or dart board?

There is much to be said about the debate amongst operations, service and sales regarding forecasts.  All have viable arguments or points of view.   Operations and service  need accurate forecasts to ensure they have the right amount of personnel, inventory and resources to support the sales efforts.   Yet, sales hedges on putting their name on a number.  All points of view need to create a balance  to manage success between the organization and its customers.

I have spoken to numerous entrepreneurs, executives, operations personnel, managers, sales reps and been on both sides of the table.  Even though I have been on the sales side longer, I favor accurate forecasting.   The reason is logically because I care more about delivering on promises to my clients than not getting it right or avoiding accountability.  I "get it" that operations is not a never-ending money train either.  The compromise is to come up with a forecast that balance everyone's needs.  It is also important to note that  it takes significantly more expense, resources and time to generate one new customer (something like 75%) than it does to keep existing customers happy.  Yet, most organizations spend a great deal of effort on winning new customers, especially during uncertain times. 

Forecasting is particularly critical if you are focussed on gaining new customers or when economic conditions are unpredictable.  Organizations are caught between laying off employees prematurely or out of panic, leaving themselves short when a customer does need the added resources or services available.  We know that scientists have confirmed that the chicken did come before the egg.  Forecasting is the chicken and needs to be in place before anything else can be established.  Every organization, with one employee or one thousand, needs to establish where their revenue will come from.  "Forecasting" is just that.   Very few organizations have the cash flow or can survive by what I call "Field of Dreams" mentality:  build it and they will come.


Even without sales professionals on staff, setting realistic goals on attracting and retaining revenue can determine the success or health of your business. 

Unless you are in a large corporate sales environment, the culture for forecasting tends to be less of a requirement.   Yet, from formulating or guesstimating best estimate on each sales professionals predicted revenue by year, by month or even by week will help operations and support their efforts.  It is sometimes called "accountability".  Many sales professionals are uncomfortable with this as they consider it will reflect badly on them if they are off the mark.  However, not assessing their own performance will likely restrict their success anyhow.  Here are a few suggestions I would offer:

  • Understand the full annual territory revenue value, then break down by customer, by month
  • Record the projected new customers by annual value, by month, considering purchase date
  • Assess percentage or ratio of revenue between existing customers and new customers
  • You can take last three months, projected next month that includes new customers, and same month from previous year.  Total all 5 months, divide by 5 to get a forecast amount.
  • Organizations should post results by week, by month or provide access by reps for cross-checking.
The above is a simplified formula to start with.  It is just as important to go back and track your success, boost or modify against actuals.  What I love about doing something like this is, it is just like golf -- you really are competing against your OWN score.  When YOU set the goal, YOU have more of a tendency to make it happen.  If you take it more seriously, you will assess your close ratio.  How accurate are you at predicting your own success rate?  Does it mean you have to make more calls to increase your success rate?  It can also prove to be one of the single most motivating tools you can have.  If your personal goals are aligned with your forecast, you will increase your chances of meeting/exceeding your forecasts.  (Remember that new car, a trip, house, marriage, baby, early retirement ..... etc.)

I won't dwell on it too long because I want to emphasise all the many advantages to forecasting, however, organizations can be their own worst enemy.  For example, they may project what the forecast has to be and then divide it amongst the sales team.  That projection could be based on operational expenses, factoring in commissions, and then profitability.   I can put forth my theory that many private organizations don't share the numbers on projections or post actuals because they don't want everyone to know those numbers ... in other words how much money the owners make.   Some share only lump sums or maybe only larger corporations emphasise profitability to leverage forecast requirements under a budget, target or plan.

What this all comes down to is accountability.  If you are a sales professional, you should have a handle on where your revenue will come from.  Sales reps should up the ante through increased activity if a customer or prospect doesn't come through.  Where the true value comes from is when you, after practice, become  more accurate with time, like golf.    Organizations would win by recognizing accurate forecasting.  Both sides benefit when there are real numbers to work from.  The customer wins the most by having the high level of service and product they envisioned. 

Accurate forecasting eliminates mistrust from sales who spin tales to save face or ease pressure of unachievable projections.  Organizations reduce buffering or stretching numbers.  If an organization feels they have to set the budget higher to stretch their sales team, then they may have a completely different issue to consider.  One might be to buy a dart board.

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