"Constant exposure to a challenging sales forecast meeting is a surest way I know to transform an average Sales Rep into a rockstar."
It’s impossible to predict exactly how much revenue your team is going to close at the end of the month, let alone the end of the quarter or fiscal year. Yet when you type “sales forecasting” into Google, every article wants to convince you which data points to look at and what algebraic formula will most accurately estimate your future sales. The problem is that the main benefit of B2B sales forecasting has very little to do with predicting future sales. In fact, it has more in common with the sport of Curling than it does with predicting the weather. Allow me to explain...
In Curling, the Thrower (let’s call this person the Sales Rep) launches a stone down an icy runway with the hope of it stopping smack dab in the middle of a bulls-eye, painted on the ice, about 90 feet away. Let’s assume for a second that was the end of it. The game would be impossibly hard; with almost no friction to impede the stone from spinning and gliding over such a long distance, it would surely veer and slide it’s way far left, right, long, or short of the target. Thankfully, that’s not the end of the game.
Enter the Sweepers (let’s call these people the Sales Manager), who are under instruction to sweep the ice ahead of the stone with their brooms to ensure the stone glides straight and true, and completes its journey right to the heart of the bulls-eye. Without the Sales Manager, Curling is an individual effort and no more likely to become an Olympic game than, say, shuffleboard. With the Sales Manager, stone throwing becomes accurate down to the inch, the Sales Rep scores more points than they ever could have dreamed of scoring individually, and Curling is transformed into a wildly-popular Olympic team sport.
The Sales Rep didn’t get any better (or worse) at throwing the stone in a team environment. What made all the difference was the oversight and micro-adjustments that the Sales Manager made to guide the stone to the perfect spot, every time. The same is true of sales forecasting – by investing the time to run weekly sales forecast meetings, you put yourself in the best possible position to recognize obstacles early and make the deal-by-deal adjustments that will give you the best chance of maximizing your revenue at the end of the year.
Sales Forecasting In 3 Steps
In this article, we’re going to show Sales Managers how to start forecasting sales, and how to run an effective weekly Sales Forecast Meeting. Establishing this practice in your team probably will help your team develop more ownership and accountability for their sales target, improve their ability to identify and address risks in their deals, and allow you to align your priorities with your Reps.
1. Define Your Reporting Period
Many organizations already have a defined reporting period – so if yours is one of them, you can skip to the next step. If you don’t already have a set reporting period, let’s begin by defining one.
In our experience most sales teams set annual targets and report on those targets either on a monthly or a quarterly basis, and we strongly recommend selecting from one of those two options. Which frequency you end up choosing typically depends on a combination of factors – namely, the financial reporting requirements of your business, your sales volume, and the length of your sales cycle.
Leaving financial reporting requirements aside, let’s look at two examples - a Technology business that sells CRM software to the Fortune 1000 and a Food Catering business that specializes in catering for small corporate events. The Technology business will most likely benefit more from a quarterly reporting period due to the lower sales volume and longer sales cycle inherent in selling enterprise solutions to large customers, whereas the Food Catering business would benefit more from a monthly reporting period since almost none of their customers would be placing orders more than a week or two in advance.
Pro-Tip: Go into your CRM and look at the total number of deals with a close date that falls within the next 3 months. Now look at how many of those deals have a close date within the next 1 month. If the number of deals that have a close date within the next 1 month is more than 5x larger than the number of deals that have a close date in months 2 and 3 combined, you should strongly consider reporting on a monthly basis.
In this article, I will use an example sales forecast that follows a quarterly reporting period.
2. Ask Your Reps To Prepare Their Forecast
Shortly before a forecast meeting, the Sales Rep will need to prepare their forecast. In its entirety, this exercise shouldn’t take the Rep more than about 15 minutes of their time.
They begin by extracting all deals with a close date within the current reporting period from their CRM and inserting those deals into a Sales Forecast template (if don’t want to design your own template, you can download a free Sales Forecast Template). The Rep should then sort the list highest-to-lowest by Win % (or Sales Stage) then by Deal Value.
Note: Tech-savvy Reps and Managers may feel compelled to try to forecast directly from their CRM. Unless your CRM specifically has Sales Forecasting functionality, I recommend creating an Excel or Google Sheets file to consolidate your forecast data. Because they will have to take the time to update their forecast file every week, Reps tend to start proactively thinking about how they can progress their deals from week-to-week, and both the Manager and Rep will benefit from being able to easily reference their past weeks’ forecasts for context.
Our example below shows an example of a sales forecast after applying the sorting criteria.
The Rep should then look through each deal and identify those that do not have even a remote chance of closing in this forecast period, and remove these from the forecast while simultaneously updating their close date in the CRM. Typically, these deals are in the very early stages of the sales cycle, have known timeline issues, or are stale and need to be re-qualified.
In our example below, the Rep has determined that the bottom 7 deals do not have a realistic possibility to close within this quarter, so they have decided to these deals from the forecast.
Once these deals have been removed, the Rep will then proceed to tag each remaining deal as Worst Case, Forecast, or Best Case according to the following criteria:
Worst Case – A deal that the Rep commits to close in this forecast period under even the most conservative of scenarios. Typically, any deal ≥70-80% Win % must be included in this category.
Forecast – A deal that the Rep expects to close in this forecast period considering the deal’s stage, momentum, and the amount of time left to complete all outstanding work. Typically, any deal ≥60% Win % must be included in this category.
Best Case – A deal that the Rep could potentially close assuming a best case (but still realistic) scenario. Typically, only deals ≥40% Win % are considered are considered for this category, but exceptions can be made with a strong justification.
In our example below, the Rep has identified 6 Worst Case deals, 3 Forecast deals, and 4 Best Case deals (rows have been color-coded for emphasis only).
Now, the Rep should calculate the value of each category and submit the completed forecast file to their Manager. Each category can be calculated as follows:
Worst Case = Total $ value of all Worst Case deals
Forecast = Total $ value of all Worst Case + Forecast deals
Best Case = Total $ value of all Worst Case + Forecast + Best Case deals
3. Run Your Weekly Forecast Meeting
Each week, usually on a Friday, the Sales Manager and Rep should meet to finalize the Rep’s forecast. The purpose of this meeting is to review the Rep’s progress over the past week, discuss specific deals in-detail to identify potential obstacles, and ensure the Rep has the resources and support they need to overcome these obstacles and achieve their target.
The Rep should start the meeting with a summary of their target and forecast:
My sales target for this quarter is $100,000. I’ve already closed $47,180 (47% of target), which leaves me with $52,820 to go. In total, I am Forecasting $109,430 – with my Worst Case at $47,930 and my Best Case at $180,180.
The Sales Manager then initiates a review of each category of deals – starting with the Worst Case.
For each deal in the Worst Case category, the Manager should first confirm and reconfirm each Won deal (this is very important!), then proceed to review each Open deal to understand what final steps are required before the deal can be closed. For each deal, the Manager should then mutually agree with the Rep on a deadline to complete all outstanding tasks.
Here are a few high-yield questions that Managers can ask when reviewing Worst Case deals:
What are the next step required to close this deal?
Who is the person responsible from the customer?
When was the last time you spoke with them?
Have you agreed on a date with the customer that this will get done?
What is your backup plan if the next step isn’t completed by that date?
Is it possible for you to finish all pending items and move this deal to Won by X date? Why/why not?
Do you agree to push this forward so that it gets concluded by X date?
Pro-Tip: Worst Case deals typically only require final paperwork or signatures to be obtained – all negotiations should have been completed by the time a deal is moved to this category.
Next, the Sales Manager moves to the Forecast and Best Case deals.
Since deals in these categories are usually in the more critical stages of the sales cycle – when presentations and solution-building exercises are still on-going or negotiations have just begun – it is important for the Manager to spend more time to thoroughly qualify these deals. Asking challenging qualification questions to the Reps at this stage of their deals will help uncover any information gaps or previously overlooked risk that might impact the deal. The earlier you can uncover this risk, the earlier it can be addressed and mitigated! At SAGE, we prefer to use a qualification framework called STAND:
STAND: Spend, Timeline, Alternatives, Need, Decision-making
Here are a few STAND questions that Managers can ask when reviewing Forecast and Best Case deals:
How much do they currently spend for services like ours?
Have you discussed pricing with the project-owner/decision-maker?
Do they have the capacity to spend the X amount this project will cost? How do you know that?
When does the current contract end? / When is the event date? / When does the customer expect this solution by? / By when do they want to go-live with this solution?
Why does the customer need it by that date as opposed to a month or two later?
What factors will influence the timeline for this project?
Has the customer agreed internally with their decision-maker(s) on these timelines?
After the decision-maker(s) have signed off, what are the other approvals that need to be secured (Procurement, Legal, Compliance, etc.)? Do we have contact with those teams yet? What issues could each of those teams potentially raise that could delay our timeline? How long after the decision-maker(s) approve will it take to secure each additional approval required?
Can the customer address this issue without purchasing anything? / What will happen if the customer doesn’t purchase anything?
Are we replacing an incumbent/existing vendor? Who are they?
Which other vendors is the customer working with on this deal?
Why are we better positioned to win this deal than the competition?
What is the solution/product we are offering?
Has the customer already seen a presentation and/or proposal from us?
Has the customer agreed that the solution meets their expectations?
What material benefits will the customer realize (or what pain will they avoid) by purchasing this solution from us?
How are the decision-maker(s) thinking about the ROI of this project?
Who specifically are you in contact with about this deal? What are their roles?
Who is involved in making the decision on whether or not to go ahead with this project?
How will the decision be made whether to purchase or not purchase from us?
When will these decision-making individuals/committees/boards of directors decide whether or not to purchase from us?
At this point, what is pending from our side to send to the decision-maker(s)?
After the decision-maker(s) signs off, what are the other approvals that need to be secured (Procurement, Legal, Compliance, etc.)? Do we have contact with those teams yet? What issues could each of those teams potentially raise with us that could delay our existing timelines? How long after the decision-maker(s) approve will it take to secure each additional approval required?
Pro-Tip: Concern about even a single STAND category could derail an entire deal and spell doom for both the Rep and Manager’s forecast. It is imperative that both parties are transparent in communicating not only the information they have, but their sources and their confidence-level in those sources as well.
Once all deals in the forecast are reviewed, the forecast meeting is complete. By the end of this meeting, both the Sales Manager and Sales Rep should have a mutual understanding of what tasks need to be carried out before the next week’s forecast. Keep in mind that as you progress toward the end of the forecast period, there should be a natural decrease of Best Case and Forecast deals as more and more of these deals start flowing into the Worst Case category and eventually Won altogether.
Lastly, at the start of a new forecast period (a new month or quarter), the slate should be wiped clean and the Rep should build up their next forecast with deals that have a close date in the new forecast period.
Addressing Common Challenges In Sales Forecasting Meetings
In many weekly forecast meetings, managers may not have the time to deep-dive into every single deal with every single Rep…and that’s OK.
In these cases, Managers should identify “Key Deals” that will be reviewed during upcoming forecast meetings (or on a more frequent basis). Here’s what you should look for when identifying “Key Deals”:
Large deals ($)
Complexity (deals with inherent risk that require additional oversight)
Strategic deals (deals with an important customer or that could lead to significant follow-up business)
Worst Case or Forecast deals that have a low Win %
In our example below, take a look at the 3 Key Deals that the Manager has hand-picked from this forecast:
Lucky Insurance – At $40,000, this deal is large enough to significantly impact the Rep’s exit number, so it requires close monitoring.
Orange Apparel – This deal is of a significant value to impact the Rep’s exit number, and at 40% Win %, this deal still needs management support to ensure that it progresses smoothly through the critical stages of the sales cycle. There’s one more reason – together, Orange Apparel + Growth Venture Capital can fill the gap left by Lucky Insurance if that deal happens to slip out of the forecast – so these two deals provide upside potential as well as insurance against the downside risk in this Rep’s forecast.
Growth Venture Capital – The same rationale as Orange Apparel.
Moving Deals Out Of The Forecast
On a weekly basis, both the Rep and the Manager should be combing their forecast to pick out deals that become unrealistic candidates to be won by the end of the forecast period for whatever reason. Once these deals are mutually identified and mutually agreed on, it is best practice for the Rep to update the close date in their CRM to a more conservative date and to remove the deal(s) from the next week’s forecast.
Managers who both understand their business’s pipeline velocity (the speed at which the average deal moves through the sales cycle) and continuously qualify the deals in their Rep’s forecast will be well-positioned to determine which deals should be removed from the forecast. Even better, they should be able to do this with enough lead time to create and execute a contingency plan to back-fill the reduced forecast number. For example, a Sales Manager should never find themselves in a compromising position on the last week of the quarter because their Rep’s deal, which had been sitting at 20% Win % for the past 3 weeks, doesn’t look like it will close in time.
As the end of the forecast period gets closer, Managers should put every deal in their forecast under a microscope – asking questions and using their experience and intuition to decide whether or not it deserves to stay in their forecast.
Even the best teams will eventually be stuck with slipped deals – deals that were not Won by the end of the forecast period and must be carried over to the next forecast. It’s important not to let deals slip for any longer than is absolutely necessary. A best practice is for Managers to ‘grant’ Reps a 1-week grace period to move each slipped deal to Won status by completing the final negotiations and necessary paperwork.
Sales Managers should keep a slipped deal scorecard to track how often their Reps are slipping deals from the forecast, and should enforce a slipped deal disciplinary policy strictly and vigorously. Managers and Reps that continuously slip deals set a poor example of sales discipline and will inhibit the team’s ability to achieve and/or sustain high-performance.
Note: Revenue should continue to be recognized according to your accounting standards (i.e. just because you ‘granted’ the Rep a few extra days to close their deals, it doesn’t mean that you can retroactively recognize the revenue in the last forecast period).