Accurate sales forecasting is essential to growing revenue and managing your business effectively. When you know the timing and amount of incoming revenue, you can plan and focus on the right business initiatives; budget and allocate resources appropriately; set organizational goals; and provide teams with priorities and guidelines for how they spend their time.
Forecasting sales is both an art and a science. Although the human aspect can add an element of unpredictability, this can be offset by well-defined sales processes and straightforward tools for tracking progress throughout the sales cycle. Put away your crystal ball and take these steps to establish forecasting best practices that provide a foundation for growth.
1) Strengthen Your Sales Processes
Every organization is best served by sales processes that align with its business and industry. In creating such processes, you bring discipline to the sales team and provide everyone with a common language for discussing the sales pipeline.
Sales processes are commonly defined as informal (defined but not monitored or measured), formal (strictly defined, enforced, and measured), and dynamic (continuously monitored and modified to adapt to market changes). Processes can also be classified as simple and complex and can vary by industry or type of customer. However you define your sales processes, they should be applied consistently to deliver needed insights into your pipeline. In
Because each person’s interpretation of the sales cycle may be different, it is necessary to establish milestones throughout the sales cycle, from the point of first contact to a signed contract and everything in between. Sales managers can reduce misunderstandings and stimulate realistic thinking by defining the criteria in each stage of the sales cycle.
Knowing where each opportunity resides in the sales process allows sales reps and sales support personnel to apply proven strategies for moving the opportunity to the next stage. All milestones are significant and purposeful so if any are skipped, the sales opportunity is often lost somewhere down the line.
Once you have established the right processes for your business, you have a foundation for forecasting sales with ease and precision. Knowing each opportunity’s stage and length of time in the sales process makes forecasting more accurate and realistic, providing leadership with projections they can trust.
2) Track Sales in CRM
Microsoft Dynamics 365 has a wealth of features that can deliver deep insights into your sales pipeline. Most significant is the Opportunity entity that can be associated with any Account or Contact.
Here is where you define the unique milestones of your sales process to supplement standard details such as the expected value of the opportunity, anticipated close date, and probability of closing. It’s also where you track all related sales activities including phone calls, emails, tasks, and appointments.
To effectively track sales, reps must update these fields regularly with realistic information. In fact, this behavior must become part of the sales process. Once updated, everyone has visibility into what has been completed and what is needed to move the opportunity forward. The beauty of Dynamics is that a concise checklist can be associated with each stage making it easier to reinforce the habits of your best account managers. Unless items on the checklist have been completed, the opportunity doesn’t move to the next stage and its probability of closing remains unchanged.
The body of knowledge created by this discipline will help establish an expected time-cycle for each selling stage, and reveal how individuals and teams can support each other to close a sale.
3) Analyze Results to Improve Results
The primary purpose of sales tracking and forecasting is to guide strategic and budget decisions. However, your analysis can provide other insights that can improve your sales processes and strategies.
- Wins-Losses. Do you lose more sales than you win? What is the percentage of wins and losses against appointments or length of time in the pipeline? Which types of accounts did you lose and to whom did you lose them? Use this information to determine whether you’re engaging with the right prospects, and how you can improve your value proposition against specific competitors.
- Process Gaps. Do sales consistently get stuck at a certain stage of the sales process? Does this occur for some account managers or everyone? You may need stronger guidance, training, or support in those areas to improve sales performance. For example, is the sticking point around who approves the deal and who approves the budget to close it? Is the deal stuck in the legal department for review and approve of the contract? How does your team learn from process gaps so they can establish control earlier in the sales cycle? Process gaps can have a significant impact on your forecast.
- Transparency into Rep Performance. A sales rep consistently forecasts a stalled sale to close in the current month. Why the delay? Is the projection informed and realistic? Is the project slated for the prospect’s current budget year? Is the opportunity even viable? This is your opportunity to collaborate with the sales rep to improve their sales training, forecasting capabilities or determine earlier if this account rep is not the right fit for your organization.
Contact us and let’s discuss how InfoGrow can improve your sales forecasting and tracking capabilities with Microsoft Dynamics 365. We offer a
Bob Sullivan - President, InfoGrow, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Partner