By CommenceCRM

The Story of Six Questions That Will Improve Your Forecast

The Story of Six Questions That Will Improve Your Forecast

I have had a long and successful career in sales, starting as a sales representative 30 years ago and working my way up to Vice President of sales for a Fortune 100 software company. It was a pressure-packed job and my longevity rested solely with my ability to provide senior management with an accurate quarterly sales forecast. This was no easy task 30 years ago and it is no easy task today. My challenge back then was that there was very little automation. I had to rely on regional sales managers and third-party resellers to provide me with a paper copy of their forecast predictions then consolidate this data for presentation to management.  Some provided accurate information while others did not.  You can guess what happened to them.

Presenting the quarterly forecast to senior management was always packed with uncertainty and intimidation as I was drilled for hours about details that I often did not have so I just made them up.   The frustration was always centered on why we could not get a completely accurate forecast. I had several supporters that knew that I was not on the battlefield and had little to no interaction with prospects and relied solely on what the field managers and resellers presented to me.

After one or two embarrassing presentations I decided to try and fix this problem or just improve it, so I created a document that the sales managers and third-party resellers had to submit two weeks prior to my presentation.  The form consisted of a series of qualification questions I needed to know, and two columns called F & U.  I know what you are thinking, but this stood for Forecast and Upside. Anything in the forecast column meant you were willing to stake your job that this deal was going to happen. Everything else went into the Upside column.  The goal was to improve the accuracy of the quarterly forecast and it was successful, so much so that it has played a significant role 30 years later in my firm’s CRM software for managing leads and the sales process.  Why am I telling you this? Well, I was rummaging through some old paperwork and came across the form and decided it still provided enough value that I wanted to share it with you.

The qualification questions I created were no different than most experienced sales people use today and as I mentioned are incorporated as part of Commence CRM for pipeline management. Here they are:

1 – Why Does the Prospect Need to Do Anything?

Is there a compelling reason for them to act or is a no decision on the table as well? If doing nothing is an acceptable decision this opportunity should not be in the forecast.

2 – Has the Prospect Provided Definitive Criteria for Their Decision? 

Have they issued an RFI or RFP and have we established real value here?  Are we a good fit or are we trying to plug a square peg in a round hole? If it is the latter, I do not want to see this on the forecast.

3 – Is There an Approved Budget?

Are they aware of and accept the cost associated with our product and the services we provide? If not move on.

4 – Are the Decision Makers Engaged and Do We Know the Timetable for a Decision and the Steps Associated with the Decision Process?

Who is involved with the decision? What are their roles? Who signs the check? If you do not know probe deeper but do not put this opportunity on the forecast.

5 – Who Is Our Competition?

Time to ask some tough questions and uncover valuable information.  For example. Is there any inside selling going on whereby the VP of sales may have utilized a competitive product at another firm and is trying to influence others inside the organization? The objective here is to make sure you are not being used to justify a decision for the competition.  It is possible that you have lost the deal early in the process, but you just do not know it. Do not be afraid to ask these questions early on so that you are not wasting time on a deal you cannot win and keep off the forecast.

6 – Asking for Business

Asking for the business often brings out the truth. A qualified prospect should be asking you buying type questions such as, “tell me about the implementation process, training, and customer support.”  If the prospect begins to squirm, give word salad answers to your questions such as, “you are still in the running,” this is a bad sign, and this prospect has no business being on your forecast.

Every sales executive knows that no one can create a 100 percent accurate forecast. Anyone that thinks they can, was probably never in sales. It is a dynamic process with a lot of moving parts and relies heavily on the experience of the sales team and regional sales management.  In one of my meetings with the management team I was asked why we cannot produce a 90% plus accurate forecast. My biggest supporter, the company’s CEO at that time said he would answer that for me. He said because “Shit Happens.” It was an appropriate answer and I appreciated it because I knew that he understood the challenge and that my job was secure.  Of course, I moved on to become the CEO of Commence Corporation and I am still asking the same questions to the sales team every quarter. I hope you enjoyed this story and can get some value from the questions above.

About the author

Larry Caretsky is the CEO of Commence Corporation, a manufacturer of CRM software and Marketing Automation services for lead generation. He is considered an expert in the field of Customer Relationship management software and has written numerous articles on the subject that are available at https://commence.com/commence-crm-blog/