One Sales Aid to Avoid the Forecast Fire Drill
It’s like deja vu’ all over again.
Your CSO - scowl on his face – says: “Set-up calls with the RVP’s now! I want to review every deal in the pipeline over $200k. They need to commit to a closing probability for each one. You'll have to re-work the forecast and get it back to me tomorrow. It has to be rock solid”
You’re closing in on quarter end and your boss needs an updated manual pipeline forecast for the CEO. They don’t have confidence in your forecast or the data in your CRM. The process is broken.
We see this happening to sales operations leaders often. The quarterly fire-drill, the scramble or the cluster. Whatever you call it, it kills you and your team. Get in front of the scramble. You've wanted to break this cycle for a while.
Don’t wait till the last week of the quarter – it’s too late. Consistent use of one simple tool by sales will greatly reduce your pain.
How This Tool Will Help
The Opportunity Evaluator will answer the following questions:
- In what stage of the pipeline does this opportunity really belong?
- How strong is the likelihood that we win this deal?
- Are we keeping pace with the buyer?
- Is this deal just smoke and mirrors?
Used regularly, the Opportunity Evaluator ensures a better forecast. It's an ongoing sales aid for reps and a needed coaching tool by managers. It focuses sales on simple “yes/no” questions about the opportunity. It provides everyone with a common approach to evaluating the strength of a deal.
During the last fire-drill you went through, how much “hedging” did you hear? Regional Directors reporting a proposal on the short list that now had a small chance of winning. Reps that back-peddle on a “verbal agreement” that now has a 20% probability. Totally blows a hole in the forecast and the credibility of your pipeline.
Most sales organizations use documents with similar names. Opportunity Plans, Account Plans, etc. In our client work, we usually find that these are not regularly updated. They contain things like key personnel, sales campaign objectives, competitor information and so on. Many reps look at this as a one-and-done process. This approach won’t capture the changing dynamics of the Opportunity. And it won’t reduce your stress from the “Quarterly Forecast Scramble”.
Opportunities need to be continuously evaluated throughout the sales process. Buyers move at their own pace. This tool allows reps to capture where they are in the process and if they are aligned with the buyer.
Getting It Adopted
Any tool is only as good as how it’s used. Here are a few specific steps to help you in rolling this out to sales:
- Review the Opportunity Evaluator – Revise to best fit your business but keep the essence and grouping of questions the same. The objective of the tool is not to get all “yes” answers. Reps should focus on converting “No” to “Yes” – the more yes responses, the stronger the opportunity.
- Design a Pilot – Identify one or two sales leaders in the field that are strong performers and you’ve earned their trust. Ask them to work with you on a pilot of a simple sales tool. Walk them through the tool. Get their feedback and tweak if needed.
- Pilot – Ask for the pilot leaders to add 15-20 minutes to their weekly calls with their teams. Before the call, pre-select two of the reps to review their use of the tool for a specific opportunity.
- Capture Early Wins – keep track of the times when the tool helped reps advance the deal. Identify situations where the tool dictated a revision to the stage a deal was in. If there aren’t enough “Yes” answers in the tool move the Opportunity where it belongs.
- Get the Word out – let the reps and sales managers take the spotlight for success. E-mail, e-newsletter, internal web site.
- Get the CSO bought-in – Show the success during the pilot. Arrange a web-ex with the pilot participants and the CSO. Connect the tool, its use and the success stories for the boss.
- Implement, Monitor, Reinforce – for more on this, click here. This is where the rubber meets the road. Put together a plan to implement, monitor and reinforce the tools use in place.
Will this stop the fire-drills? Not entirely. However, following the steps above will greatly reduce the pain you feel. You and sales leadership will gain confidence in the forecast. Sales reps will have a systematic way to really know how good their pipeline is. There’ll be less hedging and fewer deals that disappear under scrutiny.
Continuous evaluation of Opportunities – from the buyer’s point of view - leads to more accurate forecasts. Taking this step enables the sales force. You’ll be freed from much of the scrambling done every quarter.
Put this in place now - don't wait for the next pipeline forecast fire-drill.
Author: Patrick Seidell
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