Here is what I have learned after 30+ years of doing them in Semiconductor Companies.
Sales forecasting is a mixture of art, and science, with a bit of hope and despair added in for good measure. I have spent untold hours trying to get to the point where the forecast could be depended on to drive manufacturing, financial planning, and investment. We started with spreadsheets that became unbelievably complex. We migrated to various CRM tools to make it better but always struggled with forecast accuracy, until we started using the NEHANET forecast tool. If you can get to the point where the forecast is used without a lot of debate, and is even used to create the AOP you have made the grade. That is what you can achieve if you have the right tool.
It always seemed like we would just get the forecast kind of finished and we were feeling good about it and the next phone call would be some crisis, unpredicted change, or customer issue that changed it all. That is especially the case right now while we are all wrestling with the impact of the COVID-19 market disruption. Predicting the unpredictable is always a challenge but I think there are a couple of things that can help you get it under control and back to some level of predictability.
Expect your forecast to change and plan accordingly:
COVID-19 is just the most recent event that has created chaos. We have all seen many others-hurricanes, earthquakes, product quality issues, strikes, recessions, to name a few. They all cause a rapid change to the forecast you just finished up and can rapidly turn your financial plans upside down.
So what do you do – I have found that the best thing to do is table the forecast for a while and talk to team members and customers to see how you can help them weather the storm. If you take the time to focus on relationships and building trust and how to help, you will be engaged as things stabilize and recover, and then start to grow again.
Forecasting is hard in this environment but this is when it is the most important and this is the time you can build management confidence that will translate to your forecast becoming a critical part of the organizational resources. Management is going to want to know what the future looks like and they will want to get some insight quickly. They want to know:
- How does the new business pipeline look?
- What is the best case and worst-case outlook?
- What has changed from last week or last month?
You will need to analyze what has happened by Customer Opportunity, Leader, Regions, Product and more. Having the right tool to be able to quickly do this detailed analysis makes all the difference. You need to get Reps and salespeople to update the data in the system based on their best visibility at the moment and keep updating it as more insight is gained.
As the detailed data is updated, you can use the analytic tools to continuously update the outlook and provide rapid response to management that is real time.
Forecast essential questions:
A lot of forecasts just struggle with the numbers, and variables for calculating the final answer but what they really should focus on is answering the following as they build the forecast:
- Who are the prospects – are they the decision makers or just influences. Forecasts based on what the decision makers are telling you will be more accurate. Categorize forecast items based on the type of feedback you get and who It is from.
- Forecast What you are going to sell, line items need to be based on solutions you can sell and customer problems you can solve. Downgrade the forecast items that are based on wishful thinking and hopes.
- Forecasts are better when you are closer to where the decisions are being made, i.e. where the products will be used. Get to the decision makers and prioritize opportunities where you have been able to do that.
- If you know why the customer is trying to make something new you have a better chance of focusing on the deals that will make it all the way to production. Find out if there is something that will force the customer to finish the project so you can avoid deals that stall out or loose priority and get delayed.
- If you know how the customer makes purchasing decisions you have a better chance of success. Look into how projects got finalized in the past with the prospects and manage accordingly.
When things are in a state of change this all gets harder and getting access to or realistic feedback from customer leaders will just be harder but if you keep adjusting your data, capturing the different data points that can steer the path the success you can tie the forecast to detailed information about what is happening in the field. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you can give up. Make a forecast, get more information, adjust the forecast, and repeat until things settle down and you have a plan to work against.
In the COVID-19 chaos right now, you can evaluate your risk by assessing which opportunities are most likely to be impacted by the virus impact. You can prioritize opportunities where the customer needs your product for something to address the COVID-19 situation. You can prioritize getting products to them to help and take advantage of the problem. You can track opportunities that have been delayed or lost due to the virus. That will add details and build confidence that you know what the real situation is in the remaining business. By forecasting what has been lost of what is likely to be lost due to the virus impact you build confidence as the forecast evolves.
Everyone needs to get a sales forecast – give it to them:
If you think the sales forecast is just to make the CEO/CFO happy you are missing the real story. The entire organization needs to have a baseline forecast outlook they can plan against. Manufacturing has to have the right amount of capacity in the right time frame to be ready to go but not go too soon. HR needs to know what people to hire but not to hire them too soon. Sales partners, and sales people need to be replaced, or hired in the right place at the right time.
The Sales Forecast should be the baseline data that everyone uses to make all the critical decisions. Everyone depends on the sales organizations ability to generate an accurate forecast for the future. Even when everything is in flux, if you build and update and tweak your forecast quickly and efficiently, these other team members can have the business guidance they need to.
Forecast tools from NEHANET make it possible to get the best information fast:
I am sure you have all tried forecasting using spreadsheets, or presentations, or other tools to a forecast done and make it accurate. None of these even come close to what you can do in the NEHANET Forecast Solution.
- The Opportunity system tracks the entire sales pipeline and drives the Forecast implementation. You tie every line item to a detailed analysis of specific customer business opportunities so you have detailed backup for every line item.
- Tracking who the leaders are in your team. Identify which reps are up to date and on track to meeting their targets. Drive execution by tracking performance down to the individual sales person and specific customer opportunity is simple in NEHANET
- Sophisticated complex sales process tracking using splits, design registrations, and global tracking or contract performance is fully supported and allows you to get insight where it is needed to take action to improve performance.
When you have the advanced analytic capability we provide, you get the picture globally, regionally, or at the specific opportunity level to understand and analyze where things stand and what you should expect. With the virus impacting everything, the analytics will let you get to the best case / worst case quickly and update the information as you gain more insight.
If you have a sophisticated forecasting/ opportunity tracking solution the company can depend on having the best possible outlook that is updated and as accurate as possible. You can focus on what you need to do to minimize the impact of the market change instead of trying to figure out what the business outlook is.