Are we doing everything we can towards pipeline generation and sales forecasting? Being in sales for the last 14 years both as an individual sales contributor and as a sales leader, I thought I will share my point of view on a few of my favorite topics related to pipeline generation and forecasting for what it’s worth.
Pipeline, pipeline, pipeline:
Whenever a sales person joins a new organization, he or she is given a few accounts, target prospects, a territory and a bunch of products/service offerings to sell. The first 6-9 months according to me make or break the performance of the sales person for the next few quarters in the company as it lays down the foundation for success (or not).
I believe a lot in something I call pipeline rhythm for a sales person to be successful. The pipeline rhythm guarantees that once you have reached quarter 3 in your first year of joining the organization, you should have enough pipeline to go start winning business in the current and next quarter. Similarly when you are in your last quarter, you have already achieved your annual numbers and are thinking about the next quarter. However, here’s the catch. You cannot just close pipeline, you want to continue building pipeline so that you enter the rhythm mode and are always one quarter ahead in your game.
I have assumed an enterprise sales cycle of a good 4 to 6 months here.
A lot has been spoken about how we could go about building pipeline. Here are my favorite ways. While they are more from a perspective of new logo hunting, some of them could be applied even for existing customers (farming).
- Follow where your contacts and customers go - Individuals move from one organization to the other, are we tracking them systematically? It could be strong a relationship you have built with a prospect or a past customer, keep "following” them i.e. be in touch. I recently got a Linkedin reach out from an ex-customer of mine whom I had worked with a decade ago. All I have done is kept in touch with him over the years and we have helped each other along the way. It’s all about discipline here.
- Ask a happy customer who they can introduce us to - I don’t think we do this often. We get so busy with a happy customer or sometimes even start ignoring a happy customer that we forget to ask about this. Just ask!!
- Always be ready to offer help to your colleagues, past colleagues, customers, prospects. Be it for a job, be it towards introducing them to another service provider for services you cannot provide and more. It then makes it very easy to go ask for help from others and get introductions. It’s Karma!! Yes, I believe in it.
- People say cold calling is dead, emailing is dead - then why are 100s of companies out there with MILLIONs in funding who are helping us with the same. The target buyer of these companies is sales people and sales leaders!! We recently launched an email campaign and in the first 6 weeks, we got on a call with 10 leads. The campaign died after that, need to figure out why. However 10 prospect calls in 6 weeks is not bad at all. Laser focused campaigns is the name of game here. A salesperson individually and / or a corporate demand generation function can make this happen.
- Are we spending at the minimum couple of hours every day prospecting via tools available to us, attending user meets, meeting old connections etc. All of us are busy, we need to figure out with what are we busy with. Time management and focusing on CORE tasks as a salesperson is important here. Someone had asked me a few years back: “What do you do as part of your sales job?”. My response was: “I am either creating an opportunity or closing the opportunity”. Hopefully we have the answer of what’s CORE for a sales person.
- Are we pushing our marketing counterparts to organize lunch and learn events, thought leadership programs, attending relevant conferences and more. There are organizations who can afford this and some cannot. However, when one can afford it, these events play a very important role as long as the success metrics are defined upfront. The ROI could be in various forms such as corporate brand building and awareness, lead generation, education / thought leadership on a certain industry trend or topic. Needless to say “lead generation” has to be on top of mind.
Sales forecast is one of my favorite metrics that a sales leader’s success should be measured on (needless to say REVENUE is KING). Every sales leader / sales organization has a way to track deals and thus help forecast accurately QoQ and YoY. This becomes even more important when the organization moves from being private to being accountable to public shareholders.
When you are in quarterly business reviews, sales people are always optimistic, ready to impress sales management, over-commit at times, have a go make it happen attitude. I don’t blame them at all. I have done this in the past as an individual sales contributor. It’s the responsibility of the sales leader to apply a “filter” to these forecasts and work with their team members towards realistic goals.
As a sales leader, I personally believe in being aggressive but realistic. As I mentioned earlier, especially when it comes to public companies, a lot depends on quarterly and annual forecasts and we better not get hammered by shareholders on missing forecasts. Now that’s a different story that I don’t believe in overshooting forecasts too. While everyone is happy since we have delivered higher than what we had forecasted, it shows our inability to forecast accurately. Remember the art versus science debate in sales!!
The sales leader filter has to kick in and there has to be "experience" that needs to go behind the numbers committed by the sales person. While every organization comes up with "rules of the game” w.r.t. forecasting, I tend to keep my quarterly forecasting principles very simple:
- COMMIT - you sign in blood and stick to that number. It’s ok if deals slip out and other deals slip in and the commit happens on opportunities that were initially not part of the quarterly plan (though not a great idea), however the COMMIT number doesn’t change
- UPSIDE - these are on the other side or on the border of the quarter COMMIT fence however there are chances of closing these deals in the current quarter
One would argue the above are standard ways of forecasting. I agree. However devil is in the details. The way this gets operationalized is when for every significant deal that can sway the forecast significantly, we work with our sales team members on a mutual close plan. The mutual close plan as the name implies is between the prospect / customer and the sales person which lays down significant milestones with dates, owners and a activities to get the deal done. It all starts with that compelling event (could be a renewal, could be a go live date) and we work backwards. Knowing your customer is important where we understand their business, knowing the customer's business operations (how they function internally) is equally important towards closing a deal.
So to all my fellow sales colleagues, let’s go create pipeline, forecast accurately and close business with confidence that delivers business value to our customers and helps achieve our organization goals.
This post has been written by our Guest Sales Author Hemant Ramnani (SVP Sales, Persistent Systems) for Relatas.com (Sales AI). If you wish to share your Sales Stories with others, please write to us for access: firstname.lastname@example.org
Relatas is the Sales AI platform that successful B2B sales teams use for Accurate Sales Forecasting using Relationship Intelligence and AI. Relatas helps Sales Professionals sell better and faster, with NO-DATA-ENTRY & helping Sales Managers reduce revenue loss and better sales forecasting.