What makes a great sales professional is not simply the ability to sell but the ability to predict the sale accurately.

We’re now into the last quarter of 2016, are you short of your goal for the year? Maybe you’re forecasting that the fourth quarter will be the best quarter. Is there enough in the forecast? Is the forecast even real? Management is asking for more, of course.

It’s crunch time!

When I speak to sales leaders and sales representatives this time of year, one common concern is “how do I finish the year strong?” They start by telling me that they’re doing everything possible. But, as we start digging into the facts, there is always something more they could be doing.

It reminds me of the recent Rio Olympics, and a harsh reality. Every athlete who was competing at the games represented the top of their sport, but only a few could medal. The stories heard from the winners were about the commitment and dedication it took to give them the edge they needed to succeed. That edge is often as small as a hundredth of a second.

When it comes to forecasting, there are several things to consider that will give you a slight edge and help to drive higher accuracy and confidence. Following are three areas that I emphasize to sales teams in order to increase forecast accuracy and success:

1. Aligning to the buying process

Research shows that highly effective sales teams align their selling motions to the buying process. They uncover and understand how the buying cycle occurs within their prospect’s organization. This, in turn, drives higher forecast accuracy. Unfortunately, according to Sirius Decision research, 67% of sales organizations still have not installed a buyer aligned sales process. Ask yourself these questions to better determine if it is really a committed deal vs. upside.

  • What are the overall business drivers for doing the project?
  • Are they urgent? (Meaning time-bound and measurable)
  • Have we truly differentiated ourselves versus the alternatives, including doing nothing for now?
  • Is there enough impact to justify the change versus alternative projects? If so, what is the quantifiable value?
  • Who is ultimately involved?
  • Do we have a mutual timeline of events to achieve success – meaning addressing the business drivers and achieving the impact by X date.

You can be assured that some executive in the prospect’s organization is going to ask these questions. So you must better prepare your sponsor in the deal to answer these questions or the opportunity will stall or, worse, an alternative solution will be chosen. Test your assumptions with your sponsor, ask them “what are the two main reasons you would recommend going with us vs. the alternatives?”

2. Understanding the risk factors

There are no perfect deals out there – meaning there are always gaps or risks. For each of your forecasted sales, you should continually seek to identify the risk factors. Why might the deal not close or not go our way?

When you conduct deal reviews or quarter business reviews – leverage the organization to help you close business. Remember, selling is a team sport and everyone in your organization wants you to win. Spend the time identifying gaps, such as:

  • Lack of access or communication with Power
  • No real business driver to drive urgency in the deal
  • Poor differentiation vs. their current solution or its alternatives
  • Lack of justification for the price or total cost
  • Prospect is simply not convinced it’s in their best interest or that you are the best alternative

Identify these gaps and leverage the entire team to develop strategy. For example, leveraging our own leadership to gain access, develop a coach, or even better yet, a champion within the deal, focus on implementation and success with your own services or a partner, and take a step back to verify and develop a mutual understanding.

3. Doing the small stuff to drive higher close rates

I believe sales professionals who are consistently at the top take an Olympic athlete’s approach to selling – they put in the time, are dedicated to covering the small details and consistently look for ways to improve their game. They will not settle for “good enough.” They do the “so-called” small stuff, such as:

  • Improve close rates and predictability via mutual plans (aka a buyer’s business case) from the start instead of waiting until proposal time.
  • Prepare for every prospect interaction with key questions, examples and an objective to move the sales cycle forward.
  • Leverage the entire organization in order to drive sales at all levels, including the technical sale, the user sale and the executive sale.

Take the moment to re-evaluate your own forecast. Make sure to implement strategies involved in aligning to the buying process, understanding the risk factors and doing the small stuff. Together, all of these strategies will increase your forecast accuracy and, like the most successful Olympians, put you at the top of the podium!

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Carlos Nouche
Carlos has 25 years of experience in the enterprise software industry, including sales, service, business development, creation of partner alliances and business operations. He’s advised companies including Telus, TheLadders, Interwoven, Avaya, VMware, and Stericycle.