November 5, 2022

7 Keys to Unlocking Accurate Sales Forecasts(Hint, It’s All About Pipeline)

7 Keys to Unlocking Accurate Sales Forecasts(Hint, It’s All About Pipeline)

George Kozlov

George Kozlov
7 Keys to Unlocking Accurate Sales Forecasts(Hint, It’s All About Pipeline)

GTM leaders, there’s something that needs to be said – you can’t forecast your way to growth.

Sure, the forecast is important. It helps manage investments and the bottom line. Yet, many organizations continue to be underwhelmed by the accuracy of their forecasts.

If you’re in this camp, the solution isn’t a shiny new point solution for forecasting. It’s really all about building and converting pipeline.

Prioritize your pipeline by following the seven keys outlined below. You’ll not only position your business for more predictable revenue growth, but forecast accuracy will inevitably follow.

Key 1: Fuel your CRM with better data

If you step on the scale and you’re not happy with your weight, you don’t blame your scale — you blame your poor diet and lack of exercise.

The same concept applies here. If you’re not happy with your forecast accuracy, don’t blame your forecasting tool (or lack thereof) — blame your bad data.

Many enterprise sales organizations still force reps to manually enter activity data into CRMs. But this takes reps away from their true impact zone – actually selling – and can also lead to errors or missing data.

According to LinkedIn, 48% of sellers say their biggest challenge is incomplete data, while inaccurate CRM data ranks a close second at 41%. Worse yet – almost half of companies (44%) estimate losing 10% or more in annual revenue due to poor-quality CRM data.

So, the first thing you’ll need to do is automate sales activity data capture. Look for a solution that uses AI to filter, enrich, and maintain CRM data with high precision, while keeping non-business-relevant data out of the way. That way, when it’s time to sit down and do your sales forecast, you’re working off accurate and complete data (in other words, information you can trust).

Automating activity capture from across the sales tech stack adds more buying intelligence to where sellers already work – the CRM – without the administrative burden of manual data entry.

Key 2: Execute your sales methodology directly within your CRM

MEDDIC. MEDDPIC. BANT. Regardless of your sales qualification methodology, it’s likely your organization struggles to track rep adoption, enforce compliance, and measure its success.

One reason is that it’s often cumbersome for reps to process methodology steps directly within the CRM, or because qualification data is scattered in emails, spreadsheets, and elsewhere. As a result, your deals often slip in late stages due to inconsistent qualification standards or because you’re not engaging the right buyers.

To tackle this challenge, find a lightweight, low-touch way to operationalize your methodology within your CRM. There are software solutions that integrate natively with Salesforce, featuring opportunity scorecards and relationship maps so reps can easily qualify, update, and assess opportunities where they’re already used to working.

The benefits? Fewer deal slippages, better adoption of sales methodologies, improved win rates, and limited tool fatigue, just to name a few.

Key 3: Improve sales territory designs using account engagement data

Sales leaders and operations teams spend tireless hours designing territories. Unfortunately, those efforts can go to waste if they can’t validate that reps are actually engaging top-priority accounts. The downstream impact? Poor territory design can result in up to 30% lower sales performance.

For sales orgs who feel their territories are out of balance, there are solutions. Many teams use engagement data to surface dormant accounts, which represent target-rich opportunities for building more pipeline. These same insights can help sales leaders identify how many average accounts a rep can successfully work, which helps reallocate resources and increase sales capacity using existing headcount.

Account engagement data ensures sellers are focusing enough time on the right customers or prospects, and can also help rebalance territory designs during planning season.

Key 4: Build and activate account plans directly in your CRM

Strategic account plans are essential to understanding key customer initiatives, buying groups, and mapping potential solutions to these needs. Teams with effective account plans increase their ability to grow that account by 48% and increase the likelihood of renewing or retaining the same amount of spending by 94%.

Unfortunately, validating that reps are executing account plans as designed isn’t easy – especially if they aren’t entering sales activity data into the CRM consistently or updating account buying contacts as organizational changes occur.

Leveraging account planning software that is native to Salesforce can go a long way. Look for capabilities such as scorecards that make it easy to assess account health and ensure all activities are tracked in Salesforce. Secondly, relationship maps can remove buying group blind spots by visualizing all engaged personas and pinpointing each contact’s purchasing power. Lastly, whitespace maps help track which business units within an account already have your products and services – while also highlighting the presence of competitor offerings – so reps can easily spot expansion opportunities.

Key 5: Improve deal coverage through cross-functional multi-threading

Today’s buying groups are larger and more complex to navigate. The average B2B sales cycle includes 11 different buyers – focusing on only one or two key contacts can be perilous. As 86% of organizations will tell you – deals will stall or fade into oblivion if your key contact moves on to another gig.

Encourage reps to sell high and wide into accounts and understand key relationships between potential users of your products or solutions. This is where relationship maps, persona labels, and account and stakeholder engagement insights are key to ensuring reps are connecting with the right people, at the right time to keep deals progressing on schedule.

Relationship maps with stakeholder-level insights help ensure sales teams are connecting with the right people, at the right frequency and time, to keep deals on track.

Of course, it’s not just enough for the account owner to multi-thread. Several folks working in tandem make up prospective buying groups. So it stands to reason that high-performing sales teams need this same level of orchestration. Cross-functional multi-threading keeps deals on track, and helps surface other use cases or cross-selling opportunities when the extended selling team has access to the same buyer insights. For example, your customer success team might pinpoint another solution or service opportunity upon reviewing the account plan and having a keen understanding of the prospect’s upcoming business initiatives or goals.

Key 6: Prioritize leading indicators over lagging indicators

Relying on lagging indicators such as average deal size is like “reading the news.” Sure, they’re informative and important, but it’s too late for you to change anything “in the moment,” like rescuing at-risk revenue.

On the other hand, leading indicators such as meetings booked per month or the percentage of opportunities where the economic buyers and champions are identified and engaged can help sales leaders correlate sales activity to pipeline coverage and health. Leading indicators can also help create benchmarks of selling behaviors that generate the most success, which empowers managers to work more effectively with their teams.

Key 7: Measure pipeline health through the lens of your sales methodology

Hey, remember earlier, when you decided to help reps by automating activity capture and enabling them to process sales methodology steps natively in your CRM? Well, take that just a step or two further by using the same data, scorecards, and checklists to improve qualification standards and correlate your methodology’s use to actual sales outcomes.

How, you ask? Well, by fundamentally ensuring reps are meeting exit criteria before advancing opportunities to the next stage, you’ll get a more accurate depiction of pipeline health. That way, when you’re up to call your number during that next forecasting call, you’ll be committing to a figure that is grounded in unbiased data and aligned to a tried-and-true methodology – not just seller opinions.

Reminder: forecast accuracy matters, but prioritize pipeline

With leaner budgets and resourcing constraints, forecasting accuracy matters a lot. But you can’t rely on a hope and a prayer (or a standalone forecasting tool) to get you there. And even if you could, just remember: you can’t forecast your way to growth.

Pipeline creation, coverage, and conversion really are king. So, rather than spending money on a point solution for forecasting, you’re far better off investing resources, time, and energy toward building a healthy pipeline by engaging the right people in the right accounts – all tracked and measured through your selected qualification methodology.

Ready to put these steps into action? Register for a demo today to begin building a higher-performing pipeline engine.

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