What are the four most important dates in your sales forecast? Most people say the Close Date, Fiscal Quarter End, Fiscal Half Year, and Fiscal Year End.
These are important dates. However, they are not the four most important dates. Giving priority to our fiscal dates moves our clients from centre stage to a side stage. Except for the close date, these dates offer no value because everyone in our business already knows them. The close date is an important date, but how do we know it is accurate?
Focusing on the close date means we take our attention away from managing our sales activities. Being obsessed with a close date can lead us to desperate behaviour when a deal slips and fails to close when forecast. Stress and under pressure, we consider using ill-fated price discounting to push our deals across the line. All this does is force us to cannibalised other deals using yet more price discounts to make up for our shortfall in sales revenue.
Do this, and our sales forecasting will fall into a dangerous spin. We become short term focused, which holds back business growth and increases stress within the business. Our short term behaviour increases the pressure we have to deal with during the next quarter. And it continues quarter after quarter to achieve the current quarter’s forecasted sales quota targets.
To avoid this downward spin, we need to reconsider what are the four most important dates in our sales forecast. I believe they are:
- The sales lead Project Start Date is the date the first meeting was held to kick off the project.
- The sales lead Project End Date is the date those in authority sponsoring and funding the project have set.
- The Project Mid Term Date is the midpoint between the start and end dates.
- The Compelling Event Date is some event that will expose our sales lead to high risk if it were to occur. We should be able to measure the impact of this compelling event financially. The risk this event may or will occur is compelling our sales lead to action. For example, on the 20th of next month, new legislation is being introduced. Not complying with it will expose the company to the risk of heavy fines.
Returning to the close date, it is important but as I said we do not know whether it is accurate or not. The Compelling Event date allows us to challenge the close date. Our close date should be aligned and before the compelling event date. The compelling event allows us to manage our forecast more accurately.
Managing your Sales Forecast Timeline
We now have a timeline for each sales lead we are forecasting. Timing is everything when forecasting sales. All too often in sales, we make decisions on intuition and guesswork. Consequently, we think sales forecasting is an art. It is all about timing. We need to become more pragmatic and practical managing time. Accurate sales forecasting is more a science than it is an art.
I call this the Timeline Technique, and it is simple to use. Draw a timeline at the bottom of a piece of paper and add each date along that timeline. The Compelling Event date should be the last date on the timeline. Next divide the timeline into three equal stages from the start date to the end date, ignoring the compelling event for the moment. Label them Beginning, Middle, and End. The Project Mid-Term date will be in the centre of the middle section.
You have created timeline milestones. Research has found our motivation no matter the type of activity, follows a ‘U’ Shape line. We start high at the beginning, slump towards the middle and push hard towards the end. In his book ‘When, The scientific secrets to perfect timing’, Daniel Pink provides us with both insights and research backing this up.
- Our first timeline milestone is the Beginning. Beginnings and how we begin are important and influence the ending.
- The third milestone is the Endings; they energise us to push on to cross the line.
- The problem with Middles, the second milestone, is they get lost somewhere in the middle. While in the middle, we may lose interest and progress is stalled. Other times we can be motivated to push forward to the end. Research has found that middles have a powerful effect on what we do and how we do it.
In the beginning, we start with high hopes. There is a shared vision, goals are confirmed, we are open to ideas. Beginnings are the ideal time we should focus on building contact relationships. Our contacts are ideally primed and positioned to support us discover the information we need to know if we are to win the deal.
Somewhere in the middle reality kicks in for our contact in and they adjust their behaviour. Research has consistently shown that during this period managing any project, we have an epiphany moment…
“We are running out of time…”
What is surprising reading Pink’s book and the research is this point always occurs exactly in the middle irrespective what activity we are doing. From a perspective managing our sales pipeline, from this mid-point in time onwards our contact relationships will become less open to new ideas and solutions. If we have not completed all our discovery to understand our sales leads’ situation, it is more challenging.
Research has, however, shown people become more open to coaching after the mid-point. Mid-points are an important date to find when managing our sales pipeline. It primes us to change our own sales behaviour in response to our sales lead’s changing behaviour.
An overlooked secret of being a successful solution selling
One secret to accurate sales forecasting is knowing where the mid-point is for each sales lead in our sales pipeline. Knowing this date also gives sales leaders and their teams a game plan allowing us to get into a more competitive position to serve and win our sales leads’ trust. Having a timeline guides us, creates an urgency and a clear plan of activities and behaviour we need to focus on, when.
Having these timeline milestones also allows us to be more effective in managing and moving our sales leads through the sales stages to closure. At the beginning of the project, we should focus all our energies on discovering what we need to know about the project. If our solution is an ideal fit, my own experience is we will move through this stage quickly. We also use the beginning to identify key contacts in the decision process and build relationships with them.
Entering the Middle Milestone
At the mid-point during the middle milestone, our contacts will become more aware and concerned about time running out. Understanding their situation and having established the right relationships, we can use this to position ourselves improve how well we serve their priority needs.
This insight when to change our activities and behaviour differentiates excellent salespeople from the average salesperson. It allows us to build stronger and more trusting relationships. It is at the mid-point we switch from discovery to consultative selling. Our contacts are also now primed to be more open to coaching. We, therefore, focus on offering guidance on how to reach the end of their project, on time to achieve their outcome goals.
It is now we accelerate and build those meaningful conversations and trusted relationships. Our contacts will be primed for those sellers who understand their situation and can offer a way forward to achieve their priority outcome objectives.
We use the compelling event and the date it will occur to elevate our proposal and its value. If we do not understand the seller’s situation, we will become less relevant. It is in the middle when the average salesperson loses their sales contacts’ trust, and consequently, it is the stage when many sales are lost.
Using the timeline technique also provides sales leaders with a competitive edge over the less effective sales leader. During sales pipeline reviews using the timeline technique tells us whether the sales lead is in the beginning, middle or end. If the beginning, we focus on guiding our teams to discover insights and building the right relationships. At the mid-point, switch to coaching and guidance. We need to be clear how our proposed solution will meet our sales leads’ priority needs.
Entering the End Milestone
The ending, which is both the date and outcome goal, steers our sales contacts’ behaviour. Sales teams and leaders should also use this milestone to change their behaviour. Having prepared for and managed the beginning and middle milestones. We motivate and support our sales team to push forward. To cross that line and win the deal.
When we enter the End stage of the deal, knowing we are at this stage allows our sales teams and reps to better aligned with those making the decisions. Sales lead contacts’ behaviour will change to focus on execution. To remain relevant and strengthen our position, we focus on how we will deliver what we are promising. Fail to prepare for this change of behaviour, and we will become less relevant and most likely be disqualified as they reduce their supplier list.
Using the timeline technique and its four dates improves our sales forecast accuracy. It helps us increase the value of our forecasted sales leads. During the sales forecast training, I support sales leaders and their teams using the timeline technique in much more detail.
We have created a Guide that will help you take greater control of your sales forecast