Podcast review: Achieving sales forecasting success

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A high-quality sales forecast is an elusive goal for many companies. Almost everyone involved in the process dislikes working on it. And even with the best of efforts, the results are often viewed warily, yet the output of the forecasting process provides the heartbeat of the business.

In a recent Sales Lead Management Association podcast, I discussed the challenges facing accurate sales forecasting and how companies can create more accurate forecasts using Anaplan. The challenges—and solutions—start with the forecasting process itself.

Where the challenges lie

One common challenge is a lack of standardized processes, starting with data collection: The sales forecast is only as good as the data it’s based on. Getting the most accurate data, however, can be difficult. Sales reps understandably dislike any work that takes them away from selling. To save time, they continue using existing data that doesn’t reflect the current customer environment. And even the most diligent sales reps have a hard time getting hard numbers: Customers may be overly optimistic or pessimistic, as can sales reps and sales managers, in predicting when a sale will close and the final terms.

Spreadsheets present another challenge. They evolve over time and frequently their structure varies by individual and teams. A recent survey by the Harvard Business Review found 90 percent of respondents use spreadsheets for planning, but only 22 percent were satisfied with the information spreadsheets provided. The result is a sales forecasting system that everyone is accustomed to but no one completely trusts.

Even when a sales forecasting system works well, it operates in a bubble without a standardized process for including information from other parts of the business—such as customer bookings of the customer and sales rep—that can significantly affect accuracy.

The Anaplan platform uses technology to create a sales forecasting system that works for people and brings science to the process by using statistical forecasting methods, takes into account market factors or future growth strategies (rather than just historical information), and incorporating company-wide data to deliver more accurate results.

Maximize opportunity by using a platform solution

To get the best data, start by getting everyone on board. This is a sweet spot for the Anaplan platform because the benefits and opportunities are readily apparent. Data is entered once and changes to that data in one department ripple across the organization, eliminating the opportunity for error and saving time. Sales forecasts can then easily connect to finance for forward looking planning decisions, as well other departments such as marketing to help determine where campaign plans should be adjusted.

Additionally, a key payoff to sales reps is in the opportunities exposed when their data is combined with additional data such as customer purchase history. When, for example, reps see how bundling certain products leads to closing the deal faster, they see the value of time spent collecting and updating data, this is especially crucial in the success of the deployment.

Case in point: When Motorola Solutions implemented Anaplan, the big result was significant time—and money—savings. Before Anaplan, the sales forecasting system drew the necessary data from a large number of unconnected spreadsheets, and the process lacked a common standard. Anaplan took the burden of administrative work off of the reps and improved the accuracy of the organization’s already well-performing sales forecasting system.

Another advantage of Anaplan is that the platform can be adapted to meet the sales forecasting needs of each company. The Anaplan platform isn’t a black box system that spits out “X deal will close on X date and generate X revenue.” Rather, it’s a transparent system of predictive analytics incorporating 17 unique statistical methods. Each client chooses the statistical forecasting method to use, and different forecasting methods can be used for different data sets based on geography, product, etc.

When DocuSign experienced rapid growth, their spreadsheet-based system couldn’t scale, inhibiting the needed company growth. They turned to Anaplan’s sales forecasting application to solve the issue and optimize the business by gaining the ability to quickly decide where to invest more in product, where to hire more people, and what were the best marketing investments.

The ability to update sales forecasting on-the-fly and find ways to better understand which prospects and products have the highest probability of success is part of the new wave of connected strategic planning. To find out more about maximizing your company’s competitive advantage and what’s holding others back by downloading the HBR research report, “The new game plan for strategic planning.”

For a full overview of how Anaplan can optimize your business’s sales forecasting process, listen to the podcast Understanding the Confusion Surrounding Sales Forecasting with host Jim Obermayer on SLMA Radio, broadcast by the Sales Lead Management Association.

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