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“The Forecast Meeting”

by David Brock on August 3rd, 2017

A friend and I were sharing our experiences in forecast meetings.  Each of us has participated in hundreds of these, there seems to be a consistent pattern:

Sales Manager:  “Are the deals you’ve committed to the forecast going to come in as forecast?”

Sales Person:  “Sorry boss, this $1M (fill in your amount) deal with X corporation is going to fall out….”

Sales Manager:  “We need to backfill that $1M, we have to make the number, what do you have to backfill the $1M you just de committed to?”

Sales Person:  “Well boss………”

Sales Manager:  “We need to backfill $1M, what can you bring in to make up the gap?”

Sales Person:  “Well……  I guess I can bring in the deals with Y and Z.  That would cover us….”

Sales Manager:  “Make it happen, I’ve locked you in for that number!”

Sound like the forecast meetings you’ve sat in–either as the manager or sales person?

But there are at least 3-4 huge problems with what has happened in this very short exchange, can you identify them?

Here’s my take:

  1. What happened to the deal with X corporation?  There is absolutely no discussion about what happened, there’s no discussion of any kind of recovery strategy with that deal, and why are we seeing there is a problem with this deal in the forecast meeting?  Shouldn’t we have had some visibility about the exposure when it arose–particularly since it had already been forecast, so it should get high attention.  The total absence of discussion and development of a recovery strategy is a major error.
  2. What about the deals that were brought in to the forecast–Y and Z?  Why weren’t they in the forecast anyway?  If the sales person felt confident enough to commit them to the forecast in this review, what’s changed, why couldn’t they have been committed earlier–for a much better overall number?  Our job as sales people is to do everything we can to compress the sales cycle and accelerate our ability to generate revenue.  It doesn’t make sense to hold things out of the forecast, to defer the order if we have good confidence we can bring in during this period.
  3. Yeah, some of you disagree with 2, perhaps there’s another explanation, the poor sales person felt bullied by the manager and just folded, committing 2 deals to the forecast to get the manager off her back.  There’s no chance the deals will come in, so the forecast will be missed–but she’ll deal with that next month.  Hmmm, what happened to forecast accuracy?  We don’t to ourselves or the company any favors by committing to numbers we have no chance of making.  We have to be honest with ourselves and management about what is really going to happen.  And managers can’t bully people into making bad commitments.
  4. Maybe things will go down as agreed in the forecast.  The sales team is high-fiving about pulling it off and making the forecast number.  But this could create havoc within the company.  Let’s imagine that $1 M deal was for a lot of “purple widgets.”  In their planning, manufacturing made sure they would have the supply and manufacturing capability for $1M of purple widgets.  But the two deals the sales person committed to replace that $1M deal aren’t for widgets!  The manufacturing plan has been turned upside down.  They have parts and have scheduled for purple widgets and may not have the parts or manufacturing capacity for the orders that are in the revised forecast.  It might create extra effort (read cost) to solve that problem, or there may be shipping delays which will defer revenue recognition, not to say, upset the customer.  The rest of the company depends on the accuracy of our forecasts.  It drives resource planning, procurement, manufacturing, and so forth.  Let’s imagine these are professional services deals.  The original $1M was for people with CRM skills.  The two new deals may be for people with HRM skills.  Now we have a huge problem.  Those CRM people are now on the bench and their utilization plummets.  There may be no HRM people available to deliver the project–we might have to go outside to contract more expense people, or slip our project commitments to the customer.

It seemed like such a simple discussion, but so much was wrong with it!

The forecast isn’t just about hitting a number.  It’s about managing the business as effectively as possible—whether it’s managing our deals and deal flow aggressively, or helping the rest of the company plan and fulfill the orders we have gotten.

What else went wrong in this discussion?  How often have you lived through just this scenario.

Forecasting isn’t easy, but we have to be responsible to ourselves, our management, our company and our customers.

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4 Comments
  1. David, your article brought back interesting memories. Although my career has been in marketing, I attended many QBRs and sales meetings and I’ve seen reps promise deals so large that when they were not consummated – impacted the stock price. And when the sales team was under the gun to produce promised results, “magical thinking” took over. The best CSOs figured out how to reconcile their need to make the current number while still managing the business effectively.

    • Thanks Chris, I agree–the best managers know how to balance both roles—they are “business managers.”

  2. Dave,

    I’ve been in a million (or at least a thousand) of these conversations.

    I’ve got a radical notion for you. Sellers don’t close deals. Well, maybe the Hoover vacuum cleaner guy or the encyclopedia guy does, but not in the B2B enterprise world. Buyers close themselves, and they do it based on value expected and understood, pain or risk mitigated, money saved, money made, etc.

    I know there are a lot of moving parts in a deal, but the #1 catalyst bar none in helping a Buyer close themselves is for the Buyer to have a clear picture of the value to be delivered and to desire and be in AGREEMENT with that value.

    That way your champion can sell when you are not in the room. After all, the #1 competitor to the vast majority of deals sales reps work on is “alternative use of capital”. That is, the Buyer has 10 things s/he could do, has the capacity to do 3 and picks based on value.

    It dramatically changes the forecast (and every other sales) conversation if that simple thing is the heart and soul of the deal conversation.

    • Jim, thanks for the great comment. You bring up a great point–we really need to look at the concept of a buyer verified forecast. If we engage the buyer in looking at when they need to make a decision and get the solution in place, we keep them focused on the results they need to achieve. That locks their commitment and enables us to increase the accuracy of the forecast.

      As a side note–for you I think the number is closer to a million 😉 (For me saying this, it’s kind of like the pot calling the kettle black.)

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