Five Reasons Your Sales Forecast Will Be Wrong

sales forecasting fortune tellers ballYou Relied on What You Were Told

“Never ever mistake the smile upon my face as agreement to the words coming out of your mouth. There’s no telling what I may be thinking.” – Lisa Pool

There are plenty of reasons I may be smiling while you are talking. One of the most common misconceptions people make is a smile mean agreement, acceptance, understanding or mutual understanding, approval, or endorsement. If I could teach any new sales rep anything it would be, “don’t trust your gut!”

There are likely other reasons for the smiles.

  1. They read a leadership article citing all the reasons leaders should smile more.
  2. Smiling boosts confidence.
  3. To make a difficult task easier.
  4. Their mind wandered off to their impending vacation
  5. It’s good manners

Emotional or “gut feelings” are not the way to forecast. As Bob Nicols stated, buyers have four compartments of information they evaluate: product, price, support, and the company. Customers aren’t buying a smiling face. They are buying what they are trying to accomplish as an organization.

You Relied on Bad Data

Hate to tell you this, but most of the data in your CRM is missing, inaccurate, not what you need, or out of date. Most sales people don’t want to enter information into Salesforce.com or other any other CRM. And truthfully, why would they? It’s cumbersome. They’d rather spend time in front of customers than behind a computer screen. You’re not holding them accountable for the information being entered or not entered.

You Relied on a Dirty Pipeline

When was the last time you summoned forth your sales team, threw down the gauntlet, and challenged the sacred cow we call a pipeline? Have you really looked at the stuff in there? How long has that opportunity been in the pipeline? When was the last time the opportunity was touched? Do your sales people know what information is needed to make it a valid lead? Do you know? Do the leads in your pipeline match your ideal customer profile? Do you have an ideal customer profile? Do your sales people know the buying criteria of each? If not, it’s time to do some housecleaning.

You Relied on the Wrong Dates

One of the most common mistakes sales managers make in forecasting is telling the sales team how many sales have to be made by a specific date. Just because your organization has a date, it doesn’t mean your clients have to have the same date. That’s a little like telling a baby the date and time down to the minute what time it will be born, how much it will weigh, and how long it will be. Good luck with that. Like babies, organizations make their decisions based upon their own needs, not yours.

You Relied on Fallax Indicium

My Latin is likely off, but the idea is you relied on false information based upon survival rather than accuracy. Did you actually ask your sales people how many sales they were going to make? You did, didn’t you?

Sales people are not willing to risk their job security by openly admitting they are going to perform below expectation, and most likely neither are you. Forecasts become a mixture of hope and fear. Even some of the most successful sales reps would prefer to avoid the embarrassment of an upcoming off month and make up a forecast. In some cases, sales people will fill their CRM with activity that isn’t real just to keep you off their back. I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit I have also behaved in that manner. Every week, I had a sales manager wanting a report saying what deals I was closing the following week. Seriously? I’m the girl who doesn’t believe anything is solid until the ink has dried and the client has taken possession. I didn’t have a crystal ball, and I couldn’t read minds, but sure, let me make a number up for you.

Unfortunately, sales managers often use these kinds of criteria for sales forecasting. You may as well go to Las Vegas and play the craps table. Seriously, you have better odds at a craps table in Vegas than you do forming an accurate sales forecast.

Increase Your Odds of an Accurate Forecast

There are better methods to increase your odds of an accurate sales forecast that don’t involve “gut feelings” or “instinct.” However, if you like your odds, go for it. All you need is a seven or an eleven unless it’s a two, three, or a twelve. If it’s a different number, the rules adjust. Get busy forecasting.

Sales Coaching Sanity Whitepaper

Sales Managers Should Watch More Basketball

Sales Managers Should Coach BasketballI love watching the NCAA Basketball Tournament. I sometimes find myself riveted to games in which I couldn’t tell you the city or state where one of the schools is located. (I’m still not sure where Gonzaga is and they seem to be in the bracket every year.) I’ll watch two teams playing a game in March that I would have clicked right on by in January. There is just something about the tournament’s “one-and-done” format that makes even games between #1 and #16 seeds compelling.

Beyond the games themselves, I find myself drawn to the personalities surrounding them: the announcers, analysts, sideline reporters (at least the female types), and especially the coaches. I like being able to hear what the coaches actually say to players during timeouts and in the locker room. Occasionally, television gives us a glimpse into the locker room and captures coaching at its very essence.

Rose’s Locker Room

Playing Oregon in the first round, BYU was down by eight points at the half. With cameras in the BYU locker room, coach Dave Rose told his team that they were letting New Mexico get easy penetration to the basket. He told his players they had to pick up the Oregon guards farther out from the basket in order to slow them down.

Dawkin’s Locker Room

Trailing by five against New Mexico, Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins told his team that they were not setting ball screens that would enable the team’s better three-point shooters to get good looks at the basket. He told them to try to create more open three-point shots, a Stanford strength, through the use of screens.

Sales Manager’s Locker Room

“What if this was a sales team rather than a basketball team?” A team of sellers that was behind plan midway through the month and their manager has gathered them together to deliver the “half-time” speech. The sales manager may say, “We’re eight points behind plan month to date. We have to find more opportunities and close more sales between now and the end of the month. I need each of you to tell me what you are going to do between now and the 31st in order to get those sales.”

Contrasting these scenarios, the sales manager’s approach seems ridiculous. Yet in the sales community, meetings like that take place every month. Imagine if Johnny Dawkins had dealt with Stanford’s five-point deficit in the same manner? “Guys, we’re five points down half way through the game. We have to make absolutely certain we score at least six points more than they do in the second half. I need each of you to tell me what you are going to do in the second half to score those points.”

You Can’t Coach Results

Basketball coaches, good ones anyway, understand something about performance improvement that most sales managers do not: you can’t coach results. You can only coach behaviors that are designed to produce results. Rose and Dawkins had both identified behaviors that were causing their teams to underperform. The scoreboard was not the issue, and simply exhorting their teams to score more points would not help. They needed to change what their players were doing on the court or they would lose.

Whether coaching basketball players or salespeople, effective coaching is done the same way. Sales managers would do well to emulate their basketball counterparts. Through observation we can uncover the selling behaviors that are causing a seller to underperform, and we can identify the root cause of the behavioral gap. Why is a seller exhibiting that behavior? Perhaps he lacks a requisite knowledge or is unable to execute a certain skill. Once behavior gap and root cause are known, a manager can intervene as a coach and positively impact performance.

Next year, I think I’m going to change my behavior in filling out my bracket. I’m going to flip a coin. Or use my AXIOM Magic 8 Ball Forecasting Tool.

Sales Coaching Sanity Whitepaper

Leadership Requires Knowing When You’re Wrong

Leadership requires knowing when you're wrong

Leadership requires knowing when you’re wrong

As I sat in a meeting with a prospect, the conversation started morphing. Their voice began hitting my ears like the sound Charlie Brown’s teacher made. “Wa wa waa, wa waa, wa wa wa waa.”

It was obvious from the very beginning of the conversation that this person wanted us all to know they knew more than we did. The problem therein was twofold. First, they didn’t. Second, in the end, they are a prospect. Therefore, the first problem was fairly moot.

We’ve all had calls like this.

Probably hundreds of them, if not more. If we really want to be honest, we’ve been on the other side too. Come on…admit it. You’ve been the know-it-all at some point in your life as well. Since I can’t come right out and correct their bad behavior, I’ll try to make my case and address yours. :-)

The heart of the matter is very simple.

In the realm of addictions, the professionals say the first step in getting better is to admit there is a problem. In our world, that may be more like the first step is admitting you don’t know everything. I don’t know if it’s some sort of prehistoric DNA based defense mechanism or just some innate need to assert one’s self as the apex predator in the meeting. Regardless, it is one of the most unproductive machinations that occurs and really wastes a lot of time.

I recently had a teaching moment with my 7 year old son. He (understandably at his age) feels like he knows everything in the known universe, and he is willing to die (or at least get sent to his bedroom) to defend whatever particular point that is at the forefront of that discussion. The other day he had a mild epiphany whereby he realized, albeit for a fleeting second, that he was wrong. I being the attentive daddy/sensei jumped on that moment and told him, “being a real man and a leader means not only knowing when you’re not correct but more important not always needing to be.”

I’m fairly sure he wrapped his little mind around the gravity of that life lesson for about 13 seconds, and then went back to figuring out how to prove his point was correct. The difference between him and the prospect we dealt with (at least in literal age) was about 30 years. You’d think with age we start to learn, but all too often this isn’t the case.

So what, right? Here’s the point.

Time and time we hear things like:

  • “I don’t have enough time each day to do ‘x’.”
  • “I’m always running behind on projects.”
  • “Nothing gets done around here.”
  • “Lots of activity but very little results.”

Here’s a novel concept.

Maybe it’s not the sales rep’s fault. Maybe it’s our fault. Maybe if we start every conversation with the premise that we don’t know everything, we might be surprised at the deluge of new and exciting information that is out there that people are trying to present to us. The one thing we can’t give you is more time, therefore, it is critical that we figure out ways to maximize the time we do have each day.

Call me crazy, but it sounds a whole lot more interesting than walking out of a meeting feeling like, “you sure showed them!” Bill Cosby once said something that changed my life.

“Do you want to be right or happy?”

Take “happy” and insert anything you’re after professionally. “More productive,” “find solutions to my departments problems,” “get more done,” etc. Now, go into your next meeting, introduce yourself, thank the people on the other side of the conference table for coming in, and just listen.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Sales Transformation Whitepaper

Trusted Advisors Make Wise Recommendations

Trusted Advisor

“I recommend…bread, meat, vegetables, and beer.” Sophocles

I made an error. I recommended a beer. Someone trusted me enough to ask me my opinion, seek my advice, and I gave it. The back story is simple enough. I was sitting at my favorite writing place. It has many craft beers on tap. The wine selection is excellent. The food is perfect. The service is outstanding. Because this location has everything I need and more things than I could want, I drive over, carry my things in, flip open my laptop, greet the staff, and they take care of all of my food and drink needs. I get more written here than anywhere else. I love it. I’m not big on beer. I do occasionally partake, but even the lightest beers tend to feel like a heavy meal to me. However, one day the staff gave me a sample of a crème brûlée beer. I fell in love. It was perfect for me in that moment. I could have crawled into that glass a happy girl. It also took me two hours to drink.

Enter the problem. One evening a gentleman sat down next to me. We got to visiting about the typical “what do you do for work” stuff. He asked me what I recommended. I showed him the menu, and mentioned my favorite beer…that wasn’t on the menu anymore. Where did it go? It was no longer on tap, but they had it in the bottle. The gentleman took home my recommendation. However, before he left he said, “I’ll think of you when I open this tonight.” That was my “oh crap,” moment. I had made a colossal error!

At this point, you may be wondering what I had done that was so bad. A person had asked my opinion, sought my advice, and I gave it; so what? SO WHAT?? Opinions matter. RECOMMENDATIONS matter. A LOT. When we give someone a solution to a problem, or any recommendation, we are giving our word. It means something. Any time we engage another person, we should always have their best interest above our own. We place our reputations on the line. I may like that beer perfectly fine. It may be my favorite product of the moment, but it isn’t for everyone, and it certainly isn’t one of those beers that “goes with everything.”

According to ratebeer.com Southern Tier Blackwater Series: Crème Brûlée Stout reviews, the beer should be served as a dessert. One reviewer stated, “I could not hardly drink this straight as it is so incredibly sweet. I added a dollop of vanilla ice cream, and it became one of the best floats I ever tasted.” Basically, it’s crème brûlée in a bottle. Good stuff for me as crème brûlée is a favorite desert of mine, hence the problem. I didn’t ask if he liked crème brûlée. I didn’t ask if he was eating anything with the beer. I didn’t ask if or what he might be eating prior. I didn’t ask if he likes stout. I didn’t ask if he preferred a lager, pale/light/dark lager, pilsner, brown ale, porter, or a witbier. Everyone knows the most common beer pairings are light beer for spicy food, brown ales for brown food, porters for heavier meals like stews, oysters go with stouts, sweet stouts (like my recommended) are best with desert or for desert, pilsners for seafood, and ambers for pizza. Ok, not everyone knows this, but my cicerone did. She told me. And I have this vague memory of him having a salad in his possession that he could have been eating for dinner. I have no idea what beer goes best with salad. I’m thinking a white wine depending on if the salad had a cheese component.

“Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.” Dave Berry

I haven’t heard back from the gentleman to whom I recommended my favorite stout. I hope he liked it ok. If not, he probably won’t ever ask my advice on beer again. Either way, I did him a disservice. The lesson is simple. Trusted advisors take the time to know their customer’s buying criteria. Before we recommend a service or product, we have a duty to understand the needs and goals of the individual and their organization.

Sales Transformation Whitepaper

Are You Living the Same Sales Day Over and Over Again?

Ground hog Sales Process

Don’t take ten years to learn how to get your sales process right.

It starts that first moment when someone approaches you. They randomly crossed your path, read or saw something about you, or were referred to you by an acquaintance. Either way you go through the introductions, find commonalities, doing the assessment dance. If everything goes smoothly, a date is set for a future meeting. There may be a reminder email, phone call, or a text to confirm the details: the who, what, when, and where. And if your life is like mine, you begin looking at your schedule, see things are piling up, more demanding issues are in need of your attention, and the unexpected happens causing the date to be pushed back.

I work in and around the sales profession. I hate hearing the phrase, “I hate sales people,” yet I hear it coming out of my own mouth. Why? Too often I receive calls and unsolicited emails from well meaning sales representatives trying to sell me a solution to a problem I don’t have. They never ask about me, what my interests are. It’s like a really bad first date with someone who only talks of themselves and every past relationship that has nothing to do with me today. They may be perfectly nice people, but they have no clue who I am, what my interests are, where I want to go in life, or why. After an hour, you find yourself walking away wondering why you just spent a couple hours with someone though well meaning just wasted your time.

At this point, you have a couple choices when they give a follow up call: you can try meeting with them again hoping for improvement, or you can simply say, “No, I’ve decided to go another direction at this time.” Personally I always feel bad for the sales person. I realize they are trying to do their job the best way they know how, but their execution is reminiscent of an awkward young adolescent male trying so hard to get the attention of the girl next door. You know the one I’m talking about. It takes years of practice to learn the dance, and the same is true for sales.

Until the sales profession fully makes the shift from being forced into self oriented goals, they will never be able to fully serve their customers best interests. Sales will continue to be a hated, disrespected, and maligned job. It doesn’t have to be this way.

If you ever saw the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, you are familiar with Phil’s story. He is sent to Punxsutawney, PA to cover the Groundhog Day festivities. His personal goal is to get in, get out, and move on. He has no interest in the people around him. He has a goal and nothing more. However, he gets stuck and finds he is repeating the day over and over and over. He begins testing his limits; some end successfully, and many more do not. He begins to learn there is something he wants more than his own personal goals. After reliving the same negative experiences repeatedly, he finally realizes he needs to make a change. He begins to make an effort to get to know those around him. He begins to positively influence peoples’ lives.

According to Director Harold Ramis, Bill Murray spent ten years trapped repeating Ground Hogs Day. Ten years making the same mistakes and learning new skills. Ten years to reach a goal. What if he had an app that could speed that process up? What if he had an app that warned him he was about to get slapped or some other unexpected event?

What if there was an app that could speed up your sales learning and practice curve? What if there was an app that alerted you to danger zones that would keep you from reaching your goal? What if there was an app that integrated into your daily activities you’re already doing, provided on-demand learning anywhere you needed it 24/7/365? What if this app could positively change your selling behavior and ultimately your sales results? There is an app for that.

AXIOM isn’t likely going to be teaching you ice sculpture, nor are we going to be teaching you French, or piano (unless Bob Sanders has extension plans I am currently unaware). Don’t be Bill Murray. Don’t put yourself or others through bad dates. Spend ten years learning what counts so you can make a difference. Spend ten years of learning retention, reinforcement, continually and incrementally improving, and developing your best selling self. And for the love of sales, never go on a bad first date again!