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What Your Sales Strategy Missed in 2015 and Where to Focus in 2016

Every quarter, sales managers huddle over spreadsheets, factoring in seasonal variances, potential new products, and the hypothetical performance of new players to their team.

They may even estimate the effect new selling tools or techniques will have (invariably, the prognostications are positive). Internal political considerations come into play and then using these disparate inputs, sales managers come up with a “sales forecast.”

How well does this approach actually turn out? In a study CallidusCloud conducted in 2015, only 11.5 percent of sales and marketing pros said their forecasting was very accurate.

Perhaps even more disconcerting than the widespread inaccuracy itself is the fact that such a high degree of uncertainty in forecasting has become accepted by many sales and marketing professionals. The same study found that almost half the respondents said that a forecast accuracy below 80 percent was acceptable. Although low accuracy seems to be widely accepted among sales pros across industries, would you be happy with 80 percent accuracy from your heart surgeon, or if your finance team was 80 percent accurate with their accounting? Of course not. The sales forecast is just as important.

It’s easier than you think to improve your forecast accuracy, here are four ideas for a more accurate 2016:

Catch Up With the Times

First off, if you’re not using an automated commissions system, your compensation process is inevitably inefficient, and it’s allowing precious data to escape. Spreadsheets are the tools of manual accounting and lack the extensive tracking capabilities of more sophisticated technologies. Set your organization up for success by implementing an automated system that will not only pay your people, but accumulate accurate and valuable historical data that you can use to better forecast sales results.

Track Your Activity

Everyone needs to track sales activity, but some of the most telling data actually lies in what your salespeople are doing behind the scenes. For example, looking at how many quotes and subsequent contracts they’re generating, and the number of review cycles each contract has been through, will help to gauge exactly the health of your projected sales. You can compare these numbers to the previous quarter or the same period for the prior year. This will allow you to get a handle on the pulse of where sales are headed and reach a level of knowledge (whether positive or negative) that can illuminate areas where your salespeople need to improve.

Take the Temperature of Your Customer

If you’re relying on outdated methods like email to share information with your customers, you’re missing a huge opportunity to see how they’re actually behaving toward your communications. Instead of sending one-off messages, providing a portal where the salesperson can share all customer-facing materials throughout the course of the sales cycle – quotes, industry case studies, data sheets, etc. – offers the change to glean especially revealing data derived from the portal. For example, you can see who’s downloading the documents and how many people from your customer’s organization are signing in to view the content. This can offer clear signals: the more activity happening in the portal, the more likely a potential customer is truly interested in working with your organization. If no one is looking at the information, then you can respond to this immediate data-driven feedback and be proactive in rekindling the relationship.

Use Predictive Analytics to Drive Behavior

Predictive analytics isn’t just for marketing or evaluating the behavior of your customers. The reality is that you have more data about your own organization’s behavior than your customers’. Although it may sound counterintuitive, this is a huge benefit that you can use to your advantage to drive sales and business efficiency. In fact, predictive analytics can be applied to individual employees to help coach and motivate them. For instance, a manager can take an individual’s numbers from the past two years and put them into a predictive analytics system to produce a target sales figure for the upcoming year — one that is set not arbitrarily by a sales manager, but is based on actual data. This is valuable not only in providing a benchmark for where sales probably ought to be, but it can also affect your salesperson’s motivation. When presenting an employee with such a technology-derived figure, it can be especially effective to challenge them to beat the numbers the software is predicting. In 2016, don’t just take technologies at face value; use them to consider the relationship between people and data in order to drive the behavior you want to see from your salesforce.

2015 saw technologies such as predictive analytics and sales enablement systems become even more powerful, but most organizations have yet to apply them to create accurate sales forecasts. 2016 doesn’t have to be a repeat of years past. All it takes is using the right tools to create actionable insights to produce accurate sales forecasts.

Giles House, CMO of CallidusCloud, is an experienced marketing executive with a proven track record of successfully marketing and selling business software and technology for more than a decade. At CallidusCloud, he is responsible for the company’s global marketing activities, communications, brand and sales enablement programs. As a recognized thought leader, Giles regularly speaks on sales and marketing automation and alignment.

by: Giles House

Source: salesandmarketing.com

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