Forecast Pushback

Quick Summary: Sales reps should follow a standard process like airline pilots with a pre-flight checklist.


Experienced sales reps often resist following standard forecasting processes.  Many feel that they are of no value to them personally or may simply not want to be held to a commitment and measured accordingly.  In any event, accurate sales forecasts are one of the most important survival metrics for a company and that fact must be impressed on everyone.

You arrived at the airport on time, made it through TSA security, and after a short delay, were able to board the plane and settle into your aisle seat.  As expected, a flight attendant closed the door as another walked up and down the aisle checking to make sure everyone had their seat belts on.  Then, the captain spoke over the loud speaker and said “Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Ajax Airlines Flight 401.  Our flying time to Chicago will be one hour and forty-five minutes.  As you know, the other members of the flight crew and I were delayed in boarding due to our late arrival on another flight.  To insure an on time departure, I have decided to ignore the standard pre-flight checklist.  I have been flying Boeing 737s for years and am very familiar with every aspect of this plane so I feel that with my experience and the track record of this aircraft, I can skip the list.  I am sure you understand.  Have a good day!”  I know what your reaction would - the same as mine!

As crazy as the pilot story is, often we hear seasoned sales reps say the similar thing: “I have been selling for my entire career, I know what to do, how to do it, and when things need to be done.  I don’t need a funnel checklist or any other process.”  The fact is that many sales reps don’t need a process or checklist; they DO know what to do.  However, the company needs it to develop a realistic sales forecast based upon consistent inputs from the entire sales team.  It is virtually impossible to develop a reliable forecast without the use of some standard method.  The natural optimistic/pessimistic variable nature of individuals requires a standardized method.  As discussed in the article in this series, “Processes, Why Bother?,sustained high quality cannot be achieved without continuous repeatability, and repeatability cannot be maintained without processes.  Documenting the achievement of a standard set of milestones can provide the consistency required for accurate sales forecasting.

It is important to clearly explain the purpose of monitoring the sales process milestones.  It is specifically focused on providing a consistent forecast across all sales reps and sales opportunities.  It is not an attempt to institute standardized methods of how to sell or how and when to address each milestone.  Sales reps, with all levels of experience, will develop their own methods to accomplish those tasks.  The forecasting methodology described in the articles in this section are not intended to be a high volume “cookbook” selling approach in which each sales rep is expected to follow a rigid script.

Another pushback issue is that sales reps, like most of the rest of us, do not like to be measured, especially if there is strong possibility that we will not meet our goals.  Additionally, most sales reps are, by nature, optimistic.  They follow the advice of Yogi Berra and later, “Rocky Balboa,” in believing, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” and may stick to their forecast until the period is over.  Unfortunately, for individuals, missing their forecasts may be considered to be mild setbacks for them, but for the company, the missed forecast can be serious or even devastating.  Consistently missing forecasts can be just as fatal to the company as the pilot not following the checklist on a flight can be to himself and everyone else on board.

No matter how helpful or wasteful a sales rep may feel the company’s forecasting method is for them personally, they need to provide meaningful data to help the company meet its commitments.  Reversing the situation, it is obvious that they would find it unacceptable if at the end of the period, the company’s CFO informed them that the company didn’t forecast their cash needs accurately enough and, therefore, sales reps would not be paid!  Just like when the pilot made his announcement, I am confident that I know what the sales reps’ reactions would be to the CFO.


Article Number : 5.010206   

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