How to Improve Your Sales Forecast Accuracy

How to Improve Your Sales Forecast Accuracy

What is Forecasting and Why is it Important?

Forecasting is an essential part of every business as it helps you avoid unforeseen issues and manage your business more efficiently. The sales forecast is especially important, as it serves as the base for your company’s goals, profit and growth potential. But, to be able to depend on a sales forecast, you need it to be accurate.

Related Reading: Should Small Businesses Forecast?

Forecast Pitfalls

The problem for many businesses is that their sales forecast is based on data that isn’t accurate or realistic. Adaptive Insights’ CFO Indicator Q2 2016 report showed that only one in four CFOs met their sales forecasts. Relying on a sales forecast that is based on the wrong data can cause a lot of headache. If you are sick of coming up short on your goals, take a look at the steps below to improve your sales forecast accuracy.

Steps to Improve Sales Forecast Accuracy

1. Understand your buyer’s journey

A sales forecast is based on your sales goals and ultimately who ends up buying your products or services. While historic sales data is important, you also need to make sure you understand your buyer’s journey and each step of the sales process. Ultimately, the sales process only moves forward when your potential buyer makes a decision. Therefore, you should aim to outline each step of the buyer’s journey, what decisions are made along the way and what you can do differently at each stage. This will also allow you to make better predictions on your sales goals.

2. Incorporate external factors

It is common that companies only concern themselves with internal data and don’t realize the impact that external factors may have on your sales. As a result, their data is wrong. Because of this, you should research economic factors that have had a historical impact on your company’s sale and include in your forecasts.

3. Shorten your forecasting cycle

Finally, you should forecast more frequently, as it allows you to be alert earlier if expectations don’t match results. Consequently, you can take action quicker and prevent any arising problems.

“Consider pushing your annual forecast back to later in the year. We used to do our forecast in August but now have pushed that all the way back to November. And in the past six months, we’ve created a new forecast almost monthly. Creating that many new forecasts can take a lot of time, but sometimes it’s necessary. In the end, you don’t want to run a business off of a forecast you no longer have confidence in.”

 

– Jeffrey Hollender, Seventh Generation, in an interview with Inc.com

One approach to increasing the frequency of your forecasts is by using a cloud-based performance management systems (CPM). Using a CPM system allows you to constantly adjust and fine-tune your forecasts. This means you can view real-time data and make better informed decisions with your business.

In conclusion, you need to establish a framework that offers clear communication and no surprises. This will allow for an improved sales forecast accuracy that, at the end of the day, gives your business a better chance of succeeding.

What steps is your company taking toward improving forecasting accuracy?

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Should Small Businesses Forecast?

Should Small Businesses Forecast?

The short answer is ‘yes’. The longer answer is ‘absolutely yes’.

Seriously, there are multiple reasons why smaller businesses need to forecast and implement a FP&A (Financial Planning and Analysis) framework. First, cash is generally the most delicate asset of any small business, especially those under $20 million in sales. Cash (and the corresponding line of credit) has to use forecasting regularly so that potential shortfalls can be addressed as quickly as possible.

The second reason is not as readily apparent. Businesses who plan revenues, margins, and operating income regularly and compare actual results to these plans will do significantly better than those who do not. The former will seek answers to why plans fall short or are even exceeded. In such cases, strategies and action plans are the result of plans which are not met. Conversely, those businesses doing little to no planning are typically ‘winging it’ or flying by the seat of their pants.

A FP&A Checklist for Small Businesses

  1. Daily treasury management is a must. That means reconciling cash every day and drawing or paying down on the LOC each morning. Other daily processes need to be adhered to in the areas of billing, collections, purchases, and cash disbursement. No shortcuts allowed.
  2. Cash should be projected 8 to 13 weeks each week on a rolling basis, and this is not the job of the accountant or just the CEO. This should be done by everyone in the business who has an impact on cash (whether producing or consuming it).
  3. A few key metrics should be maintained and monitored weekly, but only a few which can lead to actionable change.
  4. Financials MUST be completed on a monthly basis within a reasonable time frame after month-end. There are no excuses to not making this happen.
  5. And finally, ensure your actual results are a part of your FP&A tool. What went right last month or quarter? What did not go according to plan, and why? Running a causal analysis is an incredibly powerful tool to use when answering these questions. At this time, re-forecast the P&L and relevant balance sheet items over the next 12 months.

Check out Harvard Business Review’s: Why Budgeting Fails: One Management System is Not Enough below to learn more about best budgeting practices. 

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