By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.
Revenue Operations
Flash Icon Decorative

5 Steps to Better Forecasting in Salesforce

Scribbles 2

Accurate forecasting is a company's key to success. It helps finance plan several quarters in advance, creates a fantastic foundation for CEOs wanting to raise funds, and helps operations plan new territories.

If sales doesn't update the system of record to match reality, the wheels fall off the company's ability to plan fast.

Unfortunately, sales managers rarely forecast out of their CRM. In my experience, they have a tried and true spreadsheet they take from company to company, and forecast calls are a verbal update of each account executive's or regional manager's hopes for quota attainment.

As a result, the CRM rarely reflects reality. Frustrated CFOs force the problem on operations, and we're asked to find a way to get people in line–without the positional authority necessary to make salespeople use the tool.

We recommend you check out our article on influencing without authority. We’ve also fought through our trigger response caused by reliving our past forecasting trauma to provide you with what we’ve seen work in B2B SaaS.

(You’re welcome.)

Step 1: Gather Feedback

Salespeople will always take the path of least resistance. Using that logic, our path to getting them to use their CRM should start with removing friction from processes involving opportunity management, quoting, and forecasting.

Start by interviewing the head of sales (without judgment or objections) to understand why they don't use Salesforce to run their forecast. Adoption is a top-down problem, but telling them this fact will only make them dig in further. Make it exceedingly clear that you want to understand their standpoint by not interrupting, debating, or disputing. 

Part of their objection will undoubtedly be how hard it is for their team to use Salesforce. Note their feedback, offer zero resistance or commentary, and then propose a project to make using Salesforce easier for the sales team.

In the sales world, time is money. Any time not spent working on finding or closing the next deal is a waste unless it could lead to them saving time eventually.

Position your fact-finding mission as a quest to improve the sales team's Salesforce user experience. Your goal is to shave time off creating, updating, and closing opportunities.

You'll need access to a couple of super users, a few people in the middle, and a few people so resistant to using Salesforce that their managers have given up hope. Meet with them separately, and observe them creating, updating, and closing opportunities. I recommend recording a screen-sharing session and using a stopwatch to time each exercise. Remain silent. Don't guide them on where to click if they're stuck.

Pro Tip: In my experience, VPs of Sales are very protective of their team's time. Make it a practice to clear any time you'll require gathering information from the sales team directly with the head of sales. You'll need to be mindful of month or quarter end, and you'll need to over-communicate with everyone you involve throughout the project.

You may discover a need to nuke many validation rules, eliminate most of your custom fields, or update the sales process flow. Remember not to let emotion get the best of you. It's hard to hear when you've dedicated a lot of time to managing and perfecting a system, only to learn people don't like using it. Salespeople will resent anything they see as getting in the way of spending time selling, and a perfect opportunity setup would involve a neuro-chip that hopefully never exists. Removing all friction possible will make the VP of Sales more open to forcing his team to use the system.

Meet with the sales team again once you've updated the system configuration. Record screen-sharing sessions, use a stopwatch, and tweak your configuration if needed.

Once you've optimized the CRM, communicate your gratitude to the sales team members who participated in the project and call out how you integrated their suggestions into the project. Write how much time you've saved the sales team in summary format to the VP of Sales. Keep those findings in your back pocket for future reference.

Step 2: Make Quoting In Salesforce a Non-Negotiable

The sooner you can ban spreadsheets and get finance to reject orders not on standard forms generated by Salesforce quotes, the quicker you'll have more reliable opportunity amounts for your finance team.

Have a product-let motion or rely on online orders?

Develop a process that overrides the opportunity amount with the real deal value.

Have a usage-based pricing model? Work with experts on your opportunity structure and consider using machine learning to train a model to predict actual spend more accurately.

Step 3: Be Honest About Salesforce’s Many Shortcomings

During your fact-finding mission, you may have discovered some legitimate hurdles to adopting forecasts in Salesforce.

The biggest hurdle is Salesforce's disregard for opportunity splits.

How salespeople retire considers only the portions of an opportunity they receive credit for. If your VP of Sales and compensation plan has accommodated splits, their forecast will not factor in that split, and their forecast will not be accurate.

The sales team can manually update their forecast to be based on the splits instead of total amounts, and those adjustments will need to be applied throughout the hierarchy (area managers, regional managers, and others will also need to adjust their numbers manually).

This shortcoming has been enough for a VP of Sales to refuse to forecast out of Salesforce. Managers have to begin with an opportunity split report to get an accurate starting point.

Similarly, opportunity split overlays are also not reflected in the forecast tool, making it difficult for sales engineers expected to forecast to fulfill the request.

Another hurdle can be introduced by usage-based pricing. It can be challenging to land on an opportunity design, which drives how your sales team does or doesn't use forecasting. While this isn't necessarily a Salesforce shortcoming, it will impact Salesforce forecast adoption.

Step 4: Educate Up & Out

Once you've done everything you can to make using Salesforce as easy as possible, it's important to tell the sales team why forecast accuracy is so important.

In the olden days, coaches, managers, teachers – anyone in a position of authority – could demand compliance and receive it. People perform better now if they understand why they're being asked to do something. If it makes sense to them, they're likely to do it.

Position your argument from the standpoint of what's in it for them (the sales team). Have you heard frustrations that onboarding is taking too long? That's probably because of a lack of ability to use the forecast to plan for team expansions. Does your organization need to raise funds soon? An accurate forecast is vital to that process–which means sales directly impact job stability in your company.

If the sales team understands why you're asking for better forecasts, you have a better chance at seeing better forecasts.

Step 5: Accept What You Can’t Change

Operations is often seen as a sales support function. It's difficult to pressure the sales team to do anything they see as distracting from selling. If you've made opportunities easier to use and have yet to discover a valid reason for not using forecasts, it's time to explore two options.

Option 1: Buy a tool and focus on opportunity hygiene rather than forecast tool usage. Some applications layer onto Salesforce and make updating opportunities simple. Buying a tool may be worth the expense if your sales management team agrees to enforce hygiene.

Option 2: Call in reinforcements and recommend focusing on opportunity hygiene and prioritizing centralizing the quote process in Salesforce (if you haven't already). More on reinforcements later.

Step 6: Get (a little) Disruptive

Talk to your finance team before instituting this change because there are reporting impacts.

One of the quickest ways to train your sales team to update their opportunity close dates is to automate a process that runs on the first day of each quarter and sets the close date of past-due opportunities to the first day of the current month. Trust me, their manager will call them to question them on the deals and try to get them to commit to selling those accounts – and they'll figure out how to avoid this fate in the future pretty much immediately.

This process ensures that you don't have dead deals hanging in the ghost of pipeline past for years to come.

Step 7: Ask for Reinforcements

I've had investors tell me that a sales manager who can't forecast is useless to them. Your CEO and CFO are motivated to ensure your head of sales provides an accurate forecast. Ultimately, the responsibility should be on them to hold the head of sales responsible for driving CRM usage.

Provide them with a summary of the work you've performed to make opportunities as simple to use as possible. Ask them for coaching. Can they think of anything else you can do differently? Because, at this point, you're unsure what will motivate the sales team to use their CRM reliably.

A reasonable CFO will take this cue to pressure their sales executive to improve their forecast and pressure the sales team to use the CRM.

This isn't an easy problem to solve! We've hammered home focusing on CRM usability over and over because if your team does not do that project, you will have less credibility and ability to recruit senior leadership to support you if your VP of Sales refuses to cooperate.

Best of luck, check out our article on Opportunity best practices, and leverage our community’s wealth of expertise if you need more advice.

Related posts

Join the Co-op!

scribbles 7 birds
Tail Spin Animation