Friday, May 27, 2005

Sales Management

My prior post provides a model for how to create a revenue plan for the year. Another classic start-up conundrum is how to forecast revenue for this quarter.

Sales forecasting is a notoriously difficult problem and start-ups generally learn the hard way that sales meetings, prospect interest, and apparent momentum do not translate into purchase orders in any where near the time and speed one would hope. Professional sales management forecasting techniques can help eliminate emotion and excitement ("We had such a good meeting, I know they are going to buy!") out of the process. Missing a sales forecast really hurts no matter what size company you are. However, given that most start-ups are not profitable, missing a topline revenue number can have disastrous impacts on cash burn, employee morale ("we are working so hard and getting nowhere"), and shareholder confidence.

While there are many different models out there, I will share one with you that works well for the companies that I work with in conjunction with an investment in a CRM system, like Salesforce.

As a first time CEO or manager, a managing a sales pipeline by sales stage can improve forecast accuracy. A key, however, is that the whole sales team buy into the process and be religious wrt its application. Top leaders must constantly evaluate where an opportunity is relative to the key sales milestones and if sales reps are realistically categorizing various opportunities.

Sample Pipeline by Sales Stage
  • Prospect New (10% probability - telemarketing lead or tradeshow follow-up)
  • Prospect Engaged (20% probability - webex, phone contact, early requirements discovery)
  • Technical Evaluation (30% probability - demo/presentation completed, NDA executed)
  • Budget Qualification (40% probability - major discovery requirements phase)
  • Proposal Submitted (50% probability - confirm budget, test commitment)
  • Technically Selected (60% probability - building ROI analysis with customer)
  • Contract Negotiations (70% probability - reviewing proposals, technically selected)
  • Getting Final Signatures (80% probability - selected, budget confirmed)
  • In Purchasing (90% probability - waiting for fax to ring!)
  • Closed (100% - purchase order in house!)

When forecasting revenue, try to match each sales engagement against the milestones/stages listed above. The forecast is then equal to the sum of the dollar weighted opportunities by stage.

While a rigorous process is not sufficient to hit the number, I believe it is a necessary condition to doing so in a predictable and repeatable manner.


  1. As a CFO who transitioned into running a 40-person sales force, I can appreciate the importance of managing pipeline forecasts. Spending way too many late nights reconciling sales projections in excel, emails, etc. from several sales managers aross the globe, led me to introduce almost 3 years ago. A word of caution...I found that simplifying and limiting the number of sales stages improved my ability to forecast and made it much easier for the sales reps and managers to accurately manage each of their leads. While my CFO/MBA driven need for much finer slices of information initialy led me to use 10+ stages, I found that this was confusing to reps and managers and a major time-sink for reps and did not lead to good data.....Reps actively resisted updating the stages for each lead. I reduced the stages to 5, and the reps were able to better understand the stages, and the quality of the data vastly improved. Also, the Forecasting tool in alows everyone involved in sales and sales management to create their own forecast, so a regional Sales VP can have her own forecast which takes into account her reps forecast and her own take on what will actually happen, and I could then roll up all VPs forecast and put my thinking into my own Forecast.

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