Forecasting business development outcomes – wins – is an important and valuable element of successful professional services selling. But forecasting is tough.
So often it’s about identifying multiple uncertainty factors, and estimating the impact of each, plus making judgements about options to influence outcomes.
Good forecasting of sales lets us (and others around us) plan. It can give a sense of security and control and help us allocate scarce business development time and resources to those with best prospects of delivering a return on investment within reasonable timeframes.
At its essence, business development forecasting is about guessing what the future might bring. It’s about taking an educated stab at what might happen and when. It’s not about precision or perfection [though that would be even better!].
Forecasting isn’t all that different from predicting driving time from home to town: we’re unlikely to get it exactly right, and that isn’t essential, but getting it close will be a big help and let us plan our day. We’ve become adept at forecasting journey time: we allow for traffic flows, business days and weekends, roadworks, weather, time of day, road conditions … the list goes on. Multiple variables, working together – just like business development.
Analogous to roadworks, weather, day of week, etcetera, are the traps and considerations below. With some practice, you’ll avoid them and develop some reliable forecasting capacity.
Watch for unreliable recollection. We often flatter ourselves in our memories, as well as exaggerating dramatic – high and low – points. We frequently distort events as we recall or replay them. Sometimes, this means focusing on the indicators for which we were hoping, and forgetting others.
Excessive caution is a trap. Rather than putting ourselves under unwelcome pressure, we may downplay our prospects of success to be “on the safe side”.
Acculturation of many professionals leads them to dwell on pessimistic, worst-case scenarios which too-often become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Naive optimism and overconfidence is another trap – the favourite of those new to sales. Frequently, overconfidence results from failure to take account of the diversity of influences in the wider environment of a prospective client.
Sometimes we don’t see all the options before our client – our sense of urgency to close the business is way out of step with the client’s own priorities. Reduce naiveté and get confidence to more realistic levels by asking the open, robust questions.
The biggest obstacle of all in business development forecasting is not taking account of unwelcome evidence, news or developments. Experience shows that welcoming the unwelcome – paying extra attention and listening ultra-hard to bad news, unhelpful evidence, and adverse developments – not only improves forecasting, but arms us with the information and insights we need to improve outcomes.
If you need help improving your business development forecasting, please get in touch.
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