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How to Build Your 2021 Sales Forecast with Kirsty Charlton, VP Revenue Operations at Signal AI, and Kevin Raybon, Founder & President at SOPSA

This week, for the second time in Sales Ops Demystified, multiple guests join us. Listen to Kirtsy Charlton, VP revenue operations at Signal AI, and Kevin Raybon, Founder and President at SOPSA, get into a conversation about the revolution in forecasting for 2021, the new normal of forecasting, and granularized forecast audience.

In conclusion, Kirsty and Kevin share top priorities for sales & ops planning and forecasting in 2021

Working with an updated, accurate, and consistent pipeline

COVID-19 and the year 2020 have bought forward a revolution in forecasting that has made it difficult to gauge where the market is heading. 

Customer behavior and cash flow became unpredictable, with frequent client withdrawal, which affected smaller companies massively. 

The main target of the revenue operations function during the  pandemic was to maintain an up to date, accurate, and consistent pipeline. As communication was suffering due to remote work and the lack of constant dialogue created a void. The efficient pipeline and plans during the pandemic were the ones that were created, keeping a set metric in view so that anyone can look at key metrics and project a forecast.

Manual forecasting is the new normal

There are three types of forecasting:

  1. Historical forecasting
  2. Manual forecasting
  3. Tool based forecasting

All three forecasting types give a clear indication of your achievement probability, which sets a direction and enhances delivery speed. 

The pandemic eliminated historical and tool based forecasting, giving extreme focus to manual forecast.

“In the past year, companies with dysfunctional manual forecasting processes have suffered the most.”

Manual forecasting is less about the outcome and more about the process you go through. It is about being real with yourself, being able to coach, working through territory management and opportunity management. 

Through manual forecast, companies get more real about their deals, potential customers, and focus. The easiest place to consider is existing accounts to generate sales.

Make forecasting audience more granular 

All three forecasting approaches are seasonal but can are valid interchangeably. That is, in case if one method isn’t working out, the other comes into play.  

“The pandemic has forced us to become more granular about our forecast and know how people react in the times of disruptions.”

The unpredictable times force us to become more granular and stop treating our customers under one specific persona. If we can unlearn and relearn this, forecasting can become better regardless of what happens in any major or micro-market.

Signal AI has kicked off with Q1 forecasting with special attention to conversion rates and a more granular approach. Now things are analyzed in terms of volume and value with three months and six months tails.

Crisis proof sales forecasting

To devise a crisis-proof sales forecast, one has to become more resistant and agile. It’s time we redefine our definitions of terms such as productivity. Instead of just focusing on activity and quality, also give attention to time.

Micro-segmentation is important to know where the value-added activities are for the sales team. To manage the sales cycle duration, you have to become real about the priorities as one extended sales cycle accelerated the other.

While forecasting for an unpredictable year, it is safest to adopt a broach approach. If you become far too detailed or far too granular, you lose the power of making broader strokes. 

Improved communication, alignment, and visualization 

The past year’s pandemic has left lasting impacts on revenue operations. Some irreversible changes highlighted by Kevin and Kirsty are:

  1. Break down silos: the pandemic has taken us back to our roots of working tightly together and making things happen. It has forced us to break the silos of different departments and work together cross-functionally on a more common set of metrics and dashboards that are more connected.

“The pandemic forces us to revisit the basic principles of sales ops and revenue operations; what are they? Why are we here?” 

  1. Communication: working remotely has made communication a key element of work to stay in touch and stay integrated. This has caused alignment within teams, such as sales and marketing. This reminds us of the importance of collaborations.
  2. Tech-focused ops: this crisis led to rapid improvement in visualization and an increase in digital selling techniques that normally would have taken years. 

“In this pandemic, people are not asking questions but diving in to find the answers themselves”

Sales ops to revenue operations transition 

Revenue operations is a function that has become necessary (for certain company sizes and maturity levels). For example, it’s difficult for large companies to pull off due to built-in silos and a lack of cross-functional teams. At the same time, it’s easiest in smaller companies due to an agile environment.

The COVID19 crisis has underlined the importance of revenue operations as it provides better communication, alignment, data accuracy, and cleanliness. 

A revenue operations personnel looks into the departments and gives department leads proper recommendations based on a holistic overview of the business and commercial function.

#1 sales metric for 2021:  flexibility and empathy 

The past year has been unpredictable, leading us into uncertainty for 2021. This is why we plan yearly quarters, knowing we are preparing to adjust no matter what happens mid-year. Keep your plan flexible, so you don’t have to start from scratch under any given circumstance. 

Keep an active eye on changes and alert the business and relevant stakeholders for swift action, less friction, and maximum success. 

To plan for 2021, give top priority to:

  1. Create agile compensation plans
  2. Develop territorial designs
  3. Monitor changes

Watch out for people’s mental health as remote work hours are easily extended. Everyone at this time misses human interaction as we have been working from home for nine months. The relationships between employees have suffered a lot due to a lack of constant communication. Keep an eye on your team and prioritize their well-being.

“Focus on why do we exist and what are the things that impact us regardless of the difficult times.”

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