Are There Any Ghosts on Your Forecast?

With the end of Q4 looming just two months away, perhaps now is also a good time to check and see if there are any “ghosts” looming on our sales forecast. What do I mean by having a ghost on the forecast? Have you ever seen a deal forecasted with a 95% probability to close in March, that carries over into April? And , for whatever reason(s), it remains on the forecast at 95% through June, July, August, and it still hasn’t closed even though it’s now October? While it is possible that a deal like this may indeed close this month, it’s also quite possible that you’ve been chasing a ghost.

There’s no doubt that everyone likes to have a robust sales forecast. Just on percentages, the bigger your forecast, the more likely you are to hit your number, right? Perhaps, but that logic only applies if the deals you’re tracking are truly qualified as real opportunities that are likely to close.

How can you tell if a deal is real, or not? All you have to do is ask the right question(s). For example: It’s worth noting that I try and gravitate to questions that don’t make customers uncomfortable or put them on the spot, but I still want to be direct enough to give me an accurate read on where I stand in the decision process. One of favorite questions to accomplish this objective is:

Salesperson: “Mr. Customer, I forecasted this opportunity to close in October based on the conversations we’ve had to date. Can I ask…is that still a reasonable target, or should I tell my boss something different?”

If you have any semblance of a relationship with your prospect, most decision makers won’t knowingly mislead you in a way that makes you look bad in front of your boss. Granted, they might respond by saying, “Well, you might want to push it out a few months to be safe.”“To be safe?”, I would reflexively ask. “What’s happening that could push this decision out?”

Here’s another way to ask the same question that might produce even more details.

Salesperson: “Ms. Prospect, are we still in good shape to wrap this up by the end of the month, or is it possible that something might cause this deal to get pushed out?”

Critics of this strategy sometimes argue that you’re giving the customer an “out.” Let me clue you in on a little secret: They already have an out! Customers are well aware they don’t have to buy from you, and certainly not on your time schedule. Said differently, I believe it’s rare that customers think to themselves, “We pretty much have to buy from this salesperson because he didn’t give us an out.” Really? Thus, I am willing to trade all the “outs” I give customers for the volumes of accurate information I receive in return.

Using this type of QBS technique, you might discover that a deal you’ve been forecasting for months is never going to happen. Would you rather know that now, or would you choose to continue expending time, energy, and resources on a deal that is never going to happen?

Here’s the bonus you get from using this approach. Note that you don’t have to be sly or clever, hoping to fool the customer into giving you information. In fact, I have found that one of the best ways to get accurate information is to turn the situation around and simply ask:

Salesperson: “Mr. Prospect, if you were me, and you were the salesperson on this account, how would you forecast this transaction to be most accurate?”

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