Forecast with Facts, Not Feelings

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This week, Jim Benton was joined by Margaret Weniger, Sr. Director of Sales at Mindbody, to talk about Forecasting.

This is a passion for Margaret, who is also passionate about her role at Mindbody where they connect the world to wellness.

Diving right in, Jim asked Margaret about her experience with the art and science of forecasting.

“There’s actually a science behind forecasting,” said Margaret. “If you’re consistent with how you’re running your data, then the data won’t lie to you. It’s about getting your reps and leaders bought into the data.”

Most people know that accurate forecasting is critical to the success of your revenue org, but few people (as the data shows) apply it properly. Jim asked Margaret when she got the “forecasting bug”.

“I always liked the why behind things,” she said. “I had a manager that this was fundamental for. And I was always in sports and I have always been goal-driven. It started really early wanting to set and achieve goals.”

Margaret’s sport of choice is swimming, which was similar in some ways to Jim’s sport of choice: Tennis.

“There’s something similar to swimming in sales,” she said. “You’re very individual but you're also part of a team.”

They’re really strong at discovery. It sets up the rest of the process.

Accurate Forecasting and Why It’s So Important

Our data shows that 57% of reps inaccurately forecast their pipeline.

Margaret was pleasantly surprised by the number. “I’m sure there are some leaders out there looking at this saying they wish they had 43% of their team forecasting accurately. It definitely makes sense that fewer are good at forecasting.”

It begs the question: What are the best reps doing differently?

It comes down to early setup and preparation, Margaret said. “They’re really strong at discovery. It sets up the rest of the process. If you’re able to understand what’s in front of you and getting ahead of roadblocks… The reps that do that set the stage early on. They’re also good at pulling in the right people at the right time. The best ones set the stage early on.”

Okay, so top reps ask the right questions, they set expectations, and they bring in the right people at the right time. How do you coach for that?

Margaret loved this question.

“As a manager, I’m very repetitive in my questions. Because if I’m asking [my reps] the same question about their deals, again and again, they start to know that they better ask their prospects.”

“And this,” she continued, “is how you can start to hone in on which skills they need to work on. Forecasting is very strongly correlated with sales skills.”

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The best sales reps don’t get off a call without a specific next step. It’s such a critical part of maintaining that momentum.

Sales Cycle Velocity

Our data shows that there is about one week between meetings in closed-won deals.

“Momentum is everything in a sales deal,” Margaret said. “You have to have the same conversation again if you go too long. The best sales reps don’t get off a call without a specific next step. It’s such a critical part of maintaining that momentum.”

The worst thing that can happen is that a rep is nervous to pick up the phone and so they let time lag between touchpoints. “You shouldn’t be on eggshells,” said Jim. “You have to put it all out there.”

Margaret agreed. “You’re a consultant. In a particular industry or segment, you can be talking to 20 different businesses a month. You actually know way more than your customer does about their business. This is your opportunity to be a true partner. This may be their first buy, when this is your hundredth sell.”

A great skill to have is knowing how to teach your buyers how to buy so that they can make the best decisions for their business. The best way to do that? Authentic curiosity and empathy.

“We try to be empathetic,” said Margaret. “We ask: ‘How can we best serve you?’ And sometimes that means challenging them. If you have information that they don’t have, it’s your responsibility to educate them.”

Inaccurate Commits Means Inaccurate Forecasting.

Authenticity is Understanding, Not Mirroring

This is another passion of Margarets.

“We all have strengths and they’re different. There are sales fundamentals that you must have, but use your strengths to make them yours.”

“You can’t just mirror another rep’s behaviors,” she continued. “Learning to be genuinely authentic, you have to understand why [another rep] does what they do. And then come up with how that sounds for you.”

It’s not just about replicating best behaviors.

“It's a raw passion for knowing you have the best solution for people. I’ve always seen these different styles,” said Jim. “Maybe the key is being true to yourself and being true to the ‘why.’”

Tapping into that raw passion and enthusiasm is key. “Where you sell depends on how you sell,” said Margaret.

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The best reps are fearless when talking about competition.

Sales Cycle Timing Matters

The days between your first and last call of a closed-won deal changes depending on which market you’re selling into. SMB deals are faster than Enterprise deals. No surprise there!

The key learning is: What’s required to drive an effective sales practice?

“It’s the setup,” said Margaret. “It’s understanding who you’re selling against. SMB is nice because there are fewer people that have to be involved. It’s setting the expectations. There’s something driving the decision. Determine where that urgency is coming from.”

Setting up your process includes having a sense of what landmines are waiting for you. The big scary boogeyman under the bed is, of course, the competition.

And, unfortunately, some reps are uncomfortable talking about it.

“The best reps,” Margaret argued, “are fearless when talking about competition. If you know who you’re up against, you can set landmines for your competitors. You can coach your customer on what they should ask your competitor that they’re likely talking to. You can actually control the conversation more when you talk about competition.”

Jim agreed. “This is that unstoppable confidence in your product. We see this in our own data. The deals we win the most are those when we bring up the competition more often. You’re foolish to assume that your prospects aren’t considering your competitor.”

Maintaining Momentum Between Your Meetings

We heavily use Sales Engineers on our calls, and we’ve seen an improved win rate on our calls.

Sellers are Working Together

Having another party on the call is a forcing function for collaboration and more elaborate preparation. And we can see from our data that CSMs and Sales Engineers are joining more calls now than ever before.

“We heavily use Sales Engineers on our calls,” said Margaret. “And we’ve seen an improved win rate on our calls. At the end of the day, it’s another person who’s strategizing with your rep. This is a great way to make sure that you’re presenting what’s relevant to your customer.”

“I think, unfortunately, sales reps have a stigma,” she continued. “When you bring in someone like an SE it’s really valuable.”

Following a similar strategy, Margaret’s team conducts something they call “Second Voice.”

“Second voice is where someone who hasn’t been part of the process before will call the prospect who’s gone dark.” This is to re-engage the prospect and to show that they truly care about their business. It adds credibility and helps to dislodge the misconception that companies may have about sales reps.

Jim agreed. “It’s amazing what the response rate to a second touch is.”

State of Conversation Intelligence

If you’re interested in data that we cover in The Weekly Briefing, check out our latest State of Conversation Intelligence report.

We’ve analyzed over 35M calls and updated our award-winning report from last year with new data designed to help revenue leaders make pivotal decisions for their teams.

“There’s so much data and science behind sales,” said Margaret. “The more information we have, the more we can inform the strategies that we put in place, and the more we can instill confidence in ourselves as reps.”

Get the Insights from 35M+ sales calls in our updated "State of Conversation Intelligence"

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