In the world of B2B services, forecasting has gained greater importance than ever before. Accurate forecasting of different aspects of a B2B service is essential for putting your money in the right place and optimizing your spending activities. Without forecasting, you are basically working off a whim, which is never advisable when large sums of money are concerned.
The B2B sales pipeline is among the most critical aspects that need to be forecast. Here, we shall learn about effective forecasting of the B2B sales pipeline.
What Is a B2B Sales Pipeline?
The B2B sales pipeline is the journey of a sales representative from converting a lead or prospective lead into a customer. The B2B sales pipeline is formed of a series of steps, which are summarized below.
1. Identify Prospective Leads
You are generally presented with loads of marketing data, which you need to survey to determine the chances that a particular person might be a prospective lead. There are also various lead types that you can divide people into based on their chances of conversion.
Any good sales pro knows not to underestimate this step. In fact, more than 40% of salespeople consider this the most challenging part of the pipeline.
2. Organize and Connect
Once you have identified your prospective leads, you need to arrange them in decreasing order of their perceived chances of conversion. Now, touch base with this lead through what is known as a connect call. Try and understand the problem that the lead is facing: have they found a solution, or are they still looking for one?
On average, it takes about 18 calls to get a new buyer. Two-thirds of salespeople reach out to less than 250 leads in a year.
3. Discover the Pain Points
The next step of the B2B sales pipeline is known as a discovery call. Here, you need to dive deep into the problem of the lead and determine what the basic deliverables are. This could be a standard telephone call – more than 40% of salespeople consider telephone calls the most effective sales tool. However, video calls through platforms such as Hippo Video are also becoming more common nowadays.
The discovery call is also a unique opportunity to show the prospect that you’re listening. It might be helpful to structure your calls for consistent results, but do not hesitate to go off-script to keep the conversation going.
4. Offer the Solution
In the opportunity stage, you start convincing the client to buy from you. Before this, it is essential to determine whether you can even solve the problem of the client. If you can, start by giving prospects some solid reasons why they should buy from you. Outline the exact issues they are facing that you are uniquely positioned to solve.
5. Present the Demo
Once your point of contact shows interest in buying from you, you can offer them a demo. Depending on the product you are offering, this could be a virtual demo or a demo at the lead’s office.
When running the demo, be sure to put your best foot forward and showcase a comprehensive list of features. Stressing too much about closing the deal may drive your prospects away, so don’t be too focused on the outcome.
6. Persuade the Prospect
You need to completely convince the point of contact that you are the right choice for them. Do be wary that this point of contact is most probably not the final decision-maker in the process. Once you have reached this stage, ask to meet or converse with the decision-maker.
The decision-maker will generally be a member of the senior management, whose main issue will be the cost of the service that you are offering. You can also ask them about their pain points and whether there is a specific budget. You may then provide a scaled-down version of your product or justify the quote you have provided them.
7. Negotiate a Lucrative Contract
If the decision-maker has been convinced, you will enter into a series of protracted negotiations with the legal team of the lead. Depending on the department of the company handling your product, it is also likely that you will have separate negotiations with multiple teams. The legal team will formulate a contract in conjunction with your team.
8. Close the Deal
If you have reached the previous step, it is unlikely that you will lose a deal – primarily because both parties have spent significant amounts of time in the process. In this final step, you will either win or lose the sale and ultimately close the case.
Even if the deal falls through, you can ask this customer for a referral and get a head start on the next deal. Less than half of all salespeople as for referrals, and those who do perform markedly better.
From the above points, it might be evident to you that a lead can be lost at every step in the B2B sales pipeline. This underscores the importance of accurately analyzing the sales pipeline, which we shall cover in the next section.
Why Is It Important to Forecast the Sales Pipeline?
There are several reasons that forecasting the sales pipeline is important and why its importance has only been growing. Some of these reasons are listed below.
- At the beginning of every year, companies determine financial and other resources to be allocated to different departments, including sales and marketing. Through accurate forecasting, companies can gauge the demand that is likely to be experienced throughout the year and allocate resources accordingly.
- Forecasting the sales pipeline also allows companies to determine where they must invest externally. If a business’s sales process has been suffering due to outdated technology, it would be prudent to invest in new sales and marketing software. They might even hire additional employees to augment sales.
- Forecasting helps companies identify the step of the pipeline where the most significant loss of customers is occurring. Based on this data, they can take steps to assess the reason for this issue and determine potential solutions.
- The most crucial reason to forecast the sales pipeline is to root out inefficiencies in your sales process. If any steps are driving potential customers away, you can invest in their resolution through resource allocation and technological investment.
Now that we have understood what the B2B sales pipeline is and why it is so important to forecast, let us look at how we can forecast it.
4 Steps to Forecast the B2B Sales Pipeline
Forecasting the B2B sales pipeline can be arduous, long, and really complex. Luckily, you can follow certain steps to achieve success in accurately predicting your sales pipeline. Here is a brief overview of these steps.
1. Capture Your Sales Pipeline
The first step toward forecasting your sales pipeline is capturing it. However, it can often be significantly more difficult for large companies. This is primarily due to the fact that sales pipelines are not formally defined.
Each prospective lead is different and prefers different methods of being reached out to by your sales team. This probably means that your sales team is trying all sorts of methods to connect with prospective leads, from cold calling to social media prospecting and emails.
The best way to capture your sales pipeline is likely through a company-wide survey of your sales team. Such a survey can also provide you with a great chance to formalize your sales prospecting process. Based on the results of the survey, you can determine the method that each sales team is using to reach out to leads and that further steps are being followed.
Through the data collected during this survey, you will be able to determine an average sales pipeline that applies broadly to the whole company. This can help you in making further decisions regarding your pipeline forecast.
2. Differentiate Between Sales Bookings and Accounting Revenue
Regardless of what the size of your company is, you probably have multiple streams of revenue, especially if you are a B2B service. You might receive revenue from subscriptions, new customers, returning customers, large contracts, and the like.
Firstly, it is vital that you differentiate between all these types of revenue. This approach allows you to determine the stream which matters most to your sales team, such as revenue from new customers. This revenue determines the growth of your company in terms of customer base and is arguably more important than customer retention.
Secondly, you need to differentiate bookings from revenues. A booking is not much more than a commitment to pay. Even after a prospective customer has made a booking for your product, there is a chance that it can be reneged upon. In this case, none of the bookings will translate into revenue.
For the purpose of sales pipeline forecast, make sure that bookings are not made a part of accounting revenue. Rather, keep the two separate and analyze the proportion of bookings that are likely to be followed through.
3. Calculate Conversion Rate at Each Stage of CRM Sales Funnel
Once you have all the data you require, it is time to analyze the data and draw conclusions. The most important metric that you need to calculate is the efficiency of each stage of the CRM sales funnel. This is primarily the proportion of entrants into a certain stage of the sales pipeline that passes through it without leakage.
This calculation will also allow you to determine the stages of the sales funnel that are the most efficient and those where the greatest amount of leakage is occurring. After the analysis, you can present a report to the senior management regarding the performance of your sales funnel and ways to improve it.
4. Apply the Weightings Calculated in the Previous Step
Once you have determined the efficiency of each stage of the sales funnel, it is easy to calculate the number of customers present at every step – even if you have the number at only one stage.
If you have the number of customers present at the initial prospecting stage, you can forecast the number at each stage simply by consecutively multiplying by the efficiencies of these stages. Eventually, you will reach a number for the final customer count and revenue forecast.
How Accurate Can My B2B Sales Pipeline Forecast Be?
The accuracy of your forecast depends directly on the volatility of the industry you work in and the variation in your revenues over the past years. If both these metrics are on the lower end of the spectrum, your forecast can be extremely accurate.
However, if either the volatility of your industry or your company revenue is high, the forecast might be way off. Keep in mind, however, that this is just a forecast, and actual data will certainly be different.
How Many Years Do I Account For in My Forecast?
If your earnings have been reasonably stable in the past, you can use either a three-year or a five-year moving average to develop an efficient forecast for your company. Do make sure that you account for outlier years, if any, such as the receipt of the odd huge contract. As for the future, forecasts are generally done for the next one to five years.
How Do I Improve My Sales Pipeline?
You can use several different methods to improve your sales pipeline, the most efficient being technological investment and intelligent resource allocation. These techniques help optimize your sales pipeline without any major constraints.
In the above post, we explored the importance of forecasting your sales pipeline. Such forecasting can help you plan for future sales as well as invest your money in the right place. Additionally, forecasting sales enables you to determine the part of your sales pipeline that is causing the most significant issues and then swiftly resolving them.
Sales pipeline forecasts have become a standard practice across industries. In the coming years, through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning, these forecasts are likely to become even more accurate.