As a volunteer with a nonprofit, I have been helping program participants define and carry-out “S.M.A.R.T. goals”; individually, the letters stand for: “Specific, Measurable, Attainable (or achievable), Realistic and Timely”. To help you understand the concept, here is a link to a simple write-up from the Office of Multicultural Affairs, University of Kansas, which outlines the process for students.
When it comes to setting these goals, I find many people struggle with defining the goal in a SMART manner; especially when there are so many variables in their life. The variables may include income, housing, job, education, etc. I can appreciate the challenge; it’s what I often refer to as, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!”
And so it seems with sales forecasts. Salespeople often struggle, and are regularly challenged by management, to put a strong definition around a particular sale, or quantity of business. I have written a number of blog posts, articles, and even recorded Podcasts on the topic of sales forecasting. It’s the most searched (for) string that directs traffic to our Website; some of traffic ends up at this blog, too (we have a category named “Sales Forecasts”).
That alone leads me to believe that there must be a less elaborate way to forecasting sales. You don’t need some fancy CRM system that spits out charts and sales funnels to have a disciplined approach. It’s as simple as knowing where you are going and how you are going to get there. You can do that on paper – 3 x 5 index cards will do.
But, for those running a business, nothing short of a disciplined process is in order. You have seen it before from me, “It takes a disciplined process to produce an accelerated sales cycle.” That said, why wouldn’t a SMART goal process work for sales forecasting?
Enter a round of laughter on my part. When I began to write this post, I quickly realized that the S.M. part was easy, but the A.R.T. is not. The chuckling came as I reflected on how many times people have told me there is an ‘art’ to selling; it’s not a science. Also, I am overdue on a book review for “Strengths Based Selling” (Tony Rutigliano and Brian Brim) that talks about how understanding your “…innate talents and strengths and use them to sell more effectively.” are the qualities of the most successful reps.
That may be so for some, but in my management of sales teams over the years, it wasn’t until I got everyone on the same page that I could better forecast our numbers. If I could get the team to have “clearly-defined, written-down goals” in the form of a sales forecast, then we could work together on specific pieces of business, in a timely manner (the “T” in SMART).
Once that was accomplished, it was a matter of fending off the merry-go-round discussions of what was realistic business to be had and whether it was attainable based on what we had to offer (i.e., competition, product, services, price, etc.). Therein lies the stalemate in my mind; management and sales holding to an undefined position when it comes to attainable and realistic business.
Laughter subsiding - I can already see the notes coming my way about how selling is an ‘art’ and not a ‘science’ – I believe there is a way to overcome the obstacle. By putting in place a clear definition of what constitutes good business (i.e., great product fit, good pricing, excellent service), it’s only a matter of whether you’re the right vendor and can deliver the order on time (by the client’s deadline, or your own to make the forecast date).
Opening this up to the floor, so to speak, weigh-in with a comment on what you think about SMART goals when it comes to sales forecasts.