Editor's note: this blog was originally published in December 2014 and has been revised and updated in May 2020 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
My last blog discussed the problems that can arise from an inconsistent sales pipeline. I equate it to riding a roller coaster. When sales are going up, all is great! But when sales are going down, you lose your stomach. Not exactly the kind of thrill ride you want for your business!
So, how do we create a consistent sales forecast? There are several steps involved, but it's not as difficult as you may think. The first place to start is always with your data.
Now, data is a pretty comprehensive term in this age of digital information, cloud computing, and online media feeds. Even within the world of sales and marketing, we talk about performance metrics and ratios and those are a kind of data too. So what kind of data are we talking about here? Contact data, such as current and past customers, prospects, and trade show contacts - basically anyone you do business with or hope to do business with.
Often, I begin a new project by asking a client, "So, where is your data?" The answer I often hear is "all over the place!" I've seen data in spreadsheets, Outlook, PDF files or even in a bunch of cards at the bottom of someone’s drawer.
To use your data effectively for sales and marketing efforts, you must start by cleaning it up! We've all heard the expression "garbage in, garbage out." Only after you clean up your data can you organize and segment it with the confidence that it's accurate and useful.
1. Gather your relevant data and put it in one central place - preferably a spreadsheet or CRM if you're using one. Spend some time mining contact information from all the usual suspects: email, documents, spreadsheets, even business cards. Just be sure you don't include your dentist or the gang's favorite pizza place!
2. Don't forget current clients, past clients and potential clients. Focus on contacts who can bring revenue to your door quickly and effectively, but don't be so selective that you exclude potential prospects. You'll want to have them in your database, in your sales forecast, and in your sales pipeline. Continually update these contacts so you don't lose touch.
3. After your data is in one place - and the pizza joints are removed - fill in the missing pieces. Spend time finding those emails, phone numbers, titles, etc. This step, called data validation, is critical. The time you spend on this task now will save time later on when you're trying to reach all of these people. Nothing crushes sales call momentum like having to search for updated names and phone numbers before each touch.
Many online sources can help you validate data: LinkedIn (and the fee-based LinkedIn Navigator), Google, individual company websites, and trade directories such as Thomasnet.com.
4. Finally (for now), assign ratings. Review your most promising targets and give them an “A” rating. Then review again for “B” and “C” rated clients. Start calling/engaging accordingly. And don't forget to verify their contact information while you speak with them! This is your double-check that things like names and spellings, job titles, email and physical addresses, and phone extensions are still correct.
Start with these simple first steps and you're on your way to smoothing out that roller coaster ride!
Stay tuned for (or catch up with) other blogs in this series: