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Forecasting Future Sales


To begin mapping your pipeline to forecast conversion, first ask: What are the ‘buckets’ a prospect and/or client could be in at each stage of their buying cycle? I include clients in this model because predictable referral generation should be part of systemized sales campaigns. Referrals can come from prospects, but most organizations’ own clients are an overlooked source of continuous referrals.
Below is a brief explanation of what each of those verticals represent, as well as the next step in each if a vertical’s campaign fails to convert a prospect into a customer:
Not a Fit Right Now: This vertical is for prospects or former clients who have told us they’re not doing business for a set period of time. This could be indicated by a lack of response to outreach attempts or due to contractual obligations, preferred vendor relationships, lack of minimum budget, or a slew of other issues. Prospects flow here from either the Could Not Reach campaign or when we hear ‘no’ or ‘not now’ in a buyer conversation that can’t be overcome. This vertical is one of the two ‘holding tanks’ in the pipeline, meaning that an account could potentially sit here with only passive outreach attempts (monthly newsletters, etc.) until they are ready to enter an active outreach campaign system again.
Next Step for Prospects from This Vertical: At a predetermined date in the future, re-qualify prospects in this stage and get them into the Cold Outreach campaign system or Decision Maker Identified campaign system.
Could Not Reach: This vertical is for prospects who haven’t responded to outreach attempts but are worth additional pursuit before removing them from our pipelines or putting them into a holding tank for a few months before restarting outreach. Like all outreach campaign systems, it is designed to get the prospect into active communication and drive a sales conversation. Prospects flow here from the Cold Outreach or Decision Maker Identified verticals.
Next Step for Prospects from This Vertical: If this campaign fails to generate a conversation with a decision maker and move the account into one of the more ‘valuable’ campaign systems, move the account to the Not A Fit Right Now vertical with a firm follow-up date to get it back into play.
Cold Outreach: This is the campaign we use when a prospect has never heard of us or we’ve been out of contact long enough that they likely don’t remember us. Prospects enter this campaign from warm referrals (where we don’t have direct contact to a confirmed decision maker), cold leads, or from the Not A Fit Right Now holding tank.
Next Step for Prospects from This Vertical: If this campaign system doesn’t get us the information we need to move the sale forward or at least identify the decision maker, the prospect’s account flows to the Could Not Reach campaign system.
Decision Maker Identified: This is the campaign we use when we have confirmed a decision maker (someone with fiduciary authority to make a decision about the product or service we sell). It is also designed to drive a sales conversation or get the account into Preselect if a buying decision cannot be made at that time due to budgets, purchase periods, etc.
Next Step for Prospects from This Vertical: If this campaign fails to generate a conversation with a decision maker or fails to yield us the information we need to get the account into Preselect, it flows to the Could Not Reach campaign. It bypasses the Cold Outreach campaign because the purpose of that initial campaign has already been achieved: we know who the decision maker is.
Preselect: The most valuable campaign; this is where qualified accounts who could not make a buying decision for a variety of reasons are held until they enter their buying window. This is the other ‘holding tank’ in the pipeline because significant time may pass between a conversation with a prospect and when their buying window occurs/their Preselect campaign becomes active. Because we can set dates for future tasks within a CRM, each of the accounts within this vertical can be programmed come back in front of the salesperson managing the account when the prospect is in their buying window. Due to the qualified budget of these accounts and known decision makers, its campaign system often justifies more expensive outreach efforts.
Next Step for Prospects from This Vertical:  If our outreach attempts are ignored in Preselect, the account flows to Decision Maker Identified for another attempt at the sales conversation or discovering the next buying window, which would then put it back into the holding tank of Preselect with a future date for outreach.
Active Opportunity: This vertical isn’t a campaign as much as it is a series of tasks to complete when engaged in active sales conversations or when waiting for proposals to be executed: sales meeting briefs, sales conversations, and post-meeting debriefs, all systems we’ll explore later. This vertical allows us, at a glance, to see not only what accounts are closest to becoming customers but also potential deal values that we can use in predicting future sales once we know our conversion ratios.
Next Step for Prospects from This Vertical: If the account converts to a sale, it is placed in the Won Deal vertical for service delivery and referral generation. If the opportunity is lost, it is placed in the Lost Deal campaign. 

Once you know the number of accounts in the Active Opportunity vertical, set a benchmark of time and track how many account convert from this vertical. Next, ask how long, on average, it takes accounts to close once they are in this vertical. From there, you will have the basics of a sales forecasting system to predict revenue in your sales.

A word of warning – many salespeople will put as many accounts as possible in the Active Opportunity vertical in order to forecast as much revenue as possible, which is why it’s critical that only accounts that meet stringent criteria (decision maker(s) known by name, budget identified, proposal issued, in their buying window, etc.) are allowed in this vertical. 

The pre-select vertical can also be used as an indicator on future closed business but by its nature its number won’t be as accurate as those deals where a proposal/contract has already been issued.


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