This post will outline how to run a weekly sales review meeting. These guidelines are intended for B2B SaaS startups with < $10M ARR.
Why run a weekly sales forecast meeting?
Some may think that running the same, repetitive meeting each week is a sub-optimal use of time. After all, as long as everything is in SalesForce, and SalesForce is always up to date, why spend an hour each week reviewing what’s in SalesForce?
A VC once told me “sales is sloppy.” I’ll never forget that. In most sales organizations, this is true. Sales professionals, without strict and rigorous guidance, rules, and infrastructure, will devolve into haphazard mercenaries. Sales organizations, like all organizations, tend towards entropy. The weekly sales forecast review meeting is an explicit fight against the natural tendency towards entropy.
Sales is 90% science, 10% art. The weekly sales forecast meeting will force everyone in the company — the CEO, CFO, VP Sales, VP Marketing, VP Customer Success, VP product, and sales reps — to be honest with everyone else about the state of things. This will reduce entropy, and inform decision making throughout the company. Most importantly, it will force sales reps to be honest with themselves.
Who should attend?
VP Sales — this is the VP Sales’ meeting. She should “own” this meeting. More on the VP Sales’ role below.
CEO — she should be providing the highest level of accountability, and be thinking about the implications of every word said on the other functions of the business
VP Finance — she should be asking hard questions of the sales reps to ensure that the company is on track to achieve its goals. Sales reps should be prepared to answer the 4 key finance questions for a given deal: 1) when will the deal close 2) how much revenue is at stake 3) what is the probability of closing 4) what are the payment terms?
VP Product — she is probably not necessary when the ACV is < $50K. But when the ACV exceeds $50K and there is explicitly some level of customization delivered to each customer, the VP Product should be blessing each deal for product/customer fit. This can happen outside the scope of the forecast meeting so the VP Product may not attend every forecast, but she should be coming 1–2 times / month.
VP Customer Success — she needs to know exactly how many deals are closing in the next 30/60/90 days, and what those customers are expecting. Sales reps need to be prepared to discuss any idiosyncrasies that the customer success organization needs to know about.
VP Marketing — she needs to know where the big deals are coming from. And she needs to be prepared to ask the AEs questions about their deals to learn and incorporate those learnings further up the funnel. The forecast meeting won’t be the discussion forum for the VP marketing to dive deep with AEs, but the discussion in the meeting will prompt further discussion afterwards.
Account Executives — they should be ready to report on each deal for all of the stakeholders above.
Since this is likely the only forum in the company where you have the sales team, VP Finance, VP Customer Success, and CEO together, it’s natural to want to review new processes and procedures for the sales organization during this meeting.
This meeting should operate under military-grade in discipline. The cadence should be rhythmic. Introducing open-ended, question-induced, discussion based content will ultimately take away from the purpose of the meeting: reducing entropy in the sales process and all of the downstream effects on the business. All procedural matters can be handled after the forecast meeting, or in another forum, but never before.
The agenda of the meeting should be as follows:
VP Sales: “The revenue closed so far this month is $A. The target for this quarter is $X. We are (not) on pace to hit the target this month. The revenue closed so far this quarter is $B. The target for this quarter is $Y. We are (not) on pace to hit the target this quarter. The revenue closed so far this year is $C. We are (not) on pace to hit the target this year.”
While stating the above, the VP Sales should display cumulative revenue charts on a dashboard (I prefer InsightSquared).
There are a few reasons for the strict nature of the above. It will force the VP Sales to own the numbers each week in front of her most important constituents. Every second of every day, the VP Sales needs to feel the pressure of the upcoming weekly forecast meeting. She will know she will be grilled on Friday each week if things aren’t going according to plan. This is a great source of accountability. Next…
VP Sales: “Next we’ll briefly review deals that have been closed since the last forecast meeting.”
Every opportunity discussed from this point forwards — closed and open — should already be open in a unique tab in Chrome. Each tab should have the relevant summary view to highlight the key information that is being presented.
For each deal that’s closed in the last week, the AE that closed the deal should recap the following info: date closed, relevant financial information,, did it close per the original forecast, if not, why not, what problem does the customer perceive, why does the customer perceive us as the best solution, why do they feel a need to act now, and how will they measure success? For deals > $50K, there are likely idiosyncrasies for each deal. In those cases, the AE should also highlight those idiosyncrasies, as well as any unique customer expectations.
This should not be the first time anyone in attendance has been informed of this information. Everyone who is attending this meeting should have already been sent the SalesForce link shortly after the deal closed. So why review the past in the explicitly forwards-looking, weekly forecast meeting? To give AEs a chance to shine. After the deals-that-have-closed recap, the remainder of this meeting is existentially about grilling AEs and calling BS on what’s in SalesForce and what they say. It helps AEs to have a few seconds of fame before being grilled. Next…
VP Sales: “Next we’ll review the pipeline on a per deal basis, in the order of forecasted close date through [end of current quota period, ideally monthly, but maybe quarterly]. The AE who owns each deal will present the opportunity.”
For each opportunity, the opportunity owner should state each of the following: why buy?, why us?, why now?, forecasted close date, forecasted $, probability of closing, use case/industry (if relevant), stage, the roles of the individuals involved, and the diagnosis/prescription for each individual (more on that below).
What do I mean by the diagnosis/prescription for each individual? In any sale involving multiple stakeholders, each individual has a set of requirements that must be completed before blessing the purchase of your product. First, those requirements must be understood (diagnosis). Next, the AE must satisfy those requirements (prescription).
There are a few universal in the enterprise sales process. You may add some of your own:
Approver — the person who literally signs the check. Sometimes a VP, but usually in procurement
Decision Maker — usually a VP. Can be the same as the Approver.
Procurement — other individuals in procurement who are not the final approver
Legal — other individuals in legal who are the final approver
IT — self explanatory
Recommender — a subject matter expert who the VP relies on. This is not a business analyst or IT person, but someone somewhat senior who will likely use the product daily and will have strong opinions about the capabilities of the product and the usefulness for the organization
Influencer — business analysts, lower-level recommenders
3rd parties — consultants like Accenture/Deloitte, if applicable
Every deal must have an Approver, Decision Maker, Legal, and Procurement person explicitly identified. The other roles are optional, though usually helpful. Typically, the more of them an AE has put into SalesForce, the more real the deal is. (Note, SalesForce’s default UI for role-management for opportunities isn’t great, but it’s highly functional and gets the job done).
For each role in the opportunity, the AE must outline her requirements in order to move the deal forwards. It should be assumed that anyone whose criteria haven’t been met has veto power.
Everyone should come to this meeting preparred. That means the VP finance has reviewed pipeline dashboards and YTD revenue numbers prior to the meeting and has flagged which deals concern her. The VP Customer Success has flagged deals in which she has questions. etc. And most importantly, AEs must know the exact status of each deal they own. They should know answers to every question above without needing to look in SalesForce, even though they’ve already answered every question above in writing in SalesForce.
The content outlined above is extensive by design. A small minority of organizations have the discipline to make it through all of that content in one hour. Those that do are exceptional.
In addition to preparation, there are two other unbreakable rules: no names, and no anecdotes. It’s incredibly tempting for AEs to simply ramble on about a deal. “Bob told me he’ll get back to me next week about X, Joe said that I satisfied his requirements, and I’m going on site next week with Joanne to review and satisfy her requirements.” To a CEO that has a million other things going on, that is 100% useless information. Who are Bob, Joe, and Joanne? What are their roles in the buying process?
The rule of no names and no anecdotes forces clarity. Rather than naming people by name, AEs should reference individuals involved in the opportunity by role. This provides clarity to everyone at the table what’s going on in a deal. And rather than discuss anecdotes about travel, dates of phone calls, and myriad details, AEs should be forced to state everything in abstract terms. This brings clarity to the sales process. Consider the following two statements:
“I’m currently working with Sally and Lisa at Acme Corporation. Sally is really concerned about [problem]. I’ve talked to her about it and think she’s happy with us. She really likes [feature] that solves [problem]. I don’t see why she won’t support us in the buying committee meeting. Lisa on the other hand is a real prickler. She keeps giving me new hoops to jump through, and Bob supports every hurdle she throws my way! The most recent is [other problem.] I had a call with her this week to review it, but she was rushed and had to jump off after just 5 minutes so we rescheduled for 45 minutes next week. Don’t worry, I asked her explicitly if she can guarantee 45 minutes next week and she said yes. I may pull in [VP Product] and [VP Customer Success].”
“There are two recommenders on this deal. Both are Senior [job title] and have been with the company for 10+ years. Both command respect from the decision maker, and the decision maker will not move forward without both of their blessings. One recommender has expressed concern about [problem], and I have explicitly outlined why [feature] solves that problem. She has agreed that this feature adequately address her needs, and that she will support us in the buying committee meeting. The other is very concerned about [another problem]. I will know whether our current feature set addresses her needs by [date], and will coordinate with [VP Product] and [VP Customer Success] accordingly.”
Every AE will naturally tend towards the first statement rather than the second. Why? Because AEs spend most of their time talking with people. AEs are “people persons.” The 1st example is a “people person” response. The 2nd is refined, abstracted, pure sales-reporting statement.
The 1st example is nearly useless to busy executives. There is no context for the actual diagnosis and prescriptions discussed, and way too much detail about the inner workings of each. The 2nd example provides all of the right context, and frames every piece of information in a light in which the rest of the organization can understand what’s going on. The VP Marketing can see threads across customers about features that are worth highlighting more earlier in the sales cycle. And the VP Customer Success will begin to draw out the success criteria for the opportunity.
Running a weekly forecast review is unintuitive at first. Everyone attends the meeting with her own agenda, at least to some extent. AEs often feel it’s a waste of time when the info already exists in SalesForce. But the meeting is just as much for AEs — to keep themselves honest — as it is to report to the organization. The VP Sales has to manage all of the constituents in this meeting closely to keep the meeting on track. It will tend towards entropy if not managed.