Modern Selling: Six Ways to Help Salespeople Produce Accurate Forecasts

Dec. 13, 2023
How to understand the difference between forecasting and opportunity management

This article originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of Security Business magazine. When sharing, don’t forget to mention Security Business magazine on LinkedIn and @SecBusinessMag on Twitter.

One of the most common challenges that sales leaders have is getting salespeople to provide accurate forecasts. There are many reasons for this failure – mostly pointed at salespeople – but one reason not often mentioned is that sales managers do not do a good job of leading these activities.

Here are six ideas for sales managers to take an active role in helping salespeople become better forecasters:

1. Understand the difference between forecasting and opportunity management.

This is misunderstood by most salespeople and managers, so don’t feel behind if you think these two things are the same. Understanding the difference is fundamental to producing accurate forecasts.

Opportunity management is the activity of managing a pipeline of sales that can possibly close in the future, typically done in a CRM system. This activity is ongoing. Managers should discuss open opportunities with each salesperson on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

Forecasting is a one-time event that happens monthly or quarterly. During this event, salespeople present opportunities, types of products and services, and dollar amount that they think will close during a specific period – typically monthly or quarterly.

Understanding the difference between these two activities will enable your salespeople to apply the appropriate thinking and attention to each.

2. Establish a specific day and time each week by which the opportunity pipeline must be updated.

When managers remind salespeople about updating their pipeline, salespeople often feel micro-managed. To overcome this unfair but common dynamic, provide one deadline that everyone knows – e.g. Tuesdays at 8 a.m. – and send one reminder the day before.

Don’t chase them or remind them for the rest of the week. Let them know what is expected of them, when it is expected, and why it is important. If they are not performing the updates, then correct their behavior in your opportunity management meetings that should be held every week or two.

3. Keep it simple.

Don’t make forecasting or opportunity management complicated or laborious. Keep the number of stages and probabilities at five or less. Do not require unreasonable information in the opportunity report and require only helpful information in the forecasting report.

4. Make forecasting a special (and fun) event.

Forecasting is not a periodic review of the opportunity report in your CRM. Forecasting should be a special event between a salesperson and leadership conducted at the very beginning of every month or quarter. Make it a big deal. Make it fun. Have each salesperson present their forecast to leadership as though they were presenting to a customer and provide coaching on their presentation skills. This might be the only time they receive such coaching. Each meeting should last about 20 or 30 minutes. Hold the meetings in the morning and bring in lunch for the whole team afterward.

5. Hold salespeople accountable to their forecast, with the intention of making them better.

Once you have the forecasting numbers, opportunities, and services that are scheduled to be sold, hold your salespeople accountable throughout the month or quarter. This exercise will help them understand the importance of their forecasting to the rest of the company and that leadership is hiring and planning according to their projections.

6. Create a dialogue with salespeople during both opportunity management and forecasting exercises. 

Neither forecasting nor opportunity management should be considered monologues. Salespeople make presentations, but management must engage to understand the opportunities, providing coaching and challenging the salespeople on their assumptions. After several of these meetings, salespeople will prepare for the meetings in greater detail because they expect their managers to engage at such a level.

Chris Peterson is the founder and president of Vector Firm (, a sales consulting and training company built specifically for the security industry. Use "Security Business" as a coupon code to receive a 10% lifetime discount at To request more info about the company, visit