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Discount your projections. Make surprises positive.

Lots of people do or will depend upon your leadership in driving growth, stability, and profitability. There will always be times when salespersons or associates provide you with projections for future sales that reflect their inherent optimism.

Whether you in turn report to a CEO, a board or just your bank, you must reconcile such projections against the commitment of resources that will drain short term cash in expectation of revenues.  Hiring call center employees, building raw materials or finished goods inventory, making that decision to expand space, all are made as a result of pressures from the past or expectation of growth in the future.

So you bake some amount of these projections into your own budget and forecast and make decisions based upon the result.  Some of us who’ve had extensive experience in senior management have lived by a rule of the 50’s.  Fifty percent of the salesperson’s forecast rolls into cutting 50% of the sales VP forecast, making 25% of the initial salesperson forecast the operating budget.  In a smaller company, the tendency to believe the numbers originally projected is higher because there are fewer levels of management and therefore more danger of overstatement.  And some are so good at forecasting that this entire issue seems to be of no value.  I had that discussion recently with several CEOs.  I left the room wondering if they truly acted upon forecasts without change.

[Email readers, continue here…]  Even if you believe future revenues to be a solid guarantee, it is prudent to discount the numbers by some percentage so that planning for expenses is more conservative.  Everyone feels great when surprises are positive.  We don’t celebrate just making our plan, we expect it.  Instead, we celebrate overachievement and all it represents.  Bankers, the board, shareholders, employees all love to see success.  Think of the public company announcements of earnings, you see them instantly compared to analyst’s projections. The market punishes anything but a positive surprise most of the time, a reflection that this insight is a part of the culture of the public markets.

Why pressure yourself, endanger the business and lose credibility by risking missed forecasts?  We are rarely rewarded for the accuracy of our forecasts, and always are dunned when there is a shortfall.

  • Judy Connolly

    Our company is all projections Dave. We underestimated the projections using a 15% growth rate for projections. 15% is a low growth rate for our start-up. We used a formula based on Warren Buffets system, if a company has a 10% growth rate minus the treasury rate he’ll tend to buy or invest in it. For our purposes we bumped it up to 15% due to our projected potential growth of 200%+.

    So I believe you are correct to under estimate it, and in the end beat the estimated projections.

  • Ken Neeld

    I agree that discounting forecasts as a matter of course is not prudent. I went down that path in the past with little success. I have had far better results by setting the expectation that forecasts are what we expect to achieve and make plans around that. Discounting sales forecasts requires two sets of numbers, one from the sales team and one for operations for planning purposes. I prefer one set of numbers that everyone buys into and is held accountable for.

  • John Morris

    Always good to beat the guidance. However, discounting can become a slippery slope. Discounting may undermine accountability and team confidence. Holding team accountable for the KPIs supporting a forecast is a best practice. You can always manage budgets on lower expected revenues.

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