8 Factors Toward an Accurate Sales Forecast

Having an accurate forecast is critical to the success of your business. It determines orders, inventory levels and back-up supply. You cannot sell what you don’t have on-hand and non-selling inventory is just cash you can’t have.

Look at these 8 factors to help improve your forecasts and the bottom line.

  1. Sales history. Go back as far as you can with sales that reflect who you are today. If you dramatically changed your sales in the past year, less history is relevant. If you stay steady, a couple of years is great. This should be at the item level as well as by category
  2. Category trends. What is expected for the future of categories? Are they trending up or down? Are they phasing out or about to go wild? Get a factor in place to modify the actual sales history based on your knowledge
  3. This is how sales patterns behave over the year. Some holiday time frames drive more sales etc. Gather these factors at least at the category level and apply the factors as compared to an average week. This can be more intense for categories and items that are ONLY seasonal in nature
  4. If you have an ad coming up or are coming out of one, create adjustment factors to recent sales. Maybe you expect sales to double for the ad, then drop to one-third of that for a couple of weeks after. Create factors to adjust recent sales patterns accordingly
  5. Non-repeatable events. This can be more manual and is often more about single items. Like sales of sandbags increasing when there is a flood threat. The sales from that week will be out of line with what going forward looks like
  6. Refresh forecasts often to catch changes quickly
  7. Keep ordering and replenishment calculations at an actionable level. If you can only ship once a week, calculate needs based on that week
  8. Even the most perfect sales forecast system needs that little boost from the knowledge a computer cannot have

This is just the tip of it all. So much more comes into play, but these will get you started.

The Information Tamer is a data Superhero! Drop her a line here.

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Why Use a CRM?

Shelf full of many loose file foldersLet’s start with what is a CRM.

A CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. It is a database of information about your customers, leads, contacts, services and/ or products.
A place to store the information that can help you make decisions, track activity and gain insights based on what you gather. It can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or complex table based system. There are dozens out there, many customized for different business models. All require some form of customization to fit your business the best.

What can you gain?

This is intimately linked to how much and what quality information you collect and input. Before you even begin, take time to ask yourself a few questions.

  • What are the top 5 things I want to do with my business?
  • What are the top 5 things I want to be able to do with my data?
  • How much CRM management can I handle on my own?
  • What systems or other tools do I want to link to the CRM (QuickBooks, email, etc.)?

One you have these answers, you will have a base to help you make choices about the CRM to choose and get the initial set-up just right.  Most CRMs come with a short one-time free consultation, so having some solid questions and goals specific to your business will help you gain as much as possible.

When you look at the goals you created, you can start thinking about what it is you need to gather to get your answers. Let’s say you want to create specific topics for an upcoming event. If I want to attract my customers and people like them, I need to gather location, interests, affiliations and more. That way I know who my people are and what catches their attention. Yu can add to most systems after development, but the more you define and collect from the beginning, the better your database will be. Be consistent in your gathering and leave as few gaps as possible.

When we think about time, building the CRMs content will take time. Even if you hire the work out, you will need to be available for questions and review. There will always be factors and decisions that require the attention of the person immersed in the business. Be prepared in the beginning for what feels like more work than your old paper/ spreadsheet system. There is always pain before the relief and joy of the changes. It can take 6-9 months depending on the complexity, customization required and how much time you give to it.

So what are some of the things you can do with a CRM?

  • Eliminate the disparate piles of paper, typed up notes and multiple sources for information about your business
  • Have a place to easily look up contact information about your customer and products
  • Track history of activity and purchases
  • Share the information with other team members easily
  • Collect relevant information and learn critical facts about your customers. Demographics, purchase patterns, industry and so much more. This is limited only by what you collect and maintain
  • Find issues with your information. Duplication, spelling issues, missing information
  • Create reports about your customers and products that you can share with your team
  • Create custom lists of customers based on any criteria you have entered. Maybe you need all customers in one zip code, all customers who purchased Package A
  • Create reminders for tasks and activities to keep you on track for follow-up and more

A few cautions:

  • Be thorough in your understanding of “integrates with”. Some CRMs claim an integration that is not two-way (it either only accepts information or sends it, not both). And the level of actual integration can be misleading. Many will require an in-between feed to get the systems synced
  • Most CRMs use the EXACT spelling of the customer name (or business etc.) to match across systems and loaded data. You need to come up with a consistent across the board spelling plan for all systems. They are very sensitive, so literally an extra space at the end will result in no match
  • CRMs can be a little complex to set up. You will most likely need someone very good with a database to get you going. This can be from the provider (can be pricy) and internal expert or a consultant who specializes in CRMs
  • Many CRMs do not create much summary reporting. You may need to export to excel or other tools to do so

The Information Tamer has vast experience with multi-industry, any size businesses. She has worked with several CRMs and various data sources. She is the Data to English Superhero. 

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After the M&A – Let the Synergy Begin

Dirty hands claspingYou have joined two companies, congratulations!
Now get ready for some challenging work. Cultures, personalities and products are a big learning curve. But the biggest challenge can be combining data, information and processes. Let’s see if a few tips will help ease the transition.

There are three main directions you can choose: Maintain completely separate system and processes with a summary share of financials, separate processes with shared common data and a single set of summary reporting, completely merged systems and processes.

Completely separate systems and processes

This works well with entities that are diverse in what they provide or do. There is no need for shared detail data (like inventory levels) and the businesses will continue to operate as two companies. In this scenario, the systems and processes have no integration, no commonality. Both entities continue to operate as they did when separate.

Benefits:

  • Both businesses can continue operating without interruption.
  • Easy to track the businesses separately
  • No expense in integration
  • If you are keeping both sets of employees, no training time is needed
  • Easy to combine summary financials for reporting

Drawbacks:

  • Maintaining two sets of everything
  • Increased staffing for possible duplicate work (two data systems etc.)
  • Increased training if employees change between entities
  • Two sets of processes can mean more institutional knowledge for management

 

Separate systems with common data sources and shared reporting

This works well with companies where you want to keep the entities operating as before the merger, but there I shared data that is critical to decision making. A good example of this is retail, where a warehouse may be shared and each segment must know current inventory levels for distribution and purchasing. Here you would create a shared set of files that feed both systems with the key components. These files become part of the daily processing and properly update each system.

Benefits:

  • Critical shared information is available to each entity
  • If maintaining previous staffing, minimal training is required.
  • Limited down time and coding, as you may be able to just change files sources
  • Still easy to view and track the businesses separately

Drawbacks:

  • Duplicate efforts and system resources
  • Cross-training for switching between companies is still high
  • Two sets of processes can mean more institutional knowledge for management

Completely integrated systems

This can work for any business model. And you can still keep the entities separate by something as simple as a “store number” or code on each business for operations that are separate. It works great when you are truly merging the businesses into one operation. Here you would create one new system or absorb the less sophisticated system into the main one.

Benefits:

  • One system means one set of system support people
  • Fewer individuals may be required to run the overall business
  • Cross-training is not an issue
  • Only one set of processes to maintain and understand
  • Easy summary reporting

Drawbacks:

  • The combination can be a lengthy process
  • Training of changes to systems and processes due to the combination
  • Loss of abilities or information can happen
  • Often creates downtime for the business during testing and integration

 

A few tips, regardless of the method you pick.

  • Don’t be afraid to progress through the different levels as you combine businesses
  • Review both entities for best practices that can be shared to improve the overall performance
  • Keep end users involved, as they provide a good perspective
  • Consider hiring an unbiased resource to help you review what should stay or go
  • Review what is critical for operations of each entity and make sure those components are prioritized or replaced with a substitute
  • Create a new set of terms and definitions. Keep in mind the same terms often mean something different to businesses. Get everyone on board with the same terms quickly
  • Reserve a good amount of time to train people. Show them what will change for them on a daily basis and don’t just spring the changes on them
  • People can be your biggest challenge in the process. Give them a sense of involvement and keep them informed along the way
  • Create process maps for what it was and what you want it to be. This makes it much easier to see the way to the end game

 

The Information Tamer has worked through a number of M&A at differing levels, including training, system integration, process mapping and documentation. She knows how to get things done across varying skill-sets, goals and opinions.

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8 Things You Should Always Know About Your Business

List

Data and information are power to your business. Use your data to get many of these critical factors.

 

Who is your customer – and NO, your customer isn’t everybody.  You need to focus on a couple of bigger groups.  This allows for better marketing and a better chance of finding who you need.

Where are your customers hanging out – whether physically or virtually, you need to be in the places they are.  Look for events, Linkedin Groups, think of business/ news pages related to your business.

What makes your customer tick – what do they like, what is their demographic, get personal with current clients to learn a bit and use sources to learn about the people you are “hunting”.

Your bottom line – always know where you are financially and what you can afford.  Know your break even and remember to pay you before you call it even.

Your offers – be able to talk about packages and offerings.  Physical products – know them inside and out.  Service products – benefits, combinations.

Your sales patterns – when are you slow or busy, what times of year does your product make the most sense for a customer.

Your capacity – know what you can manage and how you are going to handle it if there is too much.

Your skill set – know when it is time to hire someone to help you in the areas you aren’t interested in or the best at.

The Information Tamer is a data superhero and can help you on your path to even greater success. Contact her for what should be next.

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Preventative Medicine for Mergers and Acquisitions

shadow-men-celebrate mergerAn event hosted by Upsize Minnesota and Club Entrepreneur Minneapolis held on March 9,2016 provided a panel discussion on M&A.

The focus was on the events prior to the combination of businesses. Here are some of the pointers I gathered from the well-rounded panel.

The key messages for both the seller and the buyer were:

  • Be prepared
  • Know your numbers
  • Anticipate questions
  • Do your homework
  • Keep emotions at bay
  • Beware of shiny objects syndrome
  • Get advice from experts

For Sellers

  • Deciding when to sell is the toughest decision. Waiting too long to do it can be fatal to the sale.
  • Have an end goal in mind – Set goals for where you WANT to and where you CAN take your business on your own. Watch the market and environment for when your business may be at optimum value.
  • Factors in deciding
    • The size of your business and team
    • Market changes or changes in demand for your product
    • You may be outgrowing your skill set to take the business further
    • There may be a natural point, like a change in family situations or a death of a partner
  • Have a firm “bottom offer” you will accept and stick to it. Make it your true bottom. This should include a dollar figure, options, what happens with people, assets and business name, are you part of the new picture.
  • Get all decision-making partners on the same page. Great damage can be done to any deal if the key players don’t have the same goals.
  • Work with advisors. This is likely the biggest decision, who to trust with your business interests.
    • Get legal, M&A and banking experts on board. Keep in mind, buyers will likely have an A-team, make sure yours is too
    • Make sure you trust and are comfortable with the team you choose
    • Make sure you are important to the team and not just a task
  • Have your finances in order. Don’t let surprises ruin the deal, watch things like add-backs.
  • Prepare for a long process that can be quite stressful. Six to twelve months is very common.

For Buyers

  • Learn as much as you can about the value of the business
    • Clean books
    • Cash Flow
    • EBITDA
    • Minimal add-backs
    • The reasonable forecast for the business
  • Is the business viable without the name, without the people in place?
  • Don’t let shiny objects syndrome distract you from reality. Being enamored with the owner doesn’t equal a good deal.
  • Have your own trusted advisors to keep you on track and talk you into great deals and out of bad ones.
  • Prepare for questions and reasons why your offer isn’t good enough.
  • Prepare to deal with emotions. Remember it is likely a business the seller built or was built by their family. It is a special thing and selling may have been a tough decision.
  • Prepare for the walk away and to have your own line in the sand.

A few other things

The panel spoke a bit about reasons for failure both before and after the deal. These centered around the people and emotions involved.

While data before the deal can drive the deal, the combination of data and processes after the fact can be the most critical factor in success. The panel did not touch on how that can work. However, if you watch for my upcoming blog After M&A – Let the Synergy Begin you can learn some great pointers.

Thanks to Club Entrepreneur, Upsize Minnesota and the panel for a great day. Check out the Upsize transcript of the event.

Oh and the panel was a little shy about sharing resources that can get you going, but being a little prepared before you hire advisors is a great idea. Here are a couple I found.
What Should Everyone Know About Mergers And Acquisitions? 
9 Key Ways To Prepare For A Merger And Acquisition Transaction
20 Key Due Diligence Activities In A Merger And Acquisition Transaction

The Information Tamer is a data superhero who can make your business even better. Drop her a line here.

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8 Keys to Radical Collaboration

diverse-handsRadical Collaboration –
8 Key Ingredients

 

I recently attended the Philanthropy 2.0: Radical Collaboration event with the Charities Review Council. As I listened to the panel discuss some of the key ingredients to RC in the non-profit world, I realized they need to apply to for-profit world as well.

Here are the key factors I gleaned from the event.

  1. Energy – You need all involved to have a desire for collaboration, a goal to get things done and the passion to work toward the goals.
  2. Ego Struggles Resolution – Check your ego out in the car, even before you get to the door. Approach the agenda with the idea that the room is full of experts with ideas. Even if you are the best in the room, little is accomplished by making sure everyone knows it.
  3. Get People Interested – People are more open, will work harder and come up with more ideas if they have a stake in it or you have captured their interest.
  4. Make It Personal – Show people how it matters to them. How it will impact people or a business they care about.
  5. The Power of Groups – Use each other to find answers you could not find on your own. Brainstorm, bounce ideas, decision board it, whatever works for the group. It is amazing how just talking out loud about a challenge or idea breeds thoughts. People pull from life experiences and others thoughts to create something new.
  6. Be Open to Letting Go – Sometimes the original idea isn’t the best or most needed path. Collaboration can often come up with a whole new path that will lead to success or is more mission critical.
  7. Be Available and Accessible – Be ready for conversations to happen when ideas arrive. Listen to the people impacted by the decisions. Seek to hear the voices of your shareholders and customers.
  8. Let Go of Leadership – You may need to share the wealth. Someone in the room may be more qualified to lead the charge. Focus more on individuals in charge of steps than having a figurehead.

It is about realizing the solution is bigger than and more important than just you. Let the success of the project be your accolades.

Want to talk further? Drop The Information Tamer a line. results@theinformationtamer.com

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7 Things to Ask When Creating a Database

questionsAsk yourself these questions before you even have your first meeting.  they will give you a great head start!

  1. What is the size of the database? How many records will I grow to? AKA, how many lines are in my list? This can determine the options for support. A few hundred can go just about anywhere, 10s of thousands and we start talking about full on table databases.
  2. How flexible do you need the design and layout to be? Once you have it, will you need to change the things you look at? Will you want to be able to add or delete columns etc?
  3. What are the top 5 things you want to be able to do with your data? Is it creating contact lists? Summarize sales reports etc.
  4. What metrics (aspects, pieces of info, columns, attributes) do you need to include to answer your questions? Or even what do you already have that you need to include?
  5. How often does it need updates and who needs to do them?
  6. Does it need to work with/ communicate with other databases or systems you already have?
  7. How many people will need to access or use the database?

Need help?  Send a note to results@theinformationtamer.com

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Managing Change

changeIt is said that people do not like change. This is only partially true. If we hated all change, we would never buy a new car, change our hair, get new clothes or paint our homes. What people don’t like is change over which they have no control. As we must face change in business, the focus needs to be on adding as much control and participation as possible.
While often little can be done to impact the change events themselves, some can be done to help implement and facilitate it. To slightly paraphrase a saying “the lack of knowledge breeds fear, uncertainty and doubt.” It also feeds rumors, impedes productivity and can create a negative work environment.

Here are a few pointers:
• Share what you can as soon as you can with as many as you can at one time. Bring the team together and explain what you know and what you can share at the time.
• Discourage speculation. At any point in a major change process, dozens of outcomes still exist. (Oh yes, even change can change). Talk about the danger of what ifs. The best bet is to keep doing what they do best. Show strength during uncertainty and management will notice.
• Don’t allow rumors to flourish and grow. A very challenging task, but emphasize that the more who don’t play the game, the faster the game ends.
• Allow the questions. Tell them when you don’t know. AND tell them when you know but cannot share. If you can, tell them a timeline at least. Knowing timing helps to add a small sense of control.
• Once all know what is changing, bring the team together to explain what it entails, how they are impacted and create a good time table. Ask for their ideas on how to make the transition a smooth one. Allow them to express concerns and work to find answers to calm fears.

There will still be obstacles. Some will try to fight change and create as much drama as possible. Pull them aside and talk it through. Help waylay fear as much as you can. Let them know the negative impact they have on others and how they may be viewed. Ask how you can help.
One other great weapon for change is to be prepared. See my blog entries on “Streamlining Reporting” and “Document Until It Hurts” for tips on efficiency and keeping a written log of everything done in your area. Sometimes change means downsizing. Having a strong plan in place of your team’s strengths and weaknesses can make the decisions easier. Succession Planning is a fantastic tool for this.
Need someone to help plan, document, co-ordinate and implement change? Drop a line to results@theinformationtamer.com and lets talk.

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PLAN for the Perfect (OK close) Project

planningKnow What You Need Before You Start Measuring

When you start a new project, for goodness sake, SET GOALS!
Create these goals clearly and concisely. Make sure they are measureable, that you can know if they have been met. Limit yourself to 3 goals at most for each project. Going past that likely means you are taking too much on in one gulp. This can result in murky results, missed deadlines and potential project failure. Having clear goals actually help you break down the steps required to meet them.
Goal setting needs to include someone from each team/ group involved.

• Management to get signoff and set desired outcomes.
• Users to state how they can see it working on a day to day basis.
• Tech to talk about what is possible and give time lines.

Once the goals are set:

• Determine how you will measure outcomes.
• Create tools that will help keep you on track.
• What are the milestones? (these can help determine a derailment early on if they are not met)
• Who has what responsibilities?

Keep in mind that goals may need to have some minor adjustments as new discoveries are made.
The basics of SMART goals are solid and work great. That is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Let me give you two samples:

Don’t use – I want a report of sales patterns.
Use – I want to see weekly sales patterns that reflect ebbs and flows of seasonal performance, so we can create marketing plans around those trends.

Don’t use – I want to increase sales.
Use – I want a 10% increase in sales revenue within 3 months

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The Information Tamer talks to WIN

Why Analytics Should be 
Your Trusted Adviser

By Deborah Gleason   

When I tell people I provide analytics, I often get a blank look. I imagine it may be the very look you have on your face when I suggest that analytics could be your new best friend. As an “information tamer” allow me to explain.

So what are analytics, anyway?    

Basically, it means collecting and analyzing data (information) to find patterns to help you understand what is happening in your business. By tracking and measuring, you take off the blindfold and see what adjustments need to be made to achieve better results. 

And just how could analytics be a trusted adviser?

Here are some ways you can befriend analytics:  

Have a plan that lays out the steps needed from initial contact to delivery to follow-up. Use a checklist to go through with each customer. Notice which steps work well and which could be improved. Adjust accordingly.

Create and use a database of your customers whether you have 5 or 500. It allows you to sort and filter your customers by key factors. Include:  

  • Demographic informationthings that would help you recognize your customer on the street.
  • Record your contact points – how and when you last contacted your customer. Keep track of how many touches to get a sale and quickly see when it is time to reach out again.
  • How much and what your customers purchase.
    * This helps you to see a sales pattern and trends for inventory building, marketing and deciding which products or services to enhance or eliminate.
  • Track results of marketing efforts. Watch what happens to sales patterns after an event. By keeping continual track of weekly sales, you can eventually compare to last week, last month and last year. Be careful to not attribute a sales spike to a marketing event when a time of year is the reason (e.g. holiday or business planning season)
  • Know your $ numbers. When it comes to finance, make sure to track your sales, expenses and profits. Include everything that went into the business, so you can truly know you are making money. You getting “paid” is an expense that should be there. Know what your sales need to be to make enough to pay you and all other expenses. Especially know what spikes you may need to cover as investments *whether training, marketing, rented space etc.

When determining what to analyze, limit it to factors you can and are willing to make changes around. Don’t measure what you already know. If you sell only to women, that doesn’t need to be something you track.

Analytics is not only about numbers. Study the industry you are in or the industries you serve. Read blogs (just type blogs about… in your search engine), read trade publications on upcoming changes and trend predictions.  

Arm yourself with knowledge and let analytics be your friend. 


Deborah Gleason is The Information Tamer. She helps businesses collect, understand and use their data. She also volunteers as the social media manager for WIN.

  
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