A realistic sales forecast can help you plan resources, and spot problems, while you still have time to do something about them. Making sales forecasting into an exact science is always going to be a challenge. There are so many variables to achieving a forecast that is reliable, reasoned and realistic.
Do you struggle to be objective when forecasting sales opportunities? Strong relationships, warm referrals, gut feeling, competitive advantages can all give you that warm fuzzy feeling about a deal, yet how often does something go wrong?
The timeline slips, your influencer leaves, the budget gets reallocated, the business gets acquired, or just too busy. Alongside this, you’re relying on your sales team to be objective, not optimistic, about the steps taken to qualify the deal.
How does Flowlens support more reliable sales forecasting?
Alongside our user-friendly lead management, task, email and interaction tracking and quotation tools, Flowlens Sales Forecast reporting help you understand the decisions your sales team make about the deals they expect to win.
Define and quantify your sales cycle
Flowlens helps you define what your sales process looks like, step by step, and what makes a substantive change from one state to another. If you haven’t analysed the journey of successful sales, and the ones that go wrong, how can you make reliable predictions about future deals?
For example, here’s our sales cycle, comprising of 5 main stages. For us, first step is to qualify the need exists, and the company has a firm timeline, budget and authority to proceed. Next we use online demos and workshops with influencers and decision makers to validate how Flowlens will do the jobs they need done.
After validating the need and requirement, and reviewing the costs associated with the solution we move to proposal stage, however we don’t register a substantial step forward until we know we’ve been short-listed. A verbal or email confirmation marks the next stage, however the deal isn’t 100% until the contract is signed.
At each stage we assign a percentage value, allowing us to quantify the value of the pipeline based on probabilities, not gut feeling.
Visualise your sales forecast
Working all these calculations out and displaying them over time is something Flowlens does for you. So you can see how your forecast is shaping up over time, and across the stages of the sales cycle.
Driving better sales qualification
Flowlens gives you the tools to capture lead qualification information as the deal progresses.
Create simple forms that capture essential information as you move along the cycle. This tool will keep your sales team’s focus on answering the right questions consistently and ensuring they have clear answers. If there’s no clear answer, there’s no basis for moving an opportunity along the pipeline.
Track accuracy of deal stages, values and forecast close dates
Flowlens sales lead activity log tracks the changes you make to the sales stages, values and forecast date. How often has a ‘hot’ deal slipped from month to month? Help your team make more accurate predictions by testing previous decisions and learning against the latest hot prospect.
In summary, Flowlens provides user-friendly tools to support day-to-day sales activity and help your sales team work more efficiently. The tools help you manage more effectively, challenging qualification assumptions, and supporting an accurate forecast model that works for your business.
Flowlens works alongside your existing accounting package. This means you can stick with what you know (and save the money you’ve invested already), whilst adding a powerful suite of management tools to help your business grow.
Flowlens is a modular SME cloud software system that manages sales, stock, purchasing, production and after-sales service. Flowlens integrates with Sage 50 & 200, Quickbooks Online, Kashflow and Xero.
With modules starting at £149 per month for 5 users, Flowlens is highly affordable for SMEs looking to grow.
Flowlens helps you avoid duplicating work, and rekeying data. So, Flowlens integrates with your accounts software to pass through sales order invoices and approved purchase invoice data automatically. This saves time, and avoids rekeying errors.
How Does It Work?
All tasks associated with managing sales orders, purchases and stock movements/taking are handled in Flowlens.
You accounts package remains the master for creating your monthly and annual accounts, and other functions such as payroll. Flowlens Stock and Project reporting tools can also provide you with a current Work In Progress and Stock values to be added into management accounts when required.
Benefits of integrating your accounts package
Keep the system you are familiar with.
Many businesses have invested their time and money in an accounts package. By integrating with Flowlens you will enhance this investment rather than having to start from scratch as with most ‘all in one’ systems.
Minimise License Costs and Control Access to Sensitive Info
Many businesses try to use their accounts software to do jobs they weren’t designed for. This usually means giving more staff access to the system, increasing license costs and/or risking sensitive business data being accessible. By integrating with Flowlens your staff will have access to purpose built tools to do their job, limiting access to relevant information only.
Grow at your own pace
By keeping your existing accounts package, you are maintaining a solid and familiar foundation for your business. Your finance team, and accountancy practice will be familiar with your setup. Flowlens offers a modular ‘flow and grow’ subscription service which lets you gradually adopt features and add more users as required. This lets you focus on top priorities, without paying for, or getting distracted by less important features.
How does integration work?
As part of our Customer Success implementation service, we we work with you to setup the integration with your accounts system. Each accounts package has it’s own integration process. We take care to guide you through this process to help you ensure accurate and consistent transfer of information between the systems.
Accountants! Do you provide cloud accountancy advice and services to your clients? Flowlens lets you expand the potential of modern accounting products. We’re eager to partner with practices who want to help their clients grow and streamline their businesses. Please contact us to learn more.
We built Flowlens in response to SME customers who needed an easy to use, ERP-CRM toolkit to help them grow.
Our customers may be small, but they think big. They make, refurbish, supply and service all kinds of tangible assets. From industrial plant & machinery, to ATVs, to street furniture, to intricate aerospace components, and even buildings.
We are proud of the range of industries and applications our product supports. But what’s the one thing they all have in common?
They all want to GROW!
They want to grow their turnover. They want to grow their profitability. They want to enhance their customer service.
Our customers inspire us with their vision and determination to bring their product to market. They energise us with their passion for their businesses, their products, and their customers. We provide the tools that reduce wasteful manual effort and nurture customers for long term gain.
Our customers have integrated business processes, but the old tools were disjointed, manual and inefficient.
Building a sales pipeline and converting orders. Managing production, stock and operations. Delivering timely and effective customer care. These are too often disjointed, duplicated and inefficient processes. Flowlens unites these business critical functions in one system, removing waste to create an platform for business growth.
Our customers don’t accept the inefficiencies of outdated processes and ‘silo’ thinking.
Our customers don’t accept the inefficiencies of outdated processes and ‘silo’ thinking. They demand tools that nurture leads, convert sales, deliver on promises and develop relationships. They demand reliable business performance information. They demand simplicity, because complexity slows them down.
Our customers may be SMEs, but their vision and capability is huge, and Flowlens provides the tools to achieve that vision.
If you share that drive, determination and vision, we’d be delighted to have you on board. Please shoot me a message at email@example.com or book a demo.
How to eat the software elephant in your business.
Considering a new software solution for your business? Across our team, we’ve worked on countless software implementations across SME and large companies. In every case the more you prepare, the better the outcome. Prepare and plan your procurement and project implementation with these lessons in mind.
Keep your team on board
Different people and different departments will have a different outlook on changing systems in your business. You might be ready to drive change and achieve efficiencies, but is the business behind you?
Without team buy-in, short term patience and long term adoption will suffer. The change must be something that is worthwhile in the day to day work that each person carries out.
Some people may not understand how software can enhance their own effectiveness and help the company achieve its goals, but they will be aware of how their own work could be made more efficient. Most people will happily engage in a project that will give them more time for value-added activity, and reduce repetitive chores.
With most people working within a defined function, it can be difficult for them to understand the impact their work as on others. They may even begrudge change that doesn’t impact them, but has huge benefits for customers and profitability.
Get feedback and ideas from across the team and you’ll see greater buy-in.
Keep it simple
Most of us drive cars that are sold in various standard configurations. This standardisation makes it easier for the manufacturer to make, so it costs you less. It’s also cheaper to maintain, as your service mechanic will be familiar with the car.
We accept this simplicity in buying cars, so why not our business systems?
When considering software, we’re tempted to ask for special customisation and changes that suit particular processes that have grown up with the business? These changes cost money to define, build and maintain, and they also impact standard parts of the software, potentially preventing access to improvements the developer is making.
Consider examining your processes to reduce complexity and variability. Then figure out how the streamlined versions could be supported by existing software workflows.
This will have two benefits:
1. The software can be delivered faster ‘out of the box’, so you get a return quicker.
2. Enjoy your faster, leaner processes! (And hassle free updates to your software in the future.)
Keep it bite-sized
Can you eat an elephant in one bite? I thought not, then why would you try implement a new software system in one go?
It’s hard enough to make a change in business whilst keeping customers happy, and orders fulfilled.
Where are the most obvious weaknesses or inefficiencies in your business? Can you implement change here first, and reduce the risk, and free up time to tackle further challenges?
Often companies do not have strong purchasing and stock management processes. This function is relatively easy to bring into a new system, iron out the kinks in parts/materials coding, supplier lists, purchasing practices and goods received.
Another area is sales order processing. Getting orders out faster, means faster time to cash, but in many businesses this involves excessive paperwork. Making it easier for your sales team to secure orders, and you’ve got a clear success story to engage the rest of the business.
Keep your accounting package
You’ve probably invested heavily in your current accounting software and infrastructure, yet most software vendors have their own version built into their product.
Whether it’s a better option or not, you’ve no choice but to force upheaval on the Finance team as well as your Sales and Ops.
Modern cloud solutions are ready and able to integrate with existing software, whether it’s for accounting, marketing or any other purpose.
So now you can keep what is working, and tackle the core challenges that are really holding you back.
Keep your data clean
Your data is the lifeblood of the business. Readiness for a new software system relies on having good data to start. Look at your business KPIs and understand what data is essential to you. Most companies are spending time and money recording data that is no longer relevant or useful. Many also maintain multiple versions of the same data in different business silos.
When you think about your processes, how much legacy data collection and duplication can you remove?
Clean, consistent and relevant parts, customer, products and asset data will make your investment in software more powerful.
Keep the customer in mind
What will make your customer happy? Probably clear communication, fast delivery, fair pricing and a quality product.
Are your current processes optimised around your customer goals?
For example, think about capturing customer requirements in the sales process. Waste and cost often creep in because inaccurate requirements have made it all the way through to production. Worst case, you don’t find out until the wrong configuration has been delivered!
Help your Sales and Operations teams to define available products, options and upgrades. Quote only what you can deliver. Process orders based on an agreed bill of materials. Build only what has been signed off by the customer.
Start small, solve critical problems and bottlenecks: typically sales order processing, stock management and purchasing involve lots of manual effort. Address these inefficiencies and create time to address wider issues.
Don’t throw everything out and start again. Modern software can and should talk to each other. Make your existing investments work alongside new functionality.
Standard work makes money – how can you take variability out of your business and actually serve your customers better?
Keep your team on board, focus on the vision and how you will get there together.
Today’s business technology software vendors have learnt the hard lessons from poor practices and self serving selling methods of traditional vendors.
But how do you, as a potential purchaser, spot a new age supplier from an old age dinosaur?
Consult our good practice software vendor checklist below.
Tip 1 – Satisfy yourself that the vendor cares about their customers
In today’s world, businesses need partners who will be there for the long term. Software vendors will take the time to build relationships, understand the business and the processes.
They will work from your perspective, not from their pre-determined ideas.
Tip 2 – Ensure the vendor will offer truly tailored solutions
Modern software avoids complexity and confusion by mirroring your business process and information requirements. Your team will understand the software and adopt it readily because it talks their language.
Most importantly, modern systems should have a single data store, ensuring you have one source of customer and operational data, without all the duplication headaches, complexity and cost.
Tip 3 – Ask their customers if the vendor will provide value for money
Traditional software usually entails complex licensing costs, options and upgrades, and you’re paying for many features included in the product that your business doesn’t even need.
Today’s new generation tools deliver only what you want and need.
Has thinking about how to choose the right business technology software vendor made you want to improve how you manage it? Read our articles below to get more tips and advice on how to improve your business.
Technology reaches into every part of our lives. Most of us carry a small computer every waking moment, yet many of us feel challenged by technology when it comes to business.
If you don’t overcome your fears, you’re in a weak position and giving your competitors an advantage. You can be sure they’re using technology to win your customers and serve them so effectively that you’ll never get them back.
Now that isn’t a price worth paying. Here are three of the most common fears and what you can do about them.
Fear 1: You’re not a ‘techie’ person
When confronted with technology decisions, a lot of people say “I’m not a techie person,”’ and then switch off, defeated. They assume that discussions about software for business are technical and therefore confusing and difficult To understand.
This is the easiest fear to overcome. Think of the technology you use every day. If you had this same irrational fear you’d never answer the phone, microwave a bowl of soup, drive a car or even watch the telly.
The reason those everyday activities are second nature is that we’re motivated to obtain the value derived. The first time we drive it’s a nerve wracking experience but gradually we learn the basics, we build confidence and, before we know it, we’re off.
It’s fair to say that many technology companies have a bad name. They promise a lot, charge more, and seldom deliver on their promises.
Traditional software companies want your business processes to adapt to meet their software. Their typically bloated, expensive and complex software can be difficult for your team to adopt, resulting in cost and productivity implications.
Dinosaur technology companies sell systems that are often designed to work in one department, so you need to buy separate software for each department. This means you have multiple systems, duplicated data, and more costs when you want them to talk to each other.
Why wouldn’t you be concerned about buying a technology solution that could fail?
The good news is that the new generation of companies have learned the lessons of the past. You can choose a technology partner that cares about your business, will talk in plain English and wants to make a difference.
The new generation solution providers have lived, watched and learned from the mistakes of the past. Thankfully the underlying improvement in the technologies available now means that a new approach that delivers results can be achieved.
Placing your faith in technology means that you are at the mercy of the security and robustness of your systems.
According to research 77% of IT professionals cite employees as the weakest link in cloud security. Unsurprisingly, in 2015, employee education will be a primary focus for 89% of organisations.
There are various good practice steps that your company and your business technology software vendor can – and should – take to mitigate the security risk. These included basics such as robust password protection policies and accountable security and information policies that are enforced.
Keep things simple – define what your business strategy demands and allow that knowledge to drive your technology requirements.
Be savvy – technology has historically been sold as complex, needing to be implemented and maintained by expensive specialists. This doesn’t need to be the case. If you are in control of your processes, you are in control of what you need to buy.
Buy smart – purchasing software shouldn’t be a one-off and it should be worth every penny. Look for a technology partner that can work at your pace, understand your strategy and evolve with you as your business evolves. A good partner will gladly help you plan and execute the policies and procedures that will protect your investment, minimise risks and take the fear out of technology.
Has thinking about how to tackle your tech fears made you want to improve how you manage your business? Read our articles below to get more tips and advice.
Businesses that innovate survive. Technology enables efficient processes and provides what every CEO craves – a single, reliable version of the truth.
The world is changing and our customer’s demands and needs are changing too. Sustainability is now a core value that has taken hold in sectors across the economy.
Traditional ways of working do not support these changes and, as with all change, it is companies who stay ahead of curve that will prosper.
Accessing reliable information and having one version of the truth is critical to understand and manage the demands on your business.
Customers and competitors demand more
Impatient customers, eager for a personalised service, won’t wait around whilst your team figures out which spreadsheet their information is saved in.
They won’t wait around while you get your sales system to talk to your production system. And they won’t wait around while you dig out the folder that holds their spare parts list.
But customers will stick around for quality. They will stick around if they get a prompt service and if they’re kept informed and educated.
And they’ll stick around if they don’t have to think about the minutiae, because you’ve got it covered.
Meanwhile competition is fierce. They’re making better products, that last for longer and give more value. Planned obsolescence is now prolonged resilience. Customers demand it.
It feels like somebody out there is ready to eat your lunch, if you give them the chance. One little chink of light, and they’re in.
How fit is your company for 2015? As the New Year approaches now is a good time to look at your vision, strategy and team operations to see what you might improve.
5 questions to help you shape your vision
A few moment of honest reflection on these questions can help you understand where your business is, and where it could be.
Who are you, where are you going, why do you exist?
What does utopia look like for your business?
What do your customers want? How are their needs changing?
How should you design your business to serve these needs?
How far can you go?
Deciding on where you’re going is a simple enough idea, and its something your team can develop together, and then get behind.
Can your team deliver your strategy?
Strategy comes from vision. What skills do you need to achieve this vision? Which do you lack? Different people will own parts of your strategy. An honest review of the abilities and gaps in your team will reveal a primary objective.
Get the right skills on board to achieve the vision. Train up, or recruit in. Mentorship, Non-executive directors, there are various ways to develop. But focus on the key skills you need now to get your strategy started.
How does your team operate?
A team focused on a common goal, needs a common language. Here are some essential facts everyone in your company should know:
What your business is, how you make money, what your biggest costs are
What you sell
Who your customers are segments, roles, functions.
Share this language across the business.
In addition, consider the following questions about how you operate:
How do you actually do things?
Where are the problems?
What frustrates customers?
What slows the business down?
Where do you waste time and resources?
How do you measure performance?
Has thinking about your business made you want to improve how you manage it? Read our articles below to see how you can apply your new insights in 2015.
Most business leaders crave a single, reliable version of the truth. This, above all else, gives confidence and decision making capability. Taking control of overblown, spaghetti-like business processes is easier than you think.
How most business processes are created
Most businesses, after a certain amount of trial, error, fire fighting and furrowed brows, figure out their processes.
They understand ‘how we do things around here’, and pretty soon these processes become part of the furniture, passed on to new recruits.
These processes probably started out on paper, post-it notes and whiteboards, before eventually someone with a copy of Access or Excel decides to tighten things up.
The process and the system became one, and everyone got their job done.
For a while at least.
Everyone has their own way of doing things
Each department has its own version of this story, and eventually, the whole company has a fairly good idea of how they actually get things done.
Unfortunately, these outcomes have usually been arrived at by any means necessary.
Software must hold its hands up as the choices made are a major part of this misfortune. All too often different departments opt for different means at their disposal for capturing and processing data.
These proud, shiny creations, either a combination of spreadsheets, or a fancier formation of customised off the shelf software, get the job done.
More or less.
Duplicated processes cause confusion
There are the work arounds, the exceptions to the rule, the occasional mistaken deletion, or inappropriate forward of an email attachment.
And this happens in each area of the business, until you’ve got:
five customer databases
an email database
an online asset register
an offline asset register
3 copies of your Bill of Materials
not enough software licenses to go round
very frustrated customers
So we thought we’d solve this really big problem.
How to get a single version of the truth (that’s affordable)
User friendly social networking websites and mobile apps have taught us to expect software that actually works.
Companies understand the problem of user adoption, and they also know that they must get the whole team on board. Poor customer performance will be penalised through social channels and buying decisions.