Tuesday 22 September 2020 2:31 am

Seeing through the fog: Why the UK needs better forecasting during the pandemic

The Covid-19 crisis has put forecasting in the spotlight. From the chancellor to retailers and every business in the UK, everyone has suddenly been reforecasting growth, revenue and employment as companies made the tough decision to either furlough staff or make redundancies. 

But one thing the pandemic has also exposed is the lack of science behind forecasting. Too often, it is based on past years’ results and an incremental percentage on top – a pseudo-scientific formula that is as valid as forecasting the weather in England. 

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British businesses simply cannot afford to think this way. This outdated approach is fraught with uncertainty. Instead, we need more data points to move it from a judgment-based art to a science.

The past few years have shown us how powerful data could be. From personalised recommendations when we shop online, to a better assessment of productivity and happiness at work, it has become an integral part of our daily lives. 

It is also a vital component in helping us battle Covid-19, helping paint a picture of how the virus is spreading, predictions of where peaks may occur, and how it will impact the NHS and care services.

Yet many businesses – especially the sales profession – have long shied away from using data, relying instead on hunches and anecdotal evidence. 

It is time to base figures on more than just a gut feeling. In a similar way to fitness enthusiasts that use data apps like Fitbit and Strava, businesses need to start gathering and recording information to help salespeople compare their performance over time.

This can only be done if we start considering each sales interaction as part of a journey where each stop is signposted to ensure the seller is headed in the right direction. 

Using data to identify best practices and highlight inefficiencies for sales-focused roles will lead to increased productivity, without employees having to work longer and harder to deliver results.

Access to this data provides visibility to the business on whether the sales team are on track to deliver their objectives and encourages agility – allowing them to course correct as and when necessary. 

Sales leaders should be making use of advanced analytics when reporting to senior management to provide accurate future predictions on business performance – especially important given the ever-changing, chaotic situation we find ourselves in. 

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A more accurate take on forecasting enables sales to feed into the business’ strategy, including hiring practices, popular products and services and the highest revenue-generating activity. Data helps businesses to see through the chaos and is mission critical in helping them to flex their approach accordingly. 

At a time where the British economy is desperately in need of growth, adopting much more minute forecasting tools and solutions is crucial for businesses to plan for the short, medium and long term without having to hope for the best.

Tom Castley is vice president of UK sales at sales engagement platform Outreach

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