Situation: A company had several huge orders last year but ended the year with a low backlog. Sales forecasts are rosy, but acceptance of proposals and initiation of work is hard to predict because the company’s products are just a piece of much larger projects with variable timelines. How do you plan spending in this environment – conservatively to backlog or more aggressively to the sales forecast?
Advice from the CEOs:
- It is important to understand the magnitude of difference between spending under the two scenarios. For example, if a conservative spending plan means major cuts to product lines or business compared to the more aggressive plan, then analysis and what if scenarios are more complex,
- What are the company’s cash-flow and debt situations. If you are cash-flow positive with little debt, this increases flexibility. Another consideration is the company’s attitude on debt.
- Be wary of the healthiness of an unused credit line. Companies have seen unused credit lines cut and accounts cleared when they have started using the lines after a long dormant period.
- Exercising the credit line may increase flexibility.
- Look at your approach to forecasting and spending. How far out do you forecast? How effective have past outgoing forecasts for several quarters been, and what confidence can do you have for the next quarter, the quarter after, and the quarter after that? If you are reasonably confident one quarter out, you can plan spending on this. If you can adjust spending relatively quickly this gives you more leeway.
- Establish leading indicators to improve future forecasts.
- What is your win/loss record on proposals, and a conservative estimate of what this ratio means for revenue?
- Other examples include sales calls to new customers versus new key customers won, and similar sales metrics. These metrics can help to govern expectations based on sales forecasts.
- If your sales team is not performing, look at changes to sales management. This may wake the team up and prompt them to go the extra mile for contacts and contracts.
Key Words: Forecast, Backlog, Spending, Planning, Cash-flow, Debt, Credit Line, Confidence, Indicators