While most companies put real thought into how they present numbers in their post-quarter board decks and other management reports, one area in which you’ll find a lack of discipline is in how they present quarterly sales forecasts to the board.
They’re typically done as a quick update email to the board. They’ll usually mention the forecast number this quarter (but only usually) and only sometimes include the plan and almost never include the prior-sequential or year-over-year quarter. Sometimes, they’ll be long, rambling updates about deals with no quarterly number at all — only ARR per deal on an list of deals with no idea which permutations are likely to close. Sometimes, they’ll confuse “commit” (a forecast category status) with “booked QTD” — a major confusion as “commit” is only “done” in the eyes of an optimistic sales VP — I have little interest in the former (unless it’s part of a general, proven stage-weighted expected value) and a lot of interest in the latter (what actually has been sold thus far). They’ll often use terms like “forecast,” “commit,” “upside,” “worst case,” and “best case” without defining them (and questions about their definitions are too often met with blank stares or squishy replies).
In this post, I’ll discuss how to present these forecasts better. If you follow this advice, your board will love you. Well, they’ll love your communication at least. (They’ll only love you if the numbers you’re presenting are great to boot.)
The Driving Principles
I think CEOs write these hastily dashed-off forecast emails because they forget some basics. So always remember:
- Your board members have day jobs. They’re not necessarily going to remember your plan number, let alone what you did last year or last quarter. So help them — provide this context. (And do the percent math for them.)
- Your board members care about deals, but only at a summary level and only after they’ve been given the numbers. They typically care about deals for two reasons: because they might be able to help if they know an executive at the target company and because they like to see if the deals that close are the same ones management said were “key deals” all quarter.
- Communication with your board members will be more effective if you have standard definitions for “forecast” or “best case.” I like to define “forecast” (at the VP of sales level) to be 90% confidence in beating and “best case” to mean 20% confidence in beating. This means you get to miss your forecast once every 2.5 years and you should beat your best case once every 5 quarters. See How to Train Your VP of Sales to Think About the Forecast for more.
- After hearing a forecast the next question most board members will have is about pipeline coverage. Ergo, why not answer that up front and provide them with the current quarterly pipeline and a to-go coverage ratio to get to plan. To-go coverage = (current quarterly pipeline) / (new ARR bookings needed to get to plan).
How to Present a SaaS Company Quarterly Forecast
So, now that we’ve covered the logic behind this, let’s show you the spreadsheet that I’d embed or attach in a short email to the board about the current quarter forecast.