This week, we chat with Michael Williams, Co-Founder of the Silicon Valley, VP Sales Forum. Across his 30 year career in Silicon Valley, Michael has held sales leadership roles with Exodus, Netsuite, and Apigee. 

Michael shares how top sales leaders use data within their organization to be on the top of their forecasts, the limitations with most data-sets, and the importance of knowing the ‘why.’

—- We are in a highly competitive sales environment and buyers are well informed when engaging with sellers. How are sales leaders staying on top of their forecasts?

Michael: You have to be a data-driven sales leader. Good sales leaders are taking advantage of tools that help them see down the road.

A sales leader has to forecast effectively to their executive team and the board. Sales leaders, working alongside sales ops are showing not only the ‘what’ of the forecast but also addressing the ‘why’ of that forecast in their executive conversations. Earlier, the VP of Sales could stake their reputation to back their forecasts, but executive teams are increasingly become data-driven and are pushing back to see the reasoning for these forecasts.

—- Could you share an instance of data being used effectively in managing forecasts?

Michael: Since we now have this influx of data from various siloed systems, we need to know the metrics that are important and map the related data required to be successful in meeting our forecasts. Because if we don’t, all this data is just going to go around us and overwhelm.

For instance, let’s take the deal closing metric; you need to know where your sellers are in that specific process. Are the signals or the intentions from these conversations available to you? Are they negative or positive tone? Are the prospects talking about closing or implementation versus if they are talking about competitors or other things that could harm that opportunity?

The ability to synthesize this nuanced data and read sentiments from such conversations and meetings is also crucial. You need to get to the ‘why’ as quickly as you can.

—- How can sales leaders get their sales managers and reps to align with a data-driven culture?

Michael: I’ve talked to several sales leaders, and one of the areas that we talk about is —How can we be instrumental in helping our sales managers do things differently?— because it starts with that.

Sales managers need to understand buying signals from the daily or weekly one-on-ones with their reps. They also need to understand and be comfortable with the signals from the data. It provides the opportunity to review at a deeper level. If you’re doing it right, it’s not about browbeating the sales rep. It’s about getting the sales rep comfortable with the data and then working together with them to create a strategy for how to become efficient.

If you take the deal discussion into a third and fourth level of inspection, you have the sales rep and the sales manager on the same wavelength so when they’re forecasting there’s better governance, and there’s a better success criterion for the forecast.

—- What are the limitations with current sales data that you see frequently?

Michael: Activity tracking is a standard indicator nowadays. However the reality is your sales rep could be doing all the emails, the calls, the meetings and have a ton of activity, but it is tough to determine if these are truly driving the deal forward.

We usually don’t know what’s happening on the buyer’s side. So just viewing activity from a sales rep versus what the buyer is saying could in opposition. If you’re only looking at the volume of activities as a success indicator, you will miss the boat on what your customers are really saying.

While sellers could be precisely doing what they need to do but to really know, if the sentiment of the buyer is negative, or if the buying process is not aligned, or the salesperson himself needs coaching — to be aware of this, you need a 360 degree view of the opportunity, and if you don’t have the buyer’s perspective, you may not have the right insight you need. So using only activity by itself as an indicator could leave you with half a visibility into the pipeline.

—- Could you elaborate on this further?

Michael: How many times have you had a situation where the deal goes south, and you wonder what happened, and the buyer outright says ‘I’ve mentioned to you on several occasions that we’re not going to buy this quarter. We’re going to buy at the end of the year because of such and such reason.’

The seller could have missed those signals from the prospect multiple times. Those are significant signals, but there’s a lot of nuances, a lot of intonations in how prospects talk. Instead, if you had the opportunity to mine these nuances from your data and work together with the buyers, then all of a sudden, you have an alliance. It’s in perfect harmony, and you know you’ve traction, you’ve governance, and your pipeline is excellent.

So if you know ‘the what and why’ of every deal in your pipeline then your forecast becomes just an accountability measure from that point on.

At the end of the day, no VP of Sales wants to learn about a deal going south in the very last part of the quarter. If there was a signal that could have been surfaced well ahead of time, then he or she wants to know about it at the right time and can have the right impact.  If there are opportunities to be caught earlier on, sales leaders utilizing the right tools will have these surface right to the top and take the appropriate measures before its too late.


About’s 360-degree automated deal evaluation presents the unbiased truth and makes deal reviews fact-based and non-judgmental. 

By indexing buyer & seller interactions from all communication channels & summarizing the buying signals of each deal, provides an instant separation of deals with real buying intent vs. deals that are a waste of time.

Within minutes, sales leaders can comprehensively review each deal on multiple dimensions of risk.

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