Sales Forecasting Techniques

Think of your sales forecast as an educated guess. Forecasting takes good working knowledge of your business, not advanced degrees or complex mathematics. It's much more art than science.

The research for a good forecast is almost always harder than the final process of actually making the educated guesses. Your business size can determine whether your forecast may be simple or detailed. When the research is already done, the mechanics of sales forecasting are relatively simple.

Forecasting is usually easier when you break your sales down into manageable parts and then forecast the parts. Estimate your sales by product line, month by month, and then add the product lines for all months. Typically you'll need to project monthly sales for the next 12 months and annual sales for the following three years.

These steps for developing a sales forecast can be applied to most kinds of businesses:

Step 1: Develop a customer profile and determine the trends in your industry.

Make some basic assumptions about the customers in your target market. Experienced business people will tell you that a good rule of thumb is that 20% of your customers account for 80% of your sales. If you can identify this 20% you can begin to develop a profile of your principal markets.

Sample customer profiles:

male, ages 20-34, professional, middle income, fitness conscious.

Young families, parents 25 to 39, middle income, home owners

Small to medium sized magazine and book publishers with sales from $500,000 to $2,000,000

Determine trends by talking to trade suppliers about what is selling well and what is not. Check out recent copies of your industry's trade magazines. Search the Business Periodicals Index (found in larger libraries) for articles related to your type of business.

Step 2: Establish the approximate size and location of your planned trading area. Use available statistics to determine the general characteristics of this area. Use local sources to determine unique characteristics about your trading area.

How far will your average customer travel to buy from your shop? Where do you intend to distribute or promote your product? This is your trading area.

Estimating the number of individuals or households can be done with little difficulty using statistics census data. Statistics family expenditure survey can identify what the average household spends on goods and services. Information on planned construction is available from a variety of sources. Directories the Yellow Pages can help identify names of companies located in your trading area.

Neighborhood business owners, the local Chamber of Commerce, the Government Agent and the community newspaper are some sources that can give you insight into unique characteristics of your area.

Step 3: List and profile competitors selling in your trading area.

Get out on the street and study your competitors. Visit their stores or the locations where their product is offered. Analyze the location, customer volumes, traffic patterns, hours of operation, busy periods, prices, quality of their goods and services, product lines carried, promotional techniques, positioning, product catalogues and other handouts. If feasible, talk to customers and sales staff.

Step 4: Use your research to estimate your sales on a monthly basis for your first year.

The basis for your sales forecast can be the average monthly sales of a similar-sized competitor's operations who is operating in a similar market It is recommended that you make adjustments for this year’s predicted trend for the industry. Be sure to reduce your figures by a start-up year factor of about 50% a month for the start-up months.

Consider how well your competition satisfies the needs of potential customers in your trading area. Determine how you fit in to this picture and what niche you plan to fill. Will you offer a better location, convenience, a better price, later hours, better quality, better service?

Consider population and economic growth in your trading area.

Using your research, make an educated guess at your market share. If possible, express this as the number of customers you can hope to attract. You may want to keep it conservative and reduce your figure by approximately 15%.

Prepare sales estimates month by month. Be sure to assess how seasonal your business is and consider your start up months.

Learn more about Sales Forecasting

Importance of Sales Forecasting

Making Reliable and Belivable Sales Forecasts

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