When Your Forecast Heart Overrules Head

I caught a Daily Telegraph broadsheet journo on a London rolling news sofa at the weekend. Discussing potential global growth, Tom Chivers happened to mention a fascinating ‘fact’;

80% of economists failed to predict the latest recession even when they were six months into it

That’s a line you could use for several purposes.

Questioning a supposed “expert” view springs to mind. It reminded me of a cracking famous quote. Robert Heinlein, American science fiction author (1907-1988), nails it;

Always listen to experts.
They’ll tell you what can’t be done and why.
Then do it.

Anyone that’s seen Noreena Hertz TED talk on this will be screaming this sentiment along.

I also couldn’t help but think of Sales forecast accuracy.

An individual salesperson’s forecast is often derided by Management as being more a piece of art rather than being founded in science.

That’s not in a good way.

The only forecast advice I ever received myself (in terms of actual matching expectation) was over two decades ago now.

It was simply to follow your gut. You know deep down when you’re going to win a deal, I was told.

I soon found that the converse also applies. The whole team thought one particular deal was in the bag. Even being given the critical ‘nod’. Yet I alone saw something in the prospect’s response to chatting about an looming hospitality event that smacked me straight in the face as not in the mindset of being our future customer. I was sadly proved right.

Also an entertaining aside into giving buyers post-sale commitment tests.

My then boss also explained that immediately prior to winning, you suffer large pangs of doubt.

I remember in the 80s, the UK party of Government achieved landslides through a combination of bold, adventurous policies and retro-obsessed Opposition disarray. Yet even they experienced these worries. In both 83 and 87 they endured what they termed “Wobble Thursday”. It was exactly one week until election. Yet opinion polls strangely showed a severe narrowing of margin.

Forecast mechanics moved on during the next decade too.

There was a well-known huge tech firm of the 90s that instituted a forecast “pledge”.

It was serious stuff. Each period every salesperson had to categorically state in public one specific deal that was genuinely coming home. The repercussions for failure were allegedly acute. Get it wrong twice in a row and pretty much say bye bye.

The most recent forecast assessments I was involved with I was amazed at how many of the purportedly imminent deals the salespeople admitted were rank outsiders.

It happened in every session of the day.

I am struck by how much better those salespeople were than the brightest economist minds of 2008.

They knew what was happening.

Their problem was in admitting to it, then acting on it.

The sooner you do, then the sooner you can get to work on replacing the dodgy lines of your forecast with proper, winning deals.

And if you are, say, the kind of sandbag rep of old-school renown then you can easily buy yourself a touch of time by re-quoting this post’s starting line. And why not cheekily evoke your senior management’s track record of predictions while you’re at it?

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jamie@example.com
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