Business owners can’t rely solely on current sales or what’s worked in the past in order to succeed. They must also look to the future to predict which actions will maximize profit. While this is certainly easier said than done, there are several proven techniques entrepreneurs can use to increase the accuracy of their sales forecasts.

Not sure where to begin? Try these 15 strategic approaches for sales forecasting, as recommended by the members of Forbes Business Council.

1. Incentivize Predictable Revenue Engagements

One can accurately forecast sales if all or most of their customer engagements are long-term, predictable revenue engagements and if all or most of their customers are retained. The strategic approach is to have offerings that incentivize the customers to get into such engagements, ensure customer success and maintain a good customer relationship. – Anant KatariaSagacious IP

2. Define Your Sales Process

If you don’t have a defined sales process, begin by understanding how a customer buys your product or service. Clearly identifying the stages buyers go through when interacting with your company leads to a better understanding of your customers and their needs, decision making, emotions and more. Sales forecasts are more accurate because salespeople can now follow a defined sales process. – Linda FiskCollective 54

3. Verify Your ForecastMake sure you and your sales leadership ask the hard questions to verify that what’s in the forecast is “real.” Have you verified that they do have the budget for this project? Who will be responsible for final approval? What stakeholders are for you and against you? Why should they do this now? Will the agreements need to go through a legal process? – Robert Riefstahl2Win! Global, LLC

4. Keep Your Estimate Conservative

One strategic approach to accurately forecasting sales is to be conservative in your estimate. When I first started recruiting, we would have a team meeting every Friday afternoon to go over pending business that we thought would close during the following week. My division director would then take the sales estimate and cut it by 50%. The final sales prediction was usually pretty accurate. – Gus CawleyNorthPoint Search Group

5. Focus On Pipeline Management

There is no silver bullet to sales prediction. It needs discipline and data in the realm of pipeline management. For existing clients, you know how much business to expect over the next couple of quarters based on their pipeline and past history. New business predictions can be calculated based on the weighted pipeline, win ratio and regular sentiment survey from the business development teams. – Abhishek RungtaIndus Net Technologies

6. Study Demand Generation

Look at demand generation for your product or service over time and through seasons. Projections and sales are closely tied to social, political and environmental changes. Weather the storm through a high volume of sales and low traction. Stay ahead by continuing to look inward for customer satisfaction and retention metrics, and customize your products and services to meet consumers where they are. – Denise (Ajayi) WilliamsSV-NED Inc

7. Prepare For Multiple Scenarios

Qualify every single forecast with an asterisk because nothing ever pans out according to a forecast. Also be sure to plan your forecast with best-case, middle-case and worst-case scenarios. Shoot for the best case, expect the middle case and be prepared for the worst case. – Hanna KassisOAREX Capital Markets

8. Combine Historical Data With Number Of Pipeline Leads

Forecasting sales is highly dependent on the industry you are operating in. However, we have found that historical data combined with the number of leads in the pipeline can provide directional guidance to project our sales in a month or quarter. These numbers are ever-changing; therefore, relying on both is vital. – AJ FarajWadiTek

9. Set Realistic Goals Of Losses And Gains

Using the history of sales and setting realistic goals of losses and gains during the current pandemic is important. Right now if you can use strategic data, it will help predict what the trends are and what consumers’ purchasing power is. – Sari CicurelSari M. Cicurel

10. Look At Google Trends

I am a strong believer in Google Trends as a predictor of market movements. If you are in a market that relies heavily on e-commerce sales or online experience in terms of either pre-sales or post-sales, you would find that the traffic patterns in Google Trends reflect the direction of the general industry. – Yad SenapathyProject Management Training Institute

11. Study Market Trends And Customer Behaviors

An approach that is focused on market trends and customer behaviors should give a relatively useful barometer to leaders in assessing the viability of sales projections and confidence in conversion levels. In a new market or when launching a new product, there are increased uncertainties, but a retrospective data-driven approach is usually a useful method to build future sales forecasts. It’s typically useful to have high, medium and low variations based on wider environmental challenges such as Covid, GFC, industry legislation, etc. – Barry McNeillSportsology

12. Analyze Every Number In Detail

Do the research. When I put financial reports together for budgeting, financial analysis or to submit to lenders, I spend hours picking each number and analyzing it in detail. Any time you submit a budget, you should be able to explain in excruciating detail how and why you chose each and every number in it. – Shan BhagatBKS Hotels

13. Understand Your Variables

Make sure you understand all of the variables that go into that prediction. For example, if you want to do $2 million in year two, how much inventory will that be? How often will you need to restock over that year? How will you cover the expenses of the COGS, customer acquisition cost, shipping, etc? Run your numbers. – Jason KlugKlugonyx

14. Maintain Your CRM Data

Accurate sales forecasts are important to improve the bottom line and make smarter business decisions. One strategic approach is to ensure the team is maintaining accurate CRM data. Have a high-level view of company revenue, profit/loss and recurring revenue. Use a staged forecasting approach (daily, monthly, quarterly or yearly sales), and look at potential leads, conversion rates and customer life cycle value. – Judy SahayCrows Media Group

15. Know Your Customer Well

In the subscription box world, forecasting sales isn’t as easy as looking at past numbers and extrapolating; you need to know your customer. Will the next subscription box fit the current customer demographic better than previous boxes? If we’re trying to target new customers, do we want it to? Is there a seasonal aspect to your business? These are all things you need to ask to be strategic! – Harrison BaumDaily High Club