One of the single most important processes at any B2B company is forecasting, but for it to work you need accuracy, control and efficiency. An AccountingWEB survey in 2005 revealed that planning and forecasting are the processes that cause the most frustration (21%) but we know it doesn’t have to be that way. Most businesses need to evaluate their manual processes and put a better financial forecasting process in place for the future. We’re here to show you how.
What is forecasting in business?
Forecasting is commonly defined as “the process of making predictions of the future based on past and present data and most commonly by analysis of trends”, it is about being able to account correctly for earnings throughout the year.
Various companies use different methods of forecasting, an informal forecasting process – such as when an individual, estimates the future using their experience or gut instinct, or a more formal process using financial tools such as Excel / other systems, based on data from previous years meaning you have more evidence. Either way, these financial figures may be published, or used by other parts of the business for guidance and planning. As a result, the consequence of forecasting errors can be costly.
Why is forecasting important?
Forecasting is essential for preparing for the ups and downs of the year ahead, it is ultimately trying to predict what to happen in the future. This is important because it guides businesses to what actions they are going to take. This can be how much of a product they’re going to buy or keep in stock or what their profit statements are going to say for a certain financial period.
Predicting earnings and the resulting profits accordingly depends on having a good financial forecast. In rebate management, reporting on expected earnings – particularly when deals are based on spend target bands – is a tricky business. This is partly due to the inherent complexity of most business to business (B2B) deals and partly due to the complexity involved in creating financial forecasting models.
Why spreadsheets should not be part of the financial forecasting process
The financial forecasting process for B2B deals has often been handled using an Excel spreadsheet. While there is nothing inherently wrong with spreadsheets it can become dangerous when they are over-used plus very time consuming producing a meaningful detailed forecast for your business with the outputs and analytics you need to make informed decisions about the future strategy of your business.
Various studies report that nearly 9 out of 10 spreadsheets (88%) contain errors because using spreadsheets for forecasting is a very manual process. You could potentially key in the wrong numbers or copy over the wrong amounts, especially when you want to aggregate the spreadsheet so an overall financial forecast can be produced.
Spreadsheets cause forecasting errors because they are often been managed by a few team members or even located on one person’s computer, meaning you become very reliant on certain people and can’t work together on financial forecasting for rebate. Alongside this once you have completed your forecast you will need to send it around via email which means it’s in a position to be distributed more widely and potentially to a competitor or the wrong member of staff
Think of the complexity involved in spreadsheets used to manage rebates. Over time, they lose their edge. They become cumbersome and difficult to use. And, if you don’t have the knack of handling them properly – or the person who knows how to use the tool best can no longer manage it properly – they can actually be dangerous for rebate accounting: spreadsheets have actually cost organizations billions of dollars in fines.
The forecasting errors that happen when mis-using spreadsheets
If financial forecasting can be dangerous when used inappropriately, what happens to rebates and what are the consequences for organizations? In the case of rebate earnings, for example, the first result is a lack of trust: people will stop using them internally, meaning that everyone returns to flying blind. Forecasting errors also results in cash flow challenges.
In more serious instances when rebates are not accurately forecasted the auditors can get involved. They can ask to see the justifications and logic underlying those financial forecasts – which are often themselves hidden in indecipherable spreadsheet formulae. Forecasting errors can even result in concerns about stock prices and regulatory issues.
3 steps for avoiding forecasting errors
When creating accurate financial forecasts it’s wise to:
- Make sure you are able to justify assumptions
- Be cautious – and don’t underestimate the likelihood of events occurring
- Ensure the way forecasts have been calculated are clear and visible to those using forecast for business decision-making.
How Enable rebate management can help you overcome forecasting errors
Forecasting potential earnings is the backbone of financially sound businesses. Key strategic business decisions can only be made when based on accurate information: which requires having a firm grip on financial forecasting process. With pre-made methods of forecasting that can draw upon, having structure can increase clarity. Also having a built-in audit trail means you can see what data this forecast what based on and who has edited it.
Improving financial forecasting processes to provide true visibility of rebate deals will improve decision-making confidence, allow for the more accurate formulation of business strategy and potentially even reduce accounting risks.
Find out more about how Enable’s rebate management software can help you improve your financial forecasting processes.