How to Forecast Sales for a Brand New Business, Product, or Service

Sales forecasting allows salespeople and their managers to form an educated guess as to where they are headed, which in turn allows them to plan using a guide rather than simply “winging it” — a sure recipe for low production.

Sales projections take into account past sales figures, and if you are measuring the proper thing (as I explained in my earlier post on sales forecasting), you can get a pretty good grip of your future sales numbers. But, how to forecast sales for something you have never sold before, such as a new service or product? Where do you get the data?

Read on for a few sources that might help.

It’s Written in Black and White

For new businesses, products, and services, a lot of data useful in forecasting can be gleaned from a variety of freely available report sources.

  • United States Census Bureau Annual and Quarterly Services Report. Need to know how your industry is doing overall? Examine the Census Bureau Services Reports which show a high-level overview of sales by the quarter and year. For those involved in retail, go here instead.
  • Annual Reports. Head on over to your competitors’ websites and peruse their annual reports if they have posted them. Figure out what you can reasonable expect to sell in a year based on others’ sales and projections, especially those local to your area.
  • SEC Filings. Every publicly traded company files myriad reports detailing their sales and expenses, as well as the outlook for the near future. Access these reports on the SEC’s Edgar system.

Trade Associations and Journals

A smart thing to do if you have no idea how to forecast sales for a new product is to get involved in trade associations and data mine their journals, newsletters, or magazines well before a new product or service is launched. A lot of information is available here, especially regarding companies which are privately held and might only voluntarily divulge financials to a survey or interview conducted by a trade publication.

Check the Weather

One interesting data source for how to forecast sales is the weather report. Companies such as Planalytics and WSI are using weather data to predict consumer behavior, which large companies are then using to more intelligently allocate inventory and resources, as well as produce better sales forecasts by region.

Weather does not only impact agricultural sales. For B2B salespeople, knowing that an extended summer is in store can provide an opportunity to market and predict sales on all sorts of new products, from energy-efficient cooling systems to corporate-team building retreats well into the fall due to the nice weather.

Sales forecasting can admittedly be a headache, especially when you have no experiential data to go by, as in the case of a new product or service. Hopefully the above sources will make the process a bit easier, and inspire you to go out and creatively find other ways to come up with a usable


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