Since the beginning of my sales career, the planning aspect of my job has always proved to be one of my biggest challenges. In every role, especially now as the VP of General Business Sales at Xactly Corp, my main goal has always been to lead and direct sales departments to meet or exceed sales revenue and profitability through strategic planning, superior training and management, and leveraging technology to improve processes.
In my previous roles, planning season was always a bit chaotic. With access to very little data, I mostly relied on my gut instinct to make decisions leaving everything else as a best-guess estimate. When it was time to design territories for your team, you sat down with a physical map and sharpies and you just tried to draw the best-looking territory based on nothing more than a pipeline dream and out-of-date data. For headcount and capacity planning, you just had to hope that your team was happy and that no one was currently padding their resume.
In all honesty, the biggest ah-ha moment I’ve ever had in my career was my first planning season with Xactly when I finally gained access to industry data. I’ve spent a good portion of my career going off little data, or perhaps bad or out-of-date data, in addition to “gut-feelings”, but I cannot tell you how shocked (and honestly embarrassed) I was when I got to Xactly and saw the database of information they have access to and how they leveraged it throughout the entire organization. With this new visibility, I am now able to design and optimize better sales plans than I have ever been able to in the past.
Coming up with a strategic and aligned sales plan has always been one of the most difficult aspects of my job. Without the access to data that I have now, I can’t imagine being able to create agile sales plans that make everyone happy. Whether that be team-facing with creating territories and effective ICM plans, to management-facing decisions like accounting for attrition and headcount, these decisions are ones that I used to make based on instinct and limited data. But as I’ve recently realized, gut feelings are no longer acceptable metrics when it comes to decision-making as they tend to hold you back.
Without data, you’re just scrambling for answers. When you have this kind of access to information you are granted the ability to make high-level decisions made from the numbers, which you can then use to optimize every part of your sales plan.
One good example would be planning for general sales rep attrition. Realistically, you need to be planning this at the beginning of the year to take into account how many people you need throughout the year to meet the numbers you set. With this level of data, you are able to finally admit to yourself that, yes, you unfortunately might lose people throughout the year, and you’re going to need to plan around that. Data allows you the luxury to be completely honest with yourself—while ensuring that you’re prepared if the worst-case scenario happens.
Optimization of Plan Designs
You can design the best sales plan in the world, but if you can't change that throughout the year to reflect your market, you’re already behind the competitive curve. Data allows you to look at your current plan and compare that to a real-time look into the state of your market. If you can't take that data and change your plan designs to reflect that information, your plan is already obsolete and you can’t be as strategic and agile as you need to be to survive in the market.
You need visibility into whether or not you’re going to hit your quota, and if you can't, you need to have the ability to critically look at that data and make changes to your plans before it’s too late. This gives you a better look into the current health of your plans so you’re not comparing your information to a static number; you can look at data that shows week-over-week or daily numbers to see how your plans measure up.
Visibility Into Team Metrics
To truly understand the bandwidth of your sales reps, you need to have the visibility to see their in-depth performance metrics to really understand what's going on under the hood of your team. With data, I am able to see my team in a different light which gives us a two-way street of trust and transparency. My team knows that I need to hold them accountable for their performance, just like I know I need to give them that same level of respect and show them how I make my decisions and why I made them.
When measuring the performance of your team, data is objective so it gives you a clear picture of how they’re doing, especially if they’re underperforming. It gives me the ability to make level-headed decisions when it comes to maintaining the health of my team as a whole.
When I have the data in front of me, I can identify the gaps in our plans and fix them accordingly on a rep-to-rep basis. For example, when I plan territories, I can transparently layout each rep’s design and point-blank tell them, “your territory is fair and here’s why”, and back that up with relevant data.
Going Beyond the Physical Data
Even though I work for a company that specializes in insights data, if I could objectively get across one thing it would be that this data goes beyond Xactly. I’m not telling you all of this information because it’s apart of a sales pitch, I’m telling you this because this is something that has truly transformed my capabilities as a sales leader, and I believe every company should have this kind of access to data.
If I’ve learned anything in my 20+ years in this industry, it’s that you can no longer just rely on a gut-feeling to get you to where you need to be. Data gives you an in-depth look into the health of your company, and if you don’t have that kind of access to information, you’re falling behind faster every day. It’s the 21st century, we need to have this kind of information to be brutally honest with ourselves and our sales strategy.
Everyone needs to be able to take a fine-tooth comb to their plans to understand where they’re currently at in the market and how they can use that information to influence performance and plan design for next year. Most importantly, data allows you to be honest with yourself on where you need to improve. It allows you to be brutally honest with yourself—which is necessary for strategic planning—so you can make needed changes. Because if you don’t, your company is already operating in the past.