As business leaders, we’re tasked with creating exceptional experiences for our customers, prospects, and employees—all while delivering topline and margin growth for our companies. To say this is an easy job wouldn’t do it justice. Rather, as leaders, it’s more of an uphill battle, especially when change is happening at an unprecedented, rapid pace in today’s world.
So how do we keep up? How do we consistently increase and maintain high levels of performance? What can we do to keep employees engaged and working collectively to reach our goals—especially when you can’t always see change and disruption coming from far away?
These are just a few of the questions I’ve asked myself over the past few months. In sales, our world has been completely transformed. Our entire sales force has gone from working collectively on the sales floor to fully remote—and we’re not expecting to be back in the office anytime soon, if ever.
We know what we need to do, but we can’t do it.
There’s one answer to all of those questions: enterprises need to be agile and have the ability to optimize their sales plans at any time—not just during annual planning.
This isn’t groundbreaking, uncommon knowledge. Forrester reports that 90% of companies say making real-time decisions based on real-time insights is important to be effective—and 84% say they need to make those plan changes based on trusted data, not gut-level instinct.
But here’s the problem: less than one-third of those companies have the data accessibility and planning processes in place to successfully course-correct should the need arise. This is a big problem, considering we’re smack in the middle of a time where frequent sales and incentive plan changes are 100% necessary.
We have to rethink the way we’re building and analyzing sales plans.
First things first, we have to ditch the annual sales plan. If 2020 is the perfect example of anything, it’s that you cannot plan for a year in advance and assume that your strategies from the end of last year will work through the next. Anything can happen, and we must arm our teams with real-time data insights to adjust plans on the fly and make confident decisions in any situation.
Continuous sales planning allows us to do just that—but what is it exactly? Continuous sales planning is the process of using up-to-date trusted data insights to analyze plan performance and make changes monthly, quarterly, or at a moment’s notice. The main point is that you have the ability to pivot whenever you need to, all while staying on track to hit goals.
So why adopt continuous sales planning now? Here are three key reasons.
1. The stakes are higher than ever.
Leaders are under tremendous scrutiny to drive performance. According to Forrester, 79% of organizations are up against more pressure than ever before to deliver on higher-growth targets—all while keeping up with ever-increasing buyer expectations and shrinking margins due to competition.
On top of intense pressure to perform, board members are also growing increasingly impatient, and execs have less and less time to show profitable results. In the time of a market or economic disruption, the stakes are even higher, and this timeframe only gets smaller.
2. Speed is critical.
When asked what was most important to effectively plan and execute on their goals, the number one takeaway from Forrester research respondents was speed. That means annual, or even quarterly planning is a thing of the past. When you’re building budgets and forecasts off of out-of-date data, you can’t make timely strategic adaptations.
Companies that want to hit their high-target objectives (AKA all of us) need to be able to adapt sales plans as fast as the market changes. Disruptions don’t wait for the “right time” to arrive, so why should we expect that we can wait until the end of a period to adjust our sales plans?
3. You can’t afford to guess when it comes to real-time decision making.
Only 27% of Forrester respondents believe their organization is very effective at course correcting in real-time. Like your ability to move quickly, your budgeting and forecasting accuracy are limited if they’re based on outdated information.
Many growth leaders (34%) still ground their decisions on gut feelings, past experience, or their own opinions. This can point you in the wrong direction if you’re not informed correctly. Continuous sales planning ensures your data is up-to-date, which eliminates the gut instinct vs. data battle. Thus, any decisions are well-informed and can be made quickly.
We need continuous sales planning now more than ever.
The desire to become insights-driven is universal, but so is the struggle to execute. I think I speak for the majority of business leaders when I say that the past six months have been a whirlwind of challenges that have affected everyone.
As leaders, we must evolve to the point of being able to make near real-time course corrections based on current and trusted data if we want to really drive success in our organizations. The most strategic companies are already leveraging these insights to adjust critical sales incentives and growth targets at the speed of market change.
Forrester reports that only 48% of decisions are made on quantitative information and analysis. Unfortunately, that’s a statistic that has improved little in the past few years. Now more than ever, it’s time to arm and prepare ourselves for any sales disruption that comes our way.
Implementing continuous sales planning with a Sales Performance Management solution is the first step to fixing this. It helps you create a continuous sales planning process across your entire organization, from capacity and quota planning to territory and incentive design and beyond.
You can view more insights about continuous sales planning in Forrester’s full research report, “Unleash Your Growth Potential With Continuous Planning.