This blog is the first in a series on sales planning fundamentals being written by Xactly Chief Sales Officer Marc Gemassmer. Read part 2 on ramp time and attrition, part 3 on quota planning, and part 4 on territory mapping.
If you don’t have sales planning right, your team is already on the defensive before the season starts.
If you haven’t hired at the right pace, you can’t accommodate quota capacity. If territories aren’t balanced, you could be missing potential sales opportunities. If quotas are unfair or unachievable, you negatively impact your team’s morale and risk losing top performers. All of which hurt your ability to hit your numbers.
Accurate sales planning is essential preparation for a successful year. Yet, as in football, a winning season isn’t built on a single game. Taking home the Super Bowl ring requires continuous effort. Great teams are constantly rethinking and reevaluating their strategy and taking the time to assess what went wrong and what went right for each play in order to perfect their approach – and ensure that they win the next game.
Likewise, sales planning should be something that organizations are constantly optimizing throughout the fiscal year. It’s a misnomer that sales planning is an annual exercise. The right approach to sales planning must be:
Sales Planning Shouldn’t be a One-and-Done Activity
Imagine if there were only one huddle per football game, and the quarterback’s entire game strategy had to be set right at the start. It might make for interesting football but wouldn’t optimize game performance.
Leaders–like quarterbacks–need to be continually looking back at their assumptions to see where they are right and where they are wrong, so that they can tune the model.
Accenture has written that, to achieve growth, organizations must act as “living businesses”–able to continuously adapt to market conditions with speed and scale. Sales planning requires the same approach.
If you see–given the current course and speed–that your planning assumptions were incorrect and you’re going to miss revenue goals, you need to know ASAP. That knowledge gives you time to either make changes or readjust your end targets. Unfortunately, the vast majority of sales leaders do not follow this approach. They rarely look back to see if sales plans were right or wrong.
As sales planning tools become more automated and incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), organizations have an opportunity to adopt a more continuous methodology when it comes to sales planning.
Why Data-based Insights Have Become a Must Have
Many organizations operate in a quasi-emotional state. Decisions are made on gut instinct, tribal knowledge, or past job experience. To create a more valuable discussion at the executive level, sales planning needs to be a data-based discussion around a formula. Without implementing this type of a data-driven approach, sales leaders are hanging the success of their sales planning on a hope and a prayer.
Data can give you insight into the right approach for sales planning processes. By using data, you can identify where your business has the greatest growth potential and design your sales territories accordingly. By using data, you can determine the sales resources you need to achieve goals. With data, you can compare the contributions of fully ramped reps versus reps that are in the process of being ramped–to better understand your sales capacity.
Most importantly, with data at your fingertips, you can then quickly and easily go back to track your performance against your planning model. You can look at your actual sales rep retention and your actual sales rep ramp time – to ensure you have capacity with the optimal ramp time to hit potential.
Sales Planning is a Team Activity
By giving different stakeholders access and visibility, sales planning tools can help organizations break down silos. Enabling transparency across the team, these tools increase alignment and link planning more closely to your execution.
As a sales leader, I look to product management to help me identify the market opportunity. They have the most insight into the total addressable market (TAM). I also work closely with marketing–given their responsibility for demand. Naturally, as the budget owner, finance is a key voice in the process as well.
Becoming a Living Sales Planning Business
According to Accenture, living businesses outperform their peers. Sales planning can help your business do the same. Mini planning and optimization should be going on monthly and quarterly–not just once a year.
By applying intelligence to all aspects of your sales planning processes, you can make adjustments as needed in order to ensure you’re on course and stay ahead of the competition.
Stay tuned for the next post in my blog series on sales planning fundamentals, where we’ll take a closer look at ramp time and attrition.