How to align your sales planning so you can accelerate recovery

By Sarah Van Caster

August 13, 2020

This is the second post in a three-part series following our recent webinar series with Slalom Consulting, entitled Restarting a stalled revenue engine.

If there is one word that people are not using to describe the current crisis, it is “predictable.”

As much as leaders around the globe try to estimate the extent of the problem, propose recommendations and guidelines, and predict the future, one constant continues to be the unpredictability of the pandemic—and its economic fallout.

Some industries and companies have been impacted more than others. In particular, businesses deemed non-essential by policymakers have seen revenue streams disappear practically overnight, while essential businesses have had to navigate the complexities of continuing on-site operations safely.

Even within companies, particularly those with multiple business units or customer segments, some areas of the business have been impacted more than others.

Looking forward, business confidence in output growth has dropped to levels not seen since the global recession in 2008-2010.

All of this puts pressure on sales leaders to roll out a new phase in their sales planning that is attuned to the needs of a post-COVID world as quickly as possible.

Sales planning with resiliency in mind

Activities such as territory planning and quota planning often happen as part of a larger annual planning season. But when plans get disrupted by major internal or external factors (i.e., a global pandemic), changes to these plans must be swiftly evaluated and transparently communicated in order to be effective. The wrong moves can have serious consequences—frustrated sellers, losses in productivity, unsatisfied customers, and even revenue that can’t sustain the business.

“Sales organizations aren’t used to [frequent changes],” says Jessica Kane, Solution Principal with Slalom Consulting. “Getting that mindset shifted is part of the battle.”

For sales planning to be more effective, it needs to be considered more of a continuous exercise than an isolated annual effort. Routine annual plans often fail to incorporate the data signals—product launches, M&A, market shifts, key customer conditions, and others—that are picked up throughout the year and are all important for knowing when and where to make changes to the sales plan. For example, data from the marketing organization may indicate that there is growth in an untapped customer segment. Although your sales organization may have a few reps assigned to that segment, the ability to shift resources to meet this new need is critical.

Sales planning also needs to stay in lockstep with Finance. Let’s say that a company is in a cash crunch, and the CFO approaches the sales leadership looking for answers. Sales must be equipped with the data to model various coverage scenarios, and then make a recommendation based on any updates to their forecast. This can be extremely difficult to do, especially if it draws on data that is housed in disparate systems and measured in different ways. Yet as cost-cutting measures place increasing scrutiny on the sales organization, having sales reps assigned to the accounts and segments that are actively buying at any given time is paramount.

How to achieve better alignment

Change is always difficult, and it can be particularly hard to commit to a new direction during a time of economic upheaval. It takes strong leadership, commitment, and transparency. But recognize the upside: There can be improvements not only to top-line revenue performance, but also sales team morale and motivation.

First, leadership needs to embrace this change. “Leaders really need to shake off the reliance around that [regular] cadence that they’re used to, recognizing that the data changes—and can cause changes—from day to day,” says Kane.

Next, create a plan for change management. Technology changes, such as adopting sales planning software, are important first steps, but education, training, and cultural shifts within the organization really help to solidify the change.

Finally, lean on your data and make iterative improvements. Securing your revenue line by determining which deals are still in play and which are not is an important way to demonstrate the value of your data quickly. Data can also help you make the case when and if you need to provide quota relief or make tweaks to your coverage model to meet market demand. When it comes to making strategic adaptations to boost seller performance, such as adopting a predictive account segmentation strategy to keep sellers focused on the segments with the highest propensity to buy, connecting internal data with external insights will be essential.

In the first months of 2020, sales leaders made assumptions that they built into their plans for the entire fiscal year. Although those plans are, in many cases, no longer relevant, the process of planning and making incremental improvements is still incredibly valuable. Anaplan can help make that process more agile and connected, so you can start writing your next chapter.

Accelerating into recovery means making bold steps today, so don’t wait.

Check out our recent series of short, 10-minute webinars conducted with Slalom Consulting, entitled Restarting a stalled revenue engine.

Watch now