The latest on sales planning practices


Sarah Van Caster

Product Marketing Director, Sales Solutions

Sales Management Association (SMA) survey reveals importance of sales planning but few excel.

In his popular book Le Petit Prince, French WWII pilot, author, and poet, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, wrote, “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” Applicable to many aspects of business, this phrase is highly relevant in the context of driving sales performance.  

The revenue goal for the business is set annually and achieving that number rests on the shoulders of sales leaders. A strategy is developed to achieve that goal – sales channels, account segmentation, territory structures, quotas and targets, sales incentive programs, sales capacity, and more.  

The better the plan, the more likely the organization is to achieve its goals. But these planning efforts are highly complex, and in a dynamic environment, they often need to be adapted throughout the year to keep the organization on track.   

We want to shine some light on these activities and better understand how sales and sales operations leaders are doing in their sales planning efforts. Anaplan recently partnered with the Sales Management Association (SMA) to evaluate the state of sales planning. We surveyed more than 90 professionals who are experts in sales operations, effectiveness, support, and encompass various management and leadership roles. 

Sales planning is a top priority for nearly everyone 

Among the professionals we surveyed, the majority agree that some elements of sales planning are important to achieving sales success. Some of the top disciplines respondents consider important are incentive compensation management (88%), goal setting and allocation (87%) and sales organization channel structure (82%).  

Therrien wasn’t surprised by these responses, stating, “[Incentive compensation management] is so closely related to sales planning. You start with go-to-market strategy, and from there you derive your sales plan, then you drive that down to the individual sellers. That’s what connects salespeople to the corporate goals and strategies and what drives the performance of the organization.” 

To that end, sales planning is a closely linked with commercial outcomes. Among the professionals surveyed, strong sales planning is closely correlated with positive outcomes. Just 13% of firms considering themselves ineffective at sales planning achieved sales objectives in the preceding 12 months. In contrast, 53% percent of firms that were effective achieved the same sales objectives in the preceding 12 months – a four-fold difference. It’s notable that only 40% of respondents report they are effective at sales planning at all. 

Additionally, when sales planning is effective, salespeople are more effective, too. In organizations with effective sales planning, 69% of salespeople achieved their quota in the preceding 12 months, compared with just 41% of sellers in firms with ineffective sales planning.  

Effective sales planning is linked with several other benefits as well. For instance, firms that plan effectively are at least three times more likely than firms that plan ineffectively to accurately estimate potential in customers and markets, and more than two times as likely to equitably distribute salesperson opportunity. These gaps are wide and meaningful, underscoring the importance of effective planning. 

Therrien notes that companies with more distributed success across the sales organization enjoy a better environment for sales reps than those with a few high-performing reps.  

“When you do a good job of planning, it means you’ve been thoughtful in really trying to understand the territories, the quotas that you’re setting, the load balancing that you’re doing between your sales reps to give everyone a fair and equitable shot to achieve their number. The company benefits from the overall performance of the salespeople in general, not just from a few people,” says Therrien. 

Many firms still struggle with sales planning activities 

Despite broad agreement that different sales planning disciplines are important, fewer respondents report their firms are effective at those disciplines. For example, incentive compensation planning is rated by 88% of respondents as important, yet only 40% indicate they are successful at it. This is a remarkable difference of 48 percentage points. Similarly, respondents report a wide gap between importance and efficacy in their territory and opportunity assignments, to the tune of 34 percentage points. 

These are major gaps, especially when considering their importance to sales outcomes. Kelly notes the contrast, commenting, “What we’re seeing is that the advantages that accrue to these companies good at sales planning are simply too big to ignore. And leaders who ignore planning or who discount its value, do that at their own peril and to the detriment of their organizations.” 

Keys to successful sales planning 

Among respondents who were effective at sales planning, some characteristics emerge. A large percentage of effective sales planners also report they are skilled at the following: scenario planning (75%), functional collaboration (74%), and communication (69%). However, the factors that appear most predictive of overall sales planning effectiveness are capable management, participants that appropriately prioritize their involvement in planning, and an efficient planning process.  

In addition to these characteristics, Therrien suggests that having agile sales plans that can anticipate and shift in response to real-time conditions is critical to performance. He says, “Bottom line, we just need to get better at this. We need to be much more efficient. We need to be speedy. We need to be agile. We need to be accurate.” 


According to the SMA survey, sales planning is a critical skill for managing sales performance. Firms that can harness effective sales planning are far more likely to meet overall sales objectives, and they see far more of their sellers meeting or exceeding individual objectives.  

Effective sales planning is far from easy. Many firms report not spending enough time on key planning activities or not conducting planning in a timely manner. 

Still, some organizations are able to remain effective. These organizations show several characteristics, including scenario planning, functional collaboration, and enabling technology.  

Anaplan is proud to partner with many leading sales organizations to power their sales planning efforts. These organizations achieve unmatched speed, agility, accuracy, and decision-making confidence using evolved strategy and planning methods. Learn more about how Anaplan can help your organization lead more effective sales planning. 

For more results from the SMA report, as well as key insights and commentary from Bob Kelly and Dana Therrien, view the webinar discussion here


Get the full survey findings