November 30, 2018 Erica Charleston

Sales planning is one of the most important functions of sales operations, but it is often the most time consuming and frustrating. There are so many options and considerations in sales planning, how do you prioritize? And how do you make your sales plan scalable as you grow? We at fullcast.io put together 10 tips we think any sales operations professional should consider when planning for growth. To hear a discussion on these tips, watch this recorded webinar. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

1. Think “Customer First”
This is our first tip because it’s the most important to effective sales planning. It’s a mantra we hear often in sales organizations – think customer first, the customer is always right, and getting close to the customer is most important. But thinking customer first also prompts you to consider how your sales planning will impact your customer. For example, decisions on segmentation, resource ratios, and use of automation set the tone for how and when your customer is contacted. All your sales planning should be focused around improving your relationship with the customer, improving their experience, and shortening your sales cycle.

2. Use Metrics
Sales Planning can be a challenging process with a lot of ambiguity and emotional decisions. Setting metrics gives you an objective, clear path forward. Are you trying to figure out how to hit a certain growth target? Setting metrics around historical productivity, pipeline, and close rates makes it about the numbers instead of the people, which deescalates emotional situations and makes planning more productive. As an example, one of the biggest metrics Salesforce uses is Bookings Potential – an account score that estimates the amount a business spends on each of Salesforce’s products. Having this metric helped in territory creation, market opportunity, resourcing, and unifying stakeholders while maintaining objectivity.

3. Create a Timeline
A big part of planning is program management and meeting milestones. You need input from Finance, Marketing, and HR during planning, and then the planning outputs are fed back to Finance, Marketing, and HR. There are a lot of interdepartmental dependencies so giving a timeline with deliverables keeps everyone accountable. Work back from your ultimate deadline and deployment, considering all the processes that need to happen along the way.

This is an example of creating a timeline for one of our clients. In order to get to deployment, we need to conduct a performance review, market evaluation, capacity planning, and territory building. It’s a small part of overall sales planning, but it provides transparency and accountability across all stakeholders.

4. Think Ahead
This is best illustrated with an analogy from hockey – skate where the puck is going. Look to where the market is going, not where it is. Use forward-looking metrics instead of historical looking metrics. Past performance does not equal future performance, and past sales do not equal future sales, so look to where the market is going. This also applies to segmentation. You want to create your segmentation based on projected growth as you add sales staff, customer support, and customers. Staff your teams based on your plan, whether product-related or customer-service related.

5. Over-Carve Territories
Related to planning ahead, it’s important to think about ramifications for growing faster than you originally planned, and how you’ll manage that growth. This happens with so many companies – you grow faster than you plan and run out of territories as you bring in more headcount. A simple solution is to create more territories than you think you’ll need when planning. This is something Salesforce and many other high-growth companies do as general policy.

As an example, say you are planning to have 5 reps in a region, but you anticipate growing.  Carve out 6 territories so your new hire can hit the ground with a prepped territory.

This also sets the expectation with reps that they may lose some of their accounts. If you create extra territories, it becomes easier to share accounts when you continue to hire.

6. Create Balance
Sales Planning is about aligning resources across the company, and one of the most important things to do in this process is to create balance across all planning aspects. Balancing go-to-market efforts across resources prevents overextending one resource, and ensures all resources are fully optimized. It also allows you to balance risk across markets. Creating territories is really a way to balance market opportunity across your account executives so everyone feels empowered to meet quota. This creates a culture of accountability and everyone pulls their weight. Similarly, creating balance allows for easier performance analysis – if some territories outperform other territories, it’s easier to identify causes if you’ve made each territory equal.

7. Experiment
We discussed this in a recent blog post about optimizing processes. An important part of Sales Operations is conducting experiments in small parts of the business and taking those learning to the larger sales org. For example, experiment with a hunter/farmer strategy vs. account executives managing both customers and prospects. You could experiment with
SDR/BDR/AE ratios to optimize productivity and cost of acquisition. However, keep experiments small and scalable to reduce your risk.

8. Over-Communicate
There are a lot of people involved in and impacted by the sales planning process – sales, marketing, finance, HR, IT, just to name a few. These stakeholders have their own planning process congruent with sales planning. Not everyone needs to be involved every step of the way, but it’s important they know what is going on. This can be done by creating a timeline (per tip #3) and overcommunicating so everyone is aligned and understands planning goals.
Many of our clients have minimum weekly check-ins as a group to level set on priorities for the week. Smaller teams should meet and communicate daily. Things can get lost in translation or interpreted differently in each department, so having continual communication ensures everyone understands each department’s goals and planning method.

9. Document Everything
At fullcast.io, we take the view that if something isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist. On the topic of overcommunication, we recommend documenting everything – ultimate decisions, timelines, responsibilities, and ideas. This allows you to look back on past decisions when evaluating your plan or planning in the next year. It also gives you a roadmap when questions or disagreements arise. There could be disputes about account ownership, compensation policies, even overall planning processes. Documenting each of those things gives you a point of reference.

10. Stay Flexible
So far, we’ve talked a lot about specifics, being precise, and staying organized in your process. But this tip acknowledges the need to stay flexible. We’ve touched on this through a lot of our tips, but it’s important to recognize things rarely go perfectly to plan, especially as you’re scaling growth. Building in flexibility for contingencies and changes is important to save time and energy in the long run. Flexibility makes planning more fun and allows for unexpected growth and change. Here are some ideas on putting it into practice – over-carve territories, over-assign quota to create wiggle room, share resources, and create redundancy in workstreams. These are ways to de-risk the plan and make flexibility easier.

Bonus Tip! Revisit Often
No plan is perfect, and sometimes you need to make pivots. Revisit your plan often and evaluate whether you are meeting your expectations. Revisit quarterly, if not monthly, with your overall team. You’ll want to revisit with higherups and the board quarterly as well and check in weekly, if not daily, with your team. You don’t need to change the plan, but the more often you talk about it, reference it, and measure against it, the more successfully you’ll stay on track.

What are your thoughts? We’d love to know if these are helpful for you, and what other tips you might add. Shoot us an email at info@fullcast.io.

Erica Charleston

Erica Charleston

Marketing Communications Manager at fullcast.io.