20 Dec, 2018

Linking Planning to Execution: The Challenges and the Solution

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Ask anyone in sales strategy and operations, and they’ll tell you – one of the biggest challenges we have is connecting our strategy and planning with our execution. We come up with an effective plan, having considered all possible scenarios and identified all challenges before laying out the perfect go-to-market strategy, and then we struggle with actually implementing it! Or, we’re so busy tied up in executing and see planning as only adding more challenge, a challenge that we never actually get time to do the planning in the first place! This might show up in many different situations:

  1. Weeks or months of analysis to define segments, create territories, and design compensation plans are hamstrung when it comes to putting everything into systems.
  2. Management determines a strategic shift to align sales and marketing with the product, but company culture prevents that change from happening for months, even years.
  3. One group in a company decides to make a change to their team but other teams remain the same, creating misalignment and drops in handoffs and productivity.

It can be frustrating, but these are common scenarios across all types of companies. Why does this happen? Below we lay out some of the biggest culprits of planning and execution disintegration.

Problem 1: Increasing Go-to-Market Complexity

Companies have never had more information or technology than they do today, and their go-to-market complexities reflect this:

  • Focus on Account-Based Marketing means companies create unique plans for every single one of their prospects.
  • Machine Learning algorithms constantly update strategies as prospect and customer data changes the models
  • Today’s mobile and remote salesforces add additional levels of operational challenges since the workforce is rarely in the same place.

Each new layer of complexity adds exponential challenges to execution, requiring more time, effort, and resources than ever just to implement a strategy. Identify an opportunity that requires a new type of sales support role, or an underserved area that needs a unique team? These types of decisions (often valuable) create bespoke plans that slow down time to market and complicate everything in the  Sales Operations Job Cycle.

Problem 2: Tools

From our perspective, the single biggest problem preventing the integration of planning and strategy, especially as company plans get more complex, is software. While it’s never been easier to analyze, visualize, and access information to make decisions, at the same time there has been little effort to support sales operations as they try to put plans into action.

Consider the types of solutions that exist for strategy and those that exist for execution:

  • Strategy: Data Visualization (i.e., Tableau, Looker, Periscope, Excel), Predictive Analytics (Leadspace, Salesforce Analytics, InsideSales.com), Price Optimization (Zuora), Forecasting, etc AND/OR Consultants
  • Execution: CRM, Consultants

Want to analyze your team, or think strategically? Use any of the hundreds of tools that can help you answer specific hypotheses you might have. Want to execute on that? Put it into your CRM.

For Sales Operations teams, the increased complexity that comes from the proliferation of tools means added complexity integrating all of these tools together as well as making sure that all of the right information is getting to the proper end users. When these tools DON’T integrate efficiently, as is very often the case, the burden on people to fix the problem drives the wedge between planning and execution even deeper.

Problem 3: Poorly-Scaling Processes

One of the more challenging, self-induced challenges of integrating planning and execution comes from processes that scale linearly while complexity grows exponentially. Today, companies solve their execution challenges by hiring additional people full-time, or by bringing in consultants. Teams get bigger, break up responsibilities between teams and people, and implement processes to share information. The intent of the processes is stronger integration.

The problem? It doesn’t scale fast enough and leads to breakdowns when handoffs don’t work and teams aren’t aligned.

At a small company with fewer stakeholders, the effects might be small because there is little complexity – a CRO or Sales Leader makes a strategic decision and passes on the information to one individual Systems Administrator who makes the changes in the system. A quick follow-up once the changes happen will confirm whether the changes are correct, or whether there needs to be rework. As long as this small planning<>execution link stays strong (i.e, good communication, both players stay at the company, etc), the company can be agile.

At a BIG company, things break down, and the process gets out of control. At one of our meetups, a senior executive at one of the fastest growing enterprise software companies explained how she spent eight months out of last year strictly working on planning – modeling capacity, creating segmentation, carving territories, designing quotas, and then working to input that into the system. Why? Well, according to her, much of it came from the sheer number of people that were involved in planning, who had to be in weekly meetings to maintain alignment and had to make sure their teams were represented and heard at all meetings. Unsurprisingly, this senior executive had hit their limit and left strategy and operations for a different role.

Problem 4: Bad Data and/or Lack of Transparency

Problem 4 is close to home for anyone in sales, operations, or business in general – bad data and lack of transparency are significant hindrances to making and executing on decisions.

Bad data comes in two forms – incomplete data, and incorrect data. Incomplete data comes through as accounts or leads that are missing important fields, and therefore provide an unfinished view on the market opportunity. Strategies built on incomplete data are at best incomplete, and at worst, when there is a pattern to the incompleteness, incorrect. Putting these strategies into execution is also challenging because processes like routing don’t work when they are based on data fields that are missing

Incorrect Data is data that is inaccurate – a data field has information, but that information is not true. Data can start inaccurate from the first time it goes into a system or it can become inaccurate over time (22.5% of data decays each year ), and in both instances causes issues when it comes to making decisions in planning and then putting that into execution. This is similar to incomplete data above, but the additional wrinkle is that planning usually happens in a static database, meaning that the people who are making changes doing it in one place while the database is changing in another place.

What’s the Issue?

Clearly, misalignment between planning and execution happens a lot and for a legitimate reason. The results, though, are unacceptable – companies diminish their planning efforts because of execution challenges or, even worse, they skip a formal planning process altogether. At one of our meetups in December, some of the companies even went so far as to call planning a “luxury” that they could not undertake because they were so focused on execution and didn’t have time to think about or execute on a plan. Let that sink in, and consider what would happen if YOUR company didn’t even have a plan to which you could track.

The Solution?

We’re working on that. Our software platform, which we’re calling Software Defined Sales Ops, integrates connects planning and execution into one platform, allowing all users to have visibility and plan collaboratively. With CRM integration and strong data visualization, we shorten our customers’ planning cycles by more than 25% and allow them to align their team to focus more quickly on what’s important – sales.

Want to learn more? Reach out here and we’ll get in touch.