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June 20, 2022

Is Continuous Sales Planning Real? How to Roll with the Punches or Plan Before They Come

By Hunter James, General Manager of Sales Planning, Varicent
A stack of documents with charts and graphs sitting on a desk.

We all know that “hope is not a [sales] strategy”. It takes determination, grit, and, above all, a game plan.

Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with revenue leaders and C-suite executives who worked to answer three fundamental questions:

  • How can we increase revenue?
  • Is there a better way to manage costs?
  • What can we do to improve predictability?

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” – Mike Tyson

Organizations, historically, have set sales (or “game”) plans on annual basis. Considering the speed and volatility of the current market, likely most have considered or been impacted by the reality that the original plans no longer work.

“Progress is impossible without change” – George Bernard Shaw

Much has been written on the concept of planning frequency, and a quick search will yield loads of best-practice thought leadership and the obligatory sales content around the concept of “continuous sales planning” – the importance of being willing and able to change course quickly.

There are three questions worth answering amid the noise:

  • Is this marketing hype to be ignored?
  • Should I stay the course?
  • Is this a business shift that impacts my strategy?

Should you ignore the hype?

To better understand how sales planning is happening today, Varicent conducted a survey of more than 600 sales leaders across SMB, hypergrowth, and enterprise. The insights collected were then analyzed and distilled into our State of Territory and Quota Planning report. We found only 23% of respondents plan in the traditional method (once annually) and 18% plan slightly more frequently (biannually). Over half of respondents now plan on at least a quarterly basis, with 32% planning quarterly, 22% monthly, and 5% weekly. While it is safe to say “continuous” planning may be an overreach, the traditional view of annual planning is rapidly disappearing. This isn’t just a marketing tactic.

Should you stay the course?

One could point to the same research to support answering no to this question, but I prefer to reference a recent conversation with sales leaders representing several enterprise organizations across a variety of verticals. The majority of these leaders have leaned into the concept of shifting their go-to-market strategy to an omni-channel approach that allows for nearly continuous, in-year flexibility in selling motions and the changing selling environment in general.

In other words, they are pointing massive, multi-billion-dollar organizations to a refined selling approach inclusive of a heavier focus on remote and channel businesses and frequency of change than in previous years and decades. Considering the level of planning and buy-in it takes to move organizations of this size – and combining it with the data referenced above – we can conclude that this shift toward more frequent planning is very likely here to stay and some of your competitors are likely already on the journey. So, staying the course could put you further behind.

How should you shift your go-to-market strategies?

This question is tricky, as the implications of shifting an approach to go-to-market strategy are unique to all organizations and cannot be addressed here in an inclusive or complete way. However, I recommend evaluating whether the following strategies that many organizations have leveraged within their go-to-market planning and execution are right for you:

  • Broaden the definition and approach beyond territory and quota. Combine data from market segmentation, account and opportunity scoring, potential sizing and customer purchase behaviors to take a more insights-driven approach to sales planning.
  • View market opportunity from a point-in-time lens rather than once a year. Over the past two-plus years we have witnessed several economic drivers occur in tandem. Market volatility does not care about fiscal year planning cycles. For example, a medical manufacturer with PPE in their product set found the sellers aligned to those products were making more than the C-suite, and the sellers who weren’t aligned to those products were struggling to contact their buyers – let alone sell them anything. A change had to happen right then.
  • Implement business process and technology changes that enable your business – no matter how big or small – to not just react after the fact, but to proactively plan for market disruptions leveraging real data.

Based on data and evidence from the market, continuous sales planning is not hype or a fad. It’s here to stay. So maybe there are some new questions to consider:

  • If process and technology weren’t limiting factors, would you consider more frequent planning? And do you believe there would be a positive impact to increasing revenue, increasing predictability, and more effectively managing the bottom line?
  • Simply put, what would the impact be to your business if you stopped hoping that the punches wouldn’t come and instead learned how to see them and react before they land?

Before you answer, we recommend checking out our Complete Guide to Sales Planning to learn more about how organizations are leveraging technology to support their planning process.

Headshot of Hunter James

Hunter James is general manager of Sales Planning at Varicent, with over a decade of experience in the sales performance management technology and consulting industries. He has successfully led the sales and delivery of SPM technology to hundreds of companies, including some of the world’s most influential organizations. Prior to joining Varicent, Hunter led GTM and client strategy as vice president at the Voiant Group, one of the world’s largest boutique consulting firms focused on sales planning. Hunter has expert knowledge around solving unique business problems in a variety of industries such as high tech, insurance, life sciences, agriculture, and financial services.