Selling involves a countless of choices about how to engage with customers. Sales organisations and salespeople spend a huge amount of time planning which customers and prospects to spend time with as well as what messages to focus on. Usually, a high-level annual plan anchors more detailed quarterly plans that are broken down into even more granular periods. Salespeople utilise the plans in order to cascade tactics for specific customers into daily sales activities. But this paradigm is changing as a quicker customer engagement model of “planning while doing” arises. This means that sales planning needs to remain nimble.
Two trends are at the very heart of this shift:
- First, informed and self-sufficient buyers are taking far more control regarding how they purchase as well as from which channels (digital, virtual, in-person). As a result, sales plans made months in advance routinely become obsolete.
- Second, continuously expanding data and quickly advancing analytics can provide salespeople with real-time insights regarding customers as well as their needs, preferences, and propensity to purchase.
Sales Managers Need A Simple Plan
Boil down company strategies as well as priorities into a simple which that can be internalised and acted on. Make sure that you have clear metrics for your sales planning. We know that successful front-line sales managers adopt this principle. They act as filters and not funnels. They ensure their teams are not overwhelmed with administrative trivia. These sales managers clarify strategic initiatives into actionable objectives. As one sales manager recently told us: “The more time my people can spend in front of customers with a clear sense of direction, the better our chances of exceeding our sales goals.”
From Discrete to Continuous Sales Support
Traditionally, sales and support groups spent months and months putting together annual plans defining customer, product, and activity priorities for the sales organisation. These sales plans guided many yearly decisions, including:
- Sales force size and deployment,
- Sales goals, as well as
- Sales incentive plan design.
Sales support groups organised and enabled the entire planning process. For these types of groups, digital is disrupting the output, the operating rhythm as well as the types of specialists on the team.
Consider a technology company which implemented an AI-powered system in order to give inside salespeople real-time suggestions regarding how to engage more significantly with customers. The suggestions reflect what’s important to customers (e.g., which products as well as communication channels) and what’s important to the company (e.g., customer potential and likelihood of purchase). Suggestions change as new information emerges. For instance, if a customer engages via a digital channel (e.g., downloads information from a company website), the salesperson gets a notification to follow up much earlier than previously recommended.
The new approach to sales planning changes the sales support outputs. Rather than generating discrete plans for salespeople, sales support now puts together digital assets and resources (e.g., algorithms, decision rules, software tools) to assist salespeople ‘plan on the go’. In addition, the operating rhythm is disrupted. Sales support teams give up on the project mindset – where planning cycles end – with a finished plan
Sales Planning Becomes An Almost Non-Stop Process
In this world, sales support encompasses creating – and continuously improving – the underlying assets as well as processes as the technologies themselves change. Activities include:
- Enhancing sales force adoption of the system,
- Upgrading the data,
- Improving the algorithms, as well as
- Perfecting implementation processes (e.g., change management, training as well as user feedback loops).
With digital assets playing a pivotal role in the new sales planning world, sales support teams are required to include more specialists such as data scientists, software engineers, and agile process experts to augment business and process/operations expertise. A boundary spanning team leader who understands both sales and technology is also critical for connecting the specialists’ efforts to broader business needs.
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