Webinar Recap: How to Avoid Sales Planning Pitfalls for 2021

Recently, the Global Sales Operations Association (SOPSA) launched the first webinar of a series on preparing for 2021. This session featured a panel of industry leaders – Anshul Gupta, VP of Industry Solutions at Varicent; Dave Eddleman, Principal at The Alexander Group; Dr. Joel Shapiro, Professor at  Northwestern University and Chief Analytics Officer at Varicent; and Robert Blohm, SVP of Sales and Marketing at OpenSymmetry – to answer the most pressing question at the end of 2020: how do we prepare for 2021?

None of us saw 2020 coming, but the lessons from this year provide a wealth of opportunities to be smart and plan for 2021. Here’s a recap of what experts had to say in this webinar.

Topic 1: Now that we cannot rely on historical patterns, what words of wisdom do you have for this new environment and how to plan for 2021?

  1. Planning must be adaptive, collaborative, and efficient. Plan for internal and external factors and create multiple models, since things are changing within the hour.
  2. Revenue growth is more important now than ever. It is even more important than sales growth, so consider how to develop continuous planning.
  3. Revisit customer segmentation. Since different audiences are impacted in different ways, accounting for various demographics.

Additionally, one moment in history with some similarities to the rapid sales commission adjustments needed for this year’s economic changes is the 2008 banking meltdown. Quotas and goals set at the beginning of the year were deemed unattainable, so temporary measures had to be applied. Some ways to adapt that were similar to that time period include:

  • Quota relief
  • Design formula changes
  • Stack ranking
  • Management by objectives (MBOs)

However, all of these measures are more like “band-aids” that provide temporary relief but will not work as long-term solutions. What this reveals is that there must be a disruptive coverage model, like mentioned earlier – adaptive, collaborative, and efficient. There are no clear answers about new metrics and change expectations for 2021, but the need to remain agile and adaptable will not change.

Topic 2: How do you use data as a decision-making tool in an agile way?

We need to be more agile than ever. However, old systems are pretty rigid and purpose-built around old management methodologies. Here are some ways to break out of a way of working that keeps you from moving quickly:

  1. Be clear about what problem you’re trying to solve. It’s not about how much data you have, but how it’s leveraged – it all stems from how the problem is articulated. This is what “analytics” is all about – not the IT tools, dashboards, or reporting capabilities.
  2. Use smart tools (AI and machine-learning) to find trends and make predictions. By letting computers do the heavy lifting, you will be freed up to find patterns to plan for what will happen – both to anticipate problems and discover opportunities.

Remember, technology is just a decision-making tool that supplements the business strategy – not the other way around.

Topic 3: What advice do you have about the footrace to implement sales comp plan changes and new requirements in the SPM system for January?

With just a few weeks left, getting the sales performance management (SPM) system updated with the latest incentive compensation plans is difficult, to say the least. The worst-case scenario is that you create the plan, throw it over the wall, and hope it’ll get implemented by the admins. But a better approach is to:

  1. Align the admin/implementation team with those having the planning conversations. Companies often fail to bridge the gap between these two groups in the initial conversations. If you know your company is headed in a different direction for 2021 (ex. shorter quota calendar, changing metrics or weights), the sooner you can have those conversations with those managing those compensation plans and administering them, the better they’ll be at addressing them in the system.
  2. Have an assessment of your plan designs and system as a whole. Don’t assume that the sales compensation plan is still driving the right behavior or that the system has the right dashboards or reports in place. Set up your system to be flexible and allow you to do the things needed for 2021.
  3. Be proactive rather than reactive. Many companies scramble to make mid-implementation changes when sales leaders assume that certain changes will be small and simple. Have those managing and administering the sales compensation plans be proactive about giving sales and finance leadership options and a clear understanding of the level of implementation difficulty for each option.

Be dynamic and give yourself the time for dynamic changes as well as making sure you have the right platform for dynamic changes. Planning in shorter spurts may also allow for greater flexibility than those with typically long cycles.

Topic 4: How should sales reps and managers prepare to sell in a virtual world?

Selling in a virtual world entails new and different skills and even roles that are very different from traditional ones. Top tips for salespeople include:

  1. Always be camera and phone-ready. Putting on your best face must happen at any moment.
  2. Have crisp and targeted messaging. Buyers (and salespeople) now have much less time for the sales pitch and conversation. There is no longer any room for “recreational shopping.”
  3. Creative empathy is more important than ever. Understand the buyer’s unique situation and right size that sale.

Top tips for sales managers include:

  1. Incorporate the bottom-up number into the new plan. Sales folks are the “feet on the streets” that are really in touch with the appetite in marketplace.
  2. Empower the sales team to bridge the short-term expectation of the customer. Executives must trust the sales team to make the best decisions that can’t come from the top.
  3. Consider how to take the lower costs to improve the sales process. Currently, there are fewer travel expenses and less time spent traveling. Leverage this creatively.
  4. Make coaching available for sellers. Sales reps, especially older ones, need to learn as quickly as possible how to adapt to new ways of selling or even new types of metrics, such as activity-based metrics.

Finally, consider the opportunities presented in the new year. With much of selling happening in a digital environment, there is actually a huge opportunity to track and measure metrics to build a body of evidence to prove what works and what doesn’t. Capitalize on what you can, and keep moving forward.

Bonus topic: How do you keep the sales team motivated in this selling environment?

Many companies are currently struggling with the fear of losing their sales teams as motivation is waning in a usually resilient team culture. Some salespeople currently have the outlook, “I just need to wait for things to get better.” However, panel experts shared the following tips on keeping the sales team motivated:

  1. Protect the best people with MBOs (Management By Objectives). Have clear communication channels with the highest performers during goal and expectation-setting.
  2. Use analytics to identify long-term changes. Analytics can shine a light on what works in the current environment, so take a look at the data.
  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Let reps know why certain changes are happening to sales compensation plan design, changes to territory coverage, and more. Protect the trust from the sales team.

To watch the full webinar hosted by SOPSA, click here



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