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How to Engage Sales for Improved Demand Planning

by Vanguard Software

Nine ways to integrate your front lines with the rest of the organization for increased accuracy, planning, and responsiveness.

Sales-team insights (in addition to the latest sales data) are crucial to effective Sales & Operation Planning (S&OP), so it only makes sense that Sales plays an integral part in that collaborative process.

What better way to tap intelligence on customer and market movements than from those on the front lines. Sales people engage daily with customers and stakeholders. It’s their job to know what’s going on.

As such, Sales is your “direct line” to market trends, buyer demands, new entrants, and customer acquisitions and losses. Their nearly real-time insights can fill in latency gaps between your most recent historical data, and what’s knowable now. Their input increases your organization’s responsiveness to sudden (but foreseeable) changes in customer accounts, competitors, market trends, and demand for your products (if you help them).

If you want their meaty input, you need to make it easy for them to provide it. You need a process that they can follow and hopefully embrace. To that end, you’ll want to get their thoughts on how the process should flow. They’ve got to live by it, and you’ve got to live with the results. The more you can do to set them up in a context they understand, the more you raise their ability to inform the rest of the organization.

So keep it simple. And if at all possible, consider an automated system that makes it as easy as possible for sales people to share knowledge that improves your baseline statistical forecasts. By doing so, you’ll bring sales people deeper into the fold, aligning them and their knowledge with the rest of the organization: operations, production, procurement and demand planning.

As a result, your organization stands to focus more intently on shared goals, and measure results in a more consistent manner. This may sound simple, but it requires that you have a process in place (one that is agreed to by all parties) and a technology that supports collaboration, workflow, and multiple views of the forecast.

Use the following guidelines to get your sales department involved, sharing insights on consumer trends and market demands, and contributing to the improvement of your demand planning process.

1. Share the big picture view

The best way to get your sales team on board with demand forecasting is to explain the impact of accurate forecasts on demand plans, supply plans, and basically all facets of operations and financial performance. Remember that team members feel motivated when they understand their role in the grand scheme, and how they contribute to the key metrics that help define the entire organization.

We’ll call this the big picture. Seeing and understanding it not only empowers team members to contribute the insights most useful to the organization, it can actually embolden them to devise innovative solutions based on their areas of expertise. To that end, make sure to communicate to all functional departments how the sales team inputs will be put to use, and how important this group’s knowledge is to the sustainability and improvement of the organization, from revenue to operating efficiency to profitability.

Keep in mind that sales people can sometimes take certain metrics personally. The big-picture view can help them see past perceived judgments of their capabilities, and understand the data as a tool for improving the overall effectiveness of the organization. Dashboards, reports, and visualizations can help if they foster communication that supports collaboration between Sales and other teams. The potential for synergy is especially high when enabled by enterprise-grade planning technology (more on that in a bit).

demand planning

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2. Define a collaborative process

You need a well-defined process for sharing sales and other information across all organizational departments. Remember that sales professionals are under constant pressure to increase sales. If you want them to participate and contribute to the demand planning efforts, you need to respect their time by introducing a simple and easy-to-follow process.

From there, you need to spell it out. Make sure to communicate all key dates, tasks, roles, and responsibilities, including each person or persons responsible for each task.

To ease resistance to change, introduce things gradually. Nobody likes drinking from the firehouse, especially when it’s a dramatic new process that can affect roles, responsibilities, or even (gasp!) performance criteria and compensation. Start with the good stuff. Unveil your plans for a statistical forecasting platform designed to give sales folks the best possible starting point for forecasting sales. Let them see and understand the time-series data and the automated statistical forecast. From there, they’ll begin to know what to do because they’ll see what that data is missing, such as the new account, the unexpected order, the cancelled contract, etc.

To take it a step further, support your sales teams in their development of a consistent and channel-specific customer interaction strategy. It’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure that they’re always getting the input the organization needs to improve demand planning, supply planning, and everything else.

It’s rare for an organization to adopt a process and have everything work out perfectly on the first, or even second, try. Let your sales team know that the process is open to change, and that their input is much appreciated.

3. Request information at the right level of detail

Input from sales is often more tactical and best used for predicting demand within the next few weeks and months. Focus on obtaining data from your sales team for short-term forecasts.  This is where the level of detail and the user experience is key. Allow users to enter the required fields in a browser-based environment, or give them the ability to upload spreadsheets that they may already have created. Focus on some of the basic data needed and allow the system to perform the statistical calculations.

4. Use software to facilitate integrated demand planning

Accurate demand planning depends on timely information sharing among different departments, such as supply, sales, operations, and finance.

Most cloud forecasting & planning platforms can facilitate this by automatically collecting, aggregating, and disseminating new forecast information as soon as it streams. Such integrated demand planning software can also aggregate historical actuals to create statistical forecasting, especially for products that have been on the market for a while.

Understanding the capabilities and features of your software is important when evaluating current and new processes for collecting sales data.  Time frame, or the frequency of data uptake, is key. Some products do better when forecast monthly, versus daily or weekly, and vice versa. Align your software, teams, and forecast requirements to optimize results.

As for sales input, configure views of the forecast that map to how sales teams collect data (for example, by account, product family, geography) and communicate that in the data. In addition, make sure sales-team members have a personalized dashboard view that enables each person or team to easily find, view, and update the information for which they’re responsible. Shortcuts to dashboard information can save time for most users of forecasting systems.

5. Share And leverage historical data

Historical data helps sales people discuss future sales with customers. It also helps sales teams compare historical actuals to historical forecasts to understand discrepancies and improve projections.

Make sure historical data is available in your demand planning software, and updated automatically to reflect the latest information.

Vanguard Software – Sales rep data entry screen

 6. Set expectations and accountability

It’s often easier to communicate what’s expected from sales teams if you can translate your requirements into key performance metrics (KPIs) that map to those related to their sales numbers.

To improve the quality of input from sales teams, incorporate forecast-accuracy metrics into sales KPIs and let salespeople track their performance on their personalized dashboard. In addition, set up an accountability framework to keep sales team engaged in the forecasting process. Make it clear exactly who is responsible for which results.

7. Automate workflow

Spotlight individual tasks and set rules to encourage follow-through on important actions.

Most integrated demand planning systems allow you to automate workflow by sending email reminders and notifications to make sure sales people deliver inputs on time. More advanced solutions will enable different permissions to review, edit, propose changes, and approve forecasts.

8. Create a cross-departmental planning group

Successful demand planning integrates different departments within an organization. If you haven’t already, create a demand manager role to coordinate interdepartmental efforts.

The demand manager owns the demand planning process and is responsible for making sure that inputs from sales, finance, supply, and operations (such as market trends and economic factors) get into the system and get shared across departments. The demand manager must also:

  • Liaise with different functions and management levels.
  • Ensure that statistical forecasts use the most appropriate models.
  • Run consensus meetings.
  • Integrate the consensus demand plan with both business plan and supply chain execution.

9. Tie forecast metrics to operational and financial metrics

Demand forecasts should be related to metrics such as On-Time In-Full (OTIF), stock-outs, and inventory levels, which in turn are tied to sales, cost, and cash flow.

By doing so, you come full circle, back to the big picture view. This helps ground all forecast efforts in the net improvement of the organization as a whole.

Transparency and real-time data sharing

It’s clear now that transparent processes, effective communication, and timely data sharing are essential to getting your sales department on board with demand forecast accuracy and continual improvement.

To take the process to the next level, consider an integrated supply and demand planning software solution that connects all teams and members in a single, real-time data environment, where everyone sees the same truth but in the display format most relevant to them. Feel free to reach out to us at Vanguard Software to learn more, or to see a live demo.

 

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