Learning to Fly. Why planning sessions fail

If 2021 has taught us nothing it has demonstrated that no matter how much planning a business may undertake it is impossible to account for the limitless number of unknowns all taking aim at destroying the best laid plans.

Every sales plan is always at risk of market realities changing the assumptions. What made 2020 and 2021 so unique was the sheer size of the impact to the market and the the lack of historical precedent on which business could prepare for the aftermath.

No need to spend more time on all the factors no one saw coming post covid phase 1. From supply chain to work force constraints to the struggle to decide corporate policy on vaccinations. In all it was and continues to be a messy environment. 

So, atlas shrugged, and we have all seen that despite years of experience and perhaps prior success sales planning has always been a crapshoot.

Every sales manager has his or her favorite movie scene that makes it appearance at the national sales meetings. It may be Alec Baldwins classic Glen Gary Glen Ross pitch, Ben Affleck in Boiler room or Chris Farley in Tommy Boy. All classics, but the alignment of a cinema classic to the sales planning process can only be found in among the soundtrack from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The roses of success defines the planning process. “There is magic in the wake of a fiasco. It gives you the chance to second guess and up from the ashes grow the roses of success”

So, we have now been given the chance to take a hard look at what is really the root cause of planning failure. I will give you a hint, it has nothing to do with pandemics, or supply shortages. It screws up sales plans every year, and it will continue to do so again if you’re not accounting for it.

Here are the top four reasons sales plans go off the rails.

1:         Bias. Most organizations do not truly engage in employee assessments. I don’t mean the check the box by the deadlines assessment each manager performs to satisfy policy. I am talking about a true assessment of the salespeople. What they do well and what they don’t. Most sales assessments never include any feedback from those outside the sales force and often never include input from anyone other than the salesperson manager. This myopic approach feeds into a bias that develops naturally from experience. Often sales performance vs plan is the key criteria to determine a “good” salesperson. No doubt this is a critical element but does not account for any number of external factors beyond the control of the salesperson. This never happens, we all know that every sales win was a carefully orchestrated event artfully managed by the salesperson. That large bid that fell into the lap was not just happenstance. Let’s be clear there is no shame in luck, the mistake is in calling it talent. You cannot properly assess your sales teams’ strengths without bringing in cross functional teams to provide insights and feedback. Failure to assess people and their role in achieving the plan is the #1 reason plans fail

2:         Silos. You know what I am talking about. Every business has them. Sales, marketing, operations etc. etc. Rarely do these groups invest in understanding the environment the other operates in. Yet 100% of plan success depends on these groups all hitting their marks. 2021 has taught everyone that strong market demand cannot not be addressed by sales. You can’t sell what you can’t source and manufacture. So how do you build a sales plan with little involvement with the operations group? I dont know but it happens every year during the planning process. Even worse the silo continues to exist despite being faced with unprecedented market challenges. How many salespeople will tell you that their inability to meet quota is the fault of the businesses inability to build enough product. That is silo thinking.

3:         No one communicates the Strategic Vision. The “big picture”

This is similar but not the same as the silo issue. This is setting course to achieve a financial goal (budget) passing that number down to the sales team which is then expected to parcel this out among the group. It is often a number many times in the form of last year sales X % increase. If your lucky there may be some mumbling about market growth projections (projections that are often never explained) and the promise of new products that are going to drive sales. Of course, no one has seen the new product and we have a record nearing that of Nasa for missing launch dates but don’t worry it’s all good. Go get the number.

There is noting wrong with telling your story and sharing the businesses strategic vision prior to rolling out the numbers. It is even better if your vision has substance and is not built upon pie in the sky assumptions.  

4:         Failing to plan to measure and adjust

So, you have had your national sales meeting. Went great everyone left excited we are going to have a great year. Market is going to grow; we are going to launch new products no pandemic what could go wrong? Apparently, nothing since less than 3% of businesses establish a formal plan to manage the commitments promised during the planning stage. Everyone leaves the planning event and returns to their silos. Somewhere there resides millions of white posterboard ideas captured during a period of your businesses single greatest collaborative event. One that rarely gains traction because of a lack of follow-up.

The investment in planning and its importance to the business would seem to demand that it be the focus of continuous improvement. Being realistic about in house capabilities and abilities to take of tasks is critical to success. Consider bringing in outside resources to facilitate your meetings and keep these resources engaged tasked with ensuring that the commitments made during the planning process are met. Only then through the execution and constant assessment of progress can you truly have a planning process that you can believe in.

Seriously, they got a car to fly in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  How often can you say your process has achieved results at that level?

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