6 Challenges in sales planning and 2 ways you can fix it

If you work in the automotive or manufacturing industry and sales is somewhere in your job title, you’re most likely in the middle of your annual sales planning process at the moment. So this is the best time to tell you: you need to stop right now and rethink what you’re doing. The sales planning process as we know it hasn’t changed in a significant way for decades—and it shows. It’s time to catch up with other industries and take advantage of the digital tools available to overhaul the entire process.

Andreas Geiger

Xotigo CEO

Throughout my career in automotive and manufacturing, my experience in both business and IT roles has allowed me to witness the many challenges in the sales planning process. While working for Hella and Festo, I observed all the frustrations and slow-moving processes involved in sales planning and realized there were simple solutions that could fix them: it’s time for a real digital transformation! Here are six challenges I’ve observed in sales planning and two solutions to overcome them all.
1. Building an annual sales plan takes months

It happens every year and you dread it every single time: the annual “planning hell”. Putting together a sales plan is a time consuming, chaotic process that only happens once a year because it takes months to complete. A huge chunk of that time is spent collecting, consolidating and aligning large packets of data from different spreadsheets and organizing systems that are both error-prone and confusing. Using scattered data to draw a roadmap for a year full of volatile twists and turns is a monumental task!

2. The data quality in live systems is unreliable

It’s pretty simple: bad data means bad planning. As things are now, the data used for sales planning is already out of date by the time it can be analyzed because things have changed in the meantime. Basing decisions on unreliable data means those decisions are made without seeing and understanding the big picture, setting you up for failure before the fiscal year has even started.

3. Attempting company-wide plan alignment with chaotic processes is frustrating

Your data isn’t the only factor that’s slowing you down: Aligning on a sales plan that takes every stakeholder’s perspective into account is just as tedious. But alignment is crucial. Since data isn’t centralized and available company-wide in real time, stakeholders aren’t all on the same page and often feel like their concerns aren’t considered during the planning process. Manufacturers can’t move forward with confidence if they can’t earn company-wide trust and consent in their sales plan.

4. Sales reacts to new challenges as they come—it should be proactive

Not to state the obvious, but the auto-manufacturing industry is extremely volatile. Every new scenario that impacts the market, from commodity price increases to international political crises, veers you off-course from your sales plan. Reacting to these challenges (slowly, while waiting for data) as they come rather than acting preemptively (with real-time data) makes it nearly impossible to monitor whether you’re holding yourself accountable to your sales goals.

5. Decision making happens without visibility and real-time data

During sales planning meetings, one of the most important topics that always comes up begins with two words: “what if…” Predicting possible scenarios that could impact your fiscal year is an essential conversation that needs to happen, but currently those questions are answered with gut feelings rather than hard data. To create future-proof plans, you need to be able to ask the “what if” questions and then answer them with real-time information—right then and there. Otherwise, your meetings end without any decisive action.

6. Comparing your budget with current data and future scenarios takes so long that the data is ineffective

The reason your data needs to be available in real-time is because you need to be able to compare all the factors that affect your sales plan simultaneously—and then do something about it fast. When data is only available weeks or months later, it’s useless in helping companies decide how to move forward. These are organization-wide decisions that affect everyone, from headcount to resource allocation, so they shouldn’t be made blindly.

What a great sales planning process looks like: 2 Solutions

There’s a reason I call the current sales planning process “planning hell”: it’s a yearly ordeal that repeats a cycle of outdated processes. But while all of the challenges I’ve observed over the years might seem like an impossible knot to untangle, the solutions are luckily quite simple.

Turn your annual planning into a continuous, streamlined process

Yearly planning doesn’t have to be a months-long ordeal. In fact, intelligent software can turn months of data consolidation and alignment into precise and continuous planning. Real-time data and simulations transform your sales planning into a streamlined process that you can adapt and monitor all year long. It empowers your stakeholders with constant access to current data in one centralized place—like switching from a physical roadmap from 1989 to Google Maps.

Create an effective sales plan by answering “what if” questions with real-time data

You already ask the “what if” questions, but what if you could answer them with hard data—in seconds? Digital tools with scenario simulation capabilities can give you that power. Being able to discuss possible future scenarios and understand their impact turns sales planning meetings into effective collaborations. That’s how you get true alignment, company-wide, on an effective sales plan.

The future of sales planning is data driven

I’ve just outlined 6 challenges that manufacturers face in sales planning—and only gave you 2 solutions. Why? Because so many of the factors that make the process inefficient can be fixed with digitalization. The future of planning is already here because the tools you need already exist! In fact, we’re proud to be piloting a new product that does exactly that.

Here is my vision for sales planning 2.0: Future-proof decisions powered by real-time data analysis and effective collaboration. Does that sound promising to you?

Reach out to us if you want to see what it looks like and transform your sales planning process!

Xotigo provides digital software solutions for the automotive supply
and manufacturing industries. Xotigo’s solutions cover the entire
business processes of sales teams, increase productivity, improve data
transparency and deliver intelligent insights to improve margins.


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