You came to the meeting well prepared. You had all your data well organized, your charts were all updated and you had copies for everyone. The meeting began well, and you offered your insights and recommendations to the team. Everyone listened, but in the end the team went with the numbers the sales team wanted.
You left the meeting feeling very discouraged. They didn’t believe you. They didn’t trust your numbers or insights.
Despite all our preparation and thoughtful insights, too many Demand Planners all too often leave planning meetings without having an opportunity to make an impact on the decisions being made. I know how this feels as I learned the hard way that no one has to listen to my brilliant insights. For that, I had to earn the team’s trust.
Over the years that I worked as a Demand Planner, I learned 5 skills that helped me work effectively when meeting with the sales, marketing, operations, and finance teams. They are:
- Be data-driven but open to the value of experience.
- Know your products and customers.
- Be bold in planning and humble in correcting.
- Collaborate without ego and let others be right
- Be teachable and willing to teach others.
Let’s see how these look in action.
Be Data-Driven but Open to Experience
Demand Planners live in a world of data. We plan by looking at trends and monitoring KPI’s, and we know where to find data to support our recommendations. But not everyone understands the value of using data in planning. Salespeople in particular often view data as only part of the overall planning process.
They are in regular contact with the customers, they manage the products, and they drive the programs that support the sales plans. And when we present data that challenges their perspective, we should expect that they will defend their numbers.
Most often, the best plans balance the impact of both data and experience
So we need to present data in a way that doesn’t openly risk making them look wrong. One way I managed this was to say, “My numbers are different from yours. Help me understand what I might have missed in getting to my number.”
We need to invite them to help us better understand the business, and where it makes sense, be willing to incorporate their insights into our planning. Most often, the best plans balance the impact of both data and experience.
Know Your Products & Customers
It’s much easier to plan items that we know. That’s why when I worked as a Demand Planner, I attended product reviews and also visited the locations where my products were sold. I wanted to know what the products looked like when they are on the shelf, how they are priced, what items were set next to them, and where in the location my products were stocked.
I also met regularly with the customer teams responsible for ordering and shipping our products so that we would both know how they expected our products to ship and perform. We jointly managed product shortages, returns, defective products and pricing issues. By doing this I knew first-hand what issues might impact product availability, and I was able to include this information in my planning.
Be Bold in Planning & Humble in Correcting
It can be intimidating to work with sales, finance, marketing and operations people who have more experience in the business than we do. They know from experience what issues can impact production, shipping, and sales so when we offer recommendations, we need to be confident in our numbers.
At the risk of sounding obvious, this means we need to know our numbers. We need to believe that we have something of value to offer the team — because we do. We have the data that the team needs to consider when making planning decisions. And we need to be able to present our recommendations artfully and confidently.
We need to be humble when it’s clear that our numbers are inaccurate
We also need to be humble when it’s clear that our numbers are inaccurate or where other factors trump our information. Defending a clearly inaccurate or outdated viewpoint will quickly undermine any confidence that the team might have in us. Instead of defending your numbers, openly thank the team for their insights and incorporate their perspective into your planning.
Collaborate Without Ego & Let Others be Right
Planning in most businesses is a relatively high-stakes process as company profitability, stock values, and individual bonuses are often on the line. This means that people’s egos are often involved, and this can cause both individuals and teams to make poor decisions.
When people feel that something they value is under attack, they will most often try to defend their perspective even if this harms the team’s overall goals. As Demand Planners we need to take responsibility for removing our ego from any recommendations we present.
When people feel under attack, they will defend their perspective even if it harms the team’s overall goals
Further, we need to tactfully call out others when we believe that their perspectives are driven by their ego. When someone on the team loudly and persistently defends their viewpoint, we can acknowledge that they feel strongly about the issue and invite them to tell us more about why they think their viewpoint is right.
It may be that they are only expressing frustration with the planning process (which can be messy). Or it may be that they have experience with previous similar situations and did not speak up then, so now they are working to make sure their voice is heard. In any case, inviting them to share their reasoning with the team can help reduce the impact of their ego in the planning process.
Be Teachable & Willing to Teach Others
Any effective planning process is also a learning process. No one can anticipate all the factors that can impact a product’s availability and performance. Good S&OP teams are always learning new information about their customers and their markets.
No one has all the answers. We need to actively participate in learning all that we can about our products, customers and markets. We also need to learn how to effectively interact with the members of our team. Some of them will want to know everything we can tell them about their business, while others will be satisfied with a general overview. Some of them will constantly challenge us, while others will see us as a valuable resource and include us in their planning.
Some team members will constantly challenge us, while others will see us as a valuable resource
And when we get the opportunity to show others how we analyze our business and what factors we include in making recommendations, we should gladly share with them what we know. By listening to others and sharing what we know, we can build relationships that will encourage others to trust our judgment.
Trust Takes Time to Build and is Quite Fragile
Remember that no one owes us their trust. It is something we must earn. And we earn trust by offering the team what we know and learning from them how to best support a solid planning process. Our goal must be to help create an environment where everyone can contribute to a pool of knowledge that we can all share and use to make the best possible decisions for the company. This won’t happen overnight, and there will be people who will never trust us completely.
You don’t go to meetings to be ignored. Hopefully what I have shared from my own experience can help other Demand Planners understand how to patiently build trust in the demand planning role so that they can participate actively in an effective and profitable planning process.