In many companies there often appears to be a difficult relationship between the sales and demand planning teams when it comes to the plan numbers. While some tension between these teams is inevitable, it seems to me that perhaps we are viewing this relationship incorrectly.

Based on my several decades of experience dealing with salespeople, I think many people – including Demand Planners and Managers – do not really understand that salespeople are not the enemy when it comes to planning.

They can, in fact, be your best ally. If you understand how the salespeople tend to think and operate, and the environment they operate in.

Every Salesperson’s Goal is to Make Plan

Salespeople are hired to sell a certain volume of product at a specified margin percent each year. If they meet the plan numbers for a year, they get another chance to do the same for another year. If they fail to meet the plan for a year, they are then under more pressure to make the numbers the following year.

Most plans increase incrementally each year, so every year the salesperson must be more creative, more focused and motivated to make the new numbers. Effective salespeople are always hunting for new opportunities to help them make plan.

Salespeople as Sharks

If we think of salespeople as sharks, we can get some insights into why they might seem like an enemy in planning. Sharks are hunters, apex predators with few enemies.

To be successful as a salesperson, a you must think and sometimes act like a shark.

To be successful as a salesperson, a you must think and sometimes act like a shark. Swimming slowly through the sea of sales opportunities, constantly searching for the next sale, exploring new areas, and acting quickly when an opportunity appears. Their only real competition is other sharks, that is, competing salespeople.

You Cannot Tame Sharks, But You Can Learn to Feed Them

I often see Demand Planners and salespeople arguing over the details of plan numbers, and in most cases, this is both useful and inevitable. However, this should not be viewed as something negative. We want plan numbers that are the result of honest deliberation. Where this process can derail is when each side sees the other as an opponent when, in fact, they both want the same goal – sales growth. So learn to feed the sharks.

Learn to feed the sharks.

Share every piece of relevant information you can with them. And do not limit yourself only to data available within the company. POS and inventory data are nice to have, and in fact necessary to guide a business. But include news about the companies that the salespeople are serving, and that they may not have time to review on their own.

Significant changes in location counts, staffing, programs of competing suppliers (including promotions), management changes and company performance are all useful pieces of tactical information that can help a salesperson judge when and how to approach a customer with a sales opportunity.

Ask to See the Math

While what I have said so far might seem like I think Demand Planners should always follow the sales team’s direction, there is one fact that Demand Planners need to ask when a salesperson proposes a new plan.

Show me the math.

Show me the data that you used to get to the numbers you want to use. Do not make me use your numbers just because they “feel” right, or because you need these specific numbers to make your plan.

Keep it real. After all, the Demand Planner’s key job is to make sure that what is planned actually gets sold. A demand plan is a request for product. A sales plan is a map to meet the sales goal. Both need to be based on realistic math that shows a clear path to the goal.

Above All, Build Solid Relationships with Salespeople

Effective sales are based on good relationships. We tend to buy mostly from people we know and trust. Effective planning is equally dependent on solid relationships. This means we can disagree with each other without becoming disagreeable.

We can disagree with each other without becoming disagreeable.

We can playfully challenge each other and play hardball when we see the other side gaming the numbers or hiding information. And never try to prove that the other side is “wrong”, as this can permanently damage the relationship and prevent future sharing of information.

Let the Sales Team Be Your Teachers

Good salespeople are in regular close contact with their customers. They know what drives their customers and what they need. If you are a Demand Planner, learn to regularly ask them about their customers and their business. They often know things about their customers that can help you with your planning.

Are their customers over inventory against their plan or open-to-buy? Are there buyer changes coming? Is the company in merger talks or under financial stress? Are they planning to repeat last year’s holiday promotions again this year? This kind of information can lead to especially useful discussions about how to plan future business.

Sales is a Game, and You Both Need to Win – But Not at Each Other’s Expense

Collaboration is often more difficult than merely playing to win. It requires more effort. However, in the long run, it produces more wins for more people, and helps support ongoing relationships.

So get to know the sharks that make your company successful. Feed them what they want and help them find the opportunities that will make you both successful.