• Revenue and sales operations leaders should ensure their sales goals for 2021 consider the diverse recessionary impact of COVID-19 across regions, industries, and product categories
  • The challenges of 2021 annual planning are uncertainty about the full impact of the pandemic across the globe and accounting for those differences to appropriately set sales goals
  • The keys to setting realistic goals for 2021 are leveraging third-party data with an adjusted budget spend outlook and sales planning best practices to drive stakeholder alignment on planning assumptions

You’re in the midst of annual planning for the new year, you and your sales leader agree on growth strategies, and you’re feeling good about next year. But then you receive the initial top-down view of the sales goals that have been set for the new year.

Suddenly, you feel ill in the pit of your stomach as you quickly determine that the growth expectations in those sales goals don’t match even your most optimistic view of what the sales team can deliver. You realize you need to pull together a compelling view to support your position that the numbers aren’t realistic — and provide an adjusted data-driven perspective that’s credible. You’ve worked through top-down goals in past years, but the uncertainty around the length and extent of this pandemic makes the expected impact for 2021 unclear.

What do you do now?

The answer depends on the type of data you have. A bottom-up view based on insight from the sales teams and partners will always be subject to a conservative bias or sandbagging compared to third-party economic, market, and industry technology budget data that removes that bias. Whether the new year’s sales goals are derived top down from your CEO or finance leaders, aligned cross-functionally across the executive team, or derived and guided collaboratively with sales, having accurate, relevant market outlook data for the countries, industries, and technology categories your organization sells in is critical to set realistic and defendable sales goals. For B2B companies that sell technology solutions — whether cloud-based software-as-a-service offerings, on-premises hardware, software, or services — there are two key enablers to optimize sales goal setting.

  • Leverage technology budget outlook data. Ensure your organization has third-party technology budget outlook data. You and your sales operations planners should have access to the latest pandemic-factored outlook of that data. Looking to capture a bigger market share in 2021? If your sales grow by 5% over 2020 and the market is growing by 9%, you’re losing share. Knowing what markets and offers are expected to perform better can also inform coverage decisions on potential shifts in sales capacity that are needed to better balance sales headcount with expected growth in different parts of the business. Given that COVID-19 has created winners and losers by industry and tech category, budget outlook data enables striking the right balance in shifting coverage or reallocating resources to industries that are growing vs. those that are contracting. Similarly, technology budget outlooks can help organizations adjust the marketing and channel budgets that drive demand in the form of leads and partner deal registrations to match the different areas of growth and decline across the business. Know the expected 2021 growth in your markets, industries, and technology categories and be empowered to partner with your sales, marketing, product, and finance teams and align your sales organization to realistic sales goals.
  • Adopt sales planning best practices. Setting realistic top-level sales goals is critical to achieving those goals, but equally important is the realistic allocation of those goals down to the individual sales teams and reps. The quota derivation and allocation process should leverage best practices to account for variances in market potential and mix, such as new and existing business across rep territories. As buyers’ comfort with and preference for remote sales reps carries over into the new year and working-from-home reps spend less time each week traveling and commuting, organizations can uncover added sales capacity that can be reallocated to planning, prospecting, qualifying, developing, and closing. The findings from a sales activity study can quantify some of this time shift in rep activities and shift in productivity. This planning window is also a good time to factor potential changes in sales productive capacity across different segments and sales roles due to changes in sales role expectations, sales activity, sales processes, or sales technologies that may affect sales productivity.

One of the most important things you can do as a revenue or sales operations leader is ensure that the annual sales goals set across the business are realistic and in line with the business assumptions. Diligence and investment in being data-driven begins by leveraging third-party data to derive realistic growth assumptions for end-of-year projections. Then, use sales planning best practices as well as internal and historical data to drive optimum sales structure, coverage, and allocation of goals. These actions combined enable development of a credible, aligned, and actionable sales plan with goals your sales leader can be positioned to realistically achieve.

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