How can I get – and above all, keep – the Sales department involved in sales & operations planning (S&OP)? That’s the million dollar question in many S&OP processes.
The Supply Chain organisation is the driving force in virtually all S&OP set-ups – which is logical, in a way. After all, the operation won’t get far without planning, and planning is in supply chain managers’ blood. Sales managers are different; they are often more opportunistic by nature and tend to regard planning as a bit of a nuisance.
So getting and keeping the ‘S’ in S&OP involved in the process is easier said than done – but it’s essential to do so. A statistical forecast is nice, but for S&OP it is crucial to assess, validate and enrich that forecast with the associated opportunities and risks, and that input has to come from Sales. The point is that sales managers are good at selling things and maintaining good customer relationships. They don’t generally regard planning as one of their core activities, despite the fact that S&OP can play an important role in facilitating growth, optimising availability and improving delivery reliability. In other words, it’s a sales driver!
Here are five tips for securing the enduring involvement of sales managers in S&OP:
- Start with the ‘why’. Explain why the organisation is implementing S&OP and how it can boost sales. Emphasise that S&OP is not an end in itself, but rather that it is aimed at generating value for the company. Preferably talk about issues such as availability, customer satisfaction and facilitating growth, and show that S&OP will support these aspects. Sales managers often have crucial information about markets and customers, but it is usually only in people’s heads. Help them to understand that this information is important for the rest of the organisation too.
- Give guidance. “Tell me what I should do, give me guidance,” an account manager said to me recently. What he meant was, “Don’t tell me how hard it is, but give me concrete details of what you need”. In other words, make it clear what is expected and demanded of the Sales organisation.
- Talk the same language as Sales and keep things doable. Only ask for information that really matters; decide what your minimum requirement is. Often, you won’t need the very finest level of detail – e.g. information at the level of customers, sectors and regions rather than products, technologies and plants.
- Ensure a clear information-gathering process. Make it easy for Sales to collect the information. Use clear templates, preferably supported by IT.
- Integrate S&OP into existing frameworks. Make S&OP and demand planning part of existing sales meetings, for example. This has three advantages: a) it minimises the extra time involved, b) it makes S&OP part of the business, and c) it really gives Sales ownership of demand planning.
The pointers listed above are no guarantee for success but they will improve the likelihood that Sales will really get – and stay – involved in the process, and that’s crucial. Then, S&OP will strengthen both Sales and Operations and that’s when it will really start to generate business value!