Why won’t Sales participate in our S&OP process? Five tips to get Sales in the game


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Change is a challenge. Implementing sales and operations planning (S&OP) is a massive challenge. We put recurring processes in place with meetings scheduled months in advance. We gather vast amounts of data and force it into predefined buckets. And we expect diverse functional groups to talk with one another and arrive at a consensus plan. But despite the most diligent efforts, every practitioner of S&OP—even those who are even best in class—encounters obstacles to true collaboration.

So, what’s blocking collaboration? Each functional group may have differing responses to these questions, based on their priorities:

  • Are we planning in units or dollars?
  • What’s our planning horizon?
  • What level of detail is needed?

In the table below, goals differ between functional groups. Sales wants to maximize revenue, thinks in dollars and is focused on the near term. The Operations group wants to know what to manufacture, when it’s needed and where it needs to go. Operations is focused on minimizing operating costs, thinks in units and is looking at the medium term. Meanwhile, Finance is trying to maximize profit, manage cash flow, thinks in both units and dollars and is focused on a much longer horizon.

Goals of Sales, Finance, Operations

So then, is it surprising that Sales does not want to participate? Here’s what we’re asking from Sales:

  • Provide your forecast much further into future
  • Tell us specific products you will sell
  • Tell us number of units of each specific product
  • For each product specific unit projection, tell us into which months they fall
  • And, by the way, if you don’t sell to meet your forecast, we’ll have a conversation about that, too

So what’s a salesperson to do? Well, the first inclination is to resist. “I gotta be out in the field, lookin’ my customer in the eye. I don’t have time to give you a detailed forecast.”

As an organization that sees the value of sales and operations planning, we must conquer the “Get me outta here” reaction. Mandating sales participation may be necessary, but that’s not enough. The organization needs to allow salespeople to do what they do best…sell. That means making S&OP easy and helpful to Sales.

Here are 5 tips for bringing Sales into the S&OP partnership:

  1. Provide a starting point. Salespeople are much better adjusting a forecast than creating one from scratch. The starting point can be a statistical forecast based upon historical demand.
  2. Make it easy to enter forecasts. Allow salespeople to enter their forecasts in a user-friendly tool. The tool should allow users to view actuals and forecasts at desired level of aggregation. That is, allow roll up of values by customer, by region, by product family or other levels as defined by planning hierarchies. Then spread the aggregate forecasts across the all other levels using sound business logic. The planning tool does the heavy lifting, not individuals.
  3. Share the value of a better S&OP plan. A more accurate consensus plan will translate into better customer service levels and improved customer satisfaction. Yes, it really works, and increased satisfaction usually bodes well for increased sales.
  4. Set realistic and achievable sales targets. S&OP requires one plan that the organization agrees to execute against. Sales should use the same approach to set sales targets. Stretch goals are fine provided it’s clear that these go above and beyond the S&OP plan.
  5. Put the thumbscrews away. Measuring forecast accuracy is a great way to learn from the past and make improvements. It should not be the means by which to call out underachievers. If a salesperson’s actual sales are significantly and consistently under or over forecast, look into what may be driving that behavior. Does the company demand stretch goals and set commission plans at levels that are unlikely to be achieved? Is the salesperson reluctant to share leads for fear of being held accountable if she does not close the deal?


Sales participation is critical for S&OP success. Make it easy and non-threatening and the challenge may become less massive.