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2015

Eric Tinker's Blog

June 2015 Previous month Next month

mobile-beach.jpgWelcome to Part 2 of our 4 part series on improving engagement from Sales to support Demand Planning. In Part 1, I discussed some specific considerations and ways related to process design to improve Sales’ engagement in your Demand Planning process.

 

You can review Part 1 on process tips if you’d like.

 

It’s hard to believe, but I still regularly speak with company leaders that have yet to implement some kind of forecasting tool to support their process. Some of today’s tools do not require a significant investment or IT effort to get up and running and even smaller companies need to forecast, plan operations, and integrate financial planning. If you have this opportunity in your company then you may also have one or more of the following supply chain challenges, which I’m afraid, would now rate you a “laggard” on any maturity scale:

 

  • Sales doesn’t really forecast
  • You just respond to orders and your order fill lead time is what it is (for make-to-order environments)
  • The budget dominates and doubles as the operational “forecast” too.
  • Production builds what “it thinks it should” and inventory is what it is (for make-to-stock environments)
  • There really isn’t an integrated supply chain function
  • You’re struggling to recruit or keep supply chain talent, especially more senior people

 

If some level of these things aren’t working for you anymore, you may want to consider a forecasting tool or improving the use of the tool you have. Among other things, the tools are good at collecting forecast information (multiple input types), aggregating it at whatever view you want in the hierarchy you've defined, and then displaying and integrating that information for supply and inventory planning. They’re also good at forecasting future demand based on historical actuals. I don’t mean to suggest that using a forecasting tool by itself will fix the bullets above, but it’s a key component. For the sake of this article, we’ll consider that you have a tool and need to get better process compliance/ownership from Sales. Toward the end, I’ll suggest the following:

 

Ensure your tool configuration matches your process. Yes – that does sound obvious, but you’d be surprised. Make sure the foundational elements of the process are configured correctly in the system. Here’s a couple of examples of what I mean. Perhaps the most basic of element to align is the forecast horizon period (i.e. if your process is a rolling 18 months, then show a rolling 18 months in the tool, no more, no less for the standard user from Sales). The level of forecast should be consistent, and the views of the forecast should be mapped to the ways you expect the salesforce to input and validate forecast volumes.

 

Every salesperson should have a view that pertains to them. Sure – you can give others (especially managers) roll-up views, or other information, but the point is to make it easy for Sales to see and use their slice of the forecast. We made the point in the last post about them updating a base forecast and not creating everything from scratch each month. When they hear something from a customer, they need a means of easily and conveniently updating the forecast. Additionally, salespeople are obviously on the road with intermittent connectivity and/or slow connections (e.g. hotel). The architecture needs to consider this.

 

History is easily accessible. Sales needs history to help them advise on the future. Make it handy (i.e. automatically integrated).

 

Exceptions are highlighted. Rules can be put in place to highlight places where the statistical forecast needs to be checked or perhaps manually where the Demand Manager has indicated something needs to be checked out by a human. Sales should be able to view all their items or just the exceptions highlighted for them.

 

The tool should compute KPIs for you. Sales will be interested in their personal metrics (if those are managed properly). Make sure it’s easy for them to see where they stand.

 

Email triggers. Most systems have now incorporated elements of automated workflow which means salespeople can get reminder emails when due dates are coming, and supervisors can get emails when due dates are missed!

 

Mobile friendly. Applications that people can use on tablets and even smart phones will be more popular.  “I just came from a customer meeting, why not update the forecast while I’m waiting for my dinner, or for my flight at the airport?”

 

Well, there’s a few things to think of along the IT path. Stand by for Part 3, Organizational Considerations, coming in a couple of weeks.

 

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About the author

Eric J. Tinker is managing principal at Nexview Consulting, a training and management consulting firm that specializes in S&OP and supply chain performance improvement. Please see more articles and blog posts at nexviewconsulting.com, and a free training video on the 8 Levers for S&OP Performance and other improvement tips. He may be contacted at ejt at nexviewconsulting dot com

 

 

Many of us who’ve implemented, improved, or managed a demand planning process have struggled to get Sales to commit to, and participate in the process to the degree that we’re looking for. We often hear things like:

 

“I need to spend my time selling.”

 

“This is taking time away from my customers.”

 

“Our business is different, it can’t be forecasted, it’s too unpredictable.”  

 

While Sales input is certainly not the only input to the demand plan, it is a critical one, and their leadership in demand planning is not only important to getting a good forecast, but also when Sales leadership is necessary for S&OP.

 

In this 4 part blog series, I’ll discuss specific strategies and examples to improve Sales engagement and ownership in the demand planning process. I’ll release the posts a couple weeks apart and organize them around process, enabling technology, organizational considerations, and change management.  I’ll weave in the themes of making it “easy” for sales (at least to the extent possible), value-add to the business, and continuous improvement throughout. I’ve structured the sections in this order as it’s often the best sequence to conduct a process improvement effort. Please consider the following.

 

  1. Process - What is the process needed to meet our business requirements? Start with this.
  2. Enabling Technology - How are we going to conduct the process on an on-going basis and scale it to handle a complex business situation?
  3. Organization – Who should be doing what at what level? Where should the hands-off be? Who’s accountable? How is success measured?
  4. Change Management – We’re thinking of this throughout. Think of tangible (e.g. metrics, defined accountabilities) and intangible methods (e.g. coaching).

  

Let’s start by emphasizing that when getting Sales involved, it’s important to make things as easy as possible for them. Salespeople are under constant pressure to deliver sales growth and results or likely face the pink slip. It is different from many jobs that have a constant stream of work that will be there and needs to get done. Use their time sparingly. Having said that, of course the forecast is critical and we need them for it.

 

Sales should be starting with the base forecast (i.e. statistical) with perhaps some other inputs from the Demand Manager(s) (e.g. history, promotional lift, macro effects, POS data, other demand streams). Sales needs to make incremental changes, not build something from scratch each month. Show them the whole process and what everyone else is doing to contribute their parts (more on this later). Illustrate to them that they aren’t the only ones who are working this.

 

Sales should not forecast all items. I’m talking about Demand Segmentation here, meaning that SKUs can be forecasted using different methods based on their volume and variability.  Sales should only forecast items with high coefficients of variation (Standard deviation/Mean).  I often suggest a rule of thumb to start with is that values above 50% could be considered “high”, but it’s relative to the variability of your overall data set.  The point is to ask Sales to provide input on items of relative high $ importance and variability, not the ones where the statistical forecast is good enough.

 

The process needs to be well-defined, spell it out. The process needs to be easily understood and key dates put on a visible calendar. Who does what by when, full clarity even a teenager could follow. One salesperson should be able to explain it to another on an elevator ride and refer them to the simple documentation/training material, associated RACI chart, and timeline. Don’t assume publishing an email on this will do the trick, it won’t.

 

Only ask for the level of detail and horizon that the business really needs. What are you really doing with SKU/location forecasts 24 or 36 months out? Sales input is more tactical (usually a few months). Sales executives and Marketing should be building upon the base forecast (among other inputs) with higher/S&OP level forecasts for the out months of your demand and financial planning horizon.

 

Define how sales should interface with their customers to provide forecast inputs. This topic is too large for our discussion here, but I’ll make the cursory point that if it’s not specified and shared across the salesforce, you will get a hodge-podge. A specific strategy often needs to be developed by channel or customer segment.

 

Let them know that the process is open to change. Nothing about any process should ever be sacred or forever. Be open to input and include Sales’ input when you can. Sales should hear that they can change things as part of the cross-functional team process. We’ll talk more about this in Part 4. The process needs to be grounded in the requirements though, so “we’re not doing this” isn’t a viable change they could suggest. Expectations for process evolution should be well-communicated so it becomes part of a performance improving culture.

   

In Part 2 – We’ll discuss enabling technology and considerations to ensure tools are user friendly for Sales.  In Parts 3 and 4, we’ll look at the people aspects – tips for organizational design and techniques for change management.

 

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About the author

Eric J. Tinker is managing principal at Nexview Consulting, a training and management consulting firm that specializes in S&OP and supply chain performance improvement. Please see more articles and blog posts at nexviewconsulting.com/ideas or he may be contacted at ejt at nexviewconsulting dot com