GUEST BLOG: The engine room

Business | Fri 19 Jun | Author – Business & Finance
working team cogs stock

By Ian Stone, MD of UK and Ireland, Anaplan

There is a very compelling argument that the sales team represents the engine room of any organisation. After all, what is more fundamental to a business than the ability to sell its product or services?

Ironically, despite being the key driver for revenue, the sales department often seems to be left behind by technology investment. Teams are left to rely on gut instinct and educated guesswork, frequently operating with out-dated information or using old, cumbersome IT systems.

Many sales teams are forced to make do with spreadsheets – attempting to plan and predict everything from their organisation’s sales targets through to team compensation numbers in software that was originally designed as a personal productivity tool.

This approach rarely ends well. Organisations using spreadsheets face several key issues in the implementation of a successful sales performance management (SPM) programme:

A lack of visibility – Sales reps are unable to view their compensation plans, resulting in a lack of trust between the salesforce and management with commission statements and bonuses frequently in dispute.

Errors and inaccuracy – With so many users jumping in and out of the spreadsheet errors are difficult to spot and almost impossible to trace. Some analysts estimate that organisations running SPM over spreadsheets paid out up to 8 per cent in overpayments – a significant portion for any business.

Lengthy cycle times – In today’s world, forecasting and planning on a quarterly or even monthly basis is too slow. Businesses need to move faster, updating in real time. Spreadsheets, however, simply can’t cope with this demand.

Inflexibility – We’re in a period of huge market volatility, SPM needs to be able to react to anything that may sprint up. The rigidity of spreadsheets mean plans become very complex very quickly – changing this can put a real strain on resources.


HP is a great example of how SPM investment can have tangible results. While previously, the organisation had attempted to manage 30,000 salespeople, with over 150 products, using nothing more than a series of spreadsheets.

As you might expect, the process was patchy, leading to unpredictable deployment and a lack of visibility into how the field was working. There was huge uncertainty from region to region. Often, by the time all errors and issues were ironed out of the planning process the sales assignments wouldn’t be handed out until Q2.

Investing in a cloud-based SPM solution was a crucial step in speeding up the process, ensuring that no time is lost. Having the sales letter in hand at the start of the year has shown to influence improvement in quota performance; the sooner somebody gets a sales letter, the quicker they start working towards their target. In the end, HP reported a significant improvement in sales performance.

It seems simple but it’s a lesson that often needs to be taught to individual departments rather than the business as a whole: the right technology investment will pay off. And the sales department is no different.

By implementing technology that can offer improvements to the planning process, the team will be better equipped to execute. With the right territories, prompt quotes, transparent incentives and up-to-date forecasts there is no limit to how far a sales team can improve.

Ian StoneAbout the author

Ian Stone is the managing director for the UK and Ireland at Anaplan. Stone’s role includes responsibility for sales, pre-sales, marketing, consulting, support and operations, while day-to-day he aims to ensure that Anaplan’s customer focus is driven throughout his region.

Prior to joining Anaplan, Stone held positions with Business Objects and Cognos before going on to found Vue Analytics – a reseller dedicated to bringing the Anaplan platform to the UK market. Following a successful launch Anaplan acquired Vue Analytics and in 2013, he was appointed to his current role in the organisation.

Stone has over 15 years’ experience working in the Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) and is widely considered an expert in the application of EPM across the sales function.