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B2B sales workforce planning: Definition, process, tools, pitfalls

As we had mentioned in our post of B2B sales acceleration, if you are gunning for a significantly higher sales number than the previous year, your sales team will have to chase down a commensurately higher number of leads. Your existing team may not have the capacity to address this increased lead flow. You may need additional hands. But how many sales people do you hire?

Enter sales workforce planning.

What is sales workforce planning?

Sales workforce planning is a strategic analytical exercise to determine the optimum staffing levels of your B2B sales team, needed to achieve your business objectives.

How will it help in sales acceleration?

It is worth going through the sales workforce planning exercise for the following reasons:

  • To determine how many sales people are required broken down by role, business unit, product, etc.
  • Establish the budget required for hiring, payroll, training, tools, and support
  • To identify at what points during the year do you need to hire
  • To understand alternate scenarios in business growth and the impact it will have on the workforce
  • Identify the risks to the business objective

What is the process of workforce planning?

The process of sales workforce planning can be broken down into a series of steps. The process, however, is very iterative in nature. Here are the steps:

1. Identification of sales goals

The first step is the identification of the business objectives for the year i.e. the sales goals that you will be going after. It is a part of the strategic planning process that you would do for the organization.

The goal identification needs to be granular. The goals need to be identified along all the dimensions that your sales organization is structured. Some of these dimensions could be:

  • Product
  • Business unit
  • Geography / territory
  • Customer type (Small business, mid-market, enterprise, government)
  • Time (by quarter or by month)
  • Breaking down the goals by multiple dimensions helps you identify variations like territory based potential, seasonality in demand, and product focus.

2. Identify the roles

Next step is to identify the roles that may have to be hired in your sales organization. These are roles that are directly impacted by the increase in lead flow. You need to consider the entire spectrum of roles e.g.

  • Sales development reps
  • Account executives
  • Inside sales reps
  • Sales managers
  • Key account managers
  • Solution architects or solution engineers
  • Sales trainers
  • Bid managers
  • Mid-office

The roles to be considered, of course, depend on your specific sales organization structure. The key point here is that you need to consider all roles and not just the frontline sales people. I have kept out leadership roles. But this depends on your specific situation.

A best practice is to further segment each of these roles into the number of years of experience, especially for roles that are larger in numbers e.g. inside sales reps, sales development reps, account executives.

3. Building the model

The next step in the process is to build a model for estimating the sales workforce requirements. This is the point where a lot of number crunching and expert judgment will be required in equal measure.

a. Estimating the volume of leads:

The starting point of the model is to establish the volume of leads that need to be worked on. To accomplish this, some of the key metrics that are required are:

Sales goals:

These are goals that were established as a part of your annual planning exercise as described in step #1. By sales goals, I mean, new business and not revenue from existing contracts.

Churn:

If your business has a certain amount of customer churn, then that has to be taken into account to calculate the volume of leads. Churn is measured as a percentage of total customers.

Leads to opportunity conversion ratio:

This metric measures how many leads are required to find one qualified opportunity.

Opportunity to close conversion ratio:

This is the rate at which qualified opportunities close, expressed as a percentage.

Average deal size:

This is the average size of the deals that are sold. If you have multiple products or multiple customer segments, or any other factor basis, which the deal size varies, it is best to go granular, because average deal size is a very misleading number.

To get to the total number of leads, you should first estimate the total number of new deals to be won. This is:

Total number of new deals to be won = (sales goals / average deal size) + (% Churn x Total number of customers)

b. Estimating the volume of activity

Once we have the volume of leads, the next step in building the model is to estimate the volume of activity that is required to generate and / or chase down these leads. The key metrics and ratios that are required are:

MQLs vs. sales generated leads:

This is a strategic assumption that has to be made to decide on what percentage of leads marketing will generate and what percentage by sales. This has important implications on the volume of activity required.

Average number of calls required to connect to a lead:

Usually it takes several tries for a sales rep to speak to a lead. The number tries to determine the volume of calling that has to be done. You could also use dials to connect ratio i.e. the number of dials a sales person does and the number of times she actually connects and gets to speak to a lead. This number usually differs by customer type. Research has shown that it takes about 5 calls to reach an SMB customer and about 12 tries to reach a busy enterprise customer.

Average number of prospects that can be generated in a day per sales rep:

This number is required if sales people are expected to prospect and generate leads themselves. The number includes the effort required to research, figure out contact details and recording them in a database / CRM, and reaching out to them.

Average number of meetings required to close a deal:

After a lead is qualified, every deal takes a few meetings before it is closed-won or closed-lost or put on hold.

Number of proposals or solutions to be created:

This number can be arrived at by looking at the conversion rate from one pipeline stage to another stage. This number assumes significant importance under two circumstances:

        • If sales people themselves have to create the proposals
        • If there is a separate solution engineering or bid management team that creates these solutions and proposals

On the other hand if proposal creation and quote creation is automated, say, using a CRM, then this effort is not required in the model.

Average amount of time required to create a proposal or solution:

This metric is self-explanatory and it usually differs by product or by deal size.

These calculations need to be done for every segment / dimension of your business that you decided while establishing your sales goals. The numbers from each individual segment can then be rolled up to get an overall number for the organization.

Using all the above numbers, you can estimate the volume of activity required. The formulae for the activity estimates are:

Total number of calls made to contact leads:

Average number of calls required to connect to a lead x total number of leads.

Total number of meetings to close opportunities:

Leads to opportunity conversion ratio x total number of leads x average number of meetings required to close a deal

c. Estimating the effort and headcount:

The total amount of effort has to be calculated for each type of sales activity as described below.

Total effort required for calling leads:

This can be arrived at by dividing the total number of calls to be made to contact leads by average number of dials per day per person.

Total amount of effort required to generate prospects by the sales team:

(Total number of leads x % leads to be generated by sales) / Average number of prospects that can be generated in a day per sales rep

Total effort required for closing deals:

Total number of meetings to close opportunities x average time required for meetings. The average time required for meetings should include actual meeting time, meeting prep time, traveling time and any other activity that might be relevant for your business.

Total amount of effort required to create proposals:

Total number of proposals to be created x average time required to create a proposal or solution.

Admin tasks:

Every role will have some admin tasks to be done. You should add some percentage of the total time for admin work.

Once we have the total effort estimates, converting them to headcount is a simple exercise of dividing the effort by the available working days in your organization for a particular time period i.e. month, quarter, year etc.

Converting this headcount to a required headcount for different roles is the next step and it is largely a function of how your sales organization and your sales process is structured.

If your sales team is structured such that your sales rep does everything, then it is a simple formula of adding all the effort and dividing the entire effort by the available hours per rep.

If your team is divided into different roles such as SDRs, Account Executives, Solutions engineers, then you will have to take the total effort of each individual activity and divide it by the available hours per rep. You should also further segment the headcount based on experience or skill.

Once you arrive at these numbers, you should also do a sense check e.g. you should look at the number of SDRs and AEs that the model throws up with the practical experience of how many SDRs does an AE support in a business.

The next step, in the process is to estimate the managerial headcount. For this, you will need the managerial spans for each type of role.

Lastly, to arrive at the additional sales manpower required, you have to deduct the existing headcount for each role from the total headcount.

Adjusting the model for various factors & scenarios:

The model you build will always have business specific factors, which have to be taken into account. Some of the factors that you may incorporate:

Contingency:

This is the simple buffer that you may want to keep in your calculations to make sure you have legroom for unforeseen circumstances.

Attrition:

The overall headcount that you estimate has to be adjusted for your anticipated attrition.

Productivity tools:

You may have bought certain productivity tools that will cut down a particular effort significantly e.g. if you have bought a prospecting tool that cuts down the effort of finding prospects by half.

Industry nuances:

There may be certain industry nuances, which you may have to take into account.

Sensitivity analysis:

Once you have constructed the entire model, you should do a sensitivity analysis to see what the numbers would look like given pessimistic, optimistic and realistic scenarios.

4. Tools available for workforce planning

The simplest and most widely used tool for workforce planning is Microsoft Excel. You can build the model as per your business, there is no learning curve (assuming you are familiar with formulas) and there are no additional costs. It is ideal if your operation is small or if you’d like to keep it simple.

If, however, your scale of operations is large and you’d like to perform analysis from many different angles then you may choose from the many options that are available in the market today. Some of the options are listed below.

SAP Success Factors

Workday

Talentsoft

Oracle

5. What to watch out for?

Workforce planning is a very critical activity if you want to achieve B2B sales acceleration. There are some pitfalls that you should be careful about.

Timing:

When you do sales workforce planning, is key. It should be done along with your annual planning exercise maybe with a short lag. In any case, it should be completed well before your new financial year starts. After the plan is approved, you should allow for hiring time, onboarding and ramping up time, for the workforce plan to start showing results.

Workforce planning involves multiple stakeholders – field sales, inside sales, sales development, marketing, sales operations and HR.

Management buy-in:

There are multiple assumptions and metrics you have to use and each of these metrics may be a KPI of a different stakeholder and everyone may have a point of view, which may or may not have consensus. Sometimes lack of proper buy-in can derail or significantly delay a sales workforce planning exercise.

To achieve proper buy-in, it is best to form a task force right at the beginning comprising all the key players in the process. All relevant people should be made responsible for providing their respective inputs. You should have intermediate checkpoints to ensure any red flags or mid course corrections are identified early.

Complexity:

One of the major pitfalls to be wary about is the tendency to make the models very complex. Making models complex might mean you have to make more assumptions. It may make it harder to update, would take longer to create and to get it approved. I feel, the incremental benefits of a more complex model do not justify the effort and time required to create it.

Estimating support function effort:

Your workforce-planning model should always include estimation for the effort required for the support functions especially training, and HR. Staff strength of the training function directly impacts the organization’s ability to get new hires independently productive in the shortest possible time.

Conclusion

Sales workforce planning is a critical strategic activity that is required to achieve B2B sales acceleration. Going about it in a methodical, scientific way without making it too cumbersome a process will go a long way in achieving the sales acceleration you aim for.

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