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Avoiding Surprises in Sales Ops

Futurist Karl Shroeder says, “Foresight is not about predicting the future, it’s about minimizing surprise.”

Over the past few years, we’ve all experienced a good bit of surprise. Pandemics. Supply chain interruptions. Civil unrest. War. Mass shootings. Extreme weather. Labor shortages. Many of these events caught even the most revered prognosticators unaware.

With so much uncertainty in the recent past, it can be tempting to give up on any attempt at planning. None of us really knows what is coming in the year ahead. What hope do we have of putting together a reasonable business plan for the coming quarter, let alone the entire year? Life has seemed so much like a roller coaster that you might think all you can do is throw your hands in the air, scream, and hope to survive.

But believe it or not, uncertainty can actually be an asset.

When things have been going along on a steady course for a while, many business leaders become complacent. They assume that next year will be much like the year before. As a result, in good times, many B2B firms fail to make solid contingency plans. And frankly, that’s the situation many organizations were in just a few years ago.

But when you’ve had a couple of topsy-turvy years, you understand that almost anything could happen. That puts you in the right frame of mind for considering possibilities.

As you plan for the year ahead, we encourage you to think through some “what if?” scenarios. Brainstorm with your team about what might happen in the coming year and think through what your organization would need to do in response.

Often, this exercise results in a recognition that your firm might not be very well prepared for some circumstances — including situations that aren’t all that unlikely in the 12 months ahead. Consider what you would need to do to be better prepared and start making the changes you need to be better positioned to weather a coming storm. That might involve adopting new perspectives on how sales ops will need to react to customers, competitors, or the broader market. It might mean developing a new approach to setting sales targets and defining account plans. Or it might require something else, depending on the particulars of your company and industry.

Inevitably, some of those “what if?” scenarios will become “what now?” scenarios. As the quote from Shroeder implies, a little foresight — and preparation — in the present can make it much easier to respond to whatever the future brings.

SellingBrew has several resources that can help you think through some of those “what ifs”:

  • Selling Through Uncertainty deals very directly with the challenges of managing unpredictability. It provides guidance for developing the most helpful mindset and how to leverage data and research to minimize risk.
  • Developing Better Forecasts covers seven things that leading B2B sales ops teams are doing differently to improve their predictions and sales targets.
  • Leading Edge Account and Territory Planning examines current best practices and offers suggestions for improving your team’s planning and forecasting capabilities.

Of course, it’s impossible to anticipate the exact nature every potential event. But by better preparing for a range of possibilities, you’ll lessen the impact of any particular surprise. And that’s what forecasting is really all about.

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