Recently in the Adaptive Blog, I recapped an interview with Mark Chamberlain, vice president of sales operations at Ivanti, a software company that unifies IT and security operations to better manage and secure the digital workplace.
Mark described how his fast-growing organization, which employs 2,000 people in 36 offices across 23 countries, has switched from manual, spreadsheet-based sales planning to Adaptive Insights for Sales, a purpose-built planning and analytics solution aimed at driving performance and predictability. An extension of the Adaptive Insights Business Planning Cloud, the new solution modernizes sales capacity, quota, and territory planning.
For a finance perspective, I caught up with Austin Olson, senior financial analyst at Ivanti. Austin shared his impressions of how quota planning, collaboration, what-if analyses, and the integration of sales and finance planning have changed since Ivanti added Adaptive Insights for Sales to its existing Adaptive Insights for Finance environment.
Tom: When you decided to move away from spreadsheet planning, one of the first targets was quota planning, correct?
Austin: Setting quotas was a challenge. We’d have to find a way to determine how much quota would be necessary to reach our sales targets. And then we’d have to track quota coverage, because our CFO would want to know, “What’s our quota coverage for this area or that region?” This has always been very difficult because there’s a lot of disconnect. And we would hire people throughout the year to fill roles that had quota assignments, and sometimes we weren’t aware of all the details. We couldn’t always tell who filled what role, and it often was hard to understand where we stood throughout the year in terms of our quota coverage.
Tom: Sounds like it could get complicated fast.
Austin: Yes. We really needed a way to streamline things. A good example would be last year’s quota planning. Our CFO wanted the finance team to check the quota budget that the sales teams put together. We needed to make sure the numbers worked and that everything was set properly. The challenge came from collecting all these separate Excel spreadsheets from the various teams. Some of those teams had different ways of running their numbers. Some would change formulas; one region would do the plan this way and another that way. So here I am trying to figure out what’s going on because they’re all different.
Tom: What aspects of Adaptive Insights for Sales do you find helpful in streamlining this process?
Austin: The dashboard is really easy to use. If you want to see quota coverage metrics versus budget, it’s right there. Or if you want to go in and change quota inputs by area or region, you just click on the sheet and manipulate it. And the rest of the graphs and charts all automatically update.
Tom: How else has planning changed?
Austin: In the past, we couldn’t plan from start to finish in a seamless process. We could do our expense planning but couldn’t do quota and sales planning all the way down to the expense level. Now we can. Our plan starts with our sales goal, and then we work backward by determining how much we’ll spend and what all that entails.
Tom: So it’s a timesaver?
Austin: Absolutely. Rolling up all the department budgets and printing them off for the CFO used to take a whole day. Now we can do it in two minutes.
Tom: What unique challenges do you see with sales planning?
Austin: Sales planning is a kind of balancing act. You have to reach a sales target for the next year, which means you hand out a certain amount of quota. But at the same time, you have to come up with an expense number that sales can use to determine its spend for the year. Then you have to ask, “Does this work with their sales model?” If it’s out of balance—say, if they don’t have the money for all the sales reps they were planning to hire—then they need to make adjustments to quotas, up or down, to help us get to our target.
Tom: Is this easier now that you have a planning environment that integrates both sales and finance?
Austin: We can balance all the variables better. On the finance side, we have our active headcount and that flows into the sales model, and that brings in quota sales. Then if you want to add a new headcount assigned with a quota, such as a TBH (to be hired) or a backfill, sales can plug that into the sales model and it will flow into our finance model. That position is then seen as a planned hire, so we can forecast a budget for that person.
Tom: So you can plan more dynamically.
Austin: And we can course-correct. If we don’t hit a sales target during a particular quarter, we may have to figure out a way to reduce expenses so our bottom line isn’t affected. Whatever happens on the finance side affects the sales side and vice versa. But if we are more efficient and accurate with our planning in the first place, we can avoid situations like that.
Tom: How important is it to gain insight into what feeds the numbers?
Austin: It makes it so much easier to figure out what’s being covered, where we are hitting our numbers, where we’re not, who’s covering their quota and who isn’t, and where the disconnect is. To look for answers back in the spreadsheet days, I’d have to go hunting for Excel files that really could have been anywhere, saved off in some sales folder somewhere. I’d have to ask people in sales for help, and eventually I’d end up looking at 14 versions of the file, and I never knew which one was which. Last year we had 16 versions of the budget. I couldn’t even tell you where they’re all saved, which was so frustrating. But with Adaptive Insights, I always know what the active version is because everything is always current.
Tom: What role do what-if scenarios play in your planning?
Austin: At Ivanti, we run a lot of what-if scenarios. Since everything is interlinked—quotas, targets, expenses, territories, headcount—you often end up with a chicken-and-egg situation. Where do you start? So you need the flexibility to explore these relationships interactively, to toggle quota heads up or down, to adjust expenses, that kind of thing. Maybe you explore taking sales headcount from out in the territory and bring them inside, give them quotas, and have them support the team. It’s an iterative process that we go through a million times. The other day, our CFO was in the office and we were going over all these what-ifs. With Adaptive Insights, we can go through this a million times and we won’t end up with a million versions of an Excel file. Instead, we have our sales model connected with our finance model so changes to expenses automatically adjust TBHs and other variables on the sales side. We immediately see the impact of every scenario.