Thursday, November 7, 2013

Get Excited, it's Time For...Annual Distributor Planning!

Annual Planning for Distributors

It’s November. The Midwestern Iowa leaves feature Technicolor rainbows of colors; bright red, deep orange, a thousand shades of yellow. A bit of warmth lingers, but Thanksgiving, December, and the Holiday season rapidly approach. Two painful realities of the season loom in the distance - yard cleanup and annual planning.

As I jot down these few words, I feel the approaching pain of a future Sunday afternoon manhandling a rake around the property. Some pay a neighborhood teenager to handle the raking. But it’s hard to find an $8.00 an hour surrogate for End of Year Planning. Planning needn’t be the dreaded task hanging around the corner. Join me as we remove the pain out of the process.

Start early. Many of us don’t dig into the task until the last minute. A few of us dread the seemingly gigantic nature of the job so much, we procrastinate into next the year. I know people who move paper clip sorting to the front and center in order to excuse themselves from the dreaded details of planning.

Break planning into smaller bit-sized (and delegable) pieces. Here are a few bite-sized bits of the annual plan:

• Inside Sales/Customer Service
• Marketing/Events
• Non-Selling Expenses
• Demo/Equipment
• Warehouse/Delivery
• Employee Benefits
• Employee Training

Think, is there a lead person in the Inside Sales Department who might provide you with a rough plan for improving the level of customer service? Could a delivery driver provide feedback on how logistics might be streamlined? Why guess, why assume the burden of everything? Can your marketing person provide insight (cost and projected dates) on desired events? Delegate the gathering of information.
Your accounting department can provide you with a list of expenses for things like rent, utilities, phones, computer lines, taxes and insurances. Push things a step further, ask for best ideas of escalations for the coming year. While nobody has a totally reliable crystal ball, they can give you strong estimates for the future.

Provide your teams with a common format. Have all cost oriented information provided using the same breakdowns as your monthly financials. Use a spreadsheet which can be easily be combined into a final document.
Photo courtesy of

Evaluate your team – strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement. Managers and supervisors with direct reports need to take a physical inventory of our most precious commodity – people. The plan should include: evaluations, planned compensation adjustments, training needs and overall skills rating.

Sales Forecasting is the big kahuna of planning. For distributors developing a solid plan for future sales and gross margin is the most critically important step of planning. We recommend using what we call the Who, What, Why approach to forecasting. Here is a short synopsis:
This plan is specific and manageable throughout the year and requires only a minimum of effort to set in place. Here is a simple breakdown:

1. Salespeople are provided with their customer sales for the previous year broken into product categories.

2. Salespeople review each account (who) and estimate future growth or shrinkage (what) by product category. As they review the numbers they answer the question of why this number will grow or shrink – things like one time projects, new products specified, competitive issues and the customer’s own growth are considered.

3. The numbers are tallied by salesperson and combined into the final plan.

4. Management reviews and compiles the numbers with their salespeople. Many sales guys prescribe to the old tenant of “Sandbagger or Loser” and submit dismally low projections. This must be addressed on an individual basis. The process allows for coaching, mentoring and managing, but that’s another article.

Providing each salesperson with the same formatted spreadsheet and instructions for compiling the date makes the whole procedure easier on management. And, in our experience, a salesperson with the numbers and accounts already laid out can provide pretty good information in just a couple of hours.

Final words
Would you invest in a business that had no projections, forecast or operating plan for the coming year? Why then do so many distributors simply glance over the whole concept of building an annual plan?

If you have a planning process, get started early, involve others and make yours the best ever.

If you don’t have a process, allow me to recommend a short easy to follow workbook: The Industrial Distributor Annual Planning Workbook. It’s on Amazon here

And if you would like to really jump start your planning process, River Heights is offering special phone-based consulting during the month of November and December for only $300. It’s a one hour question and answer period with our “Fearless Leader” and Master Planner, Frank Hurtte. Here’s what you get:
• A copy of Frank’s workbook in printed format
• The workbook delivered in Word format (so you can share with everyone in your team.)
• A collection of distributor friendly planning forms and other documents developed by River Heights Consulting (why reinvent the wheel.)
• An hour long one-on-one coaching session with Frank Hurtte.

Drop us a line if you want more information:
After all, annual planning is NOT just for Dinosaurs!


DanOB said...

Frank, once again you are making the painful doable. The only problem is that with your plan, it will be more difficult for me to procrastinate until sometime in June of 2014. If I actually get it done this year people will start to worry if something is wrong, or maybe could this be the start of the Zombie apocalypse. Do you really want that on your hands?

The Distributor Specialist said...

My guess is any kind of Zombie Apocalypse will only provide greater opportunities for quick thinking hard charging distributors. The possibilities are endless...
Zombie sensors
Zombie vision systems
Automated Zombie killers (assumming it possible to kill the dead)


Imagine the value of training zombies to maintain automation products?

And in the mean time... A Question for Distributors Everywhere:

Have brain hungry zombies been munching on your sales force?