For a long time, and continuing today, business has done a range of planning with spreadsheets and lots of manual effort. The complexity of this approach is usually compounded by sending spreadsheets and documents back and forth via electronic mail. Predictably this whole process degrades productivity and efficiency of the people who have to do it and even consumes valuable time that sales organizations could use to generate revenue. Some organizations have updated their sales force automation (SFA) capabilities with on-demand, cloud computing-based software from vendors like salesforce.com but still plan in the old way. And inefficiency is only part of the problem; more important is having timely information to help plan the day, week’s and month’s sales activities, which manual processes are slow to provide, and having visibility into costs and revenue, which can easily fall out of balance.
Anaplan is a business technology vendor on a mission to change that. It provides a group of planning applications built on sophisticated modeling and analytics. It also rents the software to use in the Internet cloud. Back in 2009 my colleague wrote about the company’s efforts to help companies eliminate personal silos of spreadsheets and replace them with applications that are in the form of what we call integrated business planning (IBP). Anaplan is initially focusing on addressing the needs within the sales organization, which in most organizations is a key asset whose people should not waste their time on tedious, low-value updates to spreadsheets and documents. They should be able to update information efficiently to help revise sales forecasts and related information that can make them more productive. Sales operations teams and management need sophisticated planning and forecasting to keep track of quotas, commissions, credits and other essential information.
Anaplan brings the simplicity of spreadsheets for modeling, analysis and quick updates to a unified platform that where users can adjust sales plans and forecasts and track sales reps’ performance. Under the covers is a sophisticated modeling and planning environment where you can integrate and manage results of analytics and computations for the planning applications. This answers one of the largest challenges that spreadsheet users face: the linking and consolidation of multiple spreadsheets and are not as smart as you think, which must be done before they can determine the impact of changes. In the Anaplan environment all of this requires is a few clicks to see the impact of the changes or to conduct what-if analysis. Anaplan makes it easy to manage exceptions that occur from updates and allows the use of labels and descriptions as text within cells inside the model to help group and manage the analytics. It also has flexibility in setting attributes to any business value that, for example, could determine whether a salesperson is part of an existing compensation plan or a new one that starts in the middle of the month, or show where to assign credit for others on the team or a channel partner.
Anaplan focuses on meeting a range of needs for sales managers and sales operations personnel, providing the ability to rapidly configure and set up an organization’s information within its environment and link to salesforce.com in less than 30 minutes. Organizations can still get data from spreadsheets, so there is a common environment for sales planning functions, from presales activities of the pipeline and forecasts to the results of a sales efforts and on to compensation and rewards or comparison of the penetration of sales to the account or territory plan.
Anaplan’s software is suitable for small and midsize sales organizations of 20 reps or to larger ones that have thousands. The team at Anaplan has long experience in providing planning technology, and its current release appears to have the potential not just to help sales become more efficient and effective but also to address a scope of planning needs across all of operations. This will also appeal to finance professionals who have run out of patience with spreadsheets and the nuances of antiquated technologies that do not help people work together to manage business effectively. While I have seen many providers of planning software the focus has been mostly centric on finance and not the rest of the enterprise where operations has the daily and weekly planning responsibility. Everyone concerned with sales functions across operations, marketing, customer services and finance can be glad to have tools that put them all on the same page.
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Mark Smith – CEO & EVP Research