Insight & Knowledge

It’s time to get joint sales and marketing annual planning right

As marketing and sales become more interconnected and interdependent, there is a need for many organizations to firm up how to do joint planning.

As marketing and sales become more interconnected and interdependent, there is a need for many organizations to firm up how to do joint planning.

Many teams fall into these classic pitfalls:

  • Marketing is doing annual planning, often based on a communications calendar of events and launches. The total spend is dictated by the CEO or CFO, simply by taking last year’s budget and adding X%. This leads marketing to plan basically last year’s activities plus X% — not taking the opportunity to do a proper review of results and learnings.
  • Sales teams plan on different vectors entirely, focusing on key accounts, territories, and attempts at doing bottom-up budgeting often overridden by CEO/board dictated company growth targets. The ensuing haggle over targets and bonus achievements crowd out true strategic planning.
  • There is an overall lack of logic between strategy, targets, and key initiatives. The siloed planning also means an absence of programs that go across sales and marketing like building true lead engines, driving commercial excellence, or working in joint account-based teams.

These pitfalls stem from a long bygone era where sales and marketing could work independently without many challenges. But the changes in how companies buy, and the role modern sales and marketing organizations play, drive the need for change.

The solution is to fundamentally rethink how we do joint annual planning.

Rethinking annual planning

The characteristics of strong annual planning cycles are:

  • Starting and ending early. If you follow the calendar year, you start the planning process in August. No matter how “agile” we want to be, proper planning takes time. And there is typically no planning progress in November and December when the entire sales organization is focused on closing opportunities and getting their bonus. Start early and aim to have a firmed-up plan before December.

  • Truly joint planning. If your joint sales and marketing planning entails one of the two departments telling the other “what they want”, you’re getting off on the wrong foot. The longer-term, top-down view from marketing has to be combined with the shorter-term, bottom-up view from sellers who have hands-on experience from customer interactions, partners, and the ecosystem.
  • Combining both internal and external input. Internal growth ambitions are a typical starting point; we want to grow X%, what does it take to get us there? But good planning always starts with an outside-in view of where the market and customers are going.
  • Taking the middle road of budgeting. There are two extremes when it comes to budgeting: Zero-based, where you start from scratch every year, and the +X% approach, where you copy last year’s plan and add bits and bobs here and there. While zero-basing is the “right” thing to do on paper, it typically doesn’t hold true in practice. You cannot zero-base your technology, key verticals, PR etc. every single year. The middle road entails keeping some parts of the sales and marketing plan fixed and zeroing as much as possible. This allows for true choices and flexibility to stop, start and continue efforts that work or have failed.
  • Rigor in clear market segmentation, targeting, and positioning. One thing that is helpful to keep reminding internal stakeholders about is the key facts and choices about the market, the buying group, where we have chosen to play, the key accounts and verticals and how we are positioning in that space. It cannot be repeated too many times.
  • Establishing operational guidance and reporting. An annual sales and marketing plan is only a nice PowerPoint without clear and operational guidelines on how to meet, align and report during the year.

Putting it into a framework

Coming together, a joint sales and marketing annual plan has these core components:

Let’s break down each of these areas:


1. Market segmentation and insights in the buying group
As B2B companies, we have to segment on two levels. First, there is a market segmentation exercise. How the key verticals, segment sizes, potential value, and share of the market look like. Second, we have to dig into the buying group; since the average B2B purchase involves more than 6 people, we have to be clear about not just the types of companies, but also the types of decision-makers involved, whether that is ahead of IT, operations, legal, procurement, C-level, etc.

2. Commercial targeting
Targeting again works on two levels. Which market segments do we want to focus on and play in, what our ideal customer looks like and which profiles in the buying group as we interested in targeting with our sales and marketing?

3. Positioning and propositions
Once we know the market segment and understanding the buying group, we have to be clear about the overall positioning to each segment, and our value propositions on both a segment and decision-maker level.

4. SMART goals
It’s not a plan without goals, and as always, we have to make them SMART; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For example, “winning in market X” is not a SMART goal, but “gaining more than 3% market share in the US, China, and Germany within our hospital segment before the end of the year” is where you need to get to.


5. Joint strategic initiatives
The first part of a tactical plan is a symptom of the B2B sales and marketing reality we live in; joint strategic initiatives. Whether it is building a profitable lead engine, going through a digital transformation in how you sell, managing channels in a different way, building account-based sales and marketing teams, or whatever you are trying to achieve, it is the first and most important things to get right in the plan because it must drive the budget allocation and operational guidance to come.

6. Budget allocation
Based on the market input, commercial targeting, and accounting for joint strategic initiatives, it is time to allocate resources. Understand which costs are fixed (people, multi-year projects and contracts, etc), and zero-base the rest to allocate budget based on what you have learned works and what doesn’t, alongside your ambitions for new initiatives and change projects.

7. Operational guidance and reporting structure
Before moving into more detailed, market-by-market planning, it is important to establish the guidelines for the local entities, and the reporting and governance structure you’re going to apply. Whether you run this as monthly business reviews, half-yearly signoffs, weekly stand-ups, etc. really depends on the size, complexity, and scope of your sales and marketing teams.

8. From global to regional and local plans
Finally, the meat of the planning is done de-centrally, especially in the case of multi-national sales and marketing organizations. Using the input from points 1-7, bottom-up plans are developed that map into the overall annual plan and are reviewed by appropriate stakeholders before sign-off.

As always, there are many nuances and differences depending on industries and team sizes, but the above framework ensures you start your annual planning in the right way, tick the important boxes along the way and make real choices that guide the year ahead.

Interested in more specific input and guidance on your next annual planning cycle for sales and marketing teams? Reach out to our partners below.

About the author
Picture of Brian Andersen
Brian Andersen
Brian is an expert in B2B sales & marketing and digital transformation. His focus in Kvadrant is on all aspects of revenue marketing, close collaboration with sales, and building digitally competent organisations.