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The end of the fiscal year is crunch time for any sales organization. Whether you’re planning for next year or selling to meet end-of-year numbers, the last few months can be chaotic, to say the least. There are ways, however, to help you get ahead of fiscal planning so you and your sales reps can minimize distractions in Q4 and hit the ground running on the first day of the new fiscal year.

Prioritize and lay the groundwork.

In any fiscal planning, the first step is to establish your priorities. These will drive many things, from the go-to-market strategy itself to budget decisions. For most companies, revenue growth is the single most important success metric. Everything you do must be oriented around maximizing it from a sales strategy and operations perspective.

An important factor is to consider how to deploy your most valuable asset: your salespeople. You also need to project a long-term strategic plan and prioritize sequentially in terms of what you want to accomplish with regard to operating margin, profits, and more. A go-to-market strategy isn’t the same for every company; it will manifest in different ways depending on your business. And you should think about that strategy not just for the upcoming year, but in the longer term of a three- or even five-year horizon. As you go, the strategy can be further adjusted and each year is an incremental step toward that long-term vision. The common denominator is that you must be thoughtful about how you prioritize your investments in order to achieve your goals.

Create a go-to-market strategy.

Once you have established your key priorities, you can start building out a go-to-market strategy to align to those goals. The go-to market strategy will function as a blueprint for your sales organization, detailing where you plan to make your big bets and how you will structure your organization in order to deliver on your priorities.

One of the most important questions to consider when creating a go-to-market strategy is, “How do I want to focus all of the selling teams across all of the different components of my business?” For any direct sales model, the vast majority of your investment dollars will go toward selling capacity or headcount — the actual people who either sell your product directly or their support team. This is the primary investment bucket, so you will want to maximize the return on your investment. From a go-to-market perspective, it’s important to determine what market factors really influence sales for your company and to design a coverage model tailored to your needs. At a macro level, for instance, your go-to-market may be based on an industry vertical or geography, but vary based on product or account-specific factors.  

Here’s an example: Say you have 100 account executives and 1,000 accounts. Revenue might be earned faster by deploying those 100 AEs to serve a subset of those 1,000 accounts as opposed to just spreading them evenly across the board. Looking at it from a go-to-market perspective, you will have to decide how to segment those accounts in order to drive the right level of focus from your selling resources.

There is typically a regional component to this as well. You may want to look at metro areas with a specific concentration of accounts. You might also have natural concentration in particular industries. From there, you may even have to subsector inside of specific vertical structures. For instance, financial service may be broken down further with a focus around insurance as a distinct go-to-market group compared to retail banking and so on.

On a regional basis, where accounts may be more heterogeneous and without a vertical industry slant, you may need a different approach to segmenting and maximizing the coverage. Up-market in the enterprise space — where the territories are smaller but more complex — typically requires a high-touch field sales approach. You want to have your account executives walking the halls and as close to the customer as possible. For those territories, relationships in the local markets will often drive territory planning decisions. You may need to consider specialization based on the product portfolio in this segment as well.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, when considering coverage for small companies with less than 20 employees, territory decisions are more likely to be based on the high volume and transactional nature of sales to those customers. Territory assignment is less relationship-based and focused more on geographic concentration. You may actually assign and plan territories based on zip code, for example.

As you consider all of these options and determine the optimum resource deployment depending on your business, the go-to-market will come together.

Put it into action.

Once you have the go-to-market strategy in place, it’s time to work through all of the components in order to operationalize that plan. That’s when you take it from a very high-level concept and put it into action for a fast start in the next fiscal year.

How do you take what you’re planning and actually deploy it out to the field? This is when many different constituents come into play: executive, finance, HR, compensation, territory operations, and quota teams, just to name a few. They must all be aligned and in lockstep to hit the ground running at the beginning of the fiscal year.

Take compensation as an example. Incentives must be aligned with whatever you’re trying to accomplish. Let’s say revitalizing new business acquisition is a key priority. In a case like that, you need to ensure your incentive plans are a fit. And, of course, the compensation design will go through a thorough approval process as well.

Quota is another critical consideration. If you’re a $100 million business and you want to grow that by 20%, then your total quota pool should grow by 20%. How that impacts individual account executives is a function of your headcount growth, sales productivity assumptions, and quota distribution methodology. Mistakes in the process could result in increased revenue risk for the company, commission overruns, or spikes in employee attrition.

Bringing it all together.

At the end of the day, your entire planning process and sales objectives should be oriented around deploying sales teams in the most effective manner possible and making them as productive as possible. If you boil it down to that core objective, then everything else dovetails off of it.

Once you know where you’ll be making your “bets,” it’s all about cascading and coordinating across the extended group of cross-functional teams and being tightly aligned. Transparency is critical, but it is a balancing act so not to cause disruption across the broader organization. You may be dealing with sensitive changes that could potentially impact livelihoods next year. The last thing in the world you want to do is disrupt Q4, which, for most people, is the most productive quarter of the year. Step lightly but firmly to keep the process progressing and bring in stakeholders as appropriate. In the end, this will help you achieve your ultimate goal of deploying everything in sync, efficiently and strategically, for day one of the next fiscal year.

An important factor is to consider how to deploy your most valuable asset: your salespeople.”

Wes Rudsenske | Vice President, Indirect Channel Management, Salesforce

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