There are two scenarios when sales headcount planning usually comes into the picture. First, is a quota increase, and the second is a mid-year adjustment to avoid missing the number. Adding headcount is considered to resolve each scenario. To access emerging best practices for adding headcount, leverage the How to Make Your Number in 2018  Workbook  and flip to the Organization Design phase on page 364.


Let’s start by unpacking the first scenario. Right now you’re beginning your annual planning process for next year, and you receive your number at any time. If you’re given a bigger number next year, is more headcount the answer? First, ask a critical question. Do you have a sales plan in place? This is your opportunity to define how you’ll make your number relative to your competition. Only 39% of sales leaders have a formal sales strategy. But if you’re a sales leader reading this, going a 100 miles an hour, why bother stopping to put together a plan vs. hiring a bunch more heads to cover the gap for next year?


The second scenario is a mid-year adjustment to avoid missing the number. If it goes up, then you approach the second half of the year you realize you’re short of your year-to-date goal. You need to make up ground to have a chance at making your number. What’s a sales leader to do?


If you’re a sales leader without a sales strategy, you’re operating in a reactionary mode and are not likely to put the right performance conditions in place. No functional strategies exist. It means making your number is unpredictable. Performance is random and success seems to be happening without much knowledge as to why.


Without a sales strategy, you have almost no chance of adding the right heads. Because, again, nothing is predictable. You’ll be throwing headcount to solve something that isn’t clearly defined. In contrast, if you have a clear sales strategy you know what people to add, where to add them, and against what markets or accounts. If you don’t have this foundation, you are operating blindly.


So, start with a documented sales strategy. Leverage SBI’s Revenue Diagnostic interactive tool to perform a self assessment. The sales strategy must clearly articulate how the sales leader will allocate people, money and time in order to hit the revenue growth objective. Then, and only then, can you begin to make investment decisions.


What about the second scenario? If you are 20% or so behind your year-to-date number, is adding more headcount your answer? This is not an easy problem to solve. In solving the first scenario, we spoke a lot about strategy. In this case, shift the focus to tactics. Strategy is defined as doing the right things. Tactics is doing things right. Your goal should be to execute a brilliant plan brilliantly. You want to be doing things both efficiently and effectively.


If you have hit this level of efficiency, but you’re still behind your number, then adding heads will likely help you get caught up. Because you have the right strategy, and you’re executing against it well already. You can ramp up the new reps and make them productive quickly in order to catch up.


But only 9% of companies are operating at that high of a level. What about the other organizations? Will adding more sales reps solve the problem? What if you are executing well, but have a poor plan? Should you add more reps? In this case, adding heads will actually make it worse, and accelerate your miss. If you’re a sales leader in this situation, you must realize the issue is more than just headcount to cover the shortfall.


Ultimately, sales leaders should challenge themselves to make sure you’re both doing the right things, and doing them correctly. Contact SBI if you need help.


Have expectations gone up and left you wondering if you can make your number? Here is an interactive tool that will help you understand if you have a chance at success. Take the Revenue Growth Diagnostic test to rate yourself against SBI’s sales and marketing strategy to find out if:


  • Your revenue goal is realistic
  • You will earn your bonus
  • You will keep your job


Sales Revenue Growth


John Staples

Leads teams of highly qualified experts, all relentless in their pursuit of helping you make your number.

John is the global leader of SBI’s account management business unit. As such, he and his team help clients across 19 verticals drive top line growth and operational efficiency in sales and marketing.


John’s marketing, sales and product expertise span a multichannel strategic approach. He has an unyielding focus on strategic and key account development, which enables strategic alignment between all functional team members in order to reduce acquisition cost and increase lifetime value.


His broad experience in sales, marketing, product and engineering allows him to bring a unique problem solving approach to his team and clients. As he has discovered through decades of experience, clients are often distracted by the symptoms of a larger problem and overlook the root cause of it.


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