6.5-Minute Read

Welcome to our four-part series on utilizing customer relationship management (CRM) data to inform and enhance your sales and operations planning (S&OP) process. Over the next few posts, we’ll explore this concept for leadership decision-making that leverages data not often considered in operations and demand planning.

  1. Using CRM Data to Improve Your S&OP Process
  2. Can CRM Fit Into Your S&OP Demand Planning?
  3. Defining Next Steps: Implementing Your S&OP Strategy (this post)

You’ve Come a Long Way — Now It’s Time to Implement Your S&OP Strategy

By this point, you’ve come to understand the importance of accurate demand forecasting and planning as your organization navigates the new abnormal. That, and you should now have greater insight into whether leveraging the customer relationship management (CRM) function in your S&OP strategy is a valuable process to undertake. Be sure to revisit the first and second posts in this series if you need a refresher or are unsure.

All set? Outstanding. Now you might be wondering: what happens next? Of course, you wouldn’t kick this off throughout your organization right away. Just as with any other major initiative or change, it’s important to consider a pilot approach to assess viability.


Once you’ve evaluated the questions in the second post in this series and feel confident about proceeding, the first step is segmenting your customer base to create a pilot group. Now, this initial segmentation is not just any group of customers — remember, this must be a group that a) is driving your demand, b)  you’re constantly engaging with, and c) you have a more thorough relationship with than you would with B2C customers.

Recently, we mentioned an aircraft manufacturer as a potential candidate for this type of S&OP strategy. The manufacturer’s parts business features a shorter, less predictable sales cycle from more — and sometimes fewer — customers because the demand isn’t consistent. While certain parts will need to be replaced to ensure safety and performance, there’s no precise way of predicting when this will happen. Segmenting customers around parts won’t be as accurate for this approach. It’s more likely that the dominant revenue from parts sales would come via new aircraft construction.

In the finished aircraft area of the manufacturer’s business, things are much more predictable. The sheer investment needed for an order of completed aircraft requires extensive conversations, planning, and of course, time. Aircraft tend to have consistent life cycles as well, not only due to wear and tear but also due to regulations and safety. This means that a company would need to consider placing a new order for aircraft some years down the line, whereas the parts business is sporadic.


Here is a quick breakdown of steps you can take once you’ve identified the appropriate segment.

  1. Start (or ensure you are) capturing your pilot demand in CRM at the appropriate level of detail necessary for good S&OP decisions — e.g. for our aircraft example above, each CRM opportunity should specify not only the model but any expected customer-requested options for interior, avionics, etc.
  2. Be sure your CRM process assigns real probabilities to this sale in terms of value and timing — don’t simply use a generic probability based on sales stage. We really want to know what the sales team believes will objectively happen.
  3. Ensure that the CRM info related to these pilot opportunities is being used in S&OP sessions — and that it is properly separated from other demand to avoid double-counting. One way to do this is by cross-referencing entries in the CRM and S&OP tools.
  4. Make sure the CRM data is being reviewed and refined on a regular basis — i.e. as we move closer to the expected sales close date, the level of detail should be getting firmer, as should the probabilities. If not, then the sales leadership needs to challenge their teams to do so.
  5. If not already in place, make plans to evaluate how well your CRM data actually reflected final customer demand. That will help determine at what stage in the sales process, such data can reasonably be relied upon for S&OP consideration.


Using the finished aircraft business segment (or a smaller subset, such as for a specific model), set up the appropriate dashboards or views in your systems and begin to monitor data as it comes in. Remember to monitor everything — not just the high-level order or model but all related customization requests or additional needs, as those will impact demand. Communication with the sales team is critical throughout the pilot — they must assign a logical probability to the deal to provide accurate data for demand planning.

Allow time for the pilot to produce meaningful data. While the finished aircraft business has a long sales cycle, your segment might need less time (or more). As teams meet for S&OP sessions, pilot program data should be evaluated separately from other demand needs. This is to prevent mix-ups and help the team focus on the program.

Eventually, CRM data will reveal whether the pilot program is worth continuing, has provided the data needed, or needs to be revisited. As data comes in, be sure to make decisions. Additionally, ensure CRM data is being reviewed for accuracy throughout the pilot period. Probabilities should become firmer over time; if sales is shifting them or important details aren’t funneling in, leaders may need to act.

When you’ve reached the end of the pilot program or have otherwise come to a decision on the effectiveness of the approach for your segment, it’ll be time to do an assessment. Was CRM data accurate? Of the sales that closed, which indicated the greatest chance of closing? Did they shift frequently throughout the cycle? Was it more accurate earlier, in the middle, or toward the end? Determine this, and you’ll know whether leveraging CRM data in your S&OP strategy is the right approach for your business.

Focus on Improving Demand Reliability

As you see the impact of your CRM data on your demand, be prepared to make new decisions and adjustments. Don’t hesitate to revisit the data to ask “why” — keeping in mind that what made sense a year ago is by no means a justifier for operations today. The goal of this approach is to give your organization a path forward through this complex and ever-changing time, but that doesn’t mean that it’ll be the right path for your business. It’s only an option based on the data that you’ve built over time and an effort to use that data in the most reliable and forward-thinking way.

As you move forward, also consider how you can continue to improve demand reliability. Perhaps evaluating how CRM tools and processes gather data and what that data lacks would be worthwhile. What additional data points do you need to make more informed decisions? What data is needed despite lacking present utility? What data points are no longer valid? What data would be good to have in the future if it can’t be gathered today (and thus informing an expansion of CRM tools and processes to get it)?

Also, consider how your sales and operations teams view this whole procedure. Sales views customers and planning as revenue opportunities, whereas operations is focused on what they need to do on the backend to keep up with demand and fulfill customers’ needs. As we discussed earlier in this series, greater alignment between these two key functions is critical to the success of this initiative and your organization as a whole.

Consider how your sales team is being incentivized so they can contribute to more accurate data capture rather than focusing on the data that will help them earn more commissions or hitting certain benchmarks. Help your operations team understand the importance of aligning their backend work with supporting new and changing demand. And remember that you’re not alone in this process.

Let Us Build the S&OP Strategy Framework for You

River Rock Advisors is a leading value chain optimization firm focusing on helping manufacturers and distributors identify opportunities for immediate and long-term improvement and implement them via our Operational Performance execution team. If you’ve been looking for ways to more accurately forecast your demand, we’re ready to assist. We’ve helped numerous mid-market and Fortune 500 companies implement solutions for improved performance, and we can do the same for you.

Contact us to learn more about our capabilities and how we can help you.