Rethinking the role of the demand planner

04 Apr 2024


I was working with a demand planner recently who explained to me their efforts in trying to resolve forecast bias issues. I have been working in demand management for over 15 years, and the analysis she presented was the best that I have ever seen. In her attempts to convince the sales team of the bias problem, her analysis had evolved and refined over months – but I confessed to her that, while the analysis was world class, on its own it wouldn’t solve the problem. To bring about change, she would need to look beyond the data and engage with the sales team in a different way.

I have seen the same issue within the demand planning process itself. Demand planners who possess outstanding analytical skills, struggling to engage with the commercial team to deliver a demand plan. A demand plan is a series of inputs that include a statistical forecast, activities to drive growth, core assumptions about the market, previous performance etc. Working with the commercial team, the demand planner’s role is to bring the inputs and people together and facilitate the development of the new month’s outlook. To be successful, the requirements of facilitation reach well beyond the analytical and into the territory of influence, relationships, and communication techniques.

For those who are naturally drawn to analytical roles, the skills required to engage stakeholders within the demand planning process may be a challenge. If this is not addressed, a demand planners’ role can be a source of frustration and stress, resulting in what might look like poor performance but is really a skills gap that can be easily corrected.

When building a demand planner’s skill set, look beyond the analytical to the following:

Influencing techniques: Demand planners will often over rely on using facts to influence their stakeholders. Educate demand planners on alternatives.

Relationships: People from sales and marketing are often natural storytellers. Helping demand planners with the basics of storytelling can provide the first steps to engaging more effectively. From there, foster trust through genuine interactions and shared experiences.

Communication techniques: Beyond simple story telling, skills in data visualisation can also be of significant value to a demand planner. Simple changes to the standard charts, colours, formats etc. can make an amazing difference to clarity of messaging.

The demand planner is a true unicorn role, requiring not only excellent analytical skills but also relationship management skills, to engage with stakeholders to deliver a plan and manage continuous improvement.

The role holds immense value within the business for its understanding and ability to bring together a variety of inputs and analysis to shape a demand plan that can be trusted from account managers through to the COO and CFO.

By honing a demand planner’s communication and relationship-building skills, alongside their analytical prowess, they can become an invaluable asset to your organisation.

For more information on education courses tailored for demand planners, click here.

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