The Demand Planner: Quarterback for the Planning Process
The demand planner is truly the ‘wide angle lens’ for the planning process. Similar to a quarterback who has the best view of the field during play, the demand planner has the broad perspective on both historical trends and sales expectations. Armed with this knowledge, he/she is best positioned to make planning decisions that affect product availability and inventory management.
Primary Functions of the Demand Planner
Consolidate Product-Level Forecast
The demand planner owns the task of consolidating the product-level forecasts from the sales team. Typically, the sales team will document their customer pipeline in a customer relationship management tool, such as Salesforce.com. The customer pipeline is classified into the stage of the selling process, from sales prospects to proposal and through deal closure.
It is the function of the demand planner to consolidate this sales pipeline into a meaningful forecast of product demand, and prepare summary views easily understood by executives.
Review Historical Sales by Product
The demand planner also compares the sales pipeline with historical sales as a test of reasonableness. Does the sales pipeline yield a dramatically different order pattern versus history? Is there a historical seasonal pattern to be mindful of when developing the next demand plan?
In some businesses in which recurring orders comprise a large portion of the business, it is likely the sales pipeline only includes data for new wins, and not existing/recurring orders. In this case, it is the role of the demand planner to estimate recurring orders based on historical data and other known factors.
Putting It All Together: The Demand Plan
Armed with both a future perspective from the sales team and a historical view of product sales, the demand planner now can assemble the demand plan. The plan typically details expected demand for each product variant for the upcoming 12-18 months. Clearly, the demand planner will have a more accurate view for the very near term, while the long-term view will reveal long-term trends.
Depending on the size of the business and number of products in its portfolio, the demand planner may either build the demand plan on a spreadsheet, or he/she may utilize a software solution. In a small business (under $10 million in annual revenue), product demand is likely driven by a small number of customers and is easily managed in an Excel workbook. However, for much larger businesses, the demand planner benefits from a software solution that utilizes statistics to identify historical order patterns.
Most businesses refresh their demand plan on a monthly cadence. Each month the planner will compare actual results against the demand plan for that month, and identify causes for inaccuracy in the prior month’s plan.
Successful demand planners are typically highly analytical and enjoy drawing key conclusions from large sets of data. Remember, the demand planner will be looking at product-level forecasts in both history and future – This represents a lot of numbers to most people, so they should be comfortable working with this level of data.
Second, the demand planner is a good collaborator. The planner is generally in charge of facilitating planning meetings between the sales leaders, business leaders, and plant personnel. As the intersection of these functions, he/she should be comfortable leading meetings and driving productive dialogue.
Many employers don’t recognize the need for a good communicator in the demand planner role. Due to the job demands for managing large amounts of data, hiring managers are frequently looking for strong analytical skills, and overlook the process component of the role.
Career Opportunities for Demand Planners
The demand planner operates at the intersection of the sales team, business leaders, and plant personnel. For this reason, this role can be a high-visibility role with relationships in key elements of the business. If the planner positions himself/herself as a collaborator and influencer among the business teams, then they will likely be sought after for leadership roles in sales management, business/finance management, or even plant controller.