In B2B SaaS, change is the only constant. Every year ebbs and flows with new goals, new products, new features, new channels and new team members. One thing that remains constant is setting goals for the following year as your guide. In other words: annual planning.
Annual planning is pivotal in knowing where and how to guide your company and your teams for the coming year. It helps answer the question: “What long-term growth opportunities and strategic investments are we wanting to make in the next 365 days?” In order to set the course for success, you have to define clear objectives, set goals, and ensure alignment across every team.
It sets the stage for your company’s performance for the year. It’s the moment when your organization comes together to determine the strategic direction for the coming year, together. Every piece of the annual planning puzzle is imperative.
Now you probably run your annual planning a certain way, but we’ve come up with 7 key factors that will help make sure you have everything you need to put together a rock solid blueprint for the next year.
So with that, let’s get into it.
At the core of any annual planning process lies the objective. The clear, overarching vision for where you want your company to be in the next year. It should be as aspirational as it is attainable. A guideline to motivate your teams to hit revenue targets, expand your customer base, or launch new products.
Why?: Objectives are your guide. They’re there to keep your company’s journey on track for long-term growth and investment opportunities.
How: Start by defining clear and ambitious long-term objectives that are aligned with your company’s vision. Like we said before: your objectives should be inspiring — but achievable. Once you’ve created a list of objectives, break them down into actionable steps that are easy to communicate cross-functionally for the year.
We all know what goals are, and we all have our own experiences with setting them. Think about it: at least once a year, there’s a collective energy around setting goals for ourselves on New Year's Eve. We all ask one another about the New Year’s Resolutions we’re setting. Creating high hopes for the turn of the year and feeling optimistic about what we’re committing to ourselves! Maybe for the first couple months, we’re focused — we’re diligent. Then it starts to taper … life happens. The same can be said for annual planning.
Goals should be concrete and measurable. They have to mark progress throughout the year by creating milestones for your company and every team. If you start to veer off-course, who’s keeping your goals in check?
Why?: Goals completely transform objectives into tangible milestones. They provide a sense of progress and achievement so people can track progress along the way to the ultimate goal.
How: Crafting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timebound) goals. They should always connect back to your original objective. They should be quantifiable and reflective of your company’s success. In order to measure the success of each goal, creating a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) to track progress alongside it is crucial.
Annual objectives and goals set your direction, but you still need to define quarterly execution priorities to create progress. Priorities should align with your annual goals and be adjusted based on real-time insights. We all know flexibility in B2B is mission critical. Being prepared for changing market conditions and knowing when to pivot will set you up for success.
Why?: Quarterly strategies bridge gaps between annual progress and daily operations so your teams can track consistent progress and adjust if need be. Like we mentioned before: sticking to goals is hard. Just like those New Year’s Resolutions we all set — who or how are we holding ourselves accountable to staying on track? More often than not, we’re not! With annual planning, this is a huge risk teams run. They lack strategies that will help stay on course to the ultimate goal, so the work is to combat that problem.
How: Divide annual goals into quarterly priorities. This is the easiest way to create built-in check-ins that won’t let you veer too far away from the ultimate end goal. Quarterly goals should be actionable and directly linked to achieving annual objectives. Create processes that allow you to regularly review and adjust strategies as market conditions change throughout the year.
Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) bring a structured approach to goal setting and measurement of goals. They help you align your teams with broader objectives and make sure everyone is working towards the same goals and outcomes. Make sure each objective has a set of measurable key results that help determine its success or failure.
Why?: OKRs allow a structured framework for goal setting and measurement. They’re there to help make sure you’re on the right track to success.
How: Work backwards from your ultimate goal. Establish a set of OKRs that trickle down from your annual objectives and give roles and rules to each team or individual. Regularly track, update, and meet with teams for maximum effect.
We know we said flexibility in B2B is crucial — but so is alignment. Alignment is everything. Making sure your GTM and Product teams are on the same page doesn’t just maximize efficiency; it also improves customer satisfaction. When everyone’s clear on goals and direction of the company, it’s easier to communicate what’s upcoming. Hold regular meetings and keep communication channels open. They’re essential to alignment.
Why?: Building strong relationships between GTM and Product teams is the cornerstone of effective annual plans.
How: Cross-functional workshops or quarterly meetings are a great way to create alignment and deeper communication between teams. Side note: if you can meet even more frequently than quarterly, you should! One way to make it possible is by creating a designated annual planning team. Giving responsibilities to representatives to each department will bring a driving force to all your efforts. Start by choosing the team, defining shared objectives, and sharing metrics and KPIs with one another. Once you break down those items, you can focus on how you’ll all be communicating progress with one another and implement feedback loops so everyone can provide insights and know what to prioritize next.
2023 was the year of uncertainty. It was a complete reset from what we’ve come to know and got accustomed to. Now in a volatile market, planning for the future is incredibly difficult. That’s why planning for various scenarios is essential so you can easily adapt to market shifts or unforeseen disruptions that may pop up throughout the year. Exploring different scenarios helps you identify risks and opportunities, enabling you to allocate your resources in the best way possible. This proactive approach will drive confidence in the team and fuel innovation, uncovering new avenues and fostering collaboration.
Why?: As much as we like to plan everything out, something usually comes up and throws a wrench into things. And the majority of the time, that’s out of our control. So it’s important to try to figure out what these different scenarios could be.
How: When you’re putting together your revenue model, make sure to think through different outcomes that may take place – depending on a multitude of different factors like seasonality, company retreats, delayed product development, or budget cuts, among plenty of other things – so you always have a path to hitting your goals. This way, you’ll have all the data to pivot quickly if needed.
Within GTM organizations, coordinating strategies for key accounts and renewals during the annual planning process is crucial. In order to get started, identifying high-value accounts and developing custom strategies to nurture and retain them will be the key to standing out. Renewals are a significant revenue source for B2B companies (and we’ve seen them become even more impactful in 2023), and planning ahead makes a substantial difference in retention rates.
Why?: Key account and renewal strategies are essential pieces of annual planning. They make sure retention and growth are at the forefront of your most valuable customer accounts. Why do your existing customers matter? Because retaining and growing their accounts is way more cost-effective than acquiring net new customers.
How: Start by analyzing your customer base to identify key accounts. Looking for key factors like annual contract value (ACV) or product adoption / utilization are a good starting point. Once you know who your key customers are, you can analyze their needs. What pain do they have? How have your teams been solving that pain so far, and how do they need to improve in the next year? All of these insights will help tailor your value proposition and customize your solutions to address your key accounts’ needs.
Once all that research has been done, the next stages are building relationships and managing those accounts. Is there a clear process in place for Customer Success Managers and Account Managers to work together on key objectives for your annual plan? In order for goals to be met at the end of the following year, your success will rely heavily on relationships, addressing product or service concerns, and identifying opportunities for growth. The success flywheel plays an integral role in the success of your annual plan; just as much as how you continue to check-in on your goals throughout the year.
And that's it!
Annual planning is not just a routine exercise; it’s a strategic evolution. B2B companies are in a constant game of consistency with flexibility and resilience. Your annual plan should answer the question: “What do we want to achieve in the next 365 days?”
If you have clear objectives, a path towards consistent team communication, and quarterly priorities — you’re already on a successful path towards meeting your objectives and milestones.
What questions do you have about creating an annual plan? We’d love to hear.