Annual Planning: Strategies, Tactics and Rants

by: HubSpot Employee
HubSpot Employee

I honestly can't believe it's July and that we have to start 2021 annual planning here at HubSpot. I mean...with all the uncertainty from COVID it feels like we still havent't finished the 2020 plan! 


While the rest of my peers are enjoying the summer and taking time off, I'm enjoying spreadsheets and spending time on demand forecasts. But hey, that's @#OpsLife.


Recently I've been thinking about what it takes to build an amazing annual plan. What do you think the most important inputs are? I’ll start with three big revelations that have transformed how we think about planning at HubSpot.


Strategy is a choice. And alignment eats strategy for lunch. If you’re like me, you want it all. You want to invest in all the great ideas your team has, not to mention you want to help all your business partners achieve their goals. But this is not a strategy and no way to plan. 


Our new Chief Customer Officer Yamini Rangan has approached planning through the lens of choice. She said, “Strategy is a choice. And alignment eats strategy for lunch.” 


She helped us realize that our investments were too spread out, and that we needed to focus far more on our top priorities. She created a forum for debate, challenged us to bring data to the table, and forced us to choose where we wanted to win.


In some cases, we didn’t agree. She was ok with this, but once a choice was made asked us to commit. She stressed that this alignment is the most important thing. We are already off to a stronger start in our 2021 planning because of it.


Stop supporting Silos and start spinning the Flywheel. Many years ago we grew passionate about the (admittedly cheesy-sounding) concept of “smarketing” at HubSpot to break down the silo between sales and marketing. We aligned goals, communicated regularly, and focused on shared success. It was magical.


Last year, we took it a step further and added Customer Success to the flywheel. We aligned segmentation, eliminated conflicting incentives, and asked for the system improvements that would benefit the whole rather than the parts.  It was transformative to how we plan.


Bad systems? Bad strategy.  Speaking of system improvements, we had a real breakthrough in our thinking this year. For years we have compiled lists of system priorities from every department. And for years, we have been disappointed in the outcome. Turns out activity doesn’t equal impact, and when it comes to systems, lists don’t equal a strategy. We realized that the all system investments needed to be driven by a clear, long-term go-to-market strategy. We started there, and are already seeing high impact, cross-team improvements taking shape.


Do you agree with these? What other strategies can you offer for improving the annual planning process?


I love these ideas, I have one to add as well. One thing I've realized in my short career in marketing ops is: just because a process has been around for years doesn't mean it has to stay around. When I started this new position last year, there were a lot of reports and dashboards used in board meetings that didn't tell the whole story, but a lot of key business decisions relied on them. These reports might have been relevant in our early days as a start up, but they lost relevancy over time. I realized that just because someone asks for these reports doesn't mean they're the right ones to be using for our company's current decisions. Looking at every process with that same lens can improve our operational strategy, and help us make better decisions each year. 

HubSpot Employee
HubSpot Employee

@evelliQM this is a great point.  I have actually started trying to refresh the "core" reports that I present every 3-6 months. There's always some risk that people won't recognize them and skim over them, but they allow a drill down on the points of the story that are relevant to that time. For us last quarter, we started tracking HubSpot Academy signups and activation at the corp level vs. the department level. With COVID, so many more members of our community turned to Academy to reskill, retool, and refresh their careers. Understanding this trend across the business was key.

Top Contributor

I appreciate the post! Two glaring examples of how working around and inside silos within Hubspot causing problems are represented by two main actions.


First, if I have to go to Zapier to get my intended outcome (or any other supplemental tools like Calendly, reporting tools, etc) there's room for improvement in Hubspot working and talking within itself. 


Second goes to the issue of consistency across the tools. If I have to ask why one option is allowed in one part of the tool, but not the other, creating better consistency is key to breaking down silos. For example, in the meetings tool, I cannot choose a team to round-robin, I have to choose individual team members. Really odd. 


Keep up the good work!

HubSpot Employee
HubSpot Employee

@spogue very clear examples, and as the person who owns the HubSpot's HubSpot instance, they resonnate with me. 🙂


Good news for you is that our Product team is all over this. We love shared UI and elements and dream of a consistent expeirence. From talking to the team, they're working to hard to make that dream a reality. 




The Ops at Central Growth Interim I call this Resource Management.  I created the company reflecting upon the individual abilities, talents and expertise possessed by both people and companies alike.  There is a starting point for each that is founded in its natural ability.  

Prior to delving into the natural abilities of a company it is understood that at least one individual was passionate about providing a service or product filling a need in their society.  They cut through the problems facing them like a hot knife through warm butter.  It was there hearts desire aflame by the truth of their spirit.  It was their destiny.

This as a Resource Manager must be understood in each company with their individual partners or employees.  In business everywhere we are witnesses to the demise of companies with their employees when either the creator of the company retires, or the company is sold.  While this is not always true, there are a few instances where the company fairs much better.  This is seen when the creator was passionate about the product, but had no passion or ability for the marketing and management of the company.  This is where the second cross responsibility I had always called Network Administration comes in.  We were in existence since business became.  Computer administrators took that as their own title back in the 70’s if I remember right.

Yet, it describes what an Ops has to become to be successful.  To turn a product into a profit.  They don’t have to be passionate about the product, the Ops has to be passionate operating his or her Administration as a well designed Network for the purpose of Resource management.  The Ops becomes the center of this Hub, the processor, approver and distributor from and through its several managers information toward sales, production and distribution.  Every Ops should possess their own team having the purpose of accomplishing that task.


Thomas H. Balog

Creator and C.E.O. of Central Growth Interim.  A resource management firm.

HubSpot Employee
HubSpot Employee

The company as a "network" concept is really fascinating @theserpentboa. Thanks for sharing. 


Hi Jon!


Love the flywheel approach when thinking about goal setting. The flywheel is really getting at the same idea behind the adoption of revenue operations teams instead of sales, marketing, and customer experience ops as siloed teams under different orgs. The systems and processes among ops teams are never really separate, so setting priorities siloed for each ops team doesn't quite work. Still, to your point, there's always that need "to have it all" — for each serviced team to feel supported on a day-to-day — which doesn't always happen if you have only Ops working together, all the time, on big overarching projects.


Instead, I think Ops has to be placed throughout organizations and still be working toward common priorities, with goals rolling up to those strategic initiatives.


At Owl Labs, we used this format at the start of 2020, and it's worked quite well for us so far:

  • Teams each had 3 strategic initiatives or "uber goals" for the year
  • Three goals were named for each strategic intiative
  • Each goal broke down into 3 tactical action items/mega-projects

Within the Revenue Organization, our operations teams are siloed. For this goal-setting model, however, rather than having each team (sales ops, marketing ops, supply chain ops) with their own separate strategic priorities, our strategic priorities were set for the "Business Operations" team — even though we don't really meet or operate as one unit. Calling it a business operations team on paper meant our strategic priorities are the same. We're all trying to work toward priorities data for all and scale our systems, but the different sub-goals and action items are split out (ex. new bi tool/data migration for RevOps and inventory expansion/erp system management for Supply Chain Ops).


Our organization is still quite small (under 100 employees), so part of why this worked out for us was just because of that. Our ops team — across silos — is 5 people, so it made sense to just use one team priority instead of separating. But, I do think it also makes sense, as teams and companies grow, to keep Ops' teams priorities as one. Strategic priorities should touch every ops team, with their sub-goals and action items falling into specialized, aligned but separate teams.


If you then have teams assign strategic priorities to their projects and tasks — which we've done in our project management setup — the alignment around initiatives falls (better) into place.


Putting customer success with marketing and sales creates one frontline team that brings higher value to the client (the flywheel). 


Two years ago, we combined, marketing, sales, onboarding and support (the frontliners), and created the growth team.


The Frontliners have 1 top goal (you guessed it) - growth (more revenue, less churn). 


To achieve growth, we also contribute and provide feedback throughout the flywheel to the product team to choose/prioritize the right features to develop. 


Once we realized this, the rest, on the strategy level (targets, metrics, reporting), became clear. 


Enter "Execution". 


I agree with Yamini Rangan about the need to focus far more on top priorities.


We've been working on such an approach this year: we focus on 1-2 goals per quarter, and have the right measures and reporting in place to help us achieve these goals (alignment, product improvement, and growth converge) - building accountability across the entire team is part of the reporting process. 


Each member books his schedule 2-4 times a week for 30 min to 2 hours to focus on getting the work done for the goals, regardless of the day-to-day operations; and that's key to getting closer to our targets.


After the recent events, and when we threw our 2020 plan in the bin back in March, we decided to plan only for a quarter. 


I know these are exceptional events and not a general status, but the quarter plan got us greater results, in terms of focus and execution than any other year before.


Will we continue to only plan for 3 months ahead? 


Maybe. For sure we have long term vision and targets, but 3 months planning is our new approach until, well, it stops working.


I'd love to connect and exchange tactic ideas. Maybe we can have a video call.


Stay well and safe,