1. How to write a Sales Plan
Few businesses manage to achieve true success without a sales plan, or should I say successfully executing their Sales Plan.
Planning helps you to establish your sales objectives, and outline the steps you will take to reach them.
A typical sales plan will include information on how the growth will be achieved (this is sometimes referred to as the sales strategy) and how sales will be measured.
Measuring sales may seem simple, but there are often important indicators and metrics other than revenue that can and should be used to measure the success of the execution of the sales plan.
Sales plans may also feature details about target customers and their needs, as a way to validate the sales plan.
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2. Different types of Sales Plans
Unfortunately, given all the differences between industries, companies and products there is no single plan that can be applied to every business. There are 3 main differences you should be aware of as follows:
1. Customer Base – are you selling to an established customer base where you need to manage existing accounts or are you selling to a greenfield territory where you need to focus on opening new accounts? In reality, it’s often a mixture of the two.
2. Market Movement – is the market stable enough to allow you to repeat what’s delivered your sales numbers in previous years or is the market changing and forcing you to change at the same time?
3. Business Strategy – the sales plan needs to meet or exceed the objectives of the business plan. The plan therefore needs to be aligned with the overall business strategy. If part of the business strategy is to divest risk from one income stream, the sales plan needs to reflect this.
Sales are the fuel that powers the ship, however it’s the business that decides where the ship is going.
3. Increasing Your Sales Revenues
At times sales can seem very complicated, however, it’s worth remembering there are only three ways to increase sales revenues as follows:
a) Increase sales by selling to new customers
b) Increase sales by selling more to existing customers
c) Raise your prices
The growth in your Sales plan must reflect at least one of the above, but preferably all three. You must also allow for “churn” as every business no matter how good they are will lose customers over time.
Even if you do nothing wrong customers will go bankrupt, they will be taken over, they will move away and you will lose business.
Reducing customer churn may well be part of your growth strategy. Anything you can do to increase your Customer Lifetime Value is always worthwhile and will stand you in good stead in the future.
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4. Preparing for Success
Sales plans are primarily designed to help you achieve more sales. They should include information on what your current situation is, what you are aiming for and what you need to do to make your vision a reality.
Sales plans are like a roadmap your team can follow to achieve success. Without this roadmap they will take longer to achieve their targets as they move slower and possibly even in a different direction.
A more focused and driven team
A key benefit of a sales plan is that it can make your team more focused on achieving a specific goal or series of goals.
Once a sales plan is in place, your team should have a firmer, more coherent idea of what your aims are. They should also have a more specific idea of what steps they personally need to take to achieve them.
Sales plans can also help you prevent a decline in sales over time by keeping your team focused and delivering a constant sense of purpose.
They can also help you make the most of your team’s specific capabilities and assign roles to the most suitable employees.
Confidence is an important yet often overlooked part of the sales success in any organisation.
A well written Sales Plan will give confidence and direction to the sales team and once you have a robust sales plan in place, you’re more likely to attract or keep investors and other stakeholders on-side.
The sales plan should also include information on the likely and possible challenges you envisage and how you plan to overcome them.
Clarity and coherence
Sales plans should be straightforward, so they can be easily understood by people outside the sales department.
There is no point filling your sales plan full of sales jargon which some team members may struggle to comprehend.
It’s essential that your sales plan firmly outlines your plans and goals for the period that it covers in an easy-to-read format.
5. Frameworks for sales plans
We’ve put together a framework for your Sales Plan in Microsoft PowerPoint so it can double up as a presentation document. It includes easy to complete sections on:
1. Review – Learning what’s worked and what hasn’t from the previous year is an essential part of any sales plan. This way we can repeat or increase what’s been working and reduce, eliminate or adapt what didn’t work.
It’s also wise to look at your past data when setting targets. Do you have a good track record of hitting your targets? If you have failed to reach your aims in the past, do you know the reasons for this?
By closely assessing your past performance, you can optimise the chances of your latest campaign being a success and avoid setting unrealistic targets.
2. Sales Team – salespeople are a key part of the sales success in any organisation and should always be included in the plan.
In addition to showing past performance you should demonstrate how you plan to support them over the life of the plan by way of training and coaching.
Details of the training should be recorded in each employees PDP (Personal Development Plan) and Coaching should be recorded in individual coaching worksheets.
There may be times where every sales person has similar development needs but at as a minimum the coaching should always be bespoke.
3. Strategy – this is simply a high level statement on how you will approach selling to your market. The details such as goals, priorities and milestones of the strategy will be laid out in the Objectives section of the sales plan.
An example of a Strategy would be the Big Bets or Blockbuster strategy. Imagine if you were running a movie company and you were choosing what movies to invest $100,000,000 in over the next 12 months.
Would you take your $100,000,000 and invest £1 million dollars in 100 films or would you invest £10 million and try to create 10 blockbusters?
Perhaps your strategy is to move your customer base from Mid Market to Enterprise accounts. Your strategy might be to expand your portfolio to meet more of your customers needs and keep the competition out.
Your strategy may be the opposite and you might want to reduce and streamline your portfolio.
Removing choice allows you to focus sales and marketing resources and lower operating costs. We’re great fans of the Blockbuster strategy because we love the focus and simplicity it brings.
We accept there is an increased risk when you focus on fewer options, however, there should be some form of validation in your Blockbuster strategy. Will the next Bond movie be a hit? Well based on previous Bond movies yes.
So the majority (not all) Blockbusters should already be proven revenue streams that you are simply doubling down on.
4. SWOT analysis – thi is where you can document your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats to help form and validate your sales strategy. Please remember the SWOT should only refer to your sales strategy.
The SWOT serves as proof that you and your team have undertaken some critical thinking around your sales strategy and have taken the time to think each aspect of the strategy through.
Once you have completed a SWOT analysis you can use the data to form a strategy that minimises the Weaknesses & Threats and maximises the strengths and opportunities.
5. Objectives – Your sales plan must be based around genuinely achievable targets. It will be much harder to get your team to embrace your sales plan if your aims are unrealistic or unreasonable.
It’s fine to be ambitious, but your goals still need to be realistic. Unrealistic or unachievable goals will only serve to demoralise the sales team and lead to them giving up.
Your aims and strategies need to be measurable so you can track the progress that you are making. You must include research that supports your aims, especially if your targets seem particularly ambitious.
Setting growth targets/objectives in the plan
Growth targets in sales plans can vary wildly. Some sales plans are based on what the company wants to achieve over the next quarter, whilst others have longer-term 12 month goals.
It would be unusual to have a sales plan that was longer than 12 months as markets and customers can change so quickly.
Your sales plan needs to be agile enough to respond to these changes quickly. The best sales plans will feature detailed information on which activities need to take place and what kind of resources need to be used in order to generate success.
A simple method for sales forecasting would be to take the previous years monthly sales figures and then add 20% to each month. This provides a monthly sales target that accounts for any seasonal changes, and after 12 months will have delivered 20% annual growth.
It’s normally best practice to list separate sales objectives for:
new customers vs existing customers
sales by region
sales by vertical
individual sales reps
Whilst tracking each element may seem overkill, this allows you to quickly adapt your sales plan and implement contingency plans if required. For example, if one vertical is under-performing you may choose to divert resources into other verticals that are more active.
6. Sales Tactics and Techniques – after Strategy and planning comes the tactics. These are quite simply the approaches you will use to deliver the objectives of the sales plan.
Your sales tactics should call out the tasks and activities the sales team will be doing on a daily basis to implement the plan.
Tactics could be as simple as changing the sales messaging to match a new market or retraining customer service teams in up-selling existing accounts.
Perhaps you want your sales team to invest more time on Social media using tools like LinkedIn to identify new prospects or your interested in starting a cold email campaign.
7. Metrics – it’s important to agree on what success looks like how you will measure it before you start any project.
There are lots of great systems and tools available for this, however, you should make a list of tracking methods that you will be using for the duration of your plan.
These can include your selling strategies, techniques used for monitoring and performance metrics.
a) use existing systems and tools like CRMs that are already in place and being used, so you don’t get dragged into a software implementation project.
b) the recording of the measures should not create any additional workload for the salespeople as they are then less likely to complete them.
c) where possible use lead indicators and not lag indicators. Examples of a lead indicator could be the number of qualified new sales leads created and a lag indicator is the monthly revenue.
Whilst the revenue is important if we wait till the end of the month to get the revenue figures and we miss the target it’s too late.
Measuring the lead indicators allows us to take corrective action before the lag indicator is missed.
SaaS companies often track subscriptions to their app which is important but the lead indicator could be as simple as the number of visitors to the website.
You wil need to make a list of tracking methods that you will be using for the duration of your plan. These can include your selling strategies, techniques used for monitoring and performance metrics.
We use Sales Scorecards to record and track KPI’s, however, there are many different methods to track KPI’s from simple spreadsheets to online apps.
8. Budget – sales and selling costs money. Whether it’s a simple Linkedin Sales Navigator subscription or a 6 figure Expo in Las Vegas everything in sales costs money which needs to be budgeted for.
Budgets will vary greatly from one company to another, however you should always attempt to quantify the costs in advance.
Companies that do not have formalised budgets for Sales and work on an ad hoc basis are by nature lower down on the Sales Maturity model.
If you plan to spend a considerable figure during the period, you’ll need to justify this to your stakeholders. The plan should include detailed figures to illustrate where your budget will be going.
If you’re investing in new resources during the period, add an ROI analysis to your sales plan to help justify the investment.
You may also wish to budget for unforeseen costs such as recruitment, should a sales person leave unexpectedly you need to replace them.
If you’re not given the required budget, you may need to make changes to your sales plan, but you don’t necessarily need to scrap it completely.
6. Sales Plan Content
Your sales plan shouldn’t only consist of text. Wherever possible it’s worth have the document professional designed.
If you choose to use a template like ours you need to include your own branding as a minimum. It’s common for lists, tables, graphics, screenshots and charts to be used to convey key information about the company’s aims and the market you serve.
The sales plan should also feature research about what’s currently occurring in your industry This means it’s important to include statistics based on the latest research.
It’s also advisable to research your existing customers and targets market before you start creating your sales plan.
Depending on what sector you’re based in, there may be more demand from one market segment than there was in previous years.
Conversely, groups you were previously targeting may not be as interested in your products and services as they once were. Wherever possible do research so you can back up any positions you have taken.
Remember, your document doesn’t need to be incredibly formal, but it does need to be coherent and easy to comprehend.
7. Encouraging Buy In
Once you have completed your sales plan, you’ll need to present it not only to your team but your stakeholders and relevant managers too.
If you can’t get these on board, your plan is unlikely to be effective. The more convincing your sales plan is, the more enthusiasm you can generate.
The management is also more likely to release your budget if you can present an impressive well-thought-out sales plan.
With this in mind it’s always best to include other people in the creation of the Sales Plan. Getting buy-in from Sales people will be much easier if they helped create the document and senior management are much more likely to allocate budget if they have been included in the whole process.
With this in mind it’s worth asking your salespeople to create mini-plans and forecasts specific to their territory and then rolling these into the master plan.
This is a good way to develop ownership and responsibility within your sales team and provides a good reference point for future coaching.
A well-designed and executed sales plan can take your business to the next level. Just remember to keep it realistic and comprehensible so others ‘buy-in’ to it.