You’ve recently been charged with developing a sales plan but you don’t know what it should look like or how to do it. Though it isn’t easy, the process is fairly simple. A sales plan will help you:
- define your sales strategy (goals)
- identify sales tactics (activities)
- assign accountability for you and your sales team
- measure and monitor progress against your goals
- continuously improve your sales approach with regular feedback
A sales plan should not be static. Instead, it should be a “living” document that changes according to market conditions and from what you’ve learned along the way. Follow these five steps to get started:
To develop your sales strategy, determine what your business does better than anyone else and the smallest viable market to target with this offering. Of course, you don’t necessarily want to exclude others, but you need to be laser focused with your marketing approach. Most businesses don’t have large enough budgets or the sales force necessary to target everyone.
Ideally, the thing that you do best can be backed up with some sort of “promise” that proves that you’ll deliver. You want to increase your target market’s confidence in your brand and a guarantee does this (not necessarily a money-back one but something similar). Keep in mind that an unfulfilled promise should hurt to have maximum impact on keeping your team accountable and keeping customers motivated to purchase from you. For example, we tell our clients that if they don’t feel they received value from our work, they shouldn’t pay us. It’s not about our time spent, it’s about the value created in their organizations.
To help with the above, research your competitors and try to find a gap that they are not serving or not serving well. Study your prospects and ask them what they’d want to see from an offering like yours. What drives them crazy about their current suppliers? Is this a need that your company can meet? How much would they be willing to pay if you were able to deliver on that need? You might consider developing a list of the top 100 companies you’d like to serve and then start calling them to see if you can get some answers.
Once you have your strategy down, developing a sales plan starts with a financial budget that identifies revenue targets for the business, ideally on a monthly basis. The revenue becomes the goal of the plan and having something to measure against (even if the budget is way off in the beginning) is helpful so that you can refine it over time, get better at forecasting, and figure out what the business can and cannot afford.
* Profit is even more important. This advice assumes you have sufficient margin built into your pricing.
From there you work backward: how many proposals need to be sent per day / week / month at what dollar value to hit those revenue targets? How many new prospects would you need to meet to put out that many proposals? How many new leads would you need to get that many meetings? And so forth. All these numbers will be guesses, but that’s okay. You can track progress over time and get better at it.
There are many specific techniques to increase effectiveness at generating these numbers from lead generation right through to closing the sale. The most valuable thing we did when we started our business was to methodically capture and stay in touch with everyone we met. Our monthly newsletter was a lot of work at first with not much to show for it. But over time, drip by drip, sending valuable information to the people we met while asking for nothing in return allowed us to stay in front of them. So, when they needed something, they usually would call. It was a long-term investment but we’re so glad we made it.
This is the “who” part of the sales plan: Who is going to do what and by when? How often should they report, and to whom, on progress? Without assigning accountability, no one will pay attention to the plan.
Assuming you have the right people (hungry, hard working, and people smart), ensure that you’ve been explicit in what you want them to do. If you don’t set expectations, you can’t expect people to meet them. While most organizations do a decent job at developing the performance metrics for their salespeople, they often fall short in describing the means to the ends. If you’ve developed the tactics you expect to be used, don’t forget to tell someone about them!
It’s also helpful to define the salesperson’s territory. Whether by geography, industry, product line, or some other easily understood boundary, allowing the salesperson to focus their efforts will improve results. A common fear is that by focusing on a specific area, opportunities will be missed in others. Focus isn’t necessarily about saying no to opportunities, it’s about methodically choosing which opportunities to give enough attention to so that they will develop into revenue.
4. Measuring and Monitoring
The initial part of the sales plan sets expectations. Those expectations also need to be measured and monitored. Report on progress against the metrics set up in the tactics. Make it a routine – ideally via a weekly meeting. Monitoring how full the funnel is and at what stage the opportunities are at is critical, especially in long sales cycle environments. If a deal takes 18 months to close, you need to know whether all the steps have been followed along the way to make it most likely to happen.
The meeting itself allows you to go back into the strategy, tactics, and other areas of your sales plan so that you’re always refining your approach. Without feedback, your sales plan will eventually stagnate and fail to deliver the results you want. Finding a method to communicate what one salesperson has learned to the others accelerates everyone’s learning. And documenting the learning makes it much faster to bring new recruits up to speed.
The sales plan can be as detailed or skeletal as suits your situation. If you follow the five basic steps above you are more likely to close more sales of higher value more often than not. Stack the odds in your favour.