- A sales plan is a blueprint that sets specific sales goals for your business and helps your sales team achieve them.
- For your sales plan to be effective, you should include realistic goals, tools to track your sales, future expectations, commission structure and relevant training programs.
- A sales plan is a critical tool to help a business drive sales and navigate risks.
- This article is for small business owners and sales managers who want to create a successful sales plan.
Every business needs a business plan as well as more detailed road maps that offer guidance to each department working toward that common goal. As the revenue-generating engine of your company, the sales department should be a top priority for this type of document, aptly named the “sales plan.” This guide introduces the concept of a sales plan and gives you all the guidance you need to create a sales plan that works for your business.
What is a sales plan?
A sales plan details the overall sales strategy of a business, including the revenue objectives of the company and how the sales department will meet those goals. This may also include revenue goals, the target audience and tools the team will use in their day-to-day. In addition, the sales plan should include examples of the hurdles and pain points the team might encounter, as well as contingency plans to overcome them.
“[A sales plan] is essential to support the growth of an organization,” said Bill Santos, vice president of the ITsavvy Advanced Solutions Group. “A sales plan helps individual reps understand the priorities of the business as well as the measurements by which they will be evaluated.”
Business plans vs. sales plans
Business plans and sales plans are closely linked. A sales plan, though, should outline the actions that the sales department will take to achieve the company’s broader goals. A sales plan differs from a business plan, though both work toward the same end.
“A business plan is a ‘what’ [and] a sales plan is a ‘how,'” said James R. Bailey, professor of management and Hochberg Professional Fellow of Leadership Development at the George Washington University School of Business. “Business plans are where a firm wants to go. A sales plan is a part of how they can achieve that. A business plan is direction; a sales plan is execution.”
For example, a software company that developed a new mobile application might state in its business plan that the app will be installed by 1 million users within a year of launch, while the sales plan describes how that will actually be achieved.
How to write a sales plan
Every sales plan should suit the individual needs of a different company, so they come in all shapes and sizes. There is no one-size-fits-all sales plan; the one you create will be unique to your business. With careful planning, you’ll have a much clearer vision of what you need to accomplish and a road map for how to get there.
Chris Gibbs, vice president of global sales at Centripetal Networks, named some additional items that every sales plan should include.
- Targeted accounts: Assign each salesperson a few key accounts to focus on, and grow from that base.
- Targeted verticals: Sales teams might focus on specific market segments or verticals, such as a particular industry.
- SKUs: Salespeople should emphasize certain SKUs or inventory items rather than get lost in a broad catalog of merchandise to sell.
- Sales and marketing coordination: Sales and marketing teams should work together to create promotions to help generate sales.
- Product road maps: Every company has a road map, and each product should have a road map that shows the plan and direction for a product offering over time to chart out when a product will launch and when it might sunset or be replaced by a newer model.
- Forecasts: Sales forecasting is projecting sales volumes and expectations by comparing them historically to sales of previous years, and then conducting market comparison to determine where sales will fall against the competition.
“Sales plans are extremely important to ensure there is cohesiveness between product teams, sales and marketing,” Gibbs said. “In addition, they’re important for ensuring that timing of new products and/or new version releases coincide with sales objectives and forecasts.”
What are the steps to create a sales plan?
A sales plan is necessary for businesses of every size, from an individual entrepreneur to a Fortune 500 company. When you’re ready to actually write your sales plan, follow these steps:
1. Define the objectives.
Clearly outlining your goals and stating your objectives should always be the first step in creating a sales plan or any other business venture. You should include the expected sales volume and any markets or territories you expect to reach.
For example, let’s say you own a retail store selling household goods and electronics. If your purpose is to establish yourself as a trusted local retailer, ask yourself the following questions:
- Who are your customers?
- Are they in-store customers?
- If so, are they purchasing anything or just browsing?
- Are they online customers?
- If so, how did they stumble upon your website?
- Was it word of mouth?
- Was it through marketing efforts, such as email marketing, direct mail or social media?
- How many are new customers?
- How many are repeat customers?
- If so, how did they stumble upon your website?
- Where do you want your sales to come from?
- What are some external and internal factors that could impact your sales? These include industry trends and economic conditions.
- Are they in-store customers?
When you can precisely state your key objectives, you are setting yourself up to plan later steps around achieving your goals.
2. Assess the current situation.
The next step is to create an honest overview of your business situation in relation to the goal you set in the first step.
Review your strengths and assets. Take a look at your resources and how you can apply them to your goal. This can include personal relationships and competitive advantages like new products or services.
For example, if your goal is to enhance your relationship with your customers, you’d need to ask yourself some questions to examine your current situation:
- What is your current relationship with your customers?
- Where did most of your sales come from?
- Where would you like to expand your sales?
Tip: When examining your strengths and opportunities, conduct a SWOT analysis to get a clearer picture of where your business stands.
3. Determine and outline the sales strategies.
Sales strategies are the actual tactics your team will use to reach customers. They can include marketing channels as well as procedures for lead generation and client outreach employed by your salespeople.
Here are two examples of potential sales strategies:
- Use your POS system to retain customer information so you can track current and new customers.
- Employ email marketing, text message marketing, social media, outbound call center services and direct mail marketing campaigns.
4. Define roles for the sales team.
Each member of the sales team should be assigned clear roles, whether they vary from person to person or everyone performs the same functions.
Defining the sales direction of the team is crucial, as it shows the focus of the company and helps the team target and execute sales most effectively.
The plan of attack for the sales team should be communicated clearly by leadership, whether it is from team leaders or the CEO.
5. Inform other departments of sales objectives.
A sales plan shouldn’t just update a company president or C-suite; it should inform the whole organization of the sales team’s objectives.
Clearly outline your plan for the rest of the company to help them understand the goals and procedures of the sales team. Other departments become more efficient when interacting with the sales team and clients. This also conveys a certain level of quality and professionalism to the clients about the company.
6. Provide tools for the sales team.
Provide the tools each member of the sales team needs to achieve the stated goals, such as customer relationship management (CRM) software. The best CRM software is customizable to meet a company’s needs, making it much easier for your team to use the software and work efficiently.
7. Detail how the department will track progress.
Offer strategic direction and insight on how progress will be monitored. Having a quarterly review to assess whether the company is on target is just as important as the plan itself.
Markets change, and so should your sales plan. Keeping it up to date will help you capitalize on the market and achieve your goals. Tracking progress is made easier by the tools you use to collect data. That data will then have to be analyzed and presented in a way which all departments can understand and use for future growth.
Key elements of a sales plan
Every sales plan should also include the following elements.
You need to set achievable goals. Challenge your sales team, but don’t push too hard. Bailey said that these “deliverables” are among the key points to include in a sales business plan.
“Deliverables need to be as specific as possible and moderately difficult to achieve – specific inasmuch as being measurable in a manner that is uncontested [and] moderately difficult inasmuch as making sales goals too difficult can lead to failure and discouragement.”
Midpoint goals also help build morale and keep the team working toward a larger goal. Instead of having one giant goal, creating smaller goals to achieve along the way will keep your team focused.
Tip: Set milestones that give you the opportunity to regularly determine whether you are on track to achieve your sales goals or need to make adjustments.
Tracking sales throughout the term is helpful, and you can employ tools to keep track of each team member as well as the department overall. It also helps establish a culture of accountability among salespeople.
“Tools can help, especially project management and CRM software,” Santos said. “Having a weekly cadence of update and review is also important, as it sends a message that ownership and updates are important.”
Clear expectations and a defined commission structure
Assign goals and responsibilities to each team member to make expectations clear. This is true whether or not each team member has the same goals.
“We meet with each individual to come up with a plan that works for them so that they can reach their goals,” said Leah Adams, director of client success at Point3 Security. “We measure results based on numbers. Each team member has his own plan and how they’re going to get there.”
It’s also necessary to spell out the commission structure in full detail.
“The only real difference is how sales count,” Bailey said. “In petroleum-based products … a few big clients are necessary. Compensation needs to be structured not just in contract value, but in graduated terms: Above $1 million, commissions move from 5% to 9%, and so forth. In smaller-volume enterprises, commissions might be front-loaded with higher percentages early, then graduated down. You have to reward what you want.”
Along the way, some training might be necessary to maintain the momentum.
“What’s important to us is that we’re teaching these individuals to be the best salesperson they can be,” Adams said. “We help them do that by constantly training them and giving them knowledge of what’s going on in our industry. Everything stays on track because each member of the team knows their individual goal; though each person has a number, they also know the ultimate goal is for the entire team to hit.”
Adams said that an effective CRM keeps things organized and helps delegate tasks and responsibilities on a schedule that uses the company’s lead information.
Key steps to follow when devising a sales plan
Here are some best practices for creating a sales plan:
- Refer to the business plan. The sales plan should directly address the objectives of the business plan and how those objectives can be achieved.
- Advance clear objectives. The clearer the objectives are, the easier it will be to reach your goals.
- Reference prior sales data. Chart sales over the previous few terms, and project the trend for the current term. New businesses can create sales projections based on expectations.
- Outline the commission structure. This will help motivate your team and help you calculate anticipated costs.
- Be clear about how progress is measured. There should be no dispute about this. If larger clients carry more weight than lower-volume buyers, that should be stated upfront.
The benefits of a sales plan
A sales plan keeps the sales department on track, considering the details of how they must operate to hit their targets and achieve company objectives. Because the sales team is the primary driver of revenue, it is an incredibly important document. [Related article: Adopting a CRM? How to Get Buy-in From Your Sales Department]
“It’s extremely important to have a sales plan in place, almost a must,” Adams said. “Without this plan, it’s almost impossible to get through the year and hit the company’s sales goals.”
It’s not uncommon to encounter obstacles along the way, however. A good sales plan accounts for that.
“Almost always, you’ll run into the speed bumps along the way, but with a plan in place, it makes it a whole lot easier to navigate through it all,” Adams said. “The sales plan allows you to adjust when necessary so the goal can still be hit. I strongly believe a plan allows you to stay in control and reduce the risk while being able to measure the team’s results along the way to that finish line.”
Key takeaway: A solid sales plan helps you deal with unexpected events and acts as a benchmark for where your company is and where you want it to go.
Sales plan templates
Sales templates are helpful in that many of them are based on tried-and-true formats that have been used by businesses across several industries. They can also provide structure so that it is clear to each employee what their role and responsibilities are.
Free download: Create your own sales plan by downloading our free template.
“A template helps plan each individual’s daily activities in a structured way,” Adams said. “If you know what each person is doing daily, it’s easier to help correct what’s going wrong. It helps with things like conversion rates, etc. Yes, these templates can be customized in any way a team’s manager sees fit, based on how he believes the team will perform better.”
Sales plans should be unique to the company; however, there are key components they should always include. Because there is somewhat of a formula, you can use a template.
Templates are extremely helpful, Gibbs said. “It creates uniformity for the team, as well as a yearly or quarterly sales plan to present to senior management.”
Gibbs added that templates can easily be customized to meet the needs of a particular business or sales team.
Keeping your team on track with a sales plan
Planning is vital for any business, especially when dealing with sales targets. Before selling your product or service, you must outline your goals and ways to execute them. Essentially, a sales plan enables you to mitigate problems and risks. When there is a clear plan of action, you will know how to proceed in order to attain your goals.
Enid Burns contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.