Neal Benedict
November 28, 2016

It is a well-established belief that if you build a plan to achieve your goals, you are more likely to see those goals realized.  However, if this is true, why do so many of us fail to plan.  The simple and broadest reason is that planning is hard!  Yep, that’s it.  It’s a complicated task that requires time, effort and most of all self-discipline.  Sound planning is critical in reaching any business goal and that is particularly true as it relates to sales.

Some may argue that planning is the enemy of flexibility or even creativity.  You may even have quoted the Mike Tyson philosophy that “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”, so if I always get punched why plan.  I can’t claim to know exactly where Mike was going with that statement, but I don’t think he meant you shouldn’t plan or you should simply bite your opponent’s ear.  Well, maybe he did.  But I think the more likely sentiment was that your plan needs to be flexible enough to deal with unexpected challenges.  Planning isn’t the enemy of flexibility or creativity.  It provides a guiding set of principles and a “home base” from which to operate when the plan needs revising.

What is a Sales Plan?

As sales plan is a process or approach that outlines goals, client targets, products/services, resources, activities and performance measurements and that can be easily understood and communicated both inside the sales organization and out.  It begins with the company goals and strategy and should clearly reflect how sales will contribute to the success of the company.

There is a lot here and it can be overwhelming, but it is critical to the success of your sales organization.  Without a sales strategy, your sales team will face these challenges at some point.

  1. Selling to anyone they can vs. your ideal client
  2. Pursuing the “wrong” type of clients at the expense (opportunity cost) of pursuing the ideal clients
  3. Unnecessary discounting
  4. Selling low margin products at the expense of your most profitable
  5. Assigning too much or too little sales resources to a market or client base
  6. An abundance of the “wrong” types of activity

Developing and effective sales plan is the primary way to systematically avoid these risks while consistently meeting your revenue goals.  Below are some suggested steps to follow to build your sales plan.

  1. Establish goals – knowing where you need to go is critical to getting there.
  2. Define your targets – focusing on the “right” clients will allow you to optimize your sales efforts
  3. Define your selling value – often referred to as Unique Selling Proposition (USP), is important to understand what separates you from your competition
  4. Define your territory – think beyond just geography
  5. Define your competition – define, document and share competitors and how they sell against you
  6. Define performance – defining success metrics is critical to effectively measure the plan
  7. Define activities – what activities will lead to the desired performance is your roadmap

While I acknowledge that sales plans take many shapes and forms my recommendation is to have a least some input in all the above categories.  Other areas you should also consider are resources (both financial and personnel), product or services (existing and needed) and programs like key accounts.

There should be a broad understanding of the sales strategy not only in sales but beyond.  Organizations like finance, marketing, and even HR should be offered the opportunity to not only consume the plan but to also contribute as appropriate.

The bottom line is that a well thought out sales plan will enhance the performance of your sales organization, it will lower risk and will give the rest of the organization that the sales organization is executing against a clear plan vs. simply being reactive.  As with most things a good sales plan well executed is preferable to a great plan never realized.  Don’t be  overwhelmed by the task.  Build your first sales plan, keep it simple and execute.  You will be glad you did.