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How to Write a Sales Plan

Enid Burns

Writing a sales plan for your business doesn't need to be hard. These tips will help you write an effective sales plan.

Once a company establishes a business plan, each department could use a department-specific business plan to set benchmarks and goals. The sales department is first and foremost in its need for a department plan. Sales plans detail elements such as the objectives of the company and how the sales department will meet those goals. That may be volume of sales or infiltrating a particular market or demographic. The sales plan should list what's needed to meet those goals as well as hurdles or pain points that the team expects to encounter.

Your sales business plan should speak to the company's overall plan. There is no one-size-fits-all sales plan; however, there are templates – which we'll discuss later – that can get you on your way to a realistic and successful sales plan.

What is a sales plan?

A sales plan governs how a sales department operates, such as identifying objectives, target audiences, and ways to achieve goals to the challenges the sales team might encounter. It shapes and guides every facet of a business's overall sales strategy. An effective sales plan keeps the sales department working toward a goal, and it communicates to the company the team's progress and how it relates to the company's plan.

A sales plan is "essential to support the growth of an organization," said Bill Santos, president and COO of Cerberus Sentinel. "A sales plan helps individual reps understand the priorities of the business as well as the measurements by which they will be evaluated. It also provides a consistent measure of performance, allowing for independent evaluation of individual performance in a quantitative manner."

TipFree download: Create your own sales plan by downloading our free template

How business plans and sales plans are different but complementary

Business and sales plans are closely linked. The sales plan, though, should outline the actions that the department will take to achieve the company's broader goals. A sales plan differs from a business plan, though both work toward to the same end.

A sales plan is there to lay out the objectives, high-level tactics, determine the target audience and the potential obstacles in reaching that audience. While it is like a traditional business plan, a sales plan focuses specifically on the sales strategy that will meet the company's objectives.

"A business plan is a 'what' as a sales plan is a 'how,'" said James R. Bailey, professor 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."

Where a software company that produces apps might state that they want to be installed on every smartphone or desktop, or a hardware-based company will describe how it wants to have its widget in every household, the sales plan should describe how that will be achieved. This begins by stating the company's goals, then outlining a strategy for the sales team to achieve that goal. The sales plan should identify the roles and responsibilities of each member of the sales team and forecast how – and how fast – these goals should be met.

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. Since the sales team is the No. 1 driver of revenue, it is an incredibly important document. [Related: How to Get Buy-in From Your Sales Department for a CRM]

"It's extremely important to have a sales plan in place, almost a must," said Leah Adams, director of client success at Point3 Security. "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 seen necessary so the goal can still be hit. I strongly believe a plan allows you to stay in control, reduce the risk while being able to measure the team's results along the way to that finish line."

What should a sales plan include?

Follow these tips to create an effective sales plan.

1. Set realistic goals.

Set achievable goals, and try to include what the sales department can accomplish in a given term. Challenge the sales team, but don't push too hard, said Bailey.

Bailey also told Business News Daily that "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. 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 goal. Instead of a long road to the finish, smaller goals offer checkpoints and reinforce the success of the department and the company.

2. Leverage sales tools.

Tracking sales throughout the term is helpful, and you can employ tools to keep track of each team member as well as the department.

"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."

3. Identify unique circumstances and expectations.

There are also elements common to all businesses, while some industries have specific considerations. It's also necessary to spell out commission structures, and how sales volume or certain customers might bring in higher commissions.

"The only real difference is how sales count," Bailey said. "In petroleum-based products like VCMs and PVCs, 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."

Assign goals and responsibilities to each team member to make expectations clear. This is true whether each team member has the same goals, or if goals are individualized to each sales member.

"We meet with each individual to come up with a plan that works for them so that they can reach their goals," Adams said. "We measure results based on numbers. Each team member has his own plan and how they're going to get there."

4. Support your sales plan with training.

Along the way, some training might be necessary to keep up 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 an effective CRM keeps things organized, and helps delegate tasks and responsibilities on a schedule that uses the company's lead information.

How to write a sales plan specific to your business

Every sales plan should cater to the specific company. However, certain points should be covered for an effective plan. Your plan should:

  • Define the objective.
  • State the current situation.
  • Spell out any barriers that exist.
  • Review strengths and assets to aid in success.
  • Determine a sales strategy.
  • List your requirements.
  • Outline a plan of action.

Additional items a sales plan should include are targeted accounts, targeted verticals, SKUs, sales and marketing coordination, product road maps, and forecasting, according to Chris Gibbs, vice president of global sales at Centripetal Networks. Gibbs listed the essential items that every sales plan should comprise:

  • 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 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 is a sales strategy in a business plan?

The sales plan has to address the business plan, and how the sales plan drives to the goals stated in the business plan. The sales plan should include short-term and long-term goals.

"This is the difference between 'steps' and 'stairway,'" Bailey said. "Short-term goals are always aimed at achieving long-term goals. They are not distinct. But operationally – even psychologically – they need to be treated as goals. Climbing a single step gets one closer to scaling the staircase. One step at a time, but always in service of the end goal."

The strategy should show the steps that must be taken to reach long-term goals. Sales goals can be tracked in the number of units sold, the number of regular and returning customers, or the volume of new customers who have transacted. The goal should be meaningful and quantifiable.

What are the steps to creating a sales plan?

A sales plan is necessary for every size business, from an individual entrepreneur to a Fortune 500 company. Of course, sales plans can scale to the size of the enterprise, as well as expectations in the sales department. These are the key components of an effective sales plan:

  1. Include objectives. State the objectives, including the expected sales volume and any new markets or territories the sales plan might be expected to reach.
  1. Outline the sales strategies. Chart out how the sales team will reach targeted customers and market segments. Strategies can include an ad campaign, grassroots, social media or a phone campaign.
  1. Answer questions. State what efforts the department will go to in order to reach expected sales numbers.
  1. Define roles for the sales team. Each member of the sales team should be assigned roles whether they vary from person to person or each team member has the same expectations.
  1. Inform the company. A sales plan should do more than update the president or C-suite; it should inform all departments of the sales team's objectives.
  1. Offer tools. Provide the tools each member of the sales team needs to work toward to achieve the stated goals.
  1. Detail how the department will track progress. Offer strategic direction and insight on how progress will be monitored.

Key components of 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.
  • Identify what is required of the sales team, and assign roles to each team member so they have goals to work toward throughout the term.
  • Be clear on the objectives and how they can be achieved. The clearer the objectives are, the better the department will be able to work independently and as a team to reach goals.
  • Reference previous years' sales. Chart sales growth over the previous few terms, and project where those sales are expected to reach by the end of the term.
  • State expectations for various checkpoints. Don't just put a finish line, put markers along the way to show progress, and keep the team motivated.
  • Outline benefits such as commissions. This will help motivate the team, and also help calculate costs and profits.
  • Be clear about how progress toward sales goals is being measured. There should be no dispute on how sales are measured. If larger clients carry more weight than lower-volume buyers, that should be stated upfront.

Sales plan templates

Sales templates are helpful in that many of them are based on tried-and-true formats that have been used in businesses across several industries. They can also provide structure so it is clear to each employee what their role and responsibilities are. Learn more about what goes into building a sales funnel for your customers.

"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 and can even use a refresh each term; however, there are key components they should always include. Because there is somewhat of a formula, and certainly common aspects that are all but required, you can use a template – which many companies offer for free, though often in exchange for your contact information – you can find online from agencies and marketing companies.

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 while templates are put together to be of help, they can easily be customized to meet the needs of a particular business or sales team.

TipFree download: Use our free sales plan template to help guide you in your planning process. 

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