It seems obvious: a better sales plan yields better sales results. And yet, I’ve seen it in one small- to medium-sized business after another – they really don’t have a documented sales plan at all! Sure, they might have a general idea of wanting to sell more in the new year than they did in the last, but they have no concrete goals, no strategy for how to sell more, and no tactical level of planning to improve sales results. The good news is that sales planning doesn’t have to be difficult; you just need a – well, a plan! Here is a general blueprint for crafting an effective sales plan:
Start with a Realistic “Bottom Up” Goal
As I mentioned in a recent article, there is nothing so inspiring as reaching a tough-but-realistic goal or as dispiriting as failing to reach one that was always out of reach. One way to ensure that salespeople do not give up at the start due to unrealistic sales goals is to involve them in the process. From the beginning. Too often, Sales Managers look at last year’s numbers, tack on a percentage increase and expect their sales team to do what it takes to meet the quotas that roll up into that goal. Unfortunately, sometimes those arbitrary numbers are too high. The previous year’s sales may have been difficult to attain, they might have been inflated due to a big new client that is unlikely to be replicated in a declining market, and on and on. The reverse is also true, a goal might be set too low due to a lack of insight into what is possible. Either way, your goal should be to set goals appropriately, where they are not too high or too low. Frontline salespeople are closest to the pulse of their territories in the marketplace and should have the best ideas about what sales levels can be attained, so start from the bottom up.
By inviting your salespeople to help structure the bigger-picture goal, you’ll likely end up with enhanced buy-in, accountability, and pride in achieving a goal they believed in from the outset. Start by asking each salesperson, “What do you think you can do this year in terms of sales dollars?” If the salesperson downplays what you think is possible, find out why. It could be the salesperson knows something about market forces that could legitimately affect company sales performance. If you feel the salesperson is simply setting his sights too low, you can coach as necessary to bolster expectations and the ability to meet them. Sales goals should be realistic, but they should also be aspirational.
Raising prices as a means to increase revenue doesn’t increase your market share. In fact, it could erode market share if current and prospective customers seek more economical solutions elsewhere. So raising prices is not really a strategy for more sales. Still, you need to have a strategic view of how to increase sales if you are to make it actually happen at the tactical level. What are some possible strategies? You could devise plans to:
- Increase dollars spent in current products or services by current customers via increased volume. Has your customer’s business changed, making it more appropriate for them to purchase more from you?
- Make available (and then sell) new products or services to existing customers. Are your current customers aware of all of your offerings? They already buy from you, so this is often the easiest option.
- Add new customers. It takes more work to acquire new customers, but you are spreading out your risk by relying less on a few large customers.
- Allocate your sales resources more strategically to match your best resources with your best existing or prospective customers. Consider classifying your customers as A, B, or C targets. Naturally, the “A” prospects will be the primary targets. This could be because the sales volume or revenue potential is significant, because the likelihood of making the sale is greater, or both. While you shouldn’t necessarily ignore all “C” prospects, it might be strategic to target them with marketing materials and periodic phone follow-ups versus in-person selling or account management.
None of these ideas is revolutionary, perhaps, but they are strategic and will set the foundation for successful tactical sales planning and deployment.
Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan
With realistic, bottom-up annual goals in place and strategies defined to achieve them, now what? How do you put those strategies in motion? One common approach is to divide the sales year into logical chunks – usually months – and set smaller goals and initiatives within each period. From there, you can further break down the period into even shorter-term – such as daily or weekly – objectives. But remember it’s not always as easy as merely dividing the year into 12 equal parts. Some industries and markets have a seasonal nature to them. Others experience surges in sales at the beginning and end of the fiscal year as budgets are either opened up or have dollars remaining to be spent. Whatever the cyclical nature of sales in your industry, factor that in when setting incremental goals.
When your sales plan is taken to the periodic goal and tactical level, you’ll be able to assess where you stand for the year-to-date while you still have time to make adjustments. Of course, this is much easier if you have a CRM in place to give you the analytical insights necessary.
Your business must have a sales plan. Period. You can’t hit goals if you don’t have them; you can’t execute phantom strategies; and you can’t very well put tactics in motion if you don’t know which direction to go.
At Sales Xceleration, we see this sales planning void all the time. As intuitive as it may be to appreciate the need for sales planning, Sales Managers often wear too many hats or simply don’t have time to craft a solid sales plan. That’s where we can help. Our licensed Sales Xceleration Advisors are highly skilled in sales plan development and can provide the guidance and assistance needed to help your team improve sales performance. To learn more, contact a Sales Xceleration Advisor today.