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A sales plan is a strategic document that outlines a company’s sales goals and the steps needed to achieve them.
Written by: Sean McAlindin
Sean McAlindin, a business and arts writer, has a decade-long experience in music and culture journalism and recently ventured into business writing.
Edited by: Sallie Middlebrook
Sallie, holding a Ph.D. from Walden University, is an experienced writing coach and editor with a background in marketing. She has served roles in corporate communications and taught at institutions like the University of Florida.
Updated on October 10, 2023
In the world of business, where competition is fierce and the landscape ever-changing, a well-strategized sales plan isn’t just a luxury—it’s a necessity. Whether you’re an established brand aiming to maintain your market dominance or a budding startup setting foot in a new arena, having a definitive game plan is mandatory.
Why? Because success in sales doesn’t come from random acts or sheer luck; it’s the result of meticulous planning, smart strategies, strong collaboration, and consistent execution.
So, if you’re envisioning sky-high sales figures and a loyal customer base singing your praises, you’re in the right place. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through 10 steps to creating a winning sales plan that not only charts your course, but guarantees you arrive at your desired destination in style.
So, from vision to victory, let the journey begin!
A sales plan is the central document that outlines your company’s sales goals and how you plan to get there. It ensures a clear direction, resource optimization, accurate performance tracking, adaptability, and resilience in a shifting marketplace.
Drafting a sales plan begins with setting goals, assessing your situation, defining your target audience, and crafting a unique value proposition.
As you get into the details of your sales plan, you’ll need to determine sales channels, outline your sales process, set your pricing structures, and make sales forecasts.
Keeping your sales plan up to date will require regular monitoring and evaluation, and a willingness to optimize and adjust as you go.
A sales plan is a strategic document that outlines a company’s sales goals and the steps needed to achieve them.
It functions as the compass guiding a company’s sales efforts, laying out clear objectives, pinpointing your target audience, and outlining the tactics to be used.
Beyond laying out the “who” and the “how,” a sales plan establishes a timeline for execution, complete with benchmarks for measuring success. So, whether you’re a fledgling start-up or an established mainstream enterprise, a solid sales plan helps you chart a course, track your progress, and adjust as needed.
A sales plan is the roadmap and instructions that transform lofty ambitions into tangible results, coordinating company-wide efforts along an actionable blueprint. It established a unified purpose and pathway ahead, bringing different stakeholders and departments into alignment and ensuring that everyone (from frontline sales reps to the executive board) is working towards the same goals in a deliberate and collaborative way.
A sales plan acts like a GPS for your business. Just as you wouldn’t set off on a cross-country road trip without a map or directions, entering the business landscape without a clear sales plan can quickly lead you astray. Instead of wandering aimlessly in the sales wilderness, having a sales plan provides a straightforward pathway and assures every step you make moves you closer to your overarching goals.
Every business has limited resources—be it time, money, or manpower. A sales plan ensures you allocate these resources efficiently, focusing on high-potential areas that promise better returns, rather than spreading efforts too thin. Businesses that launch without a transparent sales plan quickly burn through their assets before they have a chance to gain a foothold in the market.
How do you know if you’re succeeding or not? A sales plan, with its common-sense benchmarks and metrics, offers a means to track your performance. By comparing planned objectives to actual results, businesses can identify when they’re exceeding expectations and where there’s room for improvement.
Without a cohesive plan, different teams might have different perceptions of what success looks like. A sales plan verifies that everyone, from marketing to customer support to the front office, is on the same page, working harmoniously towards common goals.
In a shifting market, a sales plan offers a structured, yet flexible approach toward competing and winning over time. When external factors change, having a plan A, B, and C makes it easier for businesses to pivot and adapt, ensuring longevity and relevance in the marketplace.
Having a plan in hand doesn’t just align actions – it aligns confidence. When individuals or teams have an easy-to-follow plan laid out before them, it eliminates ambiguity. They can focus on execution rather than decision-making. A clear, strategic approach behind every move emboldens sales teams, increasing motivation, conviction, and the drive to achieve.
At the heart of every successful sales plan is a clear objective. Therefore, it’s a good idea to start your plan with the end in mind. Without a well-defined target, even the most diligent efforts will soon burn out. With this in mind, the first question you need to answer is, where do you see your business in the next six months, one year, five years, or longer?
What are your priorities right now? Are you looking to expand into new markets, boost overall sales by a certain percentage, or introduce a new product? What are your metrics for measuring success? Now is the time to define your short-term and long-term goals to guarantee your objectives align with your company’s broader vision.
Be specific. Instead of saying, “We want to increase sales,” aim for, “We want to boost sales of our product by 15% in the next six months.” Always attach measurable numbers and timelines to your goals. Set targets based on your resources, market conditions, and past performance. This way, you can track progress and know exactly when you’ve achieved your objective.
For more information on goal setting in sales, read Making That Sale’s article “How to Set SMART Sales Goals.”
Knowledge is power, especially when charting your sales course into competitive waters. Before setting sail, pinpoint your location and gather information about the journey ahead. You’d never plan an ocean passage without knowing your starting point, setting a clear course, and accessing the latest weather forecast. The same principles apply here.
Start by conducting comprehensive market research. Delve into data to uncover prevailing industry trends, learn what your competitors are up to, and discern what consumers really want.
What are the latest industry trends? Who are the major players, and what strategies are they adopting? These questions will bring the broader market landscape into focus, helping you spot hidden goldmines or potential pitfalls that may lie in your path.
Next, evaluate your own position in the business ecosystem. Where do you stand in the grand scheme of things? Are you the market leader, an emerging contender, or a newcomer eager to make a mark? Whether you’re ahead of the pack or looking to climb the ranks, your place in the business landscape should shape your strategies and ambitions.
Assess your available resources. How robust is your current sales and marketing infrastructure? What sort of budget, manpower, connections, tools, and technology are available to you? You have to be realistic about what you have and what you can do with it.
Equally vital is the human element. Evaluate the skill sets of your sales and marketing teams. Where do their strengths lie, and where might there be gaps in knowledge or expertise? Remember that training might be necessary to bring everyone up to speed on new plans, strategies, and tools.
Every product or service has an audience, a specific group of people most likely to benefit and thus, most likely to buy. Understanding and identifying this group isn’t just advantageous—it’s pivotal to your business success.
Many people refer to the process of defining your target audience as creating an ideal customer profile, or ICP.
Ask yourself, who stands to benefit most from what you’re offering? Are you catering to a specific age group, gender, occupation, or lifestyle? Don’t cast a wide net hoping to catch everyone; instead, be a sharpshooter, targeting precisely those most likely to resonate with your vision.
Dive deep into the demographics, psychographics, and behaviors of your ideal customers. Factors such as income level, education, marital status, hobbies, and shopping habits can paint a vivid picture of who you’re trying to reach.
Equally important is understanding their pain points and desires. What challenges are they facing that your product or service can address? Conversely, what aspirations or desires can you fulfill?
By defining and segmenting your target audience in detail, you’re not just improving the efficiency of your sales and marketing strategies. You’re also ensuring that every message, product development, and service enhancement speaks directly to those who matter most. When your audience feels seen and understood, they are more likely to trust, engage, and ultimately, convert interest to sales.
For more information on how to define a target audience, read Making That Sale’s article “What is an ICP?”
In the vast sea of competitors, each vying for attention, what sets you apart? Why should customers choose you over others? These aren’t just philosophical musings; they’re at the heart of your unique value proposition (UVP).
Your UVP is a cornerstone of your sales strategy, providing clarity about what you offer and why it matters. It spells out the unique benefit that makes your product or service stand out in the market and the reasons why customers should consider you over your competitors.
Begin by reflecting on what makes your product or service different from the rest. It could be a groundbreaking feature, exceptional customer service, an unbeatable price point, or an innovative approach. Keep in mind – it’s not only about what you offer, but how it directly benefits your target audience.
Think about your customers’ pain points. How does your product or service alleviate them? This is where your UVP should offer tangible solutions to specific problems.
Avoid generic statements like “We offer high-quality products.” That’s a claim many can make. Instead, aim for precision: “Our product lasts three times longer than conventional alternatives, giving you significant savings over time.”
Keep it concise. The best value propositions are clear, direct, and easily understood. While it’s tempting to list every benefit, pick the most compelling ones and present them in a digestible format.
Consistency is key. Once you’ve honed in on your UVP, ensure it’s reflected across all your sales and marketing collateral. From website copy to sales pitches, consistently emphasizing your special advantages will solidify your brand’s position in the customer’s mind. In a market where differentiation can be razor-thin, a well-crafted UVP can tip the scales in your favor.
In a world awash with shimmering opportunities, knowing where to cast your net can spell the difference between a successful catch or returning empty-handed. Sales channels are the tools and pathways to reaching your customers and leading them to your products or services. Deciding which ones to use is as important as selecting the right bait for your next fishing trip.
But where should you begin? Start by examining your product or service. Is it best suited for online platforms, physical stores, direct sales, or perhaps a blend of all these options?
The channels you choose should match where your target audience hangs out and how they prefer to shop. For example, if you’re selling to a younger audience, don’t waste your time on Facebook. Go straight to TikTok or Instagram, where Gen Z is more active.
With the world going increasingly online, tapping into the right digital sales channels, from websites to social media shops, can offer a vast reach. Inbound marketing through fresh, high-quality content generation has become a popular method for drawing customers to your products.
However, if you’re in a niche market, perhaps direct sales through personal interactions, trade shows, or specialized retailers would yield better results. And don’t forget about time-tested outbound marketing techniques like cold calling and email marketing – they can still be effective with the right approach.
There are also indirect channels like partnerships or resellers. These can amplify your reach, allowing you to tap into established customer bases and distribution networks. Whatever channel you choose, it’s all about getting your product in front of the right eyes, in the environment where they’re most likely to engage.
Always stay adaptable. The best sales strategies evolve with time, feedback, and market shifts. As you assess the return on investment of each channel, be ready to pivot or expand as necessary.
Every successful sales journey is marked by well-defined stages, guiding potential clients from initial intrigue to loyal commitment. You’ll want to take some time to outline each stage of your process. Here is a common sales funnel pathway you can use to get started.
By spelling out within your sales plan how each stage of this sales process will look, you equip your sales team to navigate this journey with confidence and consistency. The more specific you can be about each step of the process, the better prepared you will be to maximize sales numbers and work through challenges.
In the battle-scarred landscape of sales, one often comes to a crucial and confusing crossroads: setting the right price. Like a traveler choosing the most optimal path for their journey, determining the right pricing structure is central to reaching your desired destination – profitability and customer satisfaction.
Here are some important points to consider when laying out this step of your sales plan.
Before marking a price on your product or service, it’s essential to have a comprehensive grasp of your production, operational, and marketing costs. This foundation makes certain you’re not just covering expenses, but also planning to secure a profit.
Now, think about the value you’re delivering. Price is what you pay, but value is what the customer gets. Reflect on the benefits and unique advantages your offering brings to the table. If your product provides exceptional quality, innovation, or a solution to a pressing problem, it can command a premium price.
Don’t lose sight of your closest adversaries. How are similar products or services priced in the market? While you don’t want to start a price war, being aware of the competitive landscape will help you position yourself either as an affordable alternative or a premium choice.
As you journey through the pricing process, remember to be flexible. Regularly review and adjust your pricing based on feedback, market dynamics, and your business goals. Make sure your price reflects the value provided, aligns with your brand image, and resonates with your target audience.
There are many different pricing strategies that cater to various objectives. For instance, penetration pricing might be ideal if you’re entering a saturated market and want to quickly gain a foothold. On the other hand, skimming can be effective for innovative products, setting a high initial price before gradually reducing it.
Here are some common pricing strategies you may want to consider for your sales plan.
Flat rate: You choose one price for your offerings and you’re done. This works great when you have a single product or service, or you charge an hourly rate that doesn’t change.
Bulk pricing: In the bulk pricing model, the price decreases as the amount of goods or services increases. Also known as volume pricing, it encourages large orders by offering higher discounts for higher-volume purchases.
Tiered pricing: This is a popular option. You set different product prices based on value. The greater the value, the higher the price. An example is a software product. The basic version is one price, and if customers want more features, they upgrade and pay a higher price.
Market pricing: In the market pricing model, the price of the product fluctuates according to supply and demand. This means you need to know what competitors are charging for similar products so that you can align your price with theirs.
Pay per use: This pricing structure charges based on how much of your offering is used. A typical example is electricity. The more electricity you consume, the more you pay.
Razor-blade pricing: This approach is called “razor-and-blade” because razor blades are an example of how the model works. You sell a core product, the razor, then make money from selling complementary products: the razor blades. Companies will sometimes even give the product away when using this strategy, because they know you’ll have to keep on buying what it takes to use the product in the long run.
Freemium: The freemium (a combination of the words “free” and “premium”) pricing model involves offering a free version of your product with opportunities to upsell your customers to a paid version later on. A popular example of the freemium pricing strategy is Spotify. You can listen to music and podcasts free of charge, but that means periodic commercials. Premium paid plans include ad-free listening, offline play options, and multiple accounts at a discounted price. While some customers are satisfied with the free tier, many choose to upgrade.
Embarking on a business journey without a sales forecast is akin to setting out on an expedition without a weather prediction. These tools illuminate the path ahead, highlighting potential challenges and opportunities, and ensuring you’re well-equipped to navigate the unpredictable terrain of the marketplace.
At its core, a sales forecast is a projection of future sales, based on historical data, market trends, and informed assumptions. It offers valuable insights into demand and revenue potential, and informs key business decisions from inventory management to hiring.
Based on past performance and defined objectives, an accurate sales forecast estimates your expected sales for a defined period and aids in setting realistic goals and allocating resources to meet these predictions.
To begin creating a sales forecast, first you will need to gather historical sales data. What did you sell during the same timeframe last year? If you’re a newcomer, research industry benchmarks or similar business models to get a sense. This data will form the backbone of your forecast, providing a solid foundation upon which to build your projections.
Next, factor in market trends. Are there any shifts in consumer behavior, emerging technologies, or economic indicators that might impact sales? For instance, a rising trend in sustainable living might boost sales for eco-friendly products. Likewise, a tariff on paper sales will directly impact the overhead costs of printing a magazine. The most successful entrepreneurs are always one step ahead of the market.
Keep in mind your sales team is a goldmine of information. Engage with them to gather insights from the frontline. They can provide real-time feedback on customer sentiments, potential leads, and emerging market opportunities or challenges.
As you create your forecast, it’s vital to remain both optimistic and grounded. Aim for accuracy over perfection. An effective forecast balances ambition with realism, serving as a reliable compass to guide business decisions.
Every journey, no matter how meticulously planned, requires periodic checks to ensure one remains on the right path. Consistent monitoring and performance evaluation serve as essential checkpoints, allowing you to gauge your progress, make necessary adjustments, and stay on course toward your goals.
Monitoring and evaluating should begin with establishing key performance indicators (KPIs). These are tangible metrics that will provide insights into the effectiveness of your sales strategy. Whether it’s the number of leads converted, average deal size, or sales cycle duration, choose KPIs that directly align with your business objectives.
With KPIs in place, utilize analytical tools and software to track them. Modern CRM systems offer a plethora of AI-powered metrics, from lead response time to customer engagement patterns, which can be invaluable in assessing your sales team’s performance.
Don’t just focus on the numbers. Engage with your sales team regularly. Their first-hand experiences, feedback, and insights from the field can offer invaluable qualitative data. Review sessions with employees can highlight potential bottlenecks, areas of improvement, or even new opportunities that may not be immediately evident from quantitative data alone.
Next, benchmark your performance against industry standards or competitors. This will not only give you a clearer picture of where you stand in the market landscape, but will also shed light on potential areas of innovation or differentiation. Identify gaps in your performance and adjust as needed. Don’t forget to communicate your results to keep your employees, investors, and even your customers in the loop about your progress and needs.
Lastly, be open to change. Sales is a dynamic experience with market conditions, customer preferences, and current events constantly influencing these outcomes. By monitoring and evaluating your performance routinely, you can ensure that your strategies remain relevant, effective, and aligned with the ever-changing terrain of the global economy.
As the terrain of the market evolves, so too must your strategy. To truly thrive, it’s crucial to not just chart your course but also be adept at recalibrating your direction based on real-world feedback and results. You need to be ready to make changes based on actual performance and market shifts.
Think of your sales strategy as a living entity, one that breathes and grows with your business. With the insights you’ve gleaned from monitoring and evaluating your performance, you’re now equipped to make informed decisions about what’s working and what needs a tweak.
Regularly revisit your sales process. Are there stages where prospects consistently drop off? Perhaps the qualification phase needs a more detailed criterion, or maybe the presentation stage requires a more personalized touch. Refining these segments can have a dramatic impact on conversions.
To optimize results, review your pricing structures in light of market responses. If customers consistently balk at a certain price point, but are more amenable at a slightly lower one, consider whether a small adjustment could lead to a significant increase in sales volume.
Foster a culture of continuous learning and adaptation within your sales team. Encourage feedback, promote training, and always be on the lookout for new tools or methodologies that can give you an edge.
Remember, it’s not just about remedying what’s awry; it’s also about celebrating successes and leaning into what’s working. If a particular marketing campaign is resonating well or a sales technique is achieving high conversions, consider doubling down on those successes.
As you optimize and readjust, you’re not just reacting to the market; you’re actively shaping your journey through it, ensuring a path that’s responsive, decisive, and forward-looking.
At the end of the day, crafting a sales plan isn’t just about ticking off steps on a list – it’s about envisioning a cohesive journey toward sustainable business growth and consistent client satisfaction. Each business is a unique vessel, with its distinct strengths and challenges. The market, infinite and ever-shifting, beckons with opportunities and obstacles alike. Your sales plan serves as both your compass and map, guiding you through the terrain and helping you navigate the changing tides ahead.
The true power of a sales plan lies in its clarity, adaptability, and its focus on both the big picture and the intricate details. By understanding your starting position, defining your audience, and systematically plotting each course of action, you lay the foundation for a journey marked by informed decisions and strategic moves. Set clear goals, monitor outcomes, and constantly improve your approach to ensure that your efforts are laser-focused on achieving optimal results.
With a well-crafted sales plan in hand, you’re not merely navigating the vast market waters; you’re charting a deliberate course toward success, steering your business with foresight and confidence. So, be sure to embark upon this venture with a keen eye, an open mind, and the resolve to continually refine your path forward.
Your destination? A thriving business, loyal clientele, and a legacy of excellence. Bon voyage! And safe travels on your sales journey.
While both are critical tools in the world of business, a sales plan and a business plan serve distinct functions. A business plan provides a broad overview of the entire business – from mission and vision to financial projections. It’s a roadmap for the whole company. A sales plan, on the other hand, is laser-focused on the sales strategy, detailing how you’ll reach customers and achieve sales targets.
Markets evolve, customer preferences shift, and new competitors emerge. Regular updates make certain your sales plan remains relevant and effective. The ideal frequency for revising a sales plan will vary by industry and market dynamics. However, a general rule of thumb is to review your sales plan quarterly. But if you’re launching a new product or entering a new market, more frequent reviews might be necessary.
Sales plans aren’t exclusive to large corporations. Small businesses, startups, and even individual entrepreneurs can significantly benefit from crafting a sales plan. It offers direction, aids in setting realistic goals, and provides a structure for measuring performance, regardless of the business’s size.
Communication and supervision are key to making sure your sales plan is followed. Ensure your sales team understands the importance of the sales plan and how it relates to the company’s broader objectives. Regular training sessions, workshops, and meetings can help reinforce the plan’s principles. Additionally, using collaborative tools and software to monitor progress can keep everyone on track.
There’s a wide array of tools available, ranging from Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems like Salesforce or HubSpot to specialized sales planning tools like Anaplan and Pipedrive. The right tool depends on your business’s size, budget, and specific needs. For more information on choosing the right CRM, read Making That Sale’s article “How to Choose a CRM System for Your Business.”
While a sales plan provides a structured approach to achieving sales targets, it doesn’t guarantee results. However, it significantly increases the chances of success by offering clear direction, setting benchmarks, and allowing for periodic evaluations. Think of it as a roadmap – it shows the way, but the journey’s outcome depends on various factors, including execution, market conditions, and sometimes, unforeseen challenges.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. A sales plan’s length depends on the complexity of the business, the market landscape, and the depth of details included. For some small businesses, a few pages might suffice. For larger corporations, it could be a comprehensive document spanning multiple sections and pages. What’s important is clarity and actionable insights, not length.
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