People.ai

There’s a lot of truth in Dwight D. Eisenhower’s quote, “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” 

The act of sales planning helps us think deeply about the roadblocks and detractors that could render our plans “useless.” In this article, we provide ideas to break through barriers and still achieve our goals.

Continue reading for an overview of a sales plan, what to include, and actionable tips to construct a solid sales plan.

What is a Sales Plan?

A sales plan is a document that outlines the high-level strategy for increasing revenue over a specified period of time. It helps establish goals, align on objectives, and identify what resources are needed. 

The sales plan is how executives communicate their priorities, expectations for growth, and methods for attaining business goals with the entire team. The plan should be accessible, actionable, and attainable because while the blueprints are drafted by sales leadership and management, the actual execution is done by individual sales reps. 

The reality is, if your plan doesn’t have buy-in or confidence from the individual contributors, things will likely not go according to plan.

Sales Planning as Standard Operating Procedure

While a sales plan is not a living document, you definitely should not bury it after reading. You will want to review it regularly to measure performance and calibrate your strategies based on real-time data.

Use tools (ahem, People.ai) to monitor your leading indicators and make sure milestones towards your objectives are being met along the way. 

You don’t want to wait until you’re putting together your sales report to find out that your plan hasn’t been working and it’s too late for course correction.

What to Consider Before Creating Your Sales Plan?

A sales plan should include specifics about your sales force capacities, throughput, territories, and quotas. The stages of planning your sales organization’s goals and actions to achieve those goals will include the following. 

Revenue Targets and Sales Quotas: Set Realistic Goals

If you’ve ever heard a first-time entrepreneur pitch investors on their projections for first-year revenues, you will have shortly thereafter heard chuckles from the investors about their naiveté. 

Revenue targets for your sales team shouldn’t be pie in the sky. They should be grounded in reality; whether they’re based on historic revenue growth, market penetration approximations, or another method for estimating growth. Sales leaders will certainly make assumptions but they shouldn’t be too far outside the realm of possibility. 

When planning your team’s quotas, you have to set goals that are audacious enough to motivate your team, but realistic enough to not discourage them or compromise their on-target earnings (OTE). 

Quotas will be influenced by the team or rep’s experience, capacity, state of the market, and sales cycle.

Sales Capacity Planning: Tie Goals to Team

You’ve determined your company-wide revenue targets and might be tempted to simply divide that by the number of reps and call that their quota, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple. 

Sales capacity planning is the process of bridging the gap between the workload individual reps can handle and the overarching goals of the company. If your company has a high rate of rep attrition and a steady pipeline of new hires, the onboarding and ramping process must be considered.

Understand that the dynamics of each team can shift as new members join, experienced reps train the new hires, and fully ramped reps leave the company. You must assess whether these dynamics will prevent quota attainment or, on the flipside, cause complacency on the team if quotas are easily attainable and commissions capped.

You must also make sure your new and existing products are stable and in working order to enable your sales team to deliver on their promises to prospects. For example, if quotas are elevated in anticipation of a new product launch, but the timelines are delayed due to product deficiencies, sales reps will likely miss their targets.

Territory Planning: Assess Market Opportunities

Similar to sales capacity planning, territory planning is the process of determining your team’s ability to manage existing territories and penetrate new markets. Assess if a given market will be receptive, but also if it will be attainable given the constraints of the team and product.

Previously, territory planning involved analysis of physical maps to determine the next logical region for expansion. Today, territory plans typically include more than just physical expansion. They also include details about expanding into new industries, verticals, or target personas.

Similar to capacity planning, the team’s bandwidth and product accessibility must be considered before expanding your purview to new horizons. 

Sales Cycle: Understand Your Average Cycle

Another consideration when making a sales plan is how long it takes for a buyer to cycle through the sales process and what can influence a change of pace. Ultimately, your sales plan should include strategies for tightening the gap between opportunity and close.

Your average sales cycle will also need to be considered when drafting your sales plan because if the cycle is longer than your planning period, your plan will be reliant on your previous pipeline efforts. 

The length of the average sales cycle usually depends on the industry, target customer, average contract value, and more. Every business has a different sales cycle but, like a manufacturing operation with bottlenecks in production, inefficiencies throughout the average sales process can be isolated, resolved, and optimized for a shortened sales cycle. 

What to Include in a Sales Plan Template

Below we discuss the key components to include in your sales plan and we’ve compiled a template for you to consider using as a guide through your planning process.

1. Goals and Targets 

Your goals and targets are like the mission statement of your sales plan — they should be the main objectives and the key results.

We recommend setting one revenue target and one or two additional goals for the sales team. These can include ambitions of entering a new market, industry, or reaching a new audience. 

In the example above, we include a high-level revenue target based on our growth expectations of 36 percent, which is based on our previous hypothetical outcome of $1.1 million.

2. Team Responsibilities

A goal is nothing without the work that goes into achieving it, so one of the most important steps of the sales planning process is assigning responsibility for that work. Depending on the scale of the goal, this could be a single rep, team, or entire sales organization. 

For big goals, we advise they be broken down and assigned to each individual contributor. So if the sales goal is to increase revenue by 36 percent, what does that equate for each rep’s quota? 

Another popular strategy is to break down the goals into shorter duration milestones, helping keep track of progress towards the larger goal, like 30-60-90 day plans for quarterly goals.

3. Timelines and Deliverables

Time-bound goals are essential for tracking progress and holding the team accountable. Having a deadline also helps frame the goal in terms of progression towards the finish line and any acceleration or strategic pivots that need to be made.
When we set goals that are time-constrained, we are motivated to push harder towards achieving them. For example, looking at the distribution of marathon finish times, there are clear trends among the even 30-minute increments, indicating that people are motivated to stick with their plan towards a specific time-bound goal.

4. Positioning and Prospecting

Your sales plan should also detail how you expect to connect your goals to your target audience. If you are selling into a mature territory, do you focus on growing existing accounts or upselling a new product early in its lifecycle? 

Identify if there are any verticals that are ideal for your team to target more heavily next period. If you are positioning your product or service as a solution for a specific industry, for example, communicating this to the team will help guide them towards the ideal strategy for targeting the right people.

5. SWOT Analysis

Another important thought experiment when making a sales plan is to take a high-level look at your business’ strengths and shortcomings in the context of the general landscape within your industry. 

S.W.O.T stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. An honest and in-depth analysis of each component can prevent blindspots and biases. 

It’s not possible to know with any degree of certainty which weaknesses or threats will most compromise sales performance but try to identify contingency plans that lean into the team’s strengths to make up for weaknesses and opportunities that can be exploited. 

Essentially, have self-awareness and a backup plan for problematic scenarios should they arise and impact your ability to achieve your goals.

6. Sales Strategies 

Your sales strategies are the “how” to successfully reach a revenue target. What specific actions should your team take to have the best chances of attaining their quotas? Obviously, some strategies don’t work out as expected and will need to be further developed, tested, and refined.

This is why your plan should have redundancy in the form of multiple strategies. If you put all of your energies into one strategy that doesn’t perform as expected, you will almost certainly fail to reach your goals. 

We recommend referring to the other aspects of your sales plan to clarify the strategy and add context. In the above example, you’ll notice we’ve included the who, what, when, where and how into a comprehensive sales plan. The only missing component is the why, which you’ve hopefully conveyed to the team in the form of a company mission statement and values. 

7. Budget and Tools

Sorry to remind you that you do indeed have a budget to stick to.

Many people argue about what your direct selling expense-to-sales ratio should be. Some people believe your sales expense ratio should not cost you more than 10% of your revenue, others believe it can be much higher. In addition to salaries and other expenses, you’ll need to account for the tools that will be required to get the job done effectively. 

If your tools have variable pricing based on headcount, it can be a good idea to pair this process with your capacity planning to make sure your plans for hiring and growth will align with your budget.

Sales Planning Best Practices

NASA’s 2020 mission to land a rover on mars was painstakingly planned over the course of many years but ultimately executed in a matter of hours when it successfully landed on February 18th, 2021.  

The planning-to-execution ratio for your business will be significantly lower, but it’s worth noting that a well-thought out plan met with flawless execution can be the difference between a catastrophic failure and a total success. Below are some best practices for creating sales plans with total success in mind. 

Set SMART Goals

We’re not saying your goals should be able to get a 1600 on the SATs. S.M.A.R.T is an acronym in the goal-setting world standing for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-specific.

These are the characteristics that combine to ensure goals don’t become loosely held hopes and dreams. Adding specificity with numerical values for an actual metric helps the goal become rooted in reality and measurable. It shouldn’t be wildly unrealistic or completely irrelevant to the business. And finally, the goal must be given a time-frame, which also helps with measuring.

Some of the most famously successful organizations in the world have relied on OKRs when setting their SMART goals. Coined by the legendary Intel CEO Andy Grove, OKRs are Objectives and Key Results. Essentially, you describe the hairy, audacious goal as the objective, and then detail some of the key results that would prove the objective had been achieved. 

Assure the Team is Aligned

Your sales plan should not be a top secret document only available to those in the organization with a security clearance. If you want everyone on the team to contribute to the sales goals in their individual ways, you must be transparent with the recipe

Transparency helps avoid confusion and set the record straight about what the goal of the sales team is and their north star metric: revenue. 

The Future of Sales Planning

First attributed to Moltke the Elder, the quote “no plan survives first contact with the enemy,” has been used, re-used, and modified by many strategic thinkers including Mike Tyson who said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

While you shouldn’t view your prospective customers as the enemy — nor should you punch anyone in the mouth — you should understand that plans don’t always go accordingly. You must be able to test various strategies and recalibrate your plans based on what works and what doesn’t.
The future of sales planning will be dynamic. Your plans will be subject to a continuous feedback loop of what is working now and how your team can make adjustments to their strategy in order to reach the business goals. People.ai is delivering on this future using patented AI to analyze your sales activity in real-time and extract lessons to increase your ROI, Revenue Operations and Intelligence.