A sales plan is the “who, where, why, when, and how” that will guide you to hitting your sales goals. This is a month-to-month forecast of the sales you expect to achieve and how you plan to get there. It covers past results, sales operations, and how you plan to find, engage with, and sell to new customers.
Armed with the information you’ll compile within your sales plan, you can quickly identify any upcoming problems, sales droughts, or opportunities—and then do something about them.
What a Sales Action Plan Can Do for Your Sales Team
If done correctly, the right sales plan template empowers you to spend even more time on growing and developing your startup rather than responding reactively to the day-to-day developments in sales.
- Time-based goals with the steps to achieve them
- A clear action plan with specific strategies proven to work
- Purposeful tasks and daily activities for your reps to achieve
- A more straightforward view of how your sales team is progressing toward your goals
Sound exciting? Let’s jump right in.
What’s in a Sales Plan? 6 Elements to Plan & Structure Your Sales Strategy
In basic terms, a sales plan template includes:
- Sales forecasting and goal-setting
- Market and customer research
- Prospecting and partnerships
Each part of the sales plan naturally works itself into the next, starting with your high-level goals, then considering market factors, and finally looking at who you know and how to find more prospects to help hit your sales goals.
Here are the key elements you’ll want to include in your sales plan.
1. Mission statement
What gets your sales reps out of bed in the morning? What’s the clear mission that pushes your team to keep fighting for that win?
Your mission statement is a concise statement of the ‘big picture’—the main idea and goal that you want to achieve. Think about your company mission and how the sales team forms part of that overarching goal.
2. Sales goals and revenue targets
A sales plan must include achievable sales goals and the targets your sales reps will be working to reach. Include specific metrics and KPIs, how these are performing currently, and what you plan to do to improve them.
This may also include information about your product’s pricing, planned discounts, and how your team can focus on the right customers to get the most revenue possible. Link these sales goals to the business goals your company is working to achieve.
3. Analysis of the target market
Your sales plan should clearly identify your ideal customer profile and information about the target market and demographic you plan to sell to. Are you breaking into a new market? Are you targeting small business or enterprise customers? Give a concise description of your target audience and the stakeholders you’ll need to sell to.
4. Sales strategy overview and methods to reach target customers
This should include a brief overview of the customer journey, and how your salespeople will engage with new prospects throughout their journey to purchase. This includes setting goals for sales activities throughout the year and linking those activities to the end results you’re working towards.
You may also include information about the marketing strategy and lead generation methods being used to gather new leads, as well as actions that sales managers will take to support the team.
5. Use of resources and sales tools
How much does it cost your team to close a new deal? What is your budget for the sales team, or for sales tools?
Inside your plan, list the resources you have available to you, and how you plan to use them during the year. This includes monetary resources, as well as human resources.
Next, show how your resources will be used. For example, how much will you spend on sales tools? Which CRM software is your team depending on? Briefly explain how you plan to use each tool and why you’ve allocated resources in that way.
6. Sales team structure
The structure of your sales team includes which reps are available during what times of the year, their specialties and skills, and where they focus in the sales process.
Also, include information about the sales managers, their teams, and the incentives you offer your reps.
5 Reasons why you need a sales plan
Creating a sales plan from scratch can be daunting, and even with the right sales planning template, it can feel like a lot of work. So, why should you have your sales strategy written down and ready to act on?
Let’s talk about five benefits of sales planning that’ll help grow your revenue.
Having clear goals with revenue targets
There’s a reason they say, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
If you want your sales team to execute on and accomplish your sales goals, you need to have a plan in place. When targets are linked to specific timeframes and actions, your whole team will see how their individual work is involved in reaching your sales goals.
Outlining proven strategies, processes, and tactics to hit your goals
Without a specific action plan in place, your team won’t be able to prioritize their time with the right sales tactics and strategies to hit their targets.
With a clear outline of the tactics that bring the most significant ROI for your team, each rep can get the best results for the time they spend selling.
Allocation of internal sales team resources needed
With a business plan that considers the whole company’s sales goals, you can have a better perspective on where to allocate your resources.
Any good sales plan template includes information about how the sales team is organized. This helps your whole team stay focused on the deals that matter most, and the pieces of the sales process where they excel.
Tracking sales team progress toward your revenue goals
As your sales team members work hard to execute the plan you’ve put together, you’ll have a clearer picture of how their individual efforts affect the overall goal.
Track their sales activity and link it to the sales targets you’re trying to achieve.
Specific actionable tasks for every member of your sales team to achieve
With an action plan in place, each team member knows what they’re supposed to be doing, and why they’re doing it. This keeps them motivated and helps them see how their individual efforts make a difference.
6 Steps to create a sales plan
It may seem like a lot of work to develop a sales plan at this point. But once you do, you’ll be in a place to take your sales (and brand) to the next level.
Let’s break down this process, step-by-step, so you can start achieving more significant results.
1. Define your sales goals and milestones
With a sales plan, we begin at the end: an end goal.
Start by choosing the sales metrics that matter most to your overall business. This could be:
- Annual or monthly recurring revenue (ARR or MRR)
- Retention or churn rates
- Average conversion time
- Average conversion rate
- Customer lifetime value (LTV)
It doesn’t matter so much which metric you choose—the important point is that it can tell you whether or not what you’ve done has been a success.
Next, look at last year’s forecast and results. Were you being realistic? How did sales revenue increase annually? How does that compare your company to the industry standards? Use this information to determine what realistically you can bring in based on the size of the market, your company goals, and the experience and resources available to your sales team.
After setting clear sales goals, it’s time to set milestones. This involves breaking that big number down into smaller expectations with strict deadlines. These should challenge and motivate your sales team, without being so difficult they kill morale.
Lean on your sales team during this process. After all, they’re in the trenches with you and probably have the best knowledge about your customers. Learn about what they do during the workweek to close deals. Ask how much they’re currently doing, and how much bandwidth they have to do more. This will give you a real, frontline take on what goals and milestones to set in your sales plan template.
Finally, create specific targets with clear deadlines. For example, to achieve a sales goal of increasing revenue by 15% YOY, you might set the milestone of increasing your customer base by 20%, or increasing sales by 50% for a specific product.
Together, these milestones inform and support your overall sales plan, giving you a clear, actionable workflow to hit your goals for the year.
2. Clearly define your target market or niche
You need to know the market you’re in and the niche you’re going to occupy to position your business for growth properly.
What’s a business niche? It’s more than just what your business specializes in—a niche in the space your business occupies, with your products, content, company culture, branding, and message. It’s how people identify with you and search you out over the competition.
As serial entrepreneur Jason Zook explains: “When you try to create something for everyone, you end up creating something for no one.”
Don’t do that.
Instead, start by looking at a niche and asking yourself these questions:
- How big is the market?
- Is there a built-in demand for what you’re selling?
- What’s your current market position?
- Who are your competitors? What are their strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats?
If you’re stuck, start by going back to your own strengths. List out your strongest interests and passions. Pick a field where the odds are already in your favor—where you have a proven track record, more expertise to offer, an extensive contact base, and people who can provide you with intros.
These kinds of strategic advantages will amplify the results you’re able to get from your sales plan.
Start with one product in one niche—you can always branch out to a complementary niche later. Sell beautiful, handcrafted tea cups? How about a booming doily business? Or customizable teaspoons?
A niche doesn’t limit you. It focuses you.
3. Understand Your Target Customers
Chasing the wrong customers will only waste your time and money, so don’t allow them to sneak into your sales plan.
Your best customers are the ones that are successful with your product and see the ROI of it. Talk to them, and find out what they have in common.
While defining ideal customers depends on your company and market, here are some basic characteristics you’ll want to identify:
- Company size (number of employees, number of customers, yearly revenue)
- Size of the relevant department
- Geographical information
- Job title of your POC
- Buying process
- The goal they’re trying to achieve with your product or service
Also, don’t forget to consider whether they will be a good ‘fit’. If this is a long-term relationship you’re developing rather than a one-night stand, you want to make sure you speak the same language and share a similar culture and vision.
Use this information to build out an ideal customer profile. This fictitious organization gets significant value from using your product/service and provides significant value to your company. A customer profile helps you qualify leads and disqualify bad-fit customers before you waste time trying to sell to them.
Once you know the type of company you want to target with your sales team, it’s time to get inside their head. Start by hanging out where they hang out:
- Are they on social media? What’s their network of choice?
- Are they members of any Facebook or LinkedIn groups?
- Can you answer industry questions for them on Quora or Reddit?
- What podcasts do they listen to or what resources do they read?
4. Map Out Your Customer’s Journey
The next part of an effective sales plan needs to address how that ideal customer becomes your customer. Do this by mapping out their journey, including actions and events during the different stages of the sales funnel:
Set up a customer survey, or chat directly with your current, happy customers to gather valuable sales planning insights. Ask them:
- What did you want our product to do for you when you became a customer?
- What were features important to you? Why?
- What was your budget?
- How were you solving this problem before using our product?
To fully understand their journey as a customer, you can also ask about past buying experiences:
- When was the last time you bought something similar?
- Was that a good or bad experience? Why?
- What was the decision-making process like?
- How did you evaluate different offers?
- Which factors made you choose that particular solution?
Once you’ve identified the awareness, interest, and consideration stages, let your prospects and new customers build the rest of their roadmap by asking them: ‘what’s next?’
“What needs to happen to make you a customer?”
If, for example, they say they’ll have to get approval from the VP of Finance. Ask:
“Ok, and let’s say he agrees that we’re the right fit, what’s next?”
We call this the virtual close, a way to put your prospect in a future-thinking state of mind that makes them imagine buying from you. Asking this question to several high-quality prospects will tell you those final few steps in the customer journey until they’ve signed on the dotted line.
Finally, piece together the post-sale journey. Once a prospect becomes a customer, what’s next? How do you enable them to use your product and succeed? What happened to create your most loyal customers? Understanding this piece of the sales process is essential to managing and increasing customer retention.
5. Define your value propositions
You know your customers. You know their journey. Now, define where you fit in by looking at your competitive advantage. A crucial element of your sales plan template is fully articulating what sets you apart from the competition.
Start by asking a few simple questions:
- Why do customers buy from us?
- Why do customers buy from our competitors and not us?
- Why do some potential customers not buy at all?
- What do we need to do to be successful in the future?
Remember that customers buy benefits, not features. When describing your value proposition, it’s easy to get caught up in talking about you. What you’ve made. What you do. Instead, flip the script and talk about what your product will do for your customers. A strong competitive advantage:
- Reflects the competitive strength of your business
- Is preferably, but not necessarily, unique
- Is clear and simple
- May change over time as competitors try to steal your idea
- Must be supported by ongoing market research
For example, the competitive advantage of help desk software has nothing to do with its social media integrations and real-time ticket tracking. It’s the fact that it allows its customers to focus on creating a great customer experience.
Here’s the point: Focus on value, not features in your sales plan template.
Your competitive advantage will inform everything your company does moving forward, from marketing to product development. It’s a great example of where sales can influence the development of a product and the direction of a business.
6. Organize your sales team
The way your sales team is organized can enable them to serve their customers better and bring new revenue into your business faster.
Here are three basic structures for your sales team:
- The island: Individual reps work alone.
- Assembly line: Each sales rep is assigned a specialized role such as lead generation, SDR (qualifier), Account Executive (closer), or Customer Success (farmer).
- Pods: Each sales rep is assigned a specialized role in a pod, or group, that’s responsible for the entire journey of specific customers.
Think about the strengths and weaknesses of your sales team members, and how they will truly thrive as part of the team.
A sales plan is a guide that outlines the steps you will take to reach your sales goals. It can be as simple or complex as you need it to be, but a written plan is essential to any successful sales strategy. If you’re just starting out, or if your current plan could use some improvement, check out our other articles for tips and advice on how to create or update your own sales plan. Thanks for reading!