Planning for Sales Success

Wayne Moloney


To enter into a battle without a plan is the height of stupidity and arrogance. Such generals should be put to death for they risk the lives of their warriors..."

Sun Tzu, Chinese Military General, circa 2500BC

In all my years of business development management and consulting, probably the greatest challenge I experience is getting sales teams to invest the proper time and effort in planning.  All too often it is neglected or not treated with the seriousness it deserves. And sadly, those who do plan often overcomplicate the process.

I am a firm believer in keeping things simple. Whether it's a strategic business plan, a marketing plan, a sales plan for a territory, or an individual's sales plan - it should be short, sharp and to the point.

Your sales plan should detail the how you are going to retain and grow existing business, as well as bring on new business.  For both new and existing clients, your plan should include both strategies - the high level plans to achieve your objectives and tactics - the actions necessary to carry out your plan.

Definitions of Planning

1.       Planning is the thinking process that we go through before taking action to achieve an objective.  Planning involves deciding what to do about the most probable course of events within a range at probabilities.

2.       The development of objectives and the determination of the means by which these objectives are maintained.

3.       Deciding in the present what to do in the future.

By putting together a sales plan, you force yourself to properly think through the issues, the potential pit-falls, the market and the overall business environment and prepare yourself for the journey.

Further, your plan should include a risk assessment; identifying what might stop you achieving your goals and deciding what to do about the most likely course of events within a range of probabilities.

"The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise and is not preceded by a period of worry and depression."

John Preston, Boston College, Graduate School of Management

Why you need a plan?

Simply because one of the major reasons salespeople struggle to reach their targets is a lack of planning on how to achieve their goals, and a lack of discipline to stick to what they know works.  Creating a sales plan helps to:

  • offset uncertainty
  • be prepared for change
  • focus attention on objectives
  • improve economic operation
  • facilitate control

The benefits to you, your business and your team (if you are a sales manager) in developing a SIMPLE sales plan also include:

  • the ease of following and communicating the plan
  • a more efficient allocation of resources
  • more accurate sales forecasting
  • the improved economy of operation
  • the provision of market intelligence

Your plan is a Roadmap to Success

One of most important aspects of achieving your sales goals lies in knowing exactly where you want to go and with whom.  The planning process helps clarify and articulate this, and it leads you to identifying the best route to take to get there.  In essence, your sales plan is a business roadmap to get you on the rightroad to success.

Developing a sales plan is often not about the destination, but how you get there.  Planning is preparation; and being well-prepared helps you develop  the confidence that you will get to where you want to be, as well as provide a valuable measure to ensure that you don't lose your way.

The Planned Step

Before starting to map out your plan, consider your priorities.  Decide what you need to focus on:

  • Short term sales
  • Longer term position for larger opportunities
  • Generating referrals
  • Generating recurring revenue
  • Providing the company with identity

Here is a straightforward 6-step framework that enables you to develop a short and simple, strategic and tactical sales plan:

Step 1: Diagnosis - Where am I now and why?

Ask and answer these questions:

  • What is my current position?
  • How am I doing financially?
  • What markets am I addressing?
  • Who are my customers?  Are these my ideal clients?
  • How did I get to where I am today?

Step 2: Objectives - Where do I want to be and when?

Understand, define and agree on SMART objectives - goals that are:

  • Specific - What exactly do you want to achieve? The more specific the description, the greater the chance of success.  Setting a goal of reaching your $1.2million target is not specific. Setting a goal of achieving $100,000/month is more specific, but could still be improved.  Asking the '5 W' questions will help - What, When, Where, Why, Who?
  • Measurable - establish specific criteria for determining your progress - benchmarks and milestones
  • Adaptable - this does not suggest your goal should be constantly reviewed and changed when targets are not met, but goals should be able to be refined and focussed as business priorities shift, ensuring the right work is always getting done.
  • Realistic - Your goal must represent an objective toward which you are both willing and able to work. A goal can be both 'stretching' and realistic; you are the only one who can decide just how high your goal should be and remain realistic. But be sure that every goal represents substantial progress.
  • Time-based - a goal without a deadline is not a goal.  Deadlines are what makes most people switch into action. So install realistic deadlines, for yourself and your team, and go after them. 

Step 3: Gap Analysis - What do I have to do to get there?

This is a high level view of what you are missing to achieve your sales objectives, what has and has not worked in the past and what needs to be done.

It might be a level of sales by volume or by revenue including clear and measurable key performance indicators.  If managing a top and bottom line it might be to control costs in respect to sales.

What it won't be is any single thing.

  • Document what you know
  • Document what you should know but don't
  • Acquire missing information

Step 4: Strategy - How am I going to get there?

Now you know what you need to do to be successful, but how are you going to do it?

At this point, start to think through the specifics that will fill the gap.

  • Where will I play?
  • How will I win?
  • What battles do I fight? (the one's you think you can win)
  • For example, if you want to reach sales of $1.2 million  by the end of the financial year, how will you do this?  You might be asking:
    • What markets and customers within those markets should I target?
    • What products or services should I focus on?
    • What defines my ideal client?
    • How do I reach them?
    • As a sales manager, if you want to control costs at a certain percentage of sales, what processes need to be in place to manage this?

Step 5: Tactics - What specific actions should be taken by whom, when?

Now you need to be very specific.  What needs to be done and when?  What outside support do you need?  What challenges do you face and how will you address them?  At this point, you will be setting yourself target dates to achieve specific actions that you have identified to achieve your goals and objectives.

Step 6: Control - Monitor, manage, review, and revise!!!

  • What factors should you monitor?
  • Set milestones and Key Performance Indicators to measure your performance against your plan.
  • If you reflect on this framework and happen to feel some resistance to actually going through the planning process, then remember this:

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."

Benjamin Franklin

A clear, well-conceived plan based on honest and accurate assessment, is one of the greatest advantages you can give yourself and your team. Success rests on a plan.


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