How-to Create a Sales Plan

17m
Author
Michael Maximoff
Published
04.23.2022
Reading duration
17m

If you have ever tried to build a sales plan, you must know about the incredible amount of information that goes into scribbling down that workable document. You need to know the target market, competitors, Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), key performance indicators (KPIs), sales targets, what sales tools to use, SWOT analysis, and whatnot. But when you know so many things about the entire sales process in your company, an insidious thought starts pumping in your head:

Writing sales plans is a waste of my time. I know what I’m going to do, and I’m able to communicate it to my team without silly sales plans.

And you can’t be more wrong.Thus, Step One for sales planning is to agree that building a sales plan is essential. A common proverb, often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, says:

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.

We, modern sales professionals, no longer should do our work on a wing and a prayer. We have metrics and statistics, books and webinars from more experienced peers, and our cognitive abilities to learn through our experience. We can approach the complexity of B2B sales in an organized manner and empower our teams with a well-placed sales strategy and a well-executed plan.

Refusal to seriously take to sales planning can result in:

  • unsteady lead generation flows;
  • budget problems;
  • leaking sales funnel;
  • low customer volume;
  • missing tell-tale signs of potential obstacles and risks.

If you want to hit your revenue targets and prepare for potential missteps, write an annual sales plan. Find more information on the technicalities of sales plan writing and free sales plan templates in Belkins’ Guide, How to Create a Sales Plan.” And now, we want to iterate the urgent necessity for sales planning and discuss the pitfalls of not building a sales plan.

8 consequences of not having a comprehensive sales plan

It’s not like sales directors and SDRs are passive and do nothing to make their business flourish. However, jumping headlong into action without a plan has consequences. The most obvious consequence of having no written strategic sales plans is not hitting revenue targets. But let’s break it down to better understand why having a company’s plan for improving sales is critical to sales success and what happens if you don’t possess one.

  • You react instead of acting

A reactive approach to sales means that you act on your feet and have no time to prepare. You can pride yourself that you’re a quick thinker, but it takes a lot of energy.

Not only can you burn out, but you are most likely unable to anticipate your prospects’ needs and control the outcomes of your business decisions.

When the trouble comes, you can hardly choose the best solution, opting for whatever is up for grabs. Contrastingly, a proactive approach means that you take time to contemplate potential issues and come up with solutions in the comfort of peaceful times, unrushed.

  • You miss out on great opportunities

Some strategic goals require months of preparation and preliminary steps. Starting selling on a new territory doesn’t happen just like that. Once a team takes a wrong turn, undoing can take some time. Suppose you summarize the last year’s outcomes and start thinking about getting your sales reps to start closing deals at a higher rate. You decide to clarify your value proposition and articulate your company’s competitive advantage more precisely. As a result, next year, the company’s revenue accelerates. Sales planning requires you to formulate your goals. A goal prompts the ways and decisions to achieve it. Now your decision-making is no longer shooting in the dark. You know what you want to accomplish and tailor your decision to the outcomes. No opportunity is missed.

  • You target wrong customers

Without the support of metrics and numbers, your team can go off the steady course and generate leads that fit your ideal customer profile somewhat worse than they should. In this regard, a sales plan is like a course correction, and customer research is one area that feeds into sales planning. After knowing everything about your past and existing customers, you can better cater to your potential customers.

  • Your sales efforts lack coordination

An effective sales plan is impossible without a good deal of research. As a result, you’ll know how to improve the sales-marketing alignment, what promotion budget is required, which communication channels need more development, and so on. Having a strategic sales plan in place makes your marketing and sales efforts purposeful and effective. Once you segment the target market, develop an ideal customer profile and choose the most effective lead nurturing channels; a sales plan is just a written document gathering all your intentions.

  • You won’t learn from the experience

Regularly doing a sales plan is a productive habit that allows salespeople to follow their progress effectively. A formal sales plan is an opportunity to assess and measure against your experiences. Summing up the past year's results, a sales plan allows sales reps to determine their specific sales tactics and incorporate customer insights into particular changes. They see where their loyal customers come from, what lead generation channels are the most promising, how to improve the company’s inbound and outbound outreach, and so on. Over time, the sales planning process highlights the most and less productive sales and marketing approaches.

  • You blow your budget

In practice, having no sales plan often translates into a panic when sales goals are not being met.

Just imagine a sales manager checking quarterly figures and realizing that they are far from the sales targets. It’s very tempting to jump on a shady opportunity and run a quick marketing campaign, overspend your marketing budget, or carry any other not fully cooked idea simply because you feel you ought to do something to hit the sales quotes.

A sales plan will keep you from randomly placed ads and unmotivated outbound campaigns. First, you explore the market trends and determine the best sales strategies and tactics, and only then do you run wild with execution.

  • You have low traffic and lukewarm prospects

Selling without a sales plan can easily result in a slowdown in business. If you’re a startup with a small sales team, your impudent confidence can play out safely so that a slow flow of leads won’t take the entire company down (it’s a gamble, though). But middle and large companies can’t thrive and attract enough target customers without relying on a traditional sales plan. A well-thought sales plan will result in working strategies to generate leads and traffic.

  • You burn out

Don't underestimate the toll chronic work stress takes on sales managers’ physical, emotional, and mental health. Sales jobs are stressful enough without the added adverse effects of following disjointed initiatives of executives who failed to do their homework and conceptualize a strategy. Do your best and start effective sales planning if it is up to you. Working in an orderly manner reduces the odds of burnout for sales reps.

4 pitfalls associated with sales goal setting

Any sales plan template requires sales targets and business goals. Metrics is the language of goal setting, and you need to quantify your future sales success the way you see it. Common sense suggests that sales goal setting is impossible without knowing your company's business goals, the sales tools in the company's tech stack, industry trends, and economic growth prospects. Even though sales planning is grounded in facts and numbers, the human brain tends to have cognitive bias. Consider the most widespread biases sales professionals should know when they set sales and revenue goals for their teams.

Wishful thinking. It's a form of confirmation bias when individuals justify their beliefs and act on them. An instance of wishful thinking in business is when entrepreneurs don’t regard obstacles or problems and expect to launch a startup on passion and high hopes. Many enterprises are killed on the fly by wishful thinking. In contrast to the aggressive optimism school of thought, a well-executed sales plan grounds your desires and intentions in the reality of facts and hard evidence. 

After you articulate your sales targets, have a reality check and look at the last year’s sales forecasting and sales performance. Thus, if you want to make sure that no confirmation bias controls your sales planning, carefully weigh in various sources of information.

Don’t downplay the information suggesting that your solutions and decisions are unrealistic. Look for contradictions, and don’t ignore the information that can break your belief bubble.  

The availability bias. The availability bias is a mental shortcut to use readily available information in your memory you can easily remember rather than explore a topic at length before making a decision. We all use these mental shortcuts when we make everyday decisions and can allow ourselves to be non-rational and act on a whim. Thinking is costly for the human brain, so human minds come up with shortcuts to avoid excessive energy expenditure. However, developing a sales plan is just when you must spend a lot of energy, time, and effort and be rational. Preparing and writing a sales plan gives sales professionals plenty of time to examine their assumptions, gather the evidence, and at least try to ground their decisions in rationality.

Cognitive dissonance. Cognitively, people are hardwired to have their actions aligned with their beliefs. Suppose you learn new information that contradicts your line of behavior, or you start behaving against your values. In that case, it creates a cognitive dissonance that can be reduced either by changing your beliefs/behavior or interpreting the new data in a new way to remove the contradiction. 

Unconsciously, many people opt to work on interpretation rather than change anything about how they act. Applied to sales planning, this cognitive bias shows up when you want to adjust sales goals right in the middle of the year because you want to save your face. But making inaccurate sales predictions is not about winning or losing. It's your experience and data points for analysis.

Defense mechanisms. People tend to have certain assumptions about themselves that maintain a positive self-image. Suppose a sales professional has their intellectual abilities in high regard and behaves with their nose in the air. In that case, they can labor under the misapprehension that they can build a sales plan without the assistance of other colleagues. But sales planning rests on the efforts of many.

The sales team structure affects the way the business achieves its sales goals. You need to consult the sales reps who have first-hand knowledge about prospects and customers. You need to get reports and research from other teams, as not only the sales department may be involved in the sales plan writing. Knowing that there are people more knowledgeable than you is an extremely useful trait for an individual who develops the company’s documentation of any sort.

Keep in mind that it is very common for people, in general, to think they are more knowledgeable about certain issues than they really are. Why would you be different without being intentional about it? But the consequence of these defense mechanisms and cognitive biases can be devastating. That is why we recommend you to consult others when working on a sales plan and get feedback on the first draft.

Sales plan examples

For first-timers, building your own sales plan from scratch can sound intimidating. Fear not! We have free sales plan templates and hands-on tips to guide you in this time-consuming journey.

Read more on each stage of sales planning in “How to Create a Sales Plan” by Belkins.

Don’t just think it, ink it

We don’t want salespeople to indulge in wishful thinking and leave their success to chance and luck. Building a strategic sales plan will help you:

  1. identify foreseen and unforeseen risks in your sales process and prepare for them;
  2. benchmark your business growth and progress to see your annual business revenue increase;
  3. be realistic and break down cognitive biases;
  4. focus on the bigger picture, driving the team’s creative thinking and problem-solving skills;
  5. check out our sales plan examples to point you in the right direction. And believe in yourself and in strategic planning.

Good luck with your sales plan! Feel free to address Belkins experts if you need professional help.