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How to Create a Sales Plan: A Complete Guide (Tips + Examples)

Write a sales plan that can adjust to change, and zero in on the actions that will hit your goals.

By: Scott Leese
CEO & Founder, Scott Leese Consulting
May 1, 2024 | 14 min read

There is a world where sales planning happens once a year. You draw it up in January — “Whew, I’m glad that’s done!” — and everything goes as you planned. You hit your goals.

Meanwhile, on Earth, you create a plan, start to act on it, and everything hits the fan. A competitor launches a new product, an analyst switches up their report, and your best sales rep quits.

Now what?

Below we share tips for how to create a sales plan that can bend, not break. You’ll learn why a plan is so important, see examples of the different types, and discover how to create one that brings you closer to your big, hairy revenue goals while also driving down costs.

What you’ll learn:

Sales planning can be delightful. No, really.

Our Sales Planning solution keeps sellers on track with easy-to-build and easy-to-optimise sales plans.

What is a sales plan?

A sales plan is a blueprint for hitting revenue targets. It begins when sales leaders define long-term company goals. Next, they set the stage for achieving those goals by establishing hiring plans, sales quotas, and a sales budget. Sales managers use these high-level plans to create strategiesopens in a new window for their teams that will help them achieve long-term company goals, adjusting as market conditions change. They make decisions around compensation, territories, and customer segments. Finally, sellers translate the annual plan into account plans to close individual deals.

Why is a sales plan important?

Sales planning provides clear goals and a way to achieve them. Without it, a business likely doesn’t what their revenue targets are or how they’re going to grow. But these are only some of the advantages of an effective sales plan. Here are a few other key ones:

Determines actions required to achieve goals

Sales planning lets you test and measure how different actions will affect your numbers, so you can choose the right path forward to hit your goal. You begin by adding up the numbers you know — how much your team will likely sell (based on past performance) and how much it will cost (based on your current resources). You’ll arrive at a prediction of the numbers you’ll hit.

If the prediction falls short of your targets, a plan helps you test different scenarios, so you can find the action that allows you to hit your target number in the most cost-effective way.

What if you hire more people? Increase your quotas? Level up your enablement program to increase win rates (the number of deals that close)? Sales planning gives you the framework to crunch the numbers until you find the reality that matches your dream.

Increases engagement

With a plan, your sales team has the support needed to meet both their personal goals and the company’s goals. When a new representative joins the team, for example, the plan tells them the daily activities they need to complete to help meet their sales goals. If an established sales representative begins struggling to hit their goals, the plan provides the resources to grow their customer base.

This level of support creates a more engaged sales team, which often means a higher-performing team. When the sales team has the support they need, the company has a better retention rate because the sales team is successful. The business also earns a reputation for having clear goals that help lead to success, making it easier to hire new sales representatives.

Increases revenue and reduces expenses

Simply put, a plan helps the business allocate resources correctly, which saves money. For example, leaders aren’t hiring too many sales representatives for one territory while hiring too few reps in others, which means money burned and opportunities wasted.

At the same time, a clear plan makes it easier for sales representatives to achieve their goals, which means more revenueopens in a new window for the company. Because the sales team is hitting their goals, they are less likely to leave, which saves money on hiring, training, and lost revenue due to open positions.

Sales plan process

Many organisations think of sales planning as happening in the fall in preparation for the upcoming calendar year. While this may work for an established company, it’s not a realistic or sound approach for most companies.

Businesses should conduct a formal sales planning process annually, and then regularly review that plan throughout the year to make sure it still makes sense. Otherwise, the organisation may miss out on new opportunities to grow revenue and make changes that can reduce losses.

The frequency with which companies should review their plan depends on the stability of the business, market changes, and the complexity of the plans. Startups and new companies should review their plan at least every quarter. Established companies launching new products should review the plans for the new product lines at least every quarter, and perhaps monthly in the early days after launch.

Sales plan types

The different types of plans are meant to bring together your company’s long-term vision, short-term tactics, and everything in between. Leaders set a five-year vision for where the company is heading. Then, sales managers step into a new time frame — the year ahead — and build sales forecasts and territory plansopens in a new window that help sellers hit their numbers. They come up with capacity plans to make sure teams are running lean and mean. Finally, sellers create account plans for every deal.

Let’s take a closer look at these different types of plans with the examples below.

Long-range plan

This is where leadership — the CEO, chief revenue officer, CFO, and VP of sales — comes together and sets the long-term path for the company. They’re thinking about where the opportunities are and how to seize them. For example, they might decide to grow annual contract value (ACV) by $30 million in the next five years while also slowing the rate of hiring — because they want to make existing sellers more productive instead.

Annual plan

The sales manager creates an annual plan to set more immediate targets that will help the company get closer to the goals established in the long-range plan. This plan begins with an understanding of the team’s capacity, or how much revenue they’re likely to produce. From there, territories, quotas, and compensation plansopens in a new window are set to ensure that sellers hit their numbers.

Let’s say the long-range plan is to achieve $30 million in ACV over the next five years while also making sellers more productive. In that case, a sales manager might set targets of $4 million in ACV in the first year and increase the quotas that sellers carry to achieve that goal rather than hire more people.

Territory plan

A territory plan focuses on a specific type of target customer. However, you shouldn’t just segment customers based on geography. Also segment them based on categories meaningful to the business. For example, if you want to sell to more enterprises, you might want to segment customers by organisation size and match sellers with enterprise expertise to enterprise companiesopens in a new window. Territory planning makes it easier to assign sales representatives to the best territory for their expertise. For example, a salesperson who used to work as a registered nurse may be assigned to healthcare customers.

Account plan

Now that sellers know their targets and their territories, they take on planning of their own — customer by customer — with account plans. They strategise how to bring more value to every conversation and close individual dealsopens in a new window. They research the needs of the customer, identify obstacles that stand in the way of selling, and list action items for how to build relationships to move each deal forward. Then, they work with different people within their company to execute their account plans. They might connect with business development representatives (BDRs) to get a foot in the door with new leads, or with solution engineers to create demos for presentations.

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How to create a sales plan

To create your annual plan for the year and make sure it can adapt to change, gather all your sales data into one place. Then, study how much your people can sell (based on historical data) and set targets (and incentives) that will make your goal a reality. Use technology that can update all your plan data in real-time, so you can measure the impact of change and adjust to stay on track.

Ready to create your plan? Here’s how to take it one step at a time.

1. Connect plan data with your CRM

It’s important to build your plan in customer relationship management (CRM) software. When you have all your sales data in one place, updated in real-time, you have visibility into changes that put your targets at risk.

It’s also a time-saver. Without this single source of truth, you’d be spending weeks manually pulling in data from different systems to understand what went wrong. With every passing day, the gap between your plan and your reality would widen.

Imagine that you begin an enterprise sales push with 50 sellers in January, but two quit in March. A CRM can send you an alert that you’re under target. That real-time data is critical if you want to adjust your plan quickly to stay on track.

If your organisation does not currently have a CRM, look for one that uses AI, pulls in data from any source, integrates with your other systems, and helps automate repeatable business functions. If you already use a CRM, take a comprehensive look at your sales efforts by ensuring all sales and customer data is connected.

2. Understand your team’s capacity (how much they can sell)

Using your CRM data, take a look at capacity — or much revenue you predict your team can sell during the coming year. To calculate capacity, look at all metricsopens in a new window that affect sales output — including hiring data, a review of quotas and targets, and historical sales rep performance data — to predict future sales.

Using the example above, you might determine that based on the previous year’s performance, each seller, on average, can bring in $120,000 worth of revenue. However, now that you’re down two sellers, you’re short $240,000 in your capacity.

3. Work with stakeholders across the organisation

A sales plan drives the direction of the entire organisation, so it should represent the goals and input of all stakeholders. In addition to sales and finance, customer success, product teams, finance, and marketing should also be included in the process. If only the sales department is included in crafting the draft, then you run the risk of the CFO showing up with a half-billion-dollar plan, the CEO a billion-dollar plan, and the head of sales with a quarter-billion-dollar plan.

4. Measure the gap between your reality and your dream

Now that you understand the reality of who’s under your roof — and how much you think your team can sell — determine the gap between your revenue predictions and your revenue targets.

For example, imagine your target from the long-range plan is to hit $6 million in ACV this year. With a $240,000 drop in your capacity, as we showed above, you’ll need to figure out how you can still meet the goal.

5. Find the actions to fill the gap and reach your goal

It’s time to write your plan to achieve your targets. Begin with the backbone — your team — and outline what’s expected (quotas), what the rewards are (compensation), how to organise customers (segments), and how to assign the reps (territories).

Then, to close the gap and hit your targets, create “what if” scenarios to test the impact of different possible actions. The guideposts here should be cost savings and efficiency — how to hit your target by making the most of what you have. What if you hire two more people? (Straightforward, sure, but hardly cost-effective.) What if you assign your highest performers to more lucrative territories? What if you create an enablement program that trains your sellers in a strategic industry?

In the example above, you’re trying to find a way to add $240,000 to your capacity without adding cost. One of the scenarios you tested shows that a new enablement program might do the trick because training your sellers to sell more effectively can help you close more and bigger deals. This can be your Plan A. But since it will require investing in a new enablement program, you might want to come up with a Plan B as well that doesn’t require additional budget. For example, you might propose increasing each seller’s quota.

6. Present your proposed actions to leadership and execute

Make your case to leadership to gain approval on your proposed best action. Show them the data in your plan to demonstrate why your proposed solution will hit your targets and be cost-effective at the same time.

You might make the case for Plan A: investing in a new enablement program. If leadership balks because of cost, then it’s time to roll out Plan B: increase each seller’s quota instead. Sales reps might protest at first, but you can reframe it as an opportunity to make more money.

You’re in sales, remember? Finding the positive spin is what you do.

7. Keep adjusting and stay on target even as market conditions change

Change will come — whether from outside forces (a disruption in your customer base) or inside forces (a pivot in your product roadmap). The mindset shift is to take your plan down from the shelf, dust it off, and reimagine it as a living, breathing thing. It’s something you adjust continually throughout the year — with your sights pinned to your goal.

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Sales plan examples

While plans can be exceptionally detailed, the following examples show the basic structure of two types of plans.

Basic annual plan

Goal: Increase sales by 15% to reach 10.5 million in 2025

Sales cycle: January 2025 to December 2025
Target average contract value: $100,000
Target close rate: 20%

Metrics to track:

  • Calls
  • Emails
  • Conversations
  • Meetings
  • Contracts

Resources required to implement plan:

  • 1 new entry-level sales representative
  • 1 part-time admin support role
  • Training for all representatives on new product launching in late 2024

Territory plan:

Territory: In 2025, The Widget Co is adding a healthcare vertical. While they currently have some healthcare customers, this new territory will be an area of growth.

Goal: Healthcare clients accounted for $100,000 in sales in 2024 Q1. Goal is 300K in sales in 2025 Q2.

Resources required:

  • Shift 1 sales representative from government vertical (phasing out) to healthcare
  • Dedicate part-time admin support to healthcare
  • Allocate $50,000 in marketing budget for healthcare sponsorship

5 tips for optimising your sales plan

Sales planning only delivers the desired success if companies come up with the right plan for their specific business and goals. Without a plan that works for your specific organisation, you are not likely to see the expected results. Organisations that take the time to optimise their plan are more likely to enjoy better results.

Here are five tips for optimising your plan:

1. Collaborate early and often across the organisation

The most accurate plans are created when all departments work together. To ensure a cohesive plan, the needs of the entire organisation should be included in the very first draft — and as revisions are made. This ensures that the sales team has the right products to sell, and all leaders have skin in the game.

2. Include relevant details to help achieve the goals

While it’s tempting to include only the desired results, the most useful and accurate plans provide a roadmap for how to get to the destination.

The specific metrics you monitor should relate to goals that align with your specific sales plan. For example, if headcount is a current issue in your sales department, then tracking employee retention rates is important.

At the minimum, it’s recommended you track the following metrics to ensure sales efficiency:

  • Calls
  • Emails
  • Conversations
  • Meetings
  • Contracts
  • Close rate
  • Average contract value
  • Sales cycle

As noted above, consider adding other metrics that align with top-level goals. Think first about what the linchpin of the goal is (e.g. employees for retention goals) then identify all metrics related to it you should keep an eye on.

3. Consider the seasonality of your business

For sales, not all months are equal. Many businesses have seasonal sales cyclesopens in a new window, such as slowdowns during the summer. By building this seasonality into the sales expectations, your plan will be more accurate than it would be if you set the same goals for every month.

For example, December has 15 to 17 effective selling days compared to 23 in other months due to the holidays and many customers taking time off the last week of the year. For that reason, most sales representatives are not going to close as many deals in December as they would in May.

4. Make goals based on the experience level of the team

While looking at the historical performance of the sales team is a good starting point, be sure to consider your current team, too. It takes a new sales representative time to build up their customer base and hit sales goalsopens in a new window. Even with significant experience at other organisations, a new sales representative is not going to perform like a veteran in their first month. Create lower quotas for newer representatives as they ramp up and your plan will be easier to execute.

5. Use AI insights to build your plan

Historical data gives you a starting point for understanding what your team is capable of. AI tools can factor in additional variables, however, such as new sales representatives, new products, and even new competitors. By using technology such as sales planning software, you can keep sellers on track, configure plans easily, optimise in real-time, and improve operational flexibility.

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