Write a sales plan that can adjust to change, and zero in on the actions that will hit your goals.
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 sales 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 to change and not break. You’ll learn why a sales 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.
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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. Then, sales managers create an annual sales plan to achieve those goals, adjusting it as market conditions change. They make decisions around hiring, quotas, compensation, territories, and customer segments. Finally, sellers translate the annual sales plan into account plans to close individual deals.
What are the benefits of creating a sales plan?
The key benefits of creating a sales plan are about hitting your targets with the resources you already have. First, it allows you to spot the gaps in your sales process that block you from your goals and address them with the best actions. Second, it sets you up to adapt fast to changing business and market conditions.
Let’s take a closer look.
Finding the actions to achieve your goals
A sales plan 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 sales plan helps you test different scenarios so you can find the action that forces the equation to spit out 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). A sales plan gives you the framework to crunch the numbers until you find the reality that matches your dream.
Your business is more resilient to change
The traditional sales plan is something you create once a year. An agile sales plan is something you revisit, test, and adjust continually. The benefit is that even as market conditions change or surprises happen within your company, you can study the impacts of those changes and adapt to stay on track.
The path to agility is to do away with your disconnected tools and bring all of your sales plan data into the same system — your customer relationship management (CRM) system — where you sell. With this in place, changes in the real world show up as threats to your target within your plan. You can react in real-time, studying the data, testing different scenarios, and adjusting your sales plan to get back on track.
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Sales plan types and examples
The different types of sales plans are meant to bring together your company’s long-term vision, short-term tactics that get you there, and everything in between. Leaders set a five-year track for where the company is heading. Then, sales managers step into a new time frame — the year — with sales forecasts and territory plans 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 sales plans with the examples below.
Long-Range Sales Plan
This is where leadership comes together — people like the CEO, chief revenue officer, CFO, and VP of sales — 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 Sales Plan
The sales manager creates an annual sales plan to set immediate targets and decisions that will help the company get closer to the goals established in the long-range sales 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 plans are set to ensure that sellers hit their numbers.
If, for example, the long-range sales plan is to achieve $30 million in ACV over the next five years while also making sellers more productive. Then a sales manager might set targets of $4 million in ACV in the first year and increase the quotas that sellers carry to hit that goal rather than hire more people.
Don’t just segment customers based on geography. You should 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 based on their size and match sellers with enterprise expertise to enterprise companies. You can also segment customers based on industry and assign them to sellers with industry expertise.
Now that sellers know their targets and their territories, they take on the planning of their own — customer by customer — with account plans. They strategise how to bring more value to every conversation and close individual deals. 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 on 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.
How to create a sales plan
To create your annual sales plan for the year and make sure it can adapt to change, bring all of 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 sales plan data in real-time, so you can measure the impact of change and adjust to stay on track.
Ready to create your sales plan? Here’s how to take it one step at a time.
1. Connect sales plan data with your CRM
It’s important to build your sales plan in customer relationship management (CRM) software. When you have all your sales data in one central place, updated in real-time, real world changes show up as misalignments in the data. You have visibility into changes that put your targets at risk.
Without this single source of truth, you’d be spending weeks manually pulling in data from different systems, trying to understand the impact of the disruption. With every passing day, the gap between your plan and your reality widens.
Imagine that you begin an enterprise sales push with 50 sellers in January, but two have quit by 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.
2. Understand your team’s capacity (how much they can sell)
Using your CRM data, take a look at capacity — that’s how much revenue you predict your team can sell during the coming year. To calculate capacity, look at all metrics that affect sales output, including hiring data, a review of quotas and targets, and historical sales rep performance data to predict future sales.
Following 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 short two sellers, you’re short $240,000 in your capacity.
3. 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 sales plan is to hit $6 million in ACV this year. With $240,000 down in your capacity, as we showed above, you’ll need to figure out how to still meet the goal.
4. Find the actions to fill the gap and reach your goal
It’s time to write your sales 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? (Straight-forward, 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 an additional budget. For example, you might propose increasing each seller’s quota.
5. Present your proposed actions to leadership and execute
Make your case to leadership to get the rubber stamp on your proposed best action. Show them the data in your sales 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 baulks 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.
6. Keep adjusting and stay on target even as market conditions change
Change will come — whether from outside forces (think a disruption in your customer base) or inside forces (think a pivot in your product roadmap). The mindset shift is to take your sales plan off 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 on your goal.
Ready to turn your sales plan into a reality?
With the steps above, you’re ready to go. Study the real-time sales plan data in your CRM, measure the impact of the change on your goals, test different possible actions, and go with the best one. This is agile sales planning. It says, “Bring it on!” to change.
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