Documenting a sales plan: Why you need to do it and 4 steps to get started

During any given week at AIA it’s a fair bet that you’ll hear me say to a colleague “we can’t hold ourselves accountable to the things we do not measure.” (Yes, I really say this.) And it’s true. In sales we thrive or die by metrics.

That’s why I’m a big advocate of documenting your business sales plan. No matter your company size or industry, setting sales goals and objectives and identifying a roadmap for achieving them is key.

Sounds easy enough, right? What I’ve learned over the years from talking with entrepreneurs and small business owners is that all too often one critical factor is missing: data. Data informs the inputs of a sales plan, and without it, well, it’s hard to get your plan off the ground. Not to mention that data can help propel your business intelligence ahead of the competition.

But there’s good news. Small and medium-sized businesses are the most aggressive of all businesses in their plans for data analytics and business intelligence adoption, according to the 2017 Small and Mid-Sized Enterprise Business Intelligence Market Study.

So, if you’re ready to take a data-driven approach to sales planning, here are the inputs you need to get started.

  1. Sales data by person.

Think of this as a snapshot of your (or a member of your team’s) sales performance over time. It should include annual and YTD data for products or services sold, as well as gross margin as both a percentage and dollar amount. Understanding sales performance at the individual level will help you set unique and customized goals.

  1. Sales data by customer.

Customer-level sales data helps you identify trends—who’s growing, flat or shrinking—and course correct. Layer on data from partners who help service your customers (suppliers, vendors or contractors) to better understand your net revenue. Overall, be sure to include annual and YTD data for products or services sold, gross margin and top partners, if relevant, by name and products or services sold.

  1. Set your sales goals.

With the above information in hand, you’re ready to set sales and profitability goals for the year. These should be realistic but challenging. A great way to start is by looking at:

  • Historical sales data: Knowing sales trends at the salesperson and customer level is key. For individuals, how are year-over-year sales and margins tracking? For customers, how are year-over-year sales trending?
  • Existing versus new customer growth: Keeping tabs on the financial health of your most valuable customers is critical. Have their budgets grown, shrunk or stayed the same in recent years? Growing existing business is important, but be sure to balance this with new customer acquisition goals.
  • Your industry’s health: Is it growing, flat or declining? Any big regulatory or pricing changes pending, or anticipated M&A activity? Analyzing what’s happening outside your organization is just as important as what’s happening inside it.
  1. Create your sales plan.

Once goals are identified, it’s time to document an actionable sales plan. This should include customized strategies for key customer groups, such as target verticals, buyer personas or specific customers. For each group, you’ll want to outline a roadmap for growing business. This means you’ll want to think about:

  • Where and when to find and connect with these customers
  • What pain points you can help them solve
  • How you can do this better than your competitors
  • What these customers currently spend on this effort and their budget thresholds
  • What actions are required to move them through the decision-making process

There are a lot of sales plan templates available online if you’re looking for some help with structure. If you belong to an industry association, ask the member services team if they offer any templates specific to your field. For example, at AIA, we provide our Owners with cloud-based sales planning tools that provide a real-time look at their sales performance.

While sales planning can feel daunting, the great Warren Buffet summed up its value perfectly when he said: Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.

So, go plant that tree so you can reap the rewards for years to come. And, if you have your own sage advice to share on this topic I’d like to hear it. Comment here or message me.

As CEO of AIA Corporation, Matt Gresge helps propel idea people by providing industry leading financial, technical, sales, marketing and purchasing solutions to entrepreneurs in the distribution business.