How to Create a Sales Plan

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While a business plan deals with the large picture, such as product development, product identity, and market analysis, a sales plan focuses on its day-to-day operations.

Startups are particularly notorious for neglecting this critical document, choosing instead to tackle problems as they arise. This ad-hoc approach leads to a host of issues, including misunderstanding customers’ needs, unnecessarily long sales cycles, and missing tell-tale signs of impending risk.

Running a business without a properly articulated sales plan is not unlike steering a ship without a specific destination in mind.

Why Formulating a Sales Plan Is Worth It

An articulated sales plan is critical for several reasons. If nothing else, a strategic sales plan charts the course for the business. It sets the direction for where you want to take your product or service and outlines a clear path on how to get there.

Furthermore, a good sales plan helps you foresee potential obstacles and risks well in advance. Startups, in particular, have a hard time breaking even, let alone turning a profit.

Given this harsh market reality, any risk that is averted beforehand increases the chances of the new business succeeding and thriving. 

A sales plan also helps to paint the big picture. With a clear goal in place, it is much easier to cut out unnecessary tasks, non-productive activities, duplication of efforts, and other inefficiencies that stem from a lack of clear direction.

Additionally, the sales plan lets business owners set and track milestones as the business grows. With clear milestones in place, it is easier to course-correct and formulate and adjust strategies in the long term.

Finally, a sales plan allows the business owner and stakeholders to influence their environment. With a clear perspective on consumer behavior, prices, demand, supply, and other market dynamics, it is much easier to make clear-headed and accurate decisions.

Leaving your business at the mercy of external influences and speculation is a sure recipe for failure.

The Investment Needed To Create a Sales Plan

The great thing about a sales plan is it doesn’t require much money to develop, if at all. The bulk of the investment will be that of time. It can take between four and six weeks to build a comprehensive sales plan, depending on its length and complexity. 

Plan an initial meeting with your sales team to get the ball rolling. List your products or service’s features and benefits and discuss the list with the team. The idea is to get everyone on the same page regarding how your sales plan ties to the end customer.

Make sure to involve a data collector in your meeting. Discuss the data you need to collect, both historical and other data you might need to develop your sales plan.

Additional members to involve in your sales plan meetings include sales strategy planners, sales managers, and operation managers.

The steps to creating your sales plan include:

  1. Articulate your mission and vision
  2. Develop a sales plan template
  3. Define your target market
  4. Set clear goals
  5. Develop a team structure
  6. Formulate an action plan
  7. Identify sales tools and systems
  8. Conduct a SWOT analysis
  9. Prepare a budget               

9 Steps to Creating a Sales Plan

According to a survey by Gartner, a global research advisory firm, businesses lose up to 10% of annual sales opportunities because of poor planning. It is worth spending the time and effort to develop a strategic sales plan. Here is how you create a winning sales plan step-by-step.

#1 – Articulate Your Mission and Vision

At its core, your sales plan is a pathway to attaining your company’s vision and mission. Without a clearly articulated vision and mission, then there is no real destination to head to. Start by clearly defining your mission and vision statements.

You may also want to create a brief overview of the business so far or at least for the last year. This history helps to create the context for the sales plan. Go over items such as:

  • How much your business sold last year
  • Who you sold to
  • Your sales team’s performance
  • Amount of repeat business
  • Most and least profitable clients

Remember to include as much data as you can to support your review of the organization so far. As the famous saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

#2 – Develop a Sales Plan Template

The good news is that you don’t have to create a sales plan template from scratch. Hubspot, a sales and marketing-focused customer relationship management (CRM) software, offers one for free.

HubSpot’s template includes sections for all the steps outlined in this segment of our guide including, team structure, target market, tools and software, action plan, budget, goals, and more.

With a sales plan template, the action items listed below will make more sense. A template also helps you take a structured approach to develop your sales plan from scratch, making the process a lot quicker and smoother.

#3 – Define Your Target Market

While generating profits is your end-goal, you can’t get there without people buying your products or services. This is an excellent time to get input from your sales team that has direct contact with your customers on a day-to-day basis.

Create a customer profile based on customer feedback, demographics data, location, age, income, revenue, and other metrics that make sense for your business. While customer profiles are traditionally the marketing department’s domain, the profile can help your sales team concentrate its efforts on the right audience.

Putting your customers at the center of your sales plan allows you to positively influence the buyer’s journey, making your sales team more effective at closing sales.

#4 – Set Clear Goals

With your business objectives in place, it shouldn’t be too difficult to set specific goals you want to achieve. Set clear goals that align with your overall business objectives. Keep your goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART goals).

Be as specific as possible when setting your sales goals. The main business goal is to increase revenue. To this end, ask yourself why you want to increase revenue, by how much, and by when. The more specific the goals, the higher the chances your team will hit them.

Also, come up with quantitative metrics that you can use to track and measure performance. These may include year-over-year revenue, recurring revenue, customer churn, or new business revenue. Remember to keep your metrics relevant to the specific sales goals.

Set realistic and achievable sales targets for your team. Review your past and current data to get a sense of where you are and what’s possible to achieve in the short-term and longer-term. Use your business situation, economic factors, and feedback from sales reps to streamline your goals further.

The last two pieces are that the goals are relevant to your short-term and long-term plans and bound to a specific timeline or deadline. This means that the goals make sense within the bigger picture and can be met within a specific timeframe. 

#5 – Develop a Team Structure

You need a clear team structure to ensure that everyone knows what they are doing and why. Ideally, the team structure should also include any separate agency and marketing support. Identify each role and precisely what the role contributes to the sales process.

Typical sales roles include:

Lead generation – also called hunters; they are responsible for finding new leads. The hunters also collect relevant data to pre-qualify leads.

Sales development – also called nurturers; they are responsible for qualifying leads. The process typically involves direct contact with prospects to determine if they fit the business’ customer profile.

Account executives – also called closers; they are tasked with closing deals. Typical responsibilities may include handling objections, demonstrating products, and other activities to close the deal.

Customer success – also called farmers; they are responsible for maintaining customer relationships after the deal closes. Typical responsibilities may include reducing churn, maximizing the customer’s lifetime value, and up-selling to customers.

Additionally, identify key performance indicators (KPIs) attached to each individual role. These KPIs are quantifiable metrics that help track performance and keep employees accountable for their role. Spell out clear expectations for performance. Also, be sure to provide a detailed report about how each team member will be held accountable.

Do the same for new employees if you plan to add headcount and note when you expect the new employees to join the team.

#6 – Formulate an Action Plan

The sales strategy is the heart and soul of your sales plan. This section of the sales plan focuses on the ‘how’ of reaching your goals. For example, if your objective is to increase your referral rates, your actionable steps may include training your sales reps on referral techniques and increasing the commission on referral sales.

Moreover, consider different techniques for reaching your target market, including field sales, online, inside sales, resellers, and channel partners. Think about how each option is likely to impact your business.

To guide you through the process, consider where you are likely to find your target audience, the most effective methods for engaging prospects, and how to minimize costs and risk throughout the process.

By the end of this step, you should have specific sales methods, strategies, and playbooks to reach your goals.

#7 – Identify Sales Tools & Systems

In this step, list all the sales tools and systems you intend to use to execute your sales plan.

According to a Buyer Zone report, 91% of businesses with more than 11 employees use CRM software. These robust tools help you manage sales activity in real-time, access information quickly, measure sales performance, and much more.

Check out our post on the best CRM software on the market, where we review the top six CRMs that can radically change your sales department and boost your bottom line.

Additional sales tools to consider include video conferencing software, scheduling software, marketing automation software, and customer service software.

It’s also worth mentioning that most of today’s CRM software combines sales, marketing, and customer service functionality. For example, HubSpot has a product suite featuring sales CRM, marketing automation, and customer service.

The idea here is to purchase the most comprehensive sales tools you can find rather than buying separate plans or products. The latter example is more expensive and more cumbersome to manage.

#8 – Conduct a SWOT Analysis

Create a section in your sales plan that details your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT).

This step is crucial when facing pressure from increased competition or when venturing into new markets. Here, you’ll be able to leverage your unique strengths, mitigate your weaknesses, identify and exploit new opportunities, and plan for contingencies.

Be sure to involve internal and external teams and the company leadership in the brainstorming session. This approach gives you a 360-degree view of the business and minimizes or eliminates blind spots during the SWOT analysis.

#9 – Prepare a Budget

Finally, you’d want to know whether or not your sales plan will make money. A comprehensive sales budget will help you to answer this question definitively.

Some of the budget items may include:

  • Pay (salary + commission)
  • Sales tools and systems
  • Sales training
  • Travel expenses

Itemizing expected costs helps you determine your plan’s return on investment (ROI). Also, be sure to compare this budget to your sales forecast to ensure it is accurate.

Next Steps

Be sure to include an executive summary on the first page of your sales plan. Most executives want a miniature version of the plan before they can go through it in detail.  Include the major points, such as your goals and the action plans to achieve them.

You may also need to present the sales plan to executives and have it approved. Create a compelling PowerPoint presentation to compliment your document. Incorporate images and graphics to capture your audience’s attention and share vital data.

Visuals aside, spend sufficient time justifying your goals and strategic action plans. Focus on the return on investment and the benefits of your plan to the company as a whole. At the end of the day, executives and stakeholders want to know what’s in it for them.

For example, you may need to spend extra time discussing the updated sales compensation plan to justify the additional overheads. Focus on how motivated sales reps help to increase revenue and incentives reduce turnover.

Finally, review your sales plan at least once every year or more for a startup. Reviewing your sales plan will help identify the best growth opportunities, what customers to prioritize, how to stay competitive, which channels to use, and so on.

The business environment is dynamic, so you need an agile sales plan to cope with short-term and long-term changes in market conditions.

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