Why Plan?

Yesterday it was 3:45 before I even looked at the clock. I hadn’t even stopped for lunch (and I rarely miss a meal!), but I was getting a ton of work done, solving one problem after another. It felt great. Until 3:45 when I sat back and took a breath, looked at the clock, and realized I had not accomplished a single thing I’d planned to accomplish that day. Sure, I’d solved a bunch of problems and worked hard, but it was all a distraction from my goals, not in service to my goals.

Too often we get caught up in the work that feels most urgent—or that we enjoy the most—but at the end of the year we look up and realize we didn’t accomplish what we’d planned to accomplish for the year. We look back and wonder if it was time well spent, or if we could have done something different to deliver on the numbers we’d promised.

Whether it’s delivering on strategic objectives or hitting a sales target, the only way to create clarity, stay focused, and ensure alignment across an organization is through a concise, easily understood, visible, measurable plan.  

If you lead a sales team, you’ve been saddled a particularly challenging task: it’s your responsibility to drive the company’s most visible metric through other people.

What’s more, only 11% of senior leaders are highly satisfied that strategic planning is a good use of time. If you’re in the other 89%, it’s easy to deprioritize planning since you haven't been satisfied with it the past. Writing a sales plan, however, is a must do and if it's done correctly it will bring alignment, focus and accountability to your team.

 

ALIGNMENT

Creating the right sales plan allows you to be on the same page with everyone else in the organization. You’ll know what the company is trying to achieve and how every department’s contributions, as well as your own, add up to the larger company objectives. In order to provide that clarity, sales plans need to be aligned from both the top down and the bottom up.

In a perfect world, sales planning is an iterative process, like a conversation between the Executives that set the direction and the Sellers that know the obstacles and resources needed to move forward.

W_Model

For example, the overall revenue objective for the company needs to be the sum of each sales team’s revenue objectives. Each sales team’s objective is the sum of each Sales Reps’ revenue objective. If a division/region/team has a revenue objective of $6.5 million, then the it would be divided among the members of the team.  Each of their targets must add up to the group goal.

This is true no matter the size of the sales team. Individual sales objectives need to add up to the overall company’s sales objectives. You can align yourself with the company’s plan because you know where the numbers come from and you see the direct connection between your individual objectives and the larger company goals.

 

FOCUS

Team objectives are rarely divided evenly among the members of the team. A national organization cannot expect the same performance out of different regions or markets. A sales manager would not expect a newly hired Sales Rep to bring in as much as a tenured Rep. And an Account Manager would not be expected to generate the same revenue as a national sales leader with a larger book of business.

The right sales plan clarifies more than how much is expected of each region, team, or individual; it explains where the revenue is expected to come from. We’ll cover segmentation in greater detail in a future post. For now, consider ways to create clarity about who is responsible for which objectives. Everyone cannot be responsible for everything.

A good strategic plan creates focus and ensures time doesn’t get wasted by dual work or dropped balls. Individuals stay focused on their own KPI’s and targets; if a project isn’t part of their primary responsibilities or priorities, it shouldn’t be a priority.

 

ACCOUNTABILITY

Having a sales plan with clear organizational objectives and role responsibility allows you to hold your team accountable for their individual contributions to the larger success. More importantly, it allows them to hold themselves and each other accountable.

In order to have this accountability, the sales plan needs to be easily measured and progress tracked on a regular basis throughout the year. The last leg of the W-Model shows accountability and reporting from the bottom up.

Sales Management coaching is an ongoing practice of reviewing progress against targets throughout the year. We’ll cover coaching to targets in a separate post and sales management best practices in a separate post. For now, let’s focus on reporting team progress up to the organizational executive level. 

W_Model

Waiting until the end of the year to see if you’ve achieved your objectives is too late, it does not allow for midyear adjustments to be made to improve your chances of success. Monthly progress reporting is best, but you should have quarterly reporting at a minimum. Using the example of a three-person sales team, monthly progress would be tracked showing performance against each individual’s revenue objective.

Note: by graphing the percentage of objective achieved and not actual raw numbers, you can compare performance across the enterprise even if the salespeople have different empirical revenue objectives. This works across all levels of an organization (individual, team, department, division, enterprise, etc.).

The blue, orange and grey bars represent the individual salespeople and the yellow bar represents the overall company. The blue line represents 100% of revenue objective. If you are over the line you exceeded your objective if you are below the line you did not meet your objective.

Salesperson1 beat their objective in January, met it in February and missed it in March showing a negative trend. Salesperson2 has consistently hit their objective in all 3 months. Even though Salesperson3 missed their objective the first 2 months they showed consistent improvement and exceeded their objective in March. Overall, the company missed its quarterly objective by a small percentage.

Consistent tracking lets you know where your team, everyone else’s teams, and the company as a whole stands versus the stated objectives. This transparency creates accountability as you know who is underachieving, meeting, and overachieving, and what the impact is on the overall company performance.

The right sales plan will provide clarity of what the company is trying to accomplish, build understanding of what is expected of each person and create accountability to achieving objectives by measuring success at all levels of the organization.

 

What Makes a Good Sales Plan?

The right sales plan is comprised of three key elements; the right objectives, strategies to support those objectives, and the action plans to execute those strategies. Without all three, the plan will be limited in its effectiveness to bring alignment, understanding and accountability to the organization. The One Page Business Plan provides a structure that is easily adapted to sales.

 

OBJECTIVES

Put simply, objectives are the results that define your company’s success. An objective is a well-defined, measurable change; a quantifiable metric that can be tracked, graphed, and that dictates action and guides adjustments.

To be clear, sales objectives aren’t just any metric. Because there are so many possible measures of sales effectiveness, let’s take time to define the three different types of metrics—Results, Activities, and Sales Objectives—and what belongs at the forefront of a good sales plan.

 

Results Metrics

I once had a manager that talked non-stop about our revenue target. “The company promised The Street we’d hit this number. Do whatever it takes! Do more! Sell more! Make more!” The whole team worked day and night but never met expectations. We were burnt out and exhausted. Why did it feel like we were spinning our wheels?!

The target might be the most important number of all the numbers we measure, but the problem is that it’s not manageable. Demands for “more” may or may not yield more.

“You said do more, so I visited my existing clients twice as often. But I already had as much wallet share as I was going to get so it didn’t result in the revenue bump we were hoping for.”

“You said do more, so I doubled-down effort on selling our most popular product line. But since accessories and upgrades have higher margin, I should have focused there.”

Results metrics are defined as measures used to assess the health and potential longevity of an organization. They include revenue, profitability, market penetration, customer satisfaction, and employee satisfaction. They answer the question, “Did we achieve our goal?”

Unfortunately, results metrics can’t be managed because they are the result of many possible activities, projects, and types of effort. Results metrics absolutely belong on your sales plan because the strategies and action plans that follow will detail all the work that is being done to that end.

There is another type of metric that does not belong on a plan; Activitiy Metrics.

 

Activity Metrics

Activity metrics are the measures of day to day sales efforts, which include number of calls, number of appointments, account plans created, business reviews completed, conformance to standards, adherence to process, and any quantification or measure of the volume of effort exerted.

If you aren’t measuring activities, you should be. Activity metrics can be directly managed by sales managers and sellers, alike. They give week-by-week (even day-to-day) insight into whether a target will be reached. Activity metrics answer the question “Have I done enough to achieve my goal?” They are easy to adjust, easy to see (more on CRM’s later), and easy to reward.

NOTE: Assigning arbitrary numbers or tracking activities for the sake of tracking activities can have severe consequences.  

What’s the right number and how do you know what to track? More on that later.

Although Activity Metrics are easiest to measure, they do not belong on a strategic sales plan. They are, by definition, tactical and not strategic.

 

Sales Objectives

Sales Objectives are a type of metric for measuring progress toward a results metric. They answer the question, “How will we achieve our goal?”

Asking for more is not good management. More of what? Sales objectives provide clear direction around where efforts are expected to yield the greatest results. Where do we expect revenue to come from? What can we improve or change to make it happen faster, more easily, or more effectively? This is the most important element of the entire sales plan; defining how the overall revenue target will be achieved. Clearly defined sales objectives are the marker of a good sales plan.

Sales objectives generally fall into three categories: sales revenue, sales process and sales capabilities. A balanced sales plan will have objectives from each. Each objective must be specific and measurable.

 

Sales Revenue

Just stating a high-level goal for revenue growth is not enough. You need to know where the revenue is coming from. You can break out objectives by vertical markets, geographic regions, products, customers or salespeople.

Keep in mind that there are only three ways to generate sales revenue:

  1. Holding on to existing business
  2. Closing new opportunities from existing accounts; and
  3. Converting prospects to new customers

It is best to set specific objectives for each of these distinct revenue streams. Take the overall revenue objective for the company and break it out into these three components. Anticipate how much business from current accounts will be down or remain the same (retained business)? What is the target for new opportunity business from current customers (existing account growth)? Given those two, how many new accounts do you need to close to reach the company’s overall revenue goal (new business)?

Understanding these three distinct elements of revenue is vitally important in large sales organizations where different people are responsible for the different revenue streams (e.g. farmers/hunters). It is also important, however, in smaller sales structures where one person may be responsible for all three elements. Each stream requires different activities and a person needs to plan out how much of each activity they need to be doing. For example, current customer visits, new opportunity appointments and prospect sales calls. How do you balance these activities if you don’t know the individual objectives for each revenue component?

 

Sales Process

All too often, our internal processes get in the way. Years of adjustments, structure changes, and incremental improvements create bottlenecks, dual work, disconnects between roles and departments, and inefficient processes. Sometimes we feel like we’re tripping over our own feet. Regularly reviewing how work gets done and where it can be improved upon is a mark of a healthy evolving organization. Process objectives include:

  • Average cycle time
  • Cost of sales
  • Down time between steps/departments
  • Active (customer-facing) sales time
  • Order accuracy
  • Systems & reporting capabilities

 

Sales Capabilities

Once you look externally to where your money will come from and internally to how the company is designed to operate, then you must consider performance of the sellers themselves. Sales capabilities are often measured in ratios, indicating the individual’s ability over quantity. Some examples of capability measures are:

  • Close ratio
  • Ratio of opportunities by phase
  • Customer retention
  • Rate of negotiated pricing and discounts
  • Application/effectiveness of trained skills
  • Average deal size

Once you define your goals and how you will measure success, you must determine the strategies needed to achieve each objective. Sales objectives determine which gauges you want on the dashboard and where you want the needle; strategies define how you will move the needle.

 

STRATEGIES

An effective sales plan outlines the strategies that directly tie to each of the stated sales objectives. If a sales objective does not have strategies explaining how it will be achieved, it will not be accomplished. A strategy is a high-level description of the initiative or projects that will achieve a goal. Tactics are the action that must be taken to implement that strategy.

Strategies are often a combination of business models and best practices which define how a company’s competitive advantage will be achieved and sustained. Strategies define boundaries, illuminating what must happen versus what will not happen or be prioritized. They often speak to markets, clients, products, pricing, services, partnerships, and alliances.

Sales Revenue Example

Objective: Increase new business revenue by $500k

Strategy: Increase new business revenue by utilizing paid lead lists, obtaining referrals from existing accounts and attending industry trade shows.

Sales Process Example:

Objective: Decrease average sales cycle time from 16 weeks to 14 weeks.

Strategy: Decrease average cycle time by creating reusable presentation templates, decreasing down-time with Contracts Department, and improve response rate/time for pricing approvals.

Sales Capabilities Example:

Objective: Increase average close ratio from 27% to 40%.

Strategy: Increase average close ratio by improving completion rates of basic and advanced sales training classes and increase completion of structures post-class coaching program.

Sales strategies essentially set the direction by naming the initiatives that will be pursued. In order to assign responsibility for the tasks involved and enable accountability, we must also include “action plans” in the Strategic Sales Plan.

 

ACTION PLANS

Sales action plans need to clearly state what will be done to implement each sales strategy. They should include what the action is, who owns it and when it will be initiated or completed (whatever is more appropriate). Only actions that directly impact one or more sales strategy should be in the plan. Things that sound like a good idea but do not assist in the execution of a sales strategy take focus away from the stated objectives and should not be in the plan. If it really is a good idea, then there should be a strategy that refers to it.

Sales Revenue Example:

Objective: Increase new business revenue by $500k

Strategy: Increase new business revenue by utilizing paid lead lists, obtaining referrals from existing accounts and attending industry trade shows.

Action Plans: The marketing team will identify two sources of leads by 1/31. The sales enablement team will launch a customer referral program by 3/31. The national sales team attend four industry trade shows by 9/30.

Sales Process Example:

Objective: Decrease average sales cycle time from 16 weeks to 14 weeks.

Strategy: Decrease average cycle time by creating reusable presentation templates, decreasing down-time with Contracts Department, and improve response rate/time for pricing approvals.

Action Plans: Marketing and sales enablement will partner to create reusable presentation templates by 4/1. Sales operations will initiate process review and improvement project with the contracts team beginning 3/1. Sales Operations will begin process review and improvement project regarding pricing approvals and system controls by 3/31.

Sales Capabilities Example:

Objective: Increase average close ratio from 27% to 40%.

Strategy: Increase average close ratio by improving completion rates of basic and advanced sales training classes and increase completion of structured post-class coaching program.

Action Plans: All national sellers will complete advanced sales training class by 6/1. Basic sales training completion rate will be at 86% or greater by 10/1. Sales Managers will attend virtual training on using coaching resources to reinforce learning by 3/1.

 

When Do You Plan?

The ideal sales plan will correspond to the annual 12-month business cycle of the organization, be it fiscal or calendar. Preferably it will be completed in the quarter prior to the beginning of the new year/cycle. This gives you time to communicate the plan and the most time (12 months) to execute on the plan. It does not, however, mean you can’t create a sales plan during any other quarter of the year. If you are currently operating without a quality sales plan it is always better to create one no matter what time of year it is. See the graphic below: 

Given the time of the year, what time period should you plan for?

If you are in Q1 or Q2 you still have at least 6 months of the current cycle left so it makes sense to create a plan for the year that you are in. In Q3 you still have 3-6 months left in the current year, so you can’t just focus on next year. Therefore, you should create a plan for where you want to finish the current period and a separate plan for the following year. In Q4 as we discussed, this is the perfect time to create your plan for the upcoming year.

 

Who Needs to Write a Plan?

If you manage other sales people or other sales managers, you need to write a sales plan. If you are responsible for strategic sales decisions, you need to write a sales plan. If your title has President, Director or Manager in it you need to write a sales plan. Your plan can serve as a link between individual sales contributors, between independent sales teams or between the sales department and the rest of the company. At the very least it will provide clarity to your direct reports which is your responsibility as a manager.

 


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