A great Sales Plan represents our roadmap for success.
Sales people are notoriously tactically focused. It’s an advantage when we need sales to close “today”. It’s a disadvantage when we need to determine an annual plan of attack for “tomorrow”.
We must work smarter, not harder, if we want to make more than just sales goals “this quarter”. We need to set aside some time to develop a plan, measure its impact on an ongoing basis, and make necessary adjustments.
First and foremost, our Sales Plan needs to be our working action plan, not a document that sits on someone’s shelf gathering dust.
- Keep it simple. The real value of our sales plan is the thought we put into it. It should initially be in bullet-form on a couple of pages; we are the only target reader at this stage.
- Identify what we plan to do differently versus last quarter, why we think it will work, and how we will measure progress. We cannot afford to wait a few quarters to determine if it worked or not! We need to identify key indicators that will help us understand if it’s on track or needs to be adjusted.
- Identify what we are going to de-focus on, and why. There is only 24 hours in a day! If you’re going to focus more on one thing, and not focus less on something else, you’re not being realistic.
Once our plan is complete, then we can add words and paragraphs to clarify our plan for others.
Our plan is only useful if we actually use it!
- Once a month we should remind ourselves of the plan and evaluate whether we are on track.
- Once a quarter we should evaluate our plan and make any necessary adjustments to future quarters.
- We should maintain a plan for a rolling 4 quarter period of time. Every time your manager wants to understand your plan of action, or every Q4 when you need to quickly create a plan for next fiscal year, you will be thankful to have this 4 quarter view in hand!
Our Sales Plan Checklist For Best Sales Strategies
Beyond blocking and tackling, the biggest impact we can make as leaders is to ensure our team is going in the best direction to overachieve our goals.
It’s not a productive use of time to “boil the ocean” and question all our sales strategies. Let’s be honest, at least 80% of what we did last year we’ll do again this year.
Our goal is to uncover a few adjustments to our prior Sales Plan that will result in a meaningful impact to sales production.
We also need to address our 3 Top Sales Objectives, which according to a survey by CSO Insights is as follows: capture new accounts (by 60% of those surveyed), increase sales effectiveness (40% of those surveyed), and optimize lead generation (40% of those surveyed).
If we have not been growing at a strong double digit rate, and faster than our competitors, here are some key issues to consider in our new Sales Plan:
Sales Strategy: Have we sufficiently adapted our sales strategy to align with our target buyer’s current online/offline/online purchasing process? According to a study by McKinsey & Company, a buyer-focused selling approach yields 10 percent sales growth, 30 percent improvement in customer loyalty/retention, and reduces the sales cycle by 10–20 percent. So maybe we should just do a quick double check of how aligned we really are:
- Jump to Sales Strategy for a detailed discussion about key takeaways, issue verification and suggested actions.
- Sales Process: Have we sufficiently adapted our sales process to support our sales strategy? According to a study by the Sales Management Association, Sales teams with a well-defined sales process (consisting of six to ten sales stages that are linked to increasing levels of prospect commitment) achieved 18% more sales growth.
- Jump to Sales Process section below for a detailed discussion.
- New Logo Business: Are we using the most cost-effective methods to develop sufficient new logo business? According to a study by Aberdeen Group, 99% of the sales organizations that figured out how to leverage the “free” leads from Marketing achieved their sales budget (versus industry average of 61%) and achieved 13.1% annual growth (versus an industry average of 4.3%).
- Jump to New Logo Business section below for detailed discussion.
- Sales Enablement: Does our Sales reps have the content they need throughout the buyer purchasing process to shorten the sales cycle and improve closure rates? According to SiriusDecisions, most of B2B Marketing content is product-centric not buyer-centric, resulting in 60-70% of B2B Marketing content going unused.
- Jump to Sales Enablement section below for detailed discussion.
- Sales Incentive Compensation: Are we actively managing our sales incentive compensation plan throughout the year by effectively motivating the right behaviors of our sales team to achieve our sales targets every quarter? According to a Corporate Executive Board Company study, Identifying and implementing the right sales compensation design can improve individual sales rep performance against goal by 11%.
- Jump to Sales Incentive Compensation section below for a detailed discussion.
- Pipeline Management Software: Are we evolving our CRM implementation to quickly manage/update our sales process to reflect the best practices of our top performers? According to a CSO Insights study, companies with a dynamic sales process enabled 66% of their reps to achieve quota (versus 53%), win more forecasted opportunities (55% versus 41%), and reduce sales turnover (from 20% down to 16%).
- Jump to Opportunity Management Software section below for detailed discussion.
Next Steps: Our Sales Engine Tune-up
Making our sales goals will continue to become “increasingly challenging” until we become better aligned with the buyer and receive consistently high quality leads from Marketing.
Let’s not repeat the mistakes of our industry colleagues, or our predecessors, in achieving consistent sales success.
- Don’t be complacent. Those who relied on simply working harder have seen the tenure of VP Sales drop to 18 months in some industries, with subsequent change-outs rippling down from the new VP throughout the sales organization. If you’re in the second half of the year, you’ll find additional insights within CSO Strategic Actions Needed To Exceed Sales Plan.
- Evolution, not revolution. We need to identify two or three adjustments that can be made this quarter, which can start delivering a measureable positive impact to sales outcomes next quarter, without too much disruption to our current activities.
- Don’t let yourself become too distracted.
- Be the sponsor, not the project leader. Bring in an experienced Sales and Marketing consultant from Marketing Outfield, with a proven history of aligning the sales force to the buyer, reaching across the aisle to help Marketing generate much better leads and content for Sales, and minimizing any negative impact to current sales production.
Your ideal consultant and partner is someone who’s worked their way up the Sales function, understands how Sales really works, but also commands respect within the Marketing function. Request a Complementary Audit Consultation from our CEO, David Hubbard, today.
Our Sales Plan Checklist
1/ Sales Strategy:
Have we sufficiently adapted our sales strategy to our target buyer’s current purchasing process?
According to a Corporate Executive Board study of more than 1,400 B2B customers across industries, 57% of a typical purchase decision is made before a customer even talks to a supplier.
At a minimum, the buyer will be self-educating online throughout their purchasing journey, whether we’re involved or not. When the buyer is self-educating for their business, their employer or their department, it is part of their job. However, the reality is it’s an add-on to their existing, overwhelming workload.
- The B2B Buyer is looking for information about industry risks, business solution options, best solutions option that fits their unique business situation, relevant solution provider comparisons, etc.
- The buyer does not want to talk to a product salesperson. If we contact them before they are ready, it will waste their time, it will waste the Sales rep’s time, and it will reduce the buyer’s trust in us.
- Really, the buyer does not want to talk to a product salesperson! They don’t want to talk to a telephone sales rep who doesn’t understand their business concerns, just to have the identical discussion with a field sales rep who also doesn’t understand their business concerns, just to sit through an in-person product pitch as if they had done no prior online research.
- However, the buyer will eventually need to talk to a trusted sales advisor. The self-educating buyer will become overwhelmed with all the information that they consumed, or reach an ill-advised conclusion on their own, and needs someone who can help guide them to an informed decision that best meets the needs of all the buyer team members.
We no longer control the narrative about our company and services. The buying team will continually be self-educating throughout their online/offline/online purchasing journey, whether we are actively engaged with them or not. They will be reading blogs and articles from various sources, checking vendor online reputation and reviews, seeking recommendations and referrals from their trusted advisors on social media, checking out the reputation of the sales representatives on social media, etc.
If we are not growing at a faster sales rate than our competitors, or if our forecasts are not reliably accurate, we may not be as aligned to the buyer as we hoped.
- Does our sales strategy continue to adapt our sales process to the evolving self-educated buyer team, increase traditional prospecting for new logo business, incorporate new online selling and prospecting skills where appropriate, expand our BDR/SDR/ Inside Sales and increase performance of our indirect channels?
- Do our reps still use a canned presentations at each of their customer meetings? By telling buyers what they already know wastes their time, frustrates them, and starts the selling process on the wrong foot.
- Is our forecast still based upon our sales rep’s rose colored glasses and happy ears? This is no longer the best approach to achieve forecast accuracy and reliability in the internet age.
- Are we tracking both lagging performance indicators (e.g. sales closed and sales cycle duration) and leading performance indicators (e.g. performance against budget assumptions and future performance with updated assumptions)
Suggested actions: Ensure our sales process is aligned with the buyer purchasing process and that everyone in the Sales Force uses the same process for pipeline management and forecasting.
Bottom Line: Are we executing the best strategy to deploy, train, and manage the resources needed to deliver the number?
Return to Checklist Summary
2/ Sales Process:
Have we sufficiently adapted our sales process to support our sales strategy and mirror the prevailing target market buying process?
The most cost effective leads are high quality leads that someone else is paying for out of their budget, not ours.
With the buyer self-educating online, there’s a lot of hype about social selling. Social Selling is simply a new skill that’s used as part of a complete strategic selling framework. Organizations who have effectively incorporated and properly leveraged social selling within their sales process (e.g. for prospect research, prospect referrals, etc.) are 79% more likely to attain their quota, according to a study by Aberdeen Group’s.
At a minimum, effective social selling techniques improve upon our proven prospecting techniques, prospect research, and turning cold calls into “warm calls”. For example:
- The social profile becomes a “social business card” to describe what value the sales person can offer a prospect (although most reps still use it primarily as a place to put their resume);
- The social connections become a dynamic rolodex of prospects and their connections, facilitating introductions and referrals into targeted accounts (although many reps just use it as a way to send pitches to potential product prospects, who usually consider it irrelevant content/spam);
- The social platform becomes a network where sales reps can quickly conduct prospecting research about the company and the contact (although many reps just use it to find out something quick about the company before calling a prospect, who quickly sees that the sales rep had access to company information but chose not to learn anything meaningful about their company before calling).
- The buyer is self-educating online/offline/online throughout their purchasing process. We must engage online and offline throughout their process.
- The self-educating buyer has online access to lots of product information. What they need now is a trusted sales advisor who can help guide them to the “right” solution that meets their business needs, not a product specialist.
If we are not aligning the right resources and sales techniques to each buyer team’s purchasing process, we may be losing deals we should have won.
- Is sales training still geared towards pitching product, or, helping guide each member of the buyer team from business problem to company solution?
- Are we still using the sales techniques throughout each stage of the sales process that we used 10 years ago, or, have we incorporated additional online social selling and prospecting techniques skills where appropriate?
- Are the sales stages for each pipeline opportunity still based upon in-person sales rep perceptions, or, buyer actions with increased commitment?
- Are all reps, including the new hires, executing against the company’s sales process, or are they executing against previously learned sales processes and playbooks from a different manager?
- Do all Sales management and reps know the difference between pipeline and forecast?
Here are 3 key actions that can help Sales better understand their target buyer, educate them, and enable the sales organizations to generate profitable revenue.
- Update our Sales process: Align our Sales selling process to our Buyer’s purchasing process, from purchasing stage to purchasing stage, online and offline, throughout each buyer team member’s purchasing process. Incorporate social selling skills where appropriate.
- Update our Sales training: We need our Sales reps to better understand the business challenges/opportunities of our target market and learn to continually probe, listen and demonstrate that we are trusted sales advisors to the buyer. Some of the information the buyer will find will be positive, some of it negative, and some of it confusing. If we have earned their trust as a trusted advisor, they will share other information that they have consumed so that we have an opportunity to put that information into proper perspective.
- Update our Forecasting process: We need to base our pipeline forecast on buyer actions and increasing levels of prospect commitment to increase forecast accuracy and reduce negative surprises at the end of a quarter. Further, if we have earned their trust as a trusted sales advisor, the buyer will help us understand what’s involved in their next purchasing stage: what’s the purpose, what’s their process, who’s involved, how long will it typically take? That will give us the opportunity to suggest actions that could shorten the purchasing process and give us an order sooner.
Bottom Line: Does our sales process enable our field organization to shorten the sales cycle, increase our closure rate and consistently submit accurate forecasts?
Return to Checklist Summary
3/ New Logo Business Leads:
Are we using the most cost-effective methods to develop sufficient new logo business to meet increasing sales goals?
Sales organizations that have figured out how to successfully leverage Marketing-generated leads enjoyed the following success according to Aberdeen Group:
- 99% of companies achieved sales budget (versus industry average of 61%)
- 47% of the Sales forecasted pipeline was generated from marketing leads
- 75% of sales reps achieved quota (versus industry average of 50%)
- 13.1% annual growth of corporate revenue (versus an industry average of 4.3%).
- The most cost effective method for new logo business leads are ones hat the Sales function does not have to directly fund (i.e. Marketing-generated leads).
- However, only about 25% of Marketing-generated leads will eventually buy according to MarketingSherpa and others; but we currently have to go through 100% of the leads to find the ones that are worth chasing. We can’t waste our team’s valuable selling time chasing poor leads.
- We must have a solid lead qualification process in place whether we are transferring a lead from the Marketing function to the Sales function, or, from our own inside Sales/SDR/BDR groups to our field Sales groups. Sales productivity would be significantly improved by focusing on higher quality leads rather than chasing poor leads.
- Finally, if we do interact with a buyer, and subsequently determine that the lead is not sales-ready yet, what do we do next? If we stop interacting with the prospect and move on to another lead that can hopefully make our goals for the quarter, we encourage the prospect to go elsewhere. We need a cost-effective process that keeps these potential prospects moving through their decision process and pre-disposed to our solutions until they become sales-ready prospects.
- What percentage of Marketing-generated leads turn into Sales forecasted opportunities? Or more importantly, what percentage of Marketing-generated leads waste Sales time.
- What percentage of Sales-generated pipeline leads turn into Sales forecasted opportunities? Or more importantly, are they generating enough leads of high quality?
We could reduce our risk of missing the number, and have more selling versus qualification time, if we clearly defined the kind of information that each Marketing-generated lead must have before committing valuable field selling time on it.
- What is the lead’s industry, primary business challenge, size of company, installation location, buyer persona, estimated timeframe for company decision, expected budget range?
- What information have they consumed from us so far? They could have “viewed” three web pages but only stayed on each page for 2 seconds, or, filled in a form to get some “compelling” content and didn’t read it because it wasn’t what they thought it would be. That’s not consumption!
- Have they been offered, but declined, an opportunity to communicate with our representative via chat, email, scheduled call, or scheduled meeting?
Bottom Line: Are we confident we will generate the right type of high-quality leads that will achieve our sales goals?
Return to Checklist Summary
4/ Sales Enablement:
Are we delivering the right content, to the right seller, at the right time, to shorten the sales cycle and increase closure rates?
There’s just not enough content that meets the needs of the existing sales process or the buyer. Even though Marketing has increased content for blogs and social media, for example, the majority of Sales representatives have difficulty finding tailored selling content when they need it, according to a study by Qvidian.
- Most of the existing content does not address the buyer’s business issues, questions and concerns that ultimately come up throughout a buyer journey.
- The right content from Marketing could help shorten the sales cycle and increase closure rates.
- The right content and messaging from Marketing could enable effective social selling techniques.
- What content does Sales have to facilitate the buyer through each stage of their purchasing journey?
- What content does Sales have to address common buyer concerns throughout the purchasing process?
- Does your Sales reps have to create buyer-oriented content?
While we can’t dictate how Marketing generates its content, Sales management can specify the information our Sales reps would use if it was made available. Define a couple of pieces of content that would help our sales team the most and ask Marketing to deliver, for example.
- We need a business document to address the concerns of the CEOs of mid-sized not-for-profit (NFP) organizations in choosing a cloud solution over an on-premises solution, particularly as it relates to donor privacy, NFP data security, and cost of ownership.
- We need a customer case study for small and medium sized businesses (SMB) in the manufacturing industry that discusses their business challenges and opportunities, why they chose our solution, how easy the implementation was, and whether the solution solved their business problems.
Bottom Line: Are we guiding Marketing in the type of content that both the Sales organization and the buyer team need to reach an informed purchasing decision sooner?
Return to Checklist Summary
5/ Sales Incentive Compensation:
Do we have a motivated, focused and confident sales force, every day of the week, which are demonstrating the right behaviors that will result in increased sales?
Are we actively managing the sales incentive compensation plan throughout the year to effectively motivate the right behaviors that will lead to increased sales outcomes?
Key takeaway: If we are only rewarding quota attainment, and not focusing enough on motivating the right behaviors and skills that will result in increased quotas, we are not effectively managing for superior sales performance.
- Does the comp plan motivate the various selling channels (e.g. inside sales, partner sales, account sales) to focus effectively across the customer’s entire purchasing journey (renewal, existing customer new business, new logo business), or, is there channel conflict that reduces sales productivity and motivation?
- Does the comp plan clearly establish quota and incentive compensation policies across the various selling channels to drive the right behavior (inside sales, partner sales, account sales), or, are they being compensated based on someone closing the sale?
- Is it clear to every sales person what our priorities are? Or asked differently, do we routinely remind them how they can maximize their income and be rewarded for their contribution to the company?
- Will the sales organization receive full support from the company? Or asked differently, does the comp plan align the C-suite’s revenue and product strategy, the CMO’s Marketing strategy, the CSO’s Sales strategy, and our sales process? It is clear that we want them to sell more Product A and less Product B?
- Do the deployed quota goals represent outcomes that the sales person can realistically and directly deliver, or, do they think that management is over reaching?
- Does the plan use an effective mix of quota, hurdles, accelerators, quarterly MBOs, SPIFs, certifications, awards, recognition, gamification training? Or, are you over-relying on lagging indicators?
There are plenty of factors that we need to re-visit at the end of every quarter including
- It’s never too late to educate, clarify, and motivate. Look for opportunities that were missed in the original rollout. Ensure every month there are programs designed to review, clarify, re-enforce and re-motivate. Ensure every Sales rep is reminded of the best way under the plan to maximize their personal commissions and be recognized for their contributions.
- It’s never too late to identify improvements. Conduct quarterly interviews with representatives from each of the primary stakeholder groups to understand what they think is working well, what they think is “ok”, and what is not working very well. Identify areas where the various individual plans do not align well with the sales strategy or the desired customer experience. Make thoughtful adjustments to plan whenever possible.
- It’s never too late to do course corrections. Take immediate action if the sales performance metrics are starting to go off plan. Don’t wait until the last week in the last quarter for a miracle to happen! Use MBOs, recognition awards, contests, new initiatives supported by SPIFs to increase new logo business. Work with Marketing, Product Management and Inside Sales to develop campaigns to increase existing customer retention and growth. Whatever you do, never, never, never adjust the core of your incentive plan in the middle of a fiscal year or you risk losing trust and your top performers!
If we believe in the comp plan, let’s sell it, often! Or, if we don’t believe in it, let’s fix it, today!
Bottom Line: Incentive Sales Compensation needs be actively managed to effectively motivate the right behaviors to deliver the right outcomes.
Return to Checklist Summary
6/ Opportunity Management:
Does our Sales Force Automation/CRM help us all effectively manage sales performance?
The extra time it takes Sales reps to enter data and manage their activities doesn’t seem to be substantially improving company revenue growth. According to CSO Insights only 37% of a sales representative’s time is actually available for selling and according to Aberdeen Group only 50% of the Sales reps make quota.
Sales Force Automation (SFA) software is supposed to enable sales performance, unfortunately, most of them come with more complexity for the sales rep. In contrast, solutions are emerging for small and medium businesses (SMB) that focus more on the user experience.
- Update your existing CRM (e.g. Salesforce) with add-in software (e.g. Pipeline Manager) that is specifically designed to empower the sales rep to be more productive and effective, plus, empower the sales manager to quickly and easily update the sales process to reflect prevailing field best practices.
- Migrate your outdated CRM to a fully integrated sales and marketing system (e.g. integrated sales and marketing automation with CRM from Hubspot or InfusionSoft)
Key takeaway: The right software tools are available today but they must be properly implemented to support our Sales objectives and processes: facilitate the right behaviors, effectively manage the pipeline, increase available selling time, improve sales closure rates, and deliver accurate forecasts.
- Can we easily and quickly update the sales process so that new learnings and best practices from our top performers are quickly shared throughout the team and executed immediately?
- Does the CRM represent “one source of the truth” or are there various pieces of critical information also on spreadsheets and other systems?
- Are all the Sales reps’ deals in the CRM system so that our managers have the necessary visibility to manage sales performance? (If not, this should not be tolerated: warn reps that any deal that is not fully disclosed in the CRM at least x weeks before closure will not be earn full commission under our Plan.)
- Key Priority: Update our CRM to empower the sales reps to be more productive and effective, plus, empower the sales managers to quickly and easily update the sales process to reflect prevailing field best practices.
Bottom Line: Sales leadership must be directly involved to ensure the Sales CRM is meeting the process requirements of its primary beneficiary: Sales representatives and Sales management.
Return to Checklist Summary
Achieve Superior Sales Performance From Your Team
Our sales generation engine consists of a lot of moving parts. We don’t have to adjust everything, just the sales strategies that are critical to this year’s success.
Get an expert tune-up of your sales engine today. Contact Marketing Outfield for a Complementary Audit Consultation