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How to Create a Foolproof Sales Plan | Ideas, Challenges, and Goals
sales plan

Running a business without a sales plan is a recipe for disaster. If you’re anything like most small business owners and entrepreneurs, you’re winging it. That means taking your sales day by day – maybe with some vague goals in mind. 

The US President Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Plans are useless, but planning is essential.” Or, to paraphrase a similar quote: “No plan survives first contact with the customer.”

So, why bother creating a sales plan for your product-based business? The answer is to set your direction, not hammer out the details. Ask yourself, which areas do you want to drive your business from? What are you doing to achieve your goals? 

Unless you take the time to sit down and write out your plan, it’s a lot harder to grow the business and meet your objectives. 

In this article:

What is a Sales Plan?

what is a sales plan

Let’s cut any confusion: a sales plan is all about your objectives, high-level tactics, and obstacles. In your plan, you don’t fret over the details. Rather, you outline the major strategies and goals for you and your sales team. 

Common aspects to include:

  • Target sales figures
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Defined sales channels
  • Detailed description of your target customers

That’s just for starters. Plans might not withstand reality; however, they’re a chance to brainstorm potential obstacles and challenges that might arise. Think about how you’d solve each challenge, the biggest impediments to growth, and any proactive steps you can take to keep your business on track. 

What Should Your Sales Plan Goals Be? 

Sales Plan Goals

The biggest part of a sales plan is a set of concrete goals. Forget wishy-washy objectives like “I’d like to sell more this year.” Targets aren’t abstract; they’re quantifiable. 

Goal setting is a psychological mind field. If you go too low, you fail to accomplish your business’s potential. Too high, however, and your failure can demoralise you going forward. That being said, people are almost always capable of more than they expect.

Here’s a story: a salesperson is told by their mentor that, on average, they should be closing deals with 80% of the people who come to watch a talk. That became his benchmark, his goal. Initially, the salesperson was so far off it seemed impossible. But gradually, they refined their talk, tweaked their messaging, and tried every strategy under the sun (and in the book). Step by step, their success rate rose: 40%, 55%, then 65%. 

Shortly after, they spoke to their mentor. They’d achieved 65% but just couldn’t seem to close the final 15%. The mentor looked at them, astonished. “I meant 18%,” she said. 

Too often, our goals become limitations. That’s why setting goals isn’t a one-time deal; it’s continuous. Once you’ve achieved one set of goals, you set more. Constant feedback and constant reporting are critical. 

Fundamentally, your goals should be to:

  1. Set clear goals and objectives for your company
  2. Outline key performance indicators and benchmarks to measure success
  3. Provide strategic direction
  4. Details of individual roles and responsibilities

Common Hurdles in Sales Planning

Lack of Time and Effort

Sales Planning

Let’s be frank: the main reason small business owners don’t create a sales plan is they don’t see the point. People often say, “I don’t have the time.” But we make time for the things that are important; we clear our schedule. 

You need to change your mindset. It’s not really about the plan. It’s about sitting down and being realistic about what you can achieve, where you want to get those sales from, and where your business is heading right now. 

Of course, as someone once said to me, “If I don’t really try, then I won’t ever fail.” Setting goals is a risk – we risk failure. But you’re running a business; risk is part and parcel of the job. 

Superstitions and Fear of Target Setting

Sounds silly, right? But I bet you’re as guilty of it as everyone else. There’s a feeling that if you set your goals, you’re “tempting fate.” Again, this is the wrong mindset. Planning isn’t prophecy. You’re not trying to guess your exact sales figure in a year’s time, any more than Usain Bolt predicted his 100m Olympics Record before he ran the race.

The core problem is fear. Fear of failure. However, the reality is that without a clear plan, you’re doomed to fail; whatever your plan is, the results are likely to be better than without one. That’s the real success. 

Balancing Ambition and Realism

Sales Planning 2024

Demotivation and demoralisation as a business owner isn’t abstract; it’s a clear and present danger. If you say you will take £25,000 a month in your business, that’s a tall order if you are currently at £1,000. Your goal should be incremental.

Only in the West do we want success now but yesterday. There is another approach. Kaizen is a Japanese concept of continuous improvement. Literally meaning “good change,” kaizen philosophy focuses on small incremental changes that create an impact over time. So, start with £5,000, then £10,000 and so on. 

Managing Uncertainty in Goal Setting

Never set any goals before? Where do you even begin? It’s a common question. Start by looking at your past performance. Say you took £4,000 in July, then £6,000 in August. Maybe you could say let’s keep that trajectory. So, you aim for £7,000 in, say, October and £10,000 by January next year.

Be reasonable. Break everything down, budget for any problems (e.g., seasonal lulls in business), and set realistic targets. And, if you fail to meet them, it’s a chance to analyse what you did well or badly. How could you improve? What’s the next step you need to take?

How to Create a Sales Plan

Create a Sales Plan

1. Establish a Framework

Your sales goal, i.e., the money you want to bring in, is only one pillar of your plan. You can include other aspects – for example, I’ve talked previously about setting a stock goal or looking at cash flow.

Stock goals, in particular, are critical. You need to forecast the amount of stock you need and ensure you have the money on hand to pay for it. 

Of course, it’s nigh-on impossible to know precisely where your sales will come from. But as you estimate, you’ll gradually become more accurate over time. Creating a sales plan is a skill like anything else. Nonetheless, you should map out your sales plan month by month, channel by channel. 

2. Move from Reactive to Proactive Management

Your plan should never be reactive. The big question is, “What can I do more to help me push my sales forward?” Shifting your mindset to a proactive approach works wonders. It shifts everything.

Planning also highlights upcoming pitfalls. For example, if you exceed your sales plan target in January, you’ll need to alter your stock plan; otherwise, you could run out. Don’t just wait for your stock levels to run low. 

Being adaptable in your strategy means being ready to adjust based on market trends and customer feedback. It’s about anticipating changes rather than just responding to them.

3. Set and Adjust Goals

In your sales plan, setting clear, achievable goals is fundamental. Start by setting annual targets, then break these down into quarterly and monthly goals. Additionally, be prepared to adjust these goals as necessary. Market conditions change, new competitors may emerge, and customer preferences can shift, so flexibility in your goal-setting is key.

These goals should be specific, measurable, and relevant to upcoming events in your business calendar. For instance, if you’re planning an ad campaign or have a big piece of PR coming up, factor this into your sales goals. 

4. Measure Success and Celebrate Achievements

There’s a tendency among business owners (especially the type A, competitive types) to have an amazing month and smash their sales goals, only to think it could have been better. That’s a dangerous mindset. Everything could always be better. And, if you get stuck in this treadmill mindset, you’ll never win; you’ll always be grinding away.

That’s why celebrating your successes is as important as measuring them. Remember, the only comparison that matters is with yourself yesterday. If your business is growing, if you’re succeeding, enjoy your success. 

Closing Thoughts

strategic sales plan

Tell me, do you plan your sales for your business? What’s stopping you? If you’re worried about tempting fate, it’s time to get over your fear. Just write something down. Don’t let the number intimidate you; let it motivate you. 

And remember, you’re not alone. Join our Five-Day Challenge to plan your year. Running from 5th to 9th February, we help Resilient Retail Club members create a sales plan with our step-by-step guide. Become a member today and get 50% off your first month (see Membership page for further details).

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