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Building and developing a sales strategy plan is arguably the most crucial activity your business will engage in. Whether focused on B2B sales strategy, inbound, outbound, small-to-medium business (SMB) or enterprise, the company needs a dependable source of income to survive.
The key to achieving dependable revenue is in tying specific sales activity to solid, thoughtful, and data-backed objectives formed with the company’s long-term goals in mind.
While proponents of the adage stop planning, start doing have a point in case (no sales strategy plan succeeds without execution) I would argue it’s akin to the famous idiom shoot first, ask questions later.
Without a sales strategy plan in place, sales reps and directors make decisions based on what is in front of them at that given time. Not because they’re careless or foolish, but rather unaware of the company’s long-term goals. As a result, it becomes challenging to tie sales activity to specific data-backed objectives.
So, to create dependable, long-lasting growth throughout the business, sales directors need a strategy. And that, ladies and gents, starts with a solid sales strategy plan.
What is a sales strategy plan?
A sales strategy plan is a company’s roadmap for securing dependable, long-term revenue through the retention and acquisition of new and existing customers.
They typically encompass everything from specific tactics, market strategy, processes, objectives, forecasting, budgeting, and timeline. Also, plans vary in length, often spanning over a year, maybe two, with an added focus to each fiscal quarter.
Most businesses’ sales strategy plans are top-down, with revenue targets commonly stipulated by investors, shareholders, and other C-Level executives with a vested financial interest in the company. These are either achieved through the increase of revenue, reduction in expenses, or a combination of both.
How to develop a sales strategy plan
As I just mentioned, its those at the top that generally implement sales strategy plans. Someone decides on an arbitrary revenue or growth figure based on external factors, divides the number evenly amongst sales territories, and hits the trigger button.
The problem with this approach is that it’s far too simplistic. It fails to take into account which markets and territories could support the most growth, the continually evolving customer journey, competitors, market maturity, etc.
Consequently, these poorly-planned strategies lose traction over time, create confusion amongst the sales team, and fail to achieve their overall objectives.
So, to build a successful sales strategy plan directors should follow this five-stage sales strategy plan template:
- Put the customer at the center of your business
- Align with overall business goals
- SWOT Analysis
- Go-to-customer strategy
- Setting goals
Every company starts and ends with its customers. Period. This is why how you hold your customers, or the customer experience you want to create, is the driving force behind all sales strategy plans.
While customer experience isn’t exclusively a sales issue, we inevitably find ourselves communicating with them daily as they build their primary relationships with our brand.
Therefore, the experience they have with the sales team shapes their opinion of the company, and in extension, how they share that experience with their peers or through social networks, either good or bad.
As a result, customer experience is critical to the success of the sales strategy plan, forcing sales teams to think about:
- How they want their customers to view the brand?
- Around which fundamental values do they want to build their customer experience?
- Are the field reps aware and communicating appropriately during their face-to-face visits?
What I’m trying to say is, before engaging in budget talks, sales forecasting, and annual sales objectives, the entire organization and sales team need to put the customer at the heart of everything. They need to take an outside-in approach to the sales plan and consider what kind of experience they’d like to create.
The sales team is responsible for executing the corporate strategy. Sure, marketing, customer success, and other internal and external communication programs play a part in creating awareness around the brand, but it’s sales that get the job done.
It’s important to note that this means more than just hitting target revenue. Senior executives are concerned about market positioning, maturity, customer perception, and what they stand for as a brand. As a result, they will have various goals other than pure revenue, such as:
- Increase market share
- New product line revenue
- Increase share of wallet
- Territorial expansion
The “big picture” enterprise goals must be taken into consideration when building a sales strategy plan. If not, the entire future of the organization is put in jeopardy.
Let me give you an example.
Imagine you are given an annual target revenue of $99m at a company with three primary service plans.
The first represents your traditional business model, the one your sales team has sold for years. It’s a maturing market, and your company has a solid reputation and an established client base.
The second service plan is an ambitious entry into a new vertical and market segment. It’s a potentially lucrative gamble being a relatively unexplored segment, but the sales team lacks experience and reputation.
The third and final service plan requires expansion into a new sales territory. Again, this is an unexplored ground that senior executives have earmarked for potential in the future.
As the sales director, you have two options to hit your target revenue of $99m. You could:
- Focus on your traditional service plan. Your sales team knows the market well, has an established reputation amongst industry leaders, and with a bit of luck, could reach target revenue without worrying too much about the success of the new service plans.
- Develop a sales strategy plan balanced across all three. You might decide to split your annual revenue target into three, smaller $33m pieces – one for each service plan. You choose to reallocate resources and training budget to help with the two untested plans.
If it were you, what option would you choose? Option 1 or Option 2?
Hopefully, you avoided the potential trap of Option 1.
While it may bring you short-term success (your target is to hit $99m after all), the long-term future of the company is at risk. Investments made within these new divisions that widen the organization’s revenue plan may be forced to scale back or shut down completely, severely impacting the company’s long-term growth strategy.
Another critical step in building a sales strategy plan is SWOT analysis. This tactic is handy when assessing the challenges your organization faces when venturing into a new market or under pressure from increasing competition, by looking at a company’s:
By analyzing each of these areas, businesses can build on their strengths, mitigate their weaknesses, uncover new opportunities while blunting the various threats that may crop up down the line.
So how do you undertake a SWOT analysis?
First of all, you will need to allocate an hour, maybe two, to gather a diverse group of colleagues (both internal and external if possible) as well as company leadership. This diversity is critical in providing differing perspectives on each of the four points of your SWOT analysis.
Once you’ve gathered everybody, I recommend handing out a pad of sticky notes and asking each person to come up with five separate points for each quadrant. Doing this exercise first gives every member of the team a voice while reducing the pressure of “group think.”
To help in your analysis mull over some of the following questions:
- What are your most substantial assets?
- Which of those assets would you consider the strongest and why?
- What is unique about your company?
- What advantages do you hold over your competitors?
- How skilled are your sales team?
- Which of the business processes are most successful?
- What are the potential areas for improvement?
- What is it customers are saying they would like to see more of?
- Are there any physical or tangible assets the company lacks?
- Are there skill gaps within the sales team?
- Where do your competitors have an edge?
- What are some of the current market trends?
- Is the market expanding or constricting?
- Are there any upcoming industry events?
- Do you need to consider any upcoming regulatory changes?
- Is your chief competitor losing traction with their customer base?
- Is there something clear and obvious missing from your market?
- Are there any competitors that could be a potential threat in the future?
- Is the current customer base satisfied with your services?
- Is the sales team happy?
- Is customer behavior changing?
- Are there any legal threats facing the company in the near future?
Once you’ve completed this exercise, you should end up with a prioritized list of points up for debate amongst the leadership group. You can then convert these points to real-time strategy and add actionable objectives to the sales strategy plan.
This section of the sales strategy plans focuses on how, as an organization, you can most effectively reach your target customer base.
Figuring out the pros and cons, risks, and costs to all the possible routes to your customers is an extremely time-consuming, complex task. Sales directors must look at:
- Field sales
- Inside sales
- Channel partners
Each route also has its subset of implementations, such as SDRs, territory account management, product specialists, outsourced lead scoring, the primary account managers…the list is truly endless!
What’s more, the go-to-customer strategy is a continually evolving process that needs constant revision to match real-time market changes.
Fortunately for us, sales author David Brock came up with three questions to help analyze core issues within the customer-go-to strategy:
- How do we find and engage all our target customers?
- What’s the most effective method in engaging them?
- How can we achieve this at the lowest possible cost/risk?
So let’s start by answering our first question.
To do that, we need to know who our customers are. Now, this doesn’t include everyone; you need to identify your company’s “sweet spot.” What is your company the absolute best at doing in the world, and who benefits from it?
As soon as we begin to move away from that sweet spot, the quicker the win rate plummets and the costlier the sales cycle becomes.
To answer the second question, we need to look at our customer’s buying process. How do they initiate contact with the business? Is the first touch online, or through outreach via the outside sales team? How do they want to buy from us?
The simplest and easiest way to find out is by asking your customers.
Finally, after settling on the customer’s preferred method or process of engagement, how can we achieve this with the lowest cost/risk? The most economic risk deployment model is rarely the cheapest, so strike a balance between both customer and budget allowance.
Now that we’ve taken an in-depth look at our organizational objectives, market positioning, customers, and devised a go-to strategy, it’s time to put this all together with some actionable goals.
Setting goals for sales reps is mandatory. Not only as necessary incentives that push them to the limit, but also for keeping their activity aligned to overall business objectives.
This is why all sales goals should follow the SMART principle:
The more specific you can be when setting sales goals, the more likely your team is to hit them.
Their primary goal is probably to increase revenue. So instead of giving them an arbitrary figure, ask yourself how much would you like to increase revenue? By when? Why? And How? The more specific you can be, the better.
To evaluate your field sales team’s progress, asses them against some form of quantitative yardstick. If not, how can we know they’re on track or, more importantly, if they are falling short, how we can interject and provide the necessary support?
When setting goals, directors need to toe a fine line between ambition and reality. Yes, we want ambitious objectives that force our reps to go above and beyond what’s expected, but on the flip side, set them too high, and it has the opposite effect – demoralizing and alienating the team from management.
Find that sweet spot somewhere in the middle, and you’ll find your reps much more driven to carry out your sales strategy plan.
The sales goals directors and managers set have to be tied to a relevant, quantitative objective. It goes back to the point I made earlier regarding corporate alignment. If the sales strategy plan fails to execute the bigger picture set out by the company executives, then its future success and longevity are put in jeopardy.
Let’s take a look at a quick example.
Imagine our corporate team tasks us with increasing market share by 20% over the next financial year.
As sales directors, we must decide on the most cost-effective yet risk-averse strategy to achieve that goal. One option would be to increase our Share of Wallet by boosting customer retention figures or reducing churn.
Now, an actionable sales objective for our reps would be to improve our customer satisfaction ranking, or in other words, where a customer places us against our competitors in loyalty and satisfaction.
Finally, our sales goals need an expiry date. If sales reps believe they have all year to hit their objectives, then where’s the incentive? Again, it will need to be achievable as I alluded to earlier, but with just enough stick to get things moving at the business end of the quarter.
Well, I hope that’s given you a head start when developing your next sales strategy plan! Just remember, there is no one-size-fits-all sales plan. Customize the sales strategy plan template provided to fit your needs, those of the organization, and their goals.