If running a business is a journey, a sales plan is the roadmap; without one, you’re going to be lost. On the other hand, a great sales plan can lead you straight to success.
But it's not easy to hit that bullseye of a challenging but achievable sales plan. Setting your sights too low means your business won't reach its full potential, while setting unrealistic goals can lead to avoidable failure and low morale. Coming up with the right plan requires a multifaceted understanding not only of your business, but also of your customers.
The literal nuts-and-bolts definition of a sales plan is that it's the blueprint of how your business is going to acquire new business and expand and enrich the partnerships you already have. It lays out specific sales quotas and targets, along with strategies for how to achieve those goals.
The big picture definition is that a sales plan is a boots-on-the-ground, day-to-day plan for your business to follow so that the brain trust can refine the overall vision of the company without getting bogged down responding to daily or weekly developments.
At Clever Real Estate, we've consistently used our sales plans to chart a course for year-over-year success. Here are some of the methods that have worked for us.
Define your customers
You can't effectively sell anything until you understand who you're selling to. That means you have to come up with a detailed, constantly-evolving profile of your ideal customer. Everything starts there.
Where do they live? What do they do for a living? What social media platforms and tools do they use? What resources do they turn to for information? These questions and many more are going to shape your profile of your ideal customer.
Make sure you compile and constantly update your ideal customer profile, too. It's an indispensable tool to assess potential markets and leads and save your sales team from wasting time and resources on unfruitful pursuits.
Note that right off the bat, this effort at defining your customer market is going to act as a mirroring exercise. If you have difficulty defining your customers, it's likely because there's some aspect of your business that remains vague and undefined. Thinking hard about your values, your vision and your goals can often bring your customers into clearer focus.
Choose targeted sales strategies
A great targeted sales strategy is one that perfectly interlocks your customer's journey with your own responses and actions. So before you plan those actions, you have to understand what your customer is going to do.
Mapping the customer's journey
The customer journey is the map of how your ideal customer goes from prospect to loyal customer.
How is that first contact being made? What needs and desires move them to make that first contact? What problem do they have and how does your business solve it? What is their budget? What features are important to them, and why? Understanding your customer's mindset and needs at every step of this journey helps you shape an effective approach.
It's also helpful to think about your ideal customer's interactions with competitors and their past buying experiences. Think about your specific value proposition in the context of how it improves upon what your competitors offer. Understanding your ideal customer's past buying experiences and the considerations that likely guided those decisions can help you adapt your sales strategy going forward.
Understanding your competitive advantage
Sales doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Just as the ideal sales strategy happens in tandem with and in response to your customer's actions, your sales strategy should also respond to your competitors. That's where understanding your competitive advantage comes in.
Your competitive advantage is what you do better than the competition. If you don’t have a well-defined idea of what that is yet, you can start by asking yourself questions like these: why would a customer buy from us and not our competitors? Why would a customer buy from a competitor and not from us? Why would some customers not buy at all?
Thinking about these questions can help triangulate exactly where your competitive advantage lies, which can help you refine your sales strategy.
Think benefits, not features
One note on the competitive advantage: make sure you emphasize what you do for your customers, as opposed to simply stating what you do. In other words, the benefits are much more meaningful to customers than the features are.
Let's say your company is the leading innovator in your industry, offering services that your competitors don't. Resist the impulse to write company-centric messaging that plays up your position in the industry. You're right to be proud of your accomplishments, but your customers want to know what you offer them. Be careful to articulate what you can do for your customers, rather than what you do better than the competition.
Small messaging adjustments like this can make a huge difference in your sales strategy.
Once you've created your sales plan, your next step is to come up with a system to measure success. Setting goals allows you to hold yourself accountable, and track what does and, just as importantly, what doesn't work. Here are a few tips on how to set goals that will help your business flourish.
Make sure your goals are realistic
Your goals should be created as carefully as your sales plan. Objectively assess the resources of your sales team, and the size and state of your market before you come up with your target numbers. Setting unrealistic goals can be toxic to your workforce. Just as success begets confidence and more success, failure can beget more failure.
Look to the past
Review the previous year's sales plan, and see how your performance exceeded or fell short of the goals you set for your company. Was your plan flawed, or did unforeseen circumstances intervene? What factors led to success or failure, and what can you learn from that? How did your company react to that success or failure?
Stick to your goals
If you find yourself far exceeding or falling very short of your goals, it can be tempting to adjust them. Resist that temptation. Moving the goalposts can be demoralizing to your sales team, and there are valuable lessons to be learned from discomfort.
Besides, business works on cycles that can surprise us all, and that dire shortfall in March could turn into an amazing excess by October.
Once your goals are set, ask the team to weigh in. No one knows the sales environment better than the salespeople who work in it every day, and they'll have surprising insights to offer. The same goes for management, who can offer big-picture advice that can put things into perspective.
Remember, above all, that your sales goals and quotas are targets; they represent guesses and hopes, not hard data. If your team puts forth maximum effort and still falls short, understand that sometimes failure isn't anyone's fault.
So you've assessed your sales plan, set goals and refined them after extensive consultation with your team. But before you're off to the races, you should put a system in place to track your progress as you go. After all, a far-off goal at the end of the year isn't all that useful as motivation; on the contrary, it can seem so remote that it encourages complacency.
Put incremental milestones in place, to track your progress in smaller chunks. Weekly or monthly quotas and deadlines, if they're realistic and achievable, can be great motivators, and it allows you to see if you're on track to meet big-picture goals.
Hold bi-weekly or monthly meetings to assess your progress and solicit feedback. These meetings are great opportunities to keep motivation high and adjust to any challenges that come up. Don't forget to recognize outstanding performers on your sales team.
A sales plan and a calendar of deadlines can sound restricting, but in reality, the opposite is true. Having a defined roadmap to execute, and a timeline to do it on eliminates uncertainty and anxiety and gives your team all the runway it needs to excel.