Learning how to write a sales plan is an important step in scaling your company. A sales plan is the foundation of an effective go-to-market strategy and an important way to align your sales and marketing efforts.
I’ve been part of various sales teams across the B2B software world — both as a sales leader and a direct report — for the past 15 years. At York IE, I’ve helped many of our Advisory as a Service clients build and implement their sales plans from scratch.
Here are the nine steps I follow to write a sales plan:
- Recap key milestones
- Review company objectives
- Analyze your product list
- Plan marketing activities
- Identify GTM motions
- Define the customer lifecycle
- Study your KPIs
- Forecast your growth plan
- Set goals
Read on to learn some best practices and download a sales plan template to help you get started.
Sales Plan Template
Table of Contents
- What Is a Sales Plan?
- How to Write a Sales Plan
- Benefits of a Sales Plan
- Tips for Writing an Effective Sales Plan
- Successful Sales Plans by Company Stage
- Sales Plan Template
What Is a Sales Plan?
A sales plan is a comprehensive document that outlines your company’s sales and marketing goals and the strategies you will employ to accomplish them. An effective sales plan should encompass your entire go-to-market motion, including business development, marketing, lead generation and partnerships.
Sales plans are typically created on a yearly (or sometimes quarterly) basis to help set the long-term direction for your company.
It’s easy to tell when a company has an effective sales plan and when they don’t. Companies that effectively align their sales and marketing teams achieve 3X higher revenue than businesses that don’t, according to Wheelhouse Advisors.
Leaders at early-stage companies might feel like writing a sales plan involves a little bit of guesswork. That’s normal. Each time you build a new plan, you’ll have an opportunity to generate more sales data that will make your next plan more realistic and concrete. As you scale to the later stages, you’ll become more confident in your sales plan.
How to Write a Sales Plan
To write a sales plan, follow these nine steps:
1. Recap Key Milestones
Carl Sagan once said, “You have to know the past to understand the present.”
He probably wasn’t talking about sales plans, but the quote still applies. Before you build an action plan for the next year, you’ll want to retrace a timeline of key milestones: founding, key hires, acquisition, big wins, etc. This gives you context into how your company has evolved and the velocity of growth. Before you establish new goals, it’s nice to know what’s been possible in the past.
2. Review Company Objectives
What are the big-picture milestones you hope to achieve in the next year? Are you working towards securing startup funding? Do you hope to sell the whole company? Open a new office? Establish these major goals before you go further so you can set clear expectations, guide your colleagues and have tangible metrics that hold you accountable.
3. Analyze Your Product List
It’s time to do an inventory check on your sales activities. List every product or service you plan to offer over the next year. For each, identify the features, product description and buyer personas. Look back to the previous year to determine the average deal size and the length of the sales cycle for each product. You’ll now have a better idea of how sales from each product help you arrive at your ultimate revenue goal.
4. Plan Marketing Activities
In many cases, you’ll need to generate leads via marketing activities. Consider all of your marketing channels: content, social media, events, website traffic, partnerships, referrals and so on. Let’s say X amount of marketing leads allowed you to achieve Y revenue last year. If your goal is to double revenue, how will you double the leads to support your sales funnel?
5. Identify GTM Motions
Now that you’ve worked through your marketing-qualified leads (MQLs), it’s time to think about sales-qualified leads (SQLs). Which channels — inbound, outbound, partners, upselling — produced your SQLs last year? If you’re trying to increase revenue, which channels should be your priority?
6. Define the Customer Lifecycle
What does it take to turn a prospect into a loyal customer? Determine how long the sales process takes and what resources you need to get the desired results.
An ideal customer lifecycle progresses through the following stages:
- Sales qualification
- Sales pipeline
- Closed won
- Customer receives value from the product
- Opportunity for cross-sell and upsell
Defining this cycle will help you gain insights into customer behavior, identify areas for improvement, and develop strategies to maximize retention.
7. Study Your KPIs
Here’s where data-driven feedback comes into play. It’s important to chart your KPIs over the past three years (if that data is available) to determine what outcomes you can expect this year.
The sales team should pay attention to data such as monthly recurring revenue (MRR), bookings margin, net retention and SQL conversion rate. On the marketing side, you’ll track inbound leads, conversion rates and website traffic.
If all the conversion metrics stay the same, how many deals with your average deal size do you need to close? Which metrics need to increase for you to get where you need to be?
8. Forecast Your Growth Plan
To increase revenue, you often need to hire new talent or implement new technology to help you get there.
List out the members of your sales team and their sales quotas. Will this get you to your revenue goals, or should you plan on hiring more salespeople? Do the same for marketing, but focus on their lead generation efforts. Could better use of your CRM help you become more efficient?
9. Set Goals
Now that you’ve done all of this inspecting and reviewing, it’s time to get actionable! Identify the key objectives for the sales and marketing teams — and always be sure that these objectives are contributing to your revenue goal. Goal setting is a great way to motivate your team and give them tangible benchmarks to measure up against.
Benefits of a Sales Plan
The benefits of a sales plan include:
- increased efficiency;
- better alignment;
- easier revenue goal attainment; and
- data-driven performance feedback.
Building a detailed sales plan is a goal-setting exercise for your sales and marketing teams. Departments will come together to agree upon the targets that your company will aim for. This ensures that everyone is aligned toward the same goals and understands the purpose of their day-to-day activities.
Within your plan, you’ll identify the most important sales and marketing metrics and see which targets you hit at year’s end. This direct, numerical feedback can be important as you tweak your strategy to increase revenue. Additionally, understanding these metrics is key to building an effective sales compensation plan.
Tips for Writing an Effective Sales Plan
To write an effective sales plan, follow these four best practices:
- Support your plan with data.
- Bring sales and marketing together.
- Get the most out of your CRM.
- Research your industry.
1. Support Your Plan with Data
Data-driven companies are 23X more likely to acquire customers, according to McKinsey. Don’t make decisions based on your gut; back up every action with data from previous years.
2. Bring Sales and Marketing Together
Alignment starts with communication. Be sure to include leaders from both the sales and marketing sides as you build out your sales plan. Collaboration in real time allows you to avoid potentially unrealistic goals or clashes over the best course of action.
3. Get the Most Out of Your CRM
Your CRM software shouldn’t just be a system of record for sales and marketing activities: it should actively help propel you forward. It’s often helpful to enlist an expert who can help your CRM fit your business model and keep consistent with good design practices.
4. Research Your Industry and Competitors
Your sales plan should never be developed in a vacuum. It’s important to look outwards at your market. What products are your competitors offering? Should you change your strategy based on their successes or failures? Are there market trends that should affect the way you sell and market your products?
Successful Sales Plans by Company Stage
Let’s explore what it means to have a successful sales plan, based on where your company is on its growth journey:
- Early stage: trial and error
- Growth stage: sticking to the plan
- Later stage: rinse and repeat
1. Early-Stage: Trial and Error
An early-stage company’s sales plan likely includes plenty of trial and error. Company leaders often don’t have a large volume of data on which to base their predictions. Organizations at this stage have to try their best to set realistic goals, knowing that their objectives could change a lot within the year.
2. Growth-Stage: Sticking to the Plan
Once you’ve been operating for a few years, your sales plan becomes your guiding light. Each year, you’ll refine your approach based on the sales and marketing data you’ve gathered. If you achieve the goals you’ve laid out in your sales plan, your trajectory will continue upward.
3. Later-Stage: Rinse and Repeat
At this point, you’ve reached sales plan nirvana. You’ve got years of tangible data that help you inform your predictions and actionable objectives. Unless you’re announcing a major pivot, your sales plan won’t change much year-to-year.
Sales Plan Template
Building a sales plan is all about efficiency, communication and data-driven predictions. It’s your strategic roadmap for achieving your sales and marketing goals, and a tool that helps employees understand their roles. Download our sales plan template to build a comprehensive foundation for your go-to-market strategy.