You’re a business owner, and you’re baffled. You’ve got your quarterly sales targets, defined your end-of-year goals and put a skilful, enthusiastic sales team in place. Why, then, is your business missing out on sales? It could very well be because you don’t have a sales plan.
It’s all very well having targets, but if there’s no clearly defined, well-thought-out plan for reaching them, you and your employees can waste a lot of time flailing around, trying to stumble across a route to success instead of working one out logically.
“Starting with a killer strategy is key,” writes Jim Keenan of Forbes. “Having the wrong strategy or—worse yet—no strategy can be devastating.”
Let’s have a look at the elements that go into a great sales strategy so that you can get a better grasp on where you might be going wrong—and can equip yourself with the tools to fix the problem.
So what goes into a great sales plan?
1. Make sure you understand your business
Before you come up with your sales plan, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I really understand my business? One of the reasons a business fails is a lack of clarity from the top down.
- Does your company have a clear USP? Does it have a simple philosophy that can be clearly expressed? If your business has no clarity of purpose, your employees are unlikely to either.
- Do you understand what value you are providing? if you don’t understand what it is you’re supposed to be delivering, neither will your customers.
2. You’ll need an elevator pitch before you can even think of a sales plan
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, this is a description of your company so brief and pithy that you can articulate it to a potential customer in the time it takes to ride an elevator from one floor to another.
“If your employees can’t clearly and concisely articulate your business to others, you inevitably miss out on tons of sales and other opportunities,” writes Dave Lavinksy in Forbes.
3. From elevator pitch to mission statement
Once you’ve refined your elevator pitch, enshrine it in a company mission statement. This mission statement should then be circulated amongst your employees so that they know exactly what they’re working towards. You’ll be amazed at how this succinct, clear message will help them sell your business to customers.
As business coaching guru Glenn Smith notes, the mission statement helps enormously when trying to develop a company strategy. [S]trategies must not be created in a vacuum,” he writes. “Instead of looking at what’s new or what competitors are doing and trying to copy them, wise business owners create the most effective strategies possible to accomplish the mission their company is set out to accomplish.”
There are three other areas that can help you better understand your business and should be looked at before formulating your sales strategy:
- SWOT analysis
- Key performance indicators (KPIs)
4. SWOT analysis
A SWOT analysis is an analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This will show you the best places to pursue business and where the areas of improvement are in your own business.
The career website MindTools outlines how a SWOT analysis can help shape your strategy. “[B]y looking at yourself and your competitors using the SWOT framework, you can start to craft a strategy that helps you distinguish yourself from your competitors, so that you can compete successfully in your market.”
5. What are your goals?
The next step—defining your company goals—is absolutely crucial to your sales strategy. “Setting and achieving goals is the hallmark of successful companies and is a critical element of your strategic plan,” writes Lavinsky. Rather than trying to work out short-term goals, which can become an exercise in clutching at straws, Lavinsky suggests setting long-term goals and working backwards.
“[I]dentify your five-year or long-term goals. Next, identify your one-year goals; that is, what you must achieve in the next year for [your company] to be successful and to put your company on the right trajectory to achieving your five-year goals. Then work backwards two more times to determine your goals for the next quarter and the next month.”
This approach allows you to maintain constant focus on your long-term goals in a way that seems manageable and does not intimidate employees. It also maintains clarity of purpose, meaning employees and customers are not confused about the company’s direction.
6. Identify your KPIs
Lastly, evaluate your KPIs. If you have been struggling to understand why sales have not been as good as you hoped, it’s very likely you’ll find the answer here.
“KPIs provide a metric by which to measure and analyse a business function using a number rather than some sort of written assessment,” says the startup loan site Smarta. “So if call-centre staff are taking 100 calls a day in June compared with 95 in May, you can see at a glance [that] they are being more productive.”
Essentially, then, identifying and measuring KPIs are a way of making you look at how your performance compares to the goals you have set. If you’re falling short, it will then bring into focus what actions or behavioural changes are required to get the company to achieve those goals.
So, you’ve done the preparation work. You’ve got your elevator pitch down to a T, your mission statement likewise. SWOTs have been swotted, goals defined and KPIs scrutinised. You’re ready to formulate your strategy. But where do you start?
“The first step in your sales plan is to formulate a strategy for acquiring new clients and maintaining your existing ones.” — ” Michael Carter, Sales Management Workshop
7. Who are your target customers?
In other words, you need to define your ideal customer. What sort of customer is most likely to buy from you? How do you not only entice them to buy, but maintain their interest in your brand and inspire their loyalty? As with your elevator pitch and company mission statement, clarity is the watchword here.
“The ability to find a customer, sell your product or service to that customer, and satisfy the customer so that he buys from you again and again should be the central focus.” Brian Tracy, Entrepreneur
To define your ideal customer, ask yourself a few simple questions:
- What is your ideal client profile?
- Who are your high-margin clients?
- In what industry are your best clients? If the majority of them are in the same industry, you should think about targeting that area specifically
- How was the lead developed?
- What was the sales cycle like?
8. How to spot a bad customer
This can also be a liberating process in that it can not only help you identify your most profitable, most loyal clients, but it can rid you of customers who are causing you constant headaches and drawing resources away from the clients you should be focusing on.
Having the confidence to divest yourself of troublesome clients can be particularly important for small businesses, where time and resources are often at a premium. Ryan Forbes, CEO of Hootsuite, outlines the benefits of this “blunt-pencil approach” in Fast Company: “I know this sounds a little crazy,” he says. “Why would you want to drive away your own clients?”
“Well, there are actually lots of reasons. Some may be major headaches who completely sap the joy out of doing business. Others may demand time and attention that far exceed the revenue they’re bringing in. Still others may be so high-maintenance that they keep you from pursuing new opportunities or focusing on growing your company.”
Create a list of good and bad clients and be ruthless in pursuing the former and weeding out the latter.
9. Engage the target
Once you’ve defined your ideal client, it’s time to work out how to engage them. A survey conducted by CEB in 2014 showed that buyers are more informed than ever, researching products and services themselve.
[tweet “On average, 57% of the purchase decision is completed before they even contact a supplier.”]
Are you a leader in your industry?
With this in mind, it’s a good idea to position yourself as an authority or “thought leader” in your particular field. There are a number of ways in which to do this. Using social media to your advantage is a good start. Create a LinkedIn page and engage with your target community by posting helpful links and informative articles on a daily basis.
You can also start a company blog that will drive traffic to your website. Consider using guest posts by experts in your area of business. These will add gravitas to your site and help you gain social-media traction by creating anticipation among your client base. Consider posting webinars and offering white papers for download.
Substance over bravado
Positioning yourself like this helps to create an image of your company as humble and informative. This is a much better image to have than that of the traditional bombastic sales company, shouting from the rooftops about how good they are without providing any substance about why they are that good.
Among the advocates of this “discovery-based approach” is Gay Gaddis, founder of T3, the largest female-owned independent advertising agency in the US.
“Leave breadcrumbs for your clients to find you because it is much more valuable for someone to discover you than for you to pound your fists declaring your greatness,” she writes in Forbes.
Gaddis is a proponent of the storytelling technique championed by Charles Bernard, founder and CEO of Criteria for Success, Inc. Bernard says that clients love it when companies draw them in with stories of our passion and ideas—as long as the stories are also buttressed with numbers that show proven economic success.
“We all grew up with the ‘once-upon-a-time’ interest in learning through stories. Tell the stories of your ideas, passions, lessons learned and what you and your brand stand for. It is irresistible. Oh, and don’t forget the numbers. We all love to see the results.” — Charles Bernard
10. Define your market
Once you’ve worked out how to identify and engage with your ideal customer, it’s time to define your market. Analyse your territory and focus on particular segments of the market that you’re interested in.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the makeup of this market?
- Is their potential for growth or is the market shrinking?
- If it’s shrinking, is their potential to diversify into other areas?
- Are there enough ideal customers in your market?
If your analysis of your territory throws up potential problems that might leave you short of your sales targets, you’ll have to come up with a strategy of how to make up the shortfall. Sometimes, this might even mean changing your market altogether by pivoting.
In your market analysis, you’ll find that it’s neither feasible nor desirable to pursue all customers. This is because customers have different needs and tastes.
Here’s a simple example of this phenomenon:
Some customers are high-end. They want to by style leaders — and they’re prepared to pay good money to get what they want.
Other customers are bargain shoppers. This might be a family on a low income that is trying to find the lowest price because they can barely pay rent.
Generally, it is very hard for companies to target both market segments simultaneously with one type of product. For example, a company selling premium jewellry would not appeal to bargain shoppers.
11. Understand the competition
To build a successful sales plan, it is absolutely imperative to understand your competition, as this anecdote from Michael Carter shows:
“One owner/manager I worked with told me he knew everything about the competition, but when I asked if he had documented it, he said no. When I asked him how he trained his salespeople to deal with the competition, he stared at me like it was something he had never considered.”
What can you do better? Is your point of differentiation:
- Technological innovation
- Customer service
- Speed of delivery
- or side-products that you upsell with your main product?
If you don’t understand the competition—or if you do but don’t share that knowledge with your staff—you’ll never be able to show the customer why you can do things better.
Why would you expect the customer to buy from you if you can’t demonstrate that you meet their needs better than the competition?
The theme running through all of these tips is: clarity. A concise, clear message coupled with thorough preparation and investigation of your market and competitors will help you create a well-defined, uncomplicated sales process. So when writing your sales plan, remember the words of the business author Brendon Burchard:
“People are remarkably bad at remembering long lists of goals… Clarity comes with simplicity.” – Amen, Brendon.