How to Create a Sales Plan: Tips, Examples & Free Sales Plan Template
Tactics and strategies are great. But when you create a sales plan, you set a clear path to success, with each step mapped out ahead of you.
The Internet is full of people who will tell you all about the success they’ve found from their strategies, whether it's personalizing a newsletter subject line or changing the color of the 'Buy Now' button.
But, news flash—these tips and tricks aren’t actual sales strategies.
To create real, lasting growth for you and your company, you need to create your own grand strategy. And that starts with a solid sales plan.
So, what’s your plan? How do you build it (and stick to it)?
We’re about to take a deep dive into sales plans. By the end of this guide, you’ll be completely equipped to win the fight for business growth. And we can't recommend it enough—grab our free sales plan template here in the Sales Success Kit today:
What is a Sales Plan? (And What Makes for Successful Sales Planning?)
Armed with the information you'll compile within your sales plan, you can quickly identify any upcoming problems, sales droughts, or opportunities—and then do something about them.
If done correctly, the right sales plan template empowers you to spend even more time growing and developing your business, rather than responding reactively to the day-to-day developments in sales.
Sound exciting? Let’s jump right in.
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What’s in a Sales Plan? 6 Elements Every Sales Plan Needs
In basic terms, a sales plan template includes:
- Sales forecasting and goal-setting
- Market and customer research
- Prospecting and partnerships
Each part of the sales plan naturally works itself into the next, starting with your high-level goals, then considering market factors, and finally looking at who you know, and how to find more prospects to help hit your sales goals.
Here are the key elements to include in your plan:
1. Mission Statement
What gets your sales reps out of bed in the morning? What’s the clear mission that pushes your team to keep fighting for that win?
Your mission statement is a concise statement of the ‘big picture’—the main idea and goal you want to achieve. Think about your company mission and how the sales team forms part of that overarching goal.
2. Sales Goals and Revenue Targets
A sales plan must include achievable sales goals and the targets your sales reps will be working to reach. Use previous years' results to tell you what's reasonably possible for your team to do. Include specific metrics and KPIs, how these are performing currently, and what you plan to do to improve them.
This may also include information about your product’s pricing, planned discounts, and how your team can focus on the right customers to get the most revenue possible. Link these sales goals to the business goals your company is working to achieve.
3. Analysis of the Target Market
Your plan should clearly identify your ideal customer profile and information about the target market and demographic you plan to sell to. Are you breaking into a new market? Are you targeting small business or enterprise customers? Give a concise description of your target audience and the stakeholders you’ll need to sell to.
4. Sales Strategy Overview and Methods to Reach Target Customers
This should include a brief overview of the customer journey, pain points, and how your salespeople will engage and follow up with new prospects throughout their journey to purchase. You'll likely outline specific sales activities you'll focus on, such as improving referral numbers, testing new cold-calling email strategies, or dipping your toe in social selling.
You may also include information about the marketing strategy and lead generation methods used to gather new leads and how sales managers will support the team.
5. Use of Resources and Sales Tools
How much does it cost your team to close a new deal? What is your budget for the sales team, or for sales tools?
Inside your plan, list the resources you have available to you, and how you plan to use them during the year. This includes monetary resources, as well as human resources.
Next, show how your resources will be used. For example, how much will you spend on sales tools? Which CRM software is your team depending on? Briefly explain how you plan to use each tool and why you’ve allocated resources in that way.
6. Sales Team Structure
The structure of your sales team includes which reps are available during what times of the year, their specialties and skills, and where they focus in the sales process.
Also, include information about the sales managers, their teams, and the incentives you offer your reps.
The Benefits of Sales Planning: Why You Need a Sales Plan
Creating a sales plan from scratch can be daunting, even with the right sales planning template. So, why should you have your sales strategy written down and ready to act on?
Let’s talk about the benefits of sales planning to attract new business and grow your market share.
Clear, Time-Bound Goals Help You Reach Revenue Targets
There’s a reason they say, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
If you want your sales team to execute on and accomplish your sales goals, you need to have a plan in place. When targets are linked to specific timeframes and actions, your whole team will see how their individual work is involved in reaching your sales goals.
Prioritize Time and Resources
Without a specific action plan in place, your team won’t be able to prioritize their time with the right sales tactics and strategies to hit their targets.
With a clear outline of the tactics that bring the most significant ROI for your team, each rep can get the best results for the time they spend selling.
Clear Action Plan to Reach Your Goals
With an action plan in place, each team member knows what they’re supposed to be doing, and why they’re doing it. This keeps them motivated and helps them see how their individual efforts make a difference.
4 Types of Sales Plans (How to Choose Which Planning Style is Right for Your Sales Team)
It’s difficult to templatize a good sales plan since every plan is unique to the business and team it applies to. So, what are some examples of the types of sales plans you might create, and how can you choose between them?
- Revenue-based sales plan: If you’re aiming for a specific revenue goal, this type of sales plan will be focused on in-depth sales forecasting and specific actions to improve conversion rates and close more deals.
- Sales plan based on the target market: If you’re selling to vastly different markets, you may want to create a different sales plan based on the market you’re targeting. For example, your sales plan for enterprise companies would differ from your sales plan for selling to SMBs.
- Sales goals plan: A plan that’s focused on goals (other than revenue) may include hiring and onboarding, sales training plans, or plans to implement a new type of sales activity into your process.
- New product sales plan: When launching a new product, it’s a good idea to develop a specific business plan around its launch and continued promotion. This plan may include finding and contacting strategic partners, building a unique value prop in the market, and creating new sales enablement content for the team to use when selling this product. This type of sales plan can also apply to launching new features in your SaaS product.
How to Choose the Right Sales Planning Style
Ultimately, this will depend on factors such as:
- Your revenue goals
- The resources at your disposal
- Your sales team’s abilities and bandwidth
- Your personal commitment to seeing this plan through
When you’ve determined who is involved in sales planning, how committed they are, and the resources you can use to make this plan happen, you can start building your own sales plan.
9 Steps to Create a Sales Plan to 10x Your Sales Team’s Results
It may seem like a lot of work to develop a sales plan at this point. But once you do, you’ll be in a place to take your sales (and brand) to the next level.
Let’s break down this process, step-by-step, so you can start achieving greater results.
1. Define Your Sales Goals and Milestones
With a sales plan, we begin at the end: an end goal.
Start by choosing the sales metrics that matter most to your overall business. This could be:
- Annual or monthly recurring revenue (ARR or MRR)
- Retention or churn rates
- Average conversion time
- Average conversion rate
- Customer lifetime value (LTV)
It doesn’t matter so much which metric you choose—the important point is that it can tell you whether your work has succeeded.
Next, look at last year’s forecast and results. Were you being realistic? How did sales revenue increase annually? How does that compare your company to the industry standards? Use this information to determine what realistically you can bring in based on the size of the market, your company goals, and the experience and resources available to your sales team.
After setting clear sales goals, it’s time to set milestones. This involves breaking that big number down into smaller expectations with strict deadlines. These should challenge and motivate your sales team, without being so difficult they kill morale.
Lean on your sales team during this process. After all, they’re in the trenches with you and probably have the best knowledge about your customers. Learn about what they do during the workweek to close deals. Ask how much they’re currently doing, and how much bandwidth they have to do more. This will give you a real, frontline take on what goals and milestones to set in your sales plan template.
Finally, create specific targets with clear deadlines. For example, to achieve a sales goal of increasing revenue by 15% YOY, you might set the milestone of increasing your customer base by 20%, or increasing sales by 50% for a specific product.
Brought together, these milestones inform and support your overall sales plan, giving you a clear, actionable workflow to hit your overall goals for the year.
2. Clearly Define Your Target Market or Niche
You need to know the market you’re in and the niche you’re going to occupy so you can properly position your business for growth.
What’s a business niche? It’s more than just what your business specializes in—a niche is the space your business occupies, with your products, content, company culture, branding, and message. It’s how people identify with you and search you out over the competition.
As serial entrepreneur Jason Zook explains: “When you try to create something for everyone, you end up creating something for no one.”
Don’t do that.
Instead, start by looking at a niche and asking yourself these questions:
- How big is the market?
- Is there a built-in demand for what you're selling?
- What’s your current market position?
- Who are your competitors? What are their strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats?
If you’re stuck, start by going back to your own strengths. List out your strongest interests and passions. Pick a field where the odds are already in your favor—where you have a proven track record, more expertise to offer, an extensive contact base, and people who can provide you with intros.
These kinds of strategic advantages will help you clarify your buyer persona and amplify the results of your planning.
Start with one product in one niche—you can always branch out to a complementary niche later. Sell beautiful, handcrafted tea cups? How about a booming doily business? Or customizable teaspoons?
A niche doesn’t limit you. It focuses you.
3. Understand Your Target Customers
Chasing the wrong customers will only waste your time and money, so don't allow them to sneak into your sales plan.
Your best customers are the ones that are successful with your product and see the ROI of it. Talk to them, and find out what they have in common.
While defining ideal customers depends on your company and market, here are some basic characteristics you’ll want to identify:
- Company size (number of employees, number of customers, yearly revenue)
- Size of the relevant department
- Geographical information
- Job title of your POC
- Buying process
- The goal they’re trying to achieve with your product or service
Also, don’t forget to think about whether they will be a good ‘fit’. If this is a long-term relationship you’re developing rather than a one-night stand, you want to ensure you speak the same language and share a similar culture and vision.
Use this information to build out an ideal customer profile. This fictitious organization gets significant value from using your product/service and provides significant value to your company. A customer profile helps you qualify leads and disqualify bad-fit customers before you waste time trying to sell to them.
Once you know the type of company you want to target with your sales team, it’s time to get inside their head. Start by hanging out where they hang out:
- Are they on social media? What’s their network of choice?
- Are they members of any Facebook or LinkedIn groups?
- Can you answer industry questions for them on Quora or Reddit?
- What podcasts do they listen to or what resources do they read?
Get in your customers’ heads and you’ll be in a much better position to sell to them.
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4. Map Out Your Customer’s Journey
The next part of an effective sales plan must address how that ideal customer becomes your customer. Do this by mapping out their journey, including actions and events during the different stages of the sales funnel:
Conduct a customer survey, or chat directly with your current, happy customers to gather valuable sales planning insights. Ask them:
- When you became a customer, what did you want our product to do for you?
- What features were important to you? Why?
- What was your budget?
- How were you solving this problem before using our product?
To fully understand their journey as a customer, you can also ask about past buying experiences:
- When was the last time you bought something similar?
- Was that a good or bad experience? Why?
- What was the decision-making process like?
- How did you evaluate different offers?
- Which factors made you choose that particular solution?
Once you’ve identified the awareness, interest, and consideration stages, let your prospects and new customers build the rest of their roadmap by asking them: ‘what’s next?’
"What needs to happen to make you a customer?"
If, for example, they say they’ll have to get approval from the VP of Finance. Ask:
"Ok, and let's say he agrees that we're the right fit, what's next?"
We call this the virtual close, a way to put your prospect in a future-thinking state of mind that makes them imagine buying from you. Asking this question to several high-quality prospects will tell you those final few steps in the customer journey until they’ve signed on the dotted line.
Finally, piece together the post-sale journey. Once a prospect becomes a customer, what’s next? How do you enable them to use your product and be successful with it? What happened to create your most loyal customers? Understanding this piece of the sales process is essential to managing and increasing customer retention.
5. Define Your Value Propositions
You know your customers. You know their journey. Now, define where you fit in by looking at your competitive advantage. Fully articulating what sets you apart from the competition is a crucial element of your sales plan template.
Start by asking a few simple questions:
- Why do customers buy from us?
- Why do customers buy from our competitors and not us?
- Why do some potential customers not buy at all?
- What do we need to do to be successful in the future?
Remember that customers buy benefits, not features. When describing your value proposition, it’s easy to get caught up in talking about you. What you’ve made. What you do. Instead, flip the script and talk about what your product will do for your customers. A strong competitive advantage:
- Reflects the competitive strength of your business
- Is preferably, but not necessarily, unique
- Is clear and simple
- May change over time as competitors try to steal your idea
- Must be supported by ongoing market research
For example, the competitive advantage of help desk software has nothing to do with its social media integrations and real-time ticket tracking. It’s the fact that it allows its customers to focus on creating a great customer experience.
Here’s the point: Focus on value, not features in your sales plan template.
Your competitive advantage will inform everything your company does moving forward, from marketing to product development. It’s a great example of where sales can influence the development of a product and the direction of a business.
6. Organize Your Sales Team
The way your sales team is organized can enable them to better serve their customers and bring new revenue into your business faster.
Here are three basic structures for your sales team:
- The island: Individual reps work alone.
- Assembly line: Each sales rep is assigned a specialized role such as lead generation, SDR (qualifier), Account Executive (closer), or Customer Success (farmer).
- Pods: Each sales rep is assigned a specialized role in a pod, or group, that’s responsible for the entire journey of specific customers.
Think about the strengths and weaknesses of your sales team members, and how they will truly thrive as part of the team.
7. Outline the Use of Sales Tools
Now it’s time to think about the tools you’re using. Building out your sales stack takes time and effort, but listing out that stack in your sales plan will help you avoid getting caught up with new tech that may or may not help your sales team.
Basically, you’ll need tools for these areas to cover all aspects of the sales process:
- CRM software (like Close)
- Lead generation and prospecting tools
- Internal communication software
- Engagement and outreach tools
- Documentation software
- Sales enablement stack
Think about how all of your sales tools work together through integrations and where automation comes into play to save your team time, and how you'll drive CRM adoption across your team members.
8. Build a Prospecting List
A prospect list is where we take all the theory and research of the last few sections of our sales plan template and put them into action.
At its core, a prospect list is a directory of real people you can contact who would benefit from your product or service. This can be time-consuming, but it's essential for driving your sales plan and company growth.
First, use your ideal customer profile to start finding target companies:
- Search LinkedIn
- Check out relevant local business networks
- Attend networking events and meetups
- Do simple Google searches
- Check out the member list of relevant online groups
Target up to 5 people at each organization. Targeting more than one individual will give you better odds of connecting by cold email outreach as well as a better chance that someone in your network can connect you personally.
Remember, this isn’t just a massive list of people you could sell to. This is a targeted list based on the research you’ve done previously in your sales plan.
Once you have your list, keep track of your leads and how you found them using a sales CRM. This will keep historical context intact and make sure you don’t overlap on outreach if you’re working with teammates.
9. Track, Measure, and Adjust As Needed
Just because you’ve made a solid sales plan template to follow, doesn’t mean you get to sit back and watch the cash roll in.
Remember what Basecamp founder Jason Fried said about plans:
“A plan is simply a guess you wrote down.”
You’re using everything you know about the market, your unique value, target customers, and partners to define the ideal situation for your company. But yes, try as we might, very few of us actually see anything when we gaze deep into the crystal ball.
Instead, remember that your sales plan is a living, breathing document that needs to account for and adapt to new features, marketing campaigns, or even new team members who join.
Set regular meetings (at least monthly) to review progress on your sales plan, identify and solve issues, and align your activities across teams to optimize your plan around real-world events and feedback. Learn from your mistakes and victories, and evolve your sales plan as needed.
Create a Strategic Sales Plan to Grow Your Business
You’ve just discovered the basics—but I’ll bet you’re ready to go beyond that. Here are some final ideas to take your sales plan from a simple foundation to a strategic, actionable one.
Avoid Moving the Goalpost
Avoid making adjustments to the goals outlined in your sales plan—even if you discover you’ve been overly optimistic or pessimistic in your sales planning. When you're developing your very first sales plan template, it's natural to be wrong in some of your assumptions—especially around goals and forecasting.
Instead of letting it get you down, remember your plan serves as a benchmark to judge your success or failure. As you see places where your assumptions were wrong, carefully document what needs updating when it's time to revise your sales plan.
Invite Your Others to Challenge Your Sales Plan
Never finalize a plan without another set of eyes (or a few sets.) Get an experienced colleague—an accountant, senior salesperson, or qualified friend—to review the document before solidifying your sales plan.
Your sales team is another strong resource for reviewing your sales plan. Ask their opinions, give them time to think about how it relates to their daily work, and agree on the key points that go into your sales plan.
Set Individual Goals and Milestones for Your Sales Team
We talked about creating milestones for your business, but you can take your sales plan to the next level by setting individual milestones for your sales team as well.
These individual goals need to consider the differences in strengths, weaknesses, and skills among your salespeople.
For example, if someone on your team is making a ton of calls but not closing, give them a milestone of upping their close rate. If someone’s great at closing but doesn’t do much outreach, give them a milestone of contacting 10 new prospects a month.
Doing this will help your individual reps build their skills and contribute to their company and career growth.
Ready to Hit Your Sales Goals?
In most sales situations, the biggest challenge is inertia. But with a solid, detailed sales plan and a dedicated team with clear milestones, you’ll have everything you need to push through any friction and keep on track to hit your goals!
All jazzed up and ready to put together your own sales plan? Download our free Sales Success Kit and access 11 templates, checklists, worksheets, and guides.
They're action-focused and easy to use, so you can have your best sales year yet.