This post is written by guest author, Jeremy Marsan.
Who is your target customer & how are you going to sell to them? This is the question that any business owner can answer with a sales plan. In a nutshell, a sales plan gives you specific daily or weekly goals to reach a main objective (i.e. increase revenue 25%). Although your exact strategy is likely to change through trial and error, a sales plan will help you go about testing and refining your methods in a structured manner.
In this guide, we show you how to write a sales plan in 4 steps:
- Set Your Goal
- Market Research
- Write Your Sales Cycle
- Determine Your Sales Strategies
Step 1: Set Your Sales Plan Goal
The first step is to figure out what goal you want to accomplish for this sales period. Typically, businesses owners aim to increase their overall number of sales or amount of revenue. The goal can also be more specific, however, like increasing sales for a particular product, or reaching more customers in a particular region. Just be sure to quantify your final goal (i.e. increase by 15%) so that you can measure your success throughout the sales period.
A quick way to evaluate your sales goal is to pass it through the S.M.A.R.T. goal test. This stands for:
- Specific – Does your goal involve specific places and people?
- Measurable – Will you be able to quantifiably measure your results as you go along?
- Attainable – Do you have the necessary skills and resources?
- Realistic – Are you both willing and able to go through with this?
- Timely – When is the specific deadline to reach your goal?
Step 2: Conduct Market Research
So you have a goal in mind – how are you going to achieve it? There’s two ways to increase sales, both of which are key to writing a sales plan:
- Find new customers
- Sell more to existing customers
This makes up the two key components of market research for sales. Now, chances are you’ve asked these questions before – how do I find new customers or sell more to existing customers? What we’re going to show you next, however, is a way to come up with these ideas AND test them methodically.
1. Finding New Customers
To strategically find new customers, you first have to think about the types of people or businesses that use your product. Developing a typical customer profile will help you locate new opportunities in the next step.
Writing a customer profile will vary depending on whether you’re a B2B or B2C business.
- B2B businesses will focus on characteristics like industry, size, location, revenue and years in business.
- B2C businesses will focus on demographics like age, gender, location, race, ethnicity, education level, household status, etc.
If you interact with customers frequently, this should be fairly easy to answer. Otherwise, you can use data in a CRM(customer relationship management) software to find or confirm this information.
Testing Your New Markets
Creating a customer profile gives you something to search for – where can I find my ideal customer that I haven’t searched before? Again, how you go about this will vary depending on whether you’re a B2B or B2C business:
For B2B Businesses
Since many businesses are listed online, this is fairly easy to do. Using business directories, you can find new businesses that match your profile.
In some directories, you can search for new companies based on very specific criteria, including their industry, number of employees, revenue, location (city, state, zip code) and other factors. This means you can basically enter in your customer profile and find all the matches in a particular area.
Depending on how many new leads you find, your job might now be done. You can start reaching out to these businesses directly.
On the other hand, you may want to modify your profile a little bit to see if you get more results. By all means, you should get creative and start thinking of new potential customers. The key, however, is to test these new markets before investing too much. Try calling a few of the businesses and ask if they have a need for your product or service. Are they currently be served by a competitor? If so, what unique advantage do you have over that competitor?
The more research you do, the more money you’ll save when you actually purchase a leads list or go out and start advertising to these new markets.
For B2C Businesses
For a B2C business, this can be a little more challenging. There’s a lot of data out there about consumers, but it can take more testing to find the right market.
To start, try using some of the readily available demographic data to find where your ideal customer lives. For example, let’s say you sell and install accessibility equipment and one of your biggest customers is elderly people. Using tools like the US Census interactive map, you can find which areas near you have higher concentrations of people aged 65 or higher.
To do this for yourself, click on the demographic variable you’re interested in (“Age,” “Household,” “Race,” “Ethnicity”) then enter your location. Using the toolbar on the left-hand side, you can narrow down the size of your data points from entire counties to individual census blocks (which can be as tiny as city blocks).
Other tools can give you more marketing-focused information about a zip code, such as their average income. They also offer more subjective information about residents, like their values, hobbies, politics, spending habits, etc.
Armed with this information, you can start venturing into these areas exploring them for yourself. Attend local events and speak with residents and business owners. Find out first-hand if there’s a demand for your business. If not, you need to go back and edit your profile.
2. Increase Sales From Existing Customers
If you’re not a new business, the other half of market research is to figure out how to sell more to your existing customer-base. This should be just as big of a focus as finding new markets, if not bigger. It’s common business wisdom that selling to existing customers is far easier and far less expensive than acquiring new customers.
Here are a few of the most common ways to increase sales from existing customers:
- Referrals – Do you reward customers who send you referrals?
- Upselling – Are your salespeople offering additional products when your customer checks out?
- Marketing – Do you market to existing customers? Consider starting an email newsletters that includes exclusive deals and coupons.
- Loyalty Rewards – Do customers have incentive to keep returning to your business?
Remember, the keyword here is “research.” You need to ask your customers first-hand what would get them to return to your business. You can strike up conversations informally, or write a questionnaire. Send it to your customers via email and to encourage responses, offer a small coupon to anybody who fills it out.
Step 3: Write Your Sales Cycle
Now that you know who your target customers are, the next step is to figure out how to sell to them. The sales cycle is the process your business follows to close a deal. It begins with finding leads and ends with a contract being signed.
The sales cycle varies tremendously depending on your industry. Selling shoes, for example, will obviously be a much faster cycle than selling office buildings. The general stages, however, are always the same: You need to demo your product, address objections from your client, then close the deal.
Understanding your specific cycle is key to writing a sales plan, since it tells you who needs to be involved and what resources you’ll need each step of the way. This will help you develop more concrete strategies for reaching your sales goal. For example, if your sales process requires you to give in-person demos, you might consider hiring extra help or investing in a company car to meet the extra demand.
Step 4: Determine Your Sales Strategies
The final step to writing a sales plan is to hash out the specific strategies you’ll need to meet your goal. Think of this as a series of smaller goals or quotas that, over time, will enable you to reach your main goal. This final step is the “meat” of the plan, because- when executed properly – it gives you a specific daily and weekly calendar to follow.
Using a Sales Funnel
If you’re an existing business, your sales funnel will be extremely helpful for this final step. A sales funnel is a graph that shows all of your potential sales in each stage of the pipeline – starting with “leads” and ending with “deals won.”
By viewing how many deals are in each stage, you get an idea of what it will take to increase sales. For example, you can answer the question how many more leads do I need to get 5 more sales per month? Or how many more demos should I be giving to close 1 more sale per week?
In other words, a sales funnel will help you figure out the specific daily/weekly milestones you need to set in order to reach your goal.
If you do not have this data available, and/or if you’re a new business, make some educated guesses. Consider implementing a CRM so you can get specific numbers in the future. On top of giving you tools to manage contacts, track sales and collaborating amongst your team, a CRM can automatically generate reports like your sales funnel.
Armed with your sales cycle and sales funnel, this next part will be straightforward. Take your sales goal and figure out which daily or weekly quotas you need to reach to accomplish it.
For example, say your goal is to make 100 new customers this month. You know from your sales funnel that, on average, 1 in 10 leads become a customer. This means that you need 1,000 new leads to reach your goal. On your sales plan, you’ll write that you need to contact 50 new leads per day (or 250 new leads per week).
Now, these numbers can change as you go along. Say you switch to a new lead source that is not as effective (only 1 in 12 become customers). This would require you to boost your quota. On the other hand, say you add a step to your sales cycle – i.e. a phone call 1 week after the demo – and you find that this helps close more deals. You may adjust the cycle to spend less time calling leads and more time calling prospects in the end-stages of a deal.
Here are some examples of details to include in your sales plan:
- How many new leads do I need per week?
- How many cold calls will I make per week?
- How many introductory emails will I send per week?
- How many industry/networking events will I attend?
- How many existing customers should I contact per week?
- How many referrals do I need?
- How many deals will I need to close per week?
- How many demos should I schedule per week?
- How many sales proposals should I write per week?
- How many sales of each product should I aim to make?
- How many upsells should I aim to make?
The Bottom Line
It’s a good idea to write a new sales plan every 3 to 6 months. Doing so gives you a fresh set of goals to keep working towards. Through trial and error, you can adjust your sales methods or target markets until you find what works best.
Jeremy Marsan is a business analyst and staff writer for Fit Small Business whose areas of expertise include business technology, real estate, and franchising. When not helping small business owners he enjoys many artistic projects, including music performance/recording, blogging, creative writing and carpentry.
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