I’ve recently customized individual business plan templates for several client sales teams. It is surprising how few sales organizations ask their people to draft annual sales (business) plans. I am huge of fan of having every member of the sales team write and then present their plans to senior management, or even better, to the entire sales team.
Why Individual Business Plans?
- People who write down their goals are significantly more successful than those who don’t. We all know there is a ton of data to support this claim. I won’t even begin to cite sources.
- Writing a plan causes the rep to take ownership of his/her business (territory, book, etc.).
- The process drives big-picture creative thinking.
- Forces the salesperson to examine what has worked and what hasn’t. (Remember the definition of “insanity”?)
- Presenting the plan to the team is a powerful way of sharing best practices and allows everyone to learn from each other.
- We learn a ton about reps when they present their plans: who can sell, who can think, who brings passion and fresh ideas to the job, who can present well, who “gets it” and who doesn’t (almost always, the best salespeople have the best plans and the weakest have the worst plans).
- The business plan serves as a powerful and automatic accountability tool. The very act of presenting the plan publicly and articulating what you are going to do to achieve your goals creates energy, competition and accountability!
- The plans is a gift to the sales manager! How easy it is to grab the rep’s plan before a phone call, coaching meeting or day in the field with them. “Sarah, let’s take a look at your plan together to see if YOU are DOING what YOU SAID YOU NEEDED TO DO in order to be successful.”
There is too much benefit derived from this process not to do it. I like to customize the template with the president or head of sales. We then provide the template to each member of the sales team and ask them to write and prepare to present their own plan to the team (or just to senior management). I’ve found it works well to give the team a few weeks to go through the exercise and to be very specific about how long they will have to present their plans. 20 minutes to present and five or so minutes for Q & A usually works nicely.
Essential Components of the Plan
I think there is a lot of room for flexibility as far as what goes into the template. Every business and sales role is different and that is why each company needs a customized plan. Having said that, there are five categories or sections that I believe are essential:
- Goals – What are you going to achieve? We always start with the end in mind! Possible bullets in this section include total revenue or gross margin goals for the year, # of new accounts or new pieces of business acquired, $ from existing accounts and $ from new accounts, specific product-mix goals, and even asking the rep to “name and claim” the monster account or dream client they will nail this year.
- Strategies – How are you going to do it? Where is it going to come from? In this section I like to ask questions about market focus, target account lists, major cross-sell opportunities, most growable or most at-risk accounts, what new approaches will the rep take to get in front of new prospects, how will they better penetrate current customers, where will they concentrate their efforts and so on.
- Actions – What are you going to do? In this section I want to hear about activity and metrics. What’s “The Math?” How many calls, initial face-to-face meetings? What type of commitment to time-blocking? To what activity goals will you be accountable?
- Obstacles – What’s in the way? I don’t believe in excuses. And I do believe that almost every salesperson could tell you on day one what is likely to get in the way of achieving their goals for the year. So I like to ask for a list of known obstacles right up front so we can address and help remove them. Failure is not an option; let’s figure out how to overcome those obstacles or how we need to help that salesperson now! Obstacles take many forms: personal health, distractions, lack of training or knowledge, family issues, travel budgets, old technology, the anti-sales department. Just ask. Believe, they’ll have a list.
- Personal Development, Growth & Motivation – How do you want to grow this year? If we are not growing then we are dying. Salespeople need to invest in themselves. Ask how they will do that. Courses, training, peer-mentoring, outside coaching, sales books, blogs?. Are there certain areas where they need to develop professionally in order to get to the next level? I also like to ask the salesperson to share some of their personal philosophies about sales and what they do to keep themselves motivated throughout the year. You get some really fun answers and can learn a lot about what drives your people.