Research and Top Producers Show How to Create a Best-in-Class Sales Plan


  • Research shows that the Best-in-Class sales leaders (i.e., top 15 percent) use annual sales plans throughout the period to measure progress, identify variances in near real-time and implement remediation plans.
  • With better plans, the Best-in-Class leaders were 39 percent more likely than their lower performing peers to achieve their annual revenue target.
  • The Sales Plan identifies the top revenue goal, develops the actionable strategies and tactics to achieve that goal, communicates the plan so that the team is focused and working toward a unified goal, and continuously measures and adjusts to shifting conditions and performance variances.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

Sales plans define the specific actions to achieve forecasted revenue targets. For most companies, the plan is the roadmap that plots the shortest path or most direct route to achieving the annual revenue goal.

Research published in The Sales Excellence Report shared how Best-in-Class leaders use their sales plans differently than their lower performing peers.

Sales Plan Operation

See the research findings that show how Best-in-Class sales leaders use their sales plans differently than their lower performing peers.

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The difference among sales archetypes wasn't whether they created an annual plan or not; they pretty much all did. The difference was that for most laggards and medians it was a one-and-done exercise. It was limited to a completed document that was thereafter referenced with quarterly reporting.

However, for the Best-in-Class it as an operating tool used throughout the period to measure progress, identify variances and implement course corrections as needed to meet the financial target.

In fact, when the data was correlated with other performance measures, we found that those who implement remediation plans when revenue results fall short during the period were 39 percent more likely to achieve their annual sales target than those who did not. That's a significant statistical finding that directly impacts what is quite often the single most important goal of achieving the annual revenue target.

How the Best Plans are Made

I've been reviewing sales and revenue plans for just over three decades. There's scarcely little consistency and most fail to include the most significant drivers for success. So, to do better I'm going to share what the most successful plans have in common.

First, they are created on a 3-tier architecture.

Sales Plan Architecture

Start with a Validated Goal

The first step is to define the annual revenue target. Many companies seem to pull this critical goal out of thin air. Wishful thinking is little more than unsubstantiated guessing and not a credible source for what is often the most important company goal.

A better approach is to calculate this figure based on data and experience.

Reviewing prior year sales results is the starting point. You want to see how and when performance results fluctuated. You want to drill down to see which territories and salespeople were successful and which were not and identify the causes for differences. And then do the same for product sales.

If you drill deep enough you will undoubtedly surface lessons that can be applied for improved performance. All this prior period reporting should be sourced from your CRM and ERP systems.

With data in hand, a bottom up plan can be constructed, aligned with budget, allocated into monthly and quarterly periods, and then cascaded down to individual territories and salespeople.

Identify the Right Strategies

In concert with setting the revenue goal, you need to identify how to achieve that number. And assuming that figure is bigger than the prior year, there are three ways to achieve the revenue target. You can acquire more customers, increase existing customer revenue or change the pricing model.

There are many ways to increase customer acquisitions. You can apply white space analysis to find new revenue streams, partner with marketing to put more leads into the sales funnel, adopt or improve sales-led lead acquisition techniques such as Account-based Marketing (ABM) or improve your sales win rates to name a few.

Strategic methods to grow customer share may include adopting or improving a Customer Experience Management (CXM) program, a Strategic Account Management (SAM) program or a loyalty program. More tactical methods will include a blend of selling processes and guided selling technology to promote bigger contracts or average tickets based on up-sell, cross-sale or bundles.

Systemic and continuous revenue growth can be achieved with price strategy and optimization. Price optimization applies customer and market data to find the optimal prices that will maximize company revenues or profitability. It models the factors that impact price, statistically measures how customers respond to price changes, compares alternative price scenarios and forecasts how price changes impact revenue and profits.

Strategic pricing with price optimization can deliver an immediate and sustained revenue uplift.

The strategies identify what to do to achieve the revenue goal. Equally important, they identify what not to do. If you're incurring time or expense on efforts not directly supporting your sales strategy you are off course.

Define the Tactics

Tactics are the actions that drive strategies. There are many tactics but the four listed below are often the most influential in aiding sales strategies.

  1. Sales resource allocation positions sellers where they can deliver the biggest results. Many times, sellers are aligned according to products, industries, territories or customer types.

Territory management is common but quite often not correctly used. The intent is not to simply allocate resources across geographies but to instead identify underperforming geographies and regions that demonstrate the largest potential for growth.

Customer segmentation is another common tactic that positions resources according to customer growth potential. It may designate the highest growth customers as top accounts to be managed by top sellers. It may identify more moderate growth customers as expansion opportunities for core sellers. Those customers with little growth opportunity may be placed into customer retention programs.

  1. Sales technology is needed to bring information, automation and scale to the sales team. The top three technologies are the Sales Force Automation (SFA) system (which is part of the CRM system), sales enablement systems and real-time information reporting such as dashboards and analytics (which is also part of the CRM system.)
  2. Talent management is needed to maximize human performance. Talent management functions include recruiting, onboarding, performance management, compensation management, learning and development, and succession planning. The two that most directly correlate to successful sales results are performance management and compensation management.

Each of the talent management functions can be aided with technology such as human capital management (HCM) applications or specialty third party programs. Many times, sales specific talent management technologies are available from CRM software ecosystems such as Microsoft AppSource or Salesforce AppExchange.

  1. Remediation measures are needed to follow through on the inevitable strategy and tactical deviations. Few sales plans go according to plan. That's why continuous measurement and relentless remediation are essential.

It was Mike Tyson that said, "Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth." That sentiment applies to sales leaders and reps who get challenged with day to day fire drills. It's up to the leader to separate the urgent from the important and not confuse activity with progress.

It's equally important to measure performance and act upon deviations in near real-time. Because the plan is constructed by time-based (i.e., monthly and quarterly) product, territory and salesperson mileposts, it can be measured by several dimensions and variances can be quickly highlighted.

This is where remediation plans are essential. Most every organization recognizes when revenue results fall short and suggests some type of remedy. However, verbal instructions telling staff to work smarter or harder are likely to deliver more of the same and unlikely to improve performance.

What's needed is change and change starts by doing something differently. Change must have clear and measurable goals. It often occurs in steps over a period. Change is best accomplished with a documented remediation plan that is periodically reviewed and adjusted as needed.

Salesperson remediation plans are often quarterly action plans allocated into 30-60-90 day performance metrics. They tend to be activity-focused because reps have control over their activities. It's also a good idea to display those metrics in CRM dashboards to improve focus with clear visualization.

Tactics are helpful if they support a sales strategy. Otherwise, they are distractions.

Strategies and tactics are symbiotic. Strategies without the right tactics falter and move at a snail's pace. Tactics without strategies are mostly aimless, never efficient and far less likely to achieve the revenue goal.