Sales Plan: 7 Steps to Creating one that Grows Your Pipeline

sales plan templates

A sales plan is the first step towards defining your sales strategy, what your sales goals are and how you’re going to reach them.

You need to formalize who your target audience is, how your team will be structured, what types of reps you will hire, what communications and measurement tools you’ll use, your revenue goals and how you will measure performance. 

A refined sales plan is a go-to resource for your reps. It helps them better understand their role, responsibilities, targets, tactics and methods. Done right, it empowers your reps to perform at their highest level. Because it’s loaded with detailed strategies and best-practices, your reps can consistently refer back for ongoing support. 

In this article, we’ll outline what a sales plan is, why it’s important to create one and exactly what you should include in your own plan.

What’s in this article?

The seven steps to creating a sales plan:

  1. Company mission and positioning
  2. Goals and targets
  3. Sales organization and team structure
  4. Target audience and customer segments
  5. Sales strategies and methodologies
  6. Sales execution plan
  7. Measuring performance and results

What is a sales plan and why create one?

Your sales plan is a roadmap that outlines how you’ll hit your revenue targets, who your target market is, the activities needed to achieve your goals and any roadblocks you may need to overcome along the way.

Many business leaders see the sales plan as an extension of the traditional business plan. The business plan contains strategic and revenue goals across the organization, while the sales plan lays out how to help achieve them within the sales organization.

An effective sales plan must communicate the following information:

  1. Company mission and positioning: Why does your company exist and what is your position in the market?

  2. Sales organization structure: What will your sales team look like? What expertise do they need to deliver results?

  3. Goals and targets: What are your revenue goals? How will you break those goals down by quarterly and monthly quotas?

  4. Target audience and customer segments: What are the characteristics of your target market? Which target accounts will you pursue?

  5. Sales strategies and methodologies: How will you prioritize sales activities? Which sales methodologies and playbooks will you adopt to guide your reps?

  6. Sales execution plan: How will you act on this data? When will specific projects and activities be executed?

  7. Measuring performance and results: What metrics and KPIs will your team be measured on?

Before we explore these areas in more depth, you must understand the benefits a sales plan brings. By understanding its purpose, you can more effectively communicate and secure boardroom buy-in.

sales plan steps

The benefits of a sales plan

Most salespeople are driven by action. Because they focus on getting the job done by any means necessary, planning often gets neglected in favor of short-term results.

While this may help them hit quota, the downside is it’s unpredictable. Sales processes should be treated as a system with steps that can be optimized. If reps are doing wildly different things, it’s hard to uncover what’s working and what’s not. A good sales plan can keep them on track using repeatable systems.

This also means that everyone will work toward the same outcome. For example, if £250,000 worth of new business is your “true north” goal for next quarter, you can collaborate and ensure you achieve it together.

As you uncover the activities and methodologies that work best, you can refine your plan and flesh these out into playbooks. Adopt several different sales methodologies across the sales pipeline, focusing on activities that move the needle. Why? Because some methodologies work better than others in certain situations and reps may encounter various scenarios through the buying journey.  

Each methodology should guide your reps on what to do throughout the sales process and how to push the deal along. The right methodology will meet your buyer’s needs and ease them through the pipeline. 

For example, a SPIN Selling methodology is great for uncovering prospects’ pain points and getting to the heart of the problem, so it works best in the early discovery and qualification stages of the sales process. On the other hand, a Consultative Selling approach helps you reframe how your product or solution will uniquely solve problems, making it ideal for the later intent and evaluation stages. 

Your sales plan should also shine a light on the tools and talent you need to adopt and nurture. Uncover answers to the following questions:

  • Who do we need to hire in order to execute each stage?
  • Who will be in charge of managing those teams?
  • Which CRM is best suited to organize each stage?
  • Which additional tools are required to help team members get the job done?
  • How will we measure performance and results?

In order to answer these questions accurately, you must collect the right information and data. Your plan is likely to fail if you make assumptions about customer needs and market conditions.

Tailored sales plans for different functions

What period of time should your sales plan cover? Which functions and departments should it apply to? Each organization and function is different. When creating your sales plan, you have two options:

  1. Create a single plan that covers the entire sales organization
  2. Dedicate sales plans for each function (sales development, account management, etc.)

The direction you choose will depend on your headcount and how complex each function is. For example, if you have a sales development team with a large headcount (including managers), then having a dedicated sales plan is justified.

While the content will vary for each function, the framework will remain the same. With this in mind, let’s explore the seven components of an effective sales plan.

4. Target audience and customer segments

A sales plan is useless without knowing who to sell to. Having clearly defined customer personas and segments is critical for success.

Start with your target account criteria. Include the following information to clearly define which companies you’re looking to attract:

  • Industries: Which markets and niches do you serve? Are there certain sub-segments of those industries that you specialize in?

  • Headcount: How many employees do your best accounts have within their organization?

  • Funding: Have they secured one or several rounds of funding?

Collect as much insight as you can around their organizational challenges. This may include growth hurdles, hiring bottlenecks and even barriers created by legislation.

Within those target accounts are your buyers. These individuals have a need for your product and service, each with their own challenges and goals. The way you sell to each buyer will vary, even when they’re within the same organization.

How to communicate target audience and customer segments

Well-documented customer personas fueled by customer insights will help you steer your sales plan in the right direction. Strong personas include the following customer insights:

  • Profile: Include basic information about their role, what their career journey looks like and the common priorities within their personal lives.

  • Demographics: Add more detailed information about their age, level of income and living situation. Demographic information can help tailor your message to align with the language used across different generations.

  • Attributes: What’s their personality like? Are they calm or assertive? Do they handle direct communication themselves or have an assistant? Use these identifying attributes to communicate effectively.

  • Challenges: What hurdles is this persona trying to overcome? How does it affect their work, and what’s the impact on them personally?

  • Goals: What are these challenges preventing them from achieving? Why are these goals important to them?

  • How we help: Using this insight, state how your product or service helps these people overcome challenges and achieve their goals.

These insights will change as your business grows. Enterprise companies may wish to revisit their personas as they move upmarket. For startups, your target audience will evolve frequently as you find product-market fit.

It’s important to constantly revisit this part of your sales plan. Even if your goals and methodologies are the same, always have your finger on the pulse of your customer’s priorities.

Within this section of the sales plan, include the following information:

  • Defined customer personas: Include clearly defined customer personas and target account criteria. These should include specific insights that explain what qualifies a person or institution to make this list.
  • Supplemental customer insights: More details about the customer personas to paint a clearer picture of their pain points, challenges, goals, demographics and more. This will help you train your reps on how to sell to these types of buyers, what methodologies will work best across various sales stages and further refine your sales process.
  • Space for change: Your customer personas will constantly evolve as you scale your business and release new iterations of your product or service. Keep this front of mind and update this section as needed

1. Company mission and positioning

No matter their function or seniority, everyone in your organization must work toward the same goals.

This means understanding what your organization is trying to achieve, and where in the market you position yourself.

To understand this, sales leaders must be involved in all areas of the business strategy. Collaborating and working toward the same goals is impossible if they’re determined by only a select group of stakeholders.

Let’s assume you’re a sales director who has joined an organization to lead their sales efforts. To fully familiarize yourself with the company’s positioning, take the following steps:

  1. Collaborate with marketing: Your marketing teams live and breathe the positioning of your company. Take the time to talk to each growth function, from demand generation to performance marketing.

  2. Interview customer success teams: Customer support reps speak with your existing customers every day. Interview them to find common questions and pain-points.

  3. Talk to your customers: Customer insights are a foundational part of any positioning strategy. Speak directly with existing customers to find out what they love about your product or service.

  4. Read your company blog: Those in charge of content production have a strong understanding of customer needs. Check out blog articles and ebooks to familiarize yourself with customer language and common themes.

  5. Look for mentions around the web: How are other people talking about your organization? Look for press mentions, articles and features that mention your products and services.

This insight can provide context around how your company is currently positioned in the market. You’ll get to see what influences this information, providing you with your customer’s perspective.

Finally, speak with the team that was in charge of defining the company positioning. Come armed with a list of questions, and use this time to find out why they made certain decisions. Here are some examples:

  • What were the most important insights from the original target audience research that led you to create our positioning statement?
  • What competitor research led us to position ourselves in X, Y and Z ways? Does this significantly differentiate us from the rest of the crowd? How?
  • What core ideals and values drove us to make X, Y and Z promises in our positioning statement? Have they shifted in any way since we launched? If so, what motivates these promises now?

How to communicate mission and positioning

Within this section of the sales plan, include the following information:

  • Company mission: Why your company exists and the value you’re determined to bring to the market.

  • Competition: Include information on direct competitors (those who offer similar products and services), as well as indirect competitors (brands who solve the same problem in different ways).

  • Value propositions: Encapsulate the features, benefits and solutions that your product delivers.

2. Goals and targets

Now you know what your company stands for and why it exists in the market, you must define your revenue goals and other targets that sales are responsible for.

As mentioned earlier, sales goals are usually aligned with business goals. Revenue goals are established in the boardroom and it’s your job to achieve them.

This is why sales leaders and chief revenue officers (CRO) are a critical piece of the boardroom puzzle. They have the performance insights that will drive achievable goal-setting (and what it takes to achieve them).

Revenue goals will shape your sales strategy, use them to reverse engineer quotas, sales activity and the staff you need to execute them.

Use data on sales activity and past performance to calculate sales targets. You should break this down by pipeline stage and activity conducted by reps across all functions.

For example, how many cold emails does it take to generate a deal? What is the average LTV of your customer? Breaking down these numbers allows you to accurately forecast what it will take to achieve your new revenue goal.

It will also reveal the expertise needed for each activity, along with any required changes to your organizational structure (which we’ll explore in the next section).

How to communicate goals and targets

Your sales plan must clearly state the revenue goal everyone is working toward. This will ensure all team members are working together on the same page.

Break this revenue goal down further into sales targets and activity targets for your team. These might include:

  1. 200 total cold emails sent per day
  2. 200 total cold calls made per day
  3. 25 demos conducted per day
  4. 5 new sales appointments made a day
  5. 100 follow-up emails sent per day

Include targets for the time it takes to act on each activity. For example, past performance might indicate a higher appointment rate when lead response time is less than five hours. Using this insight, you can define service-level agreements (SLAs) for each activity.

Next, define targets for other metrics. This includes win rate and conversion rates between pipeline stages.

Activities are the specific actions you and your reps can control, while sales targets are the results provided by those activities. By setting goals for both, you can optimize each activity to further move the needle as you execute on your sales plan.

Within this section of the sales plan, include the following information:

  • Revenue goals: Reverse engineer the boardroom revenue goals to decipher achievable sales goals and the number of staff needed to reach them.
  • Calculate sales targets: Use data on sales activity and past performance to define quotas and metrics for each stage of the sales pipeline.

  • Identify expertise needed for each activity: What qualities and attributes do your staff need to achieve these predefined activities? How much past experience do they need vs. what can be learned on the job?

3. Sales organization and team structure

With your goals defined, you can work on identifying the talent and expertise needed in order to achieve them.

Who you hire will depend on your business model and the activities needed to reach your goals. For example, a marketing agency that depends on strong relationships will benefit more from a business development executive than an SDR.

Use the targets established in the previous section to identify who you need to hire as part of your organizational structure. For example, if the average sales development rep can send 20 cold emails a day, and you need to send 200 in order to achieve your goals, you’ll need around ten reps in order to hit your targets.

Micromanaging should be avoided, but now is a good time to ask your existing teams to report on the time spent on certain activities. By keeping a timesheet, you’ll have an accurate forecast on how long certain activities take and the capacity of each rep.

How to communicate your sales organization and team structure

This section of your sales plan must justify who you need on your team and the budget required to hire them. Use the targets and activity-driven metrics mentioned in the previous section to quantify these needs.

Get specific by including the following information:

  1. Team structure: These are the functions that make up your overall sales organization. The roles of SDR, business development and account teams must be well defined.

  2. Roles & responsibilities: Include the roles you need to hire, along with the tasks they’re responsible for. This will help you produce job descriptions that attract great talent.

  3. Salary and compensation: How will your teams be remunerated? Having competitive salaries, compensation schemes and sales incentives will attract top-performers and keep them motivated.

  4. Timeline: Attempting to hire dozens of people at once is tough. Prioritize hiring based on how critical each role is for executing your plan. Take a phased hiring approach to onboard new reps with the attention they deserve.

Include the information for each team member in a table in your sales plan. Example: 

Visualizing each role helps all stakeholders understand who they’re hiring and the people they’re responsible for. It gives them an opportunity to collaborate on the plan and identify the responsibilities and qualities critical in ideal candidates.

Within this section of the sales plan, include the following information:

  • Team Structure: Define a high-level structure for how your team as well as the functions they will perform. This helps to explain why each team member is needed. 
  • Role specifics: Dig into the specific roles and responsibilities for each team member. Use the insights you amassed from the “qualities and expertise needed for each activity” exercise in Step 3 to curate targeted job descriptions. This will also guide how many reps you need to efficiently complete each activity as well as a competitive compensation plan.
  • Timeline: Outline your hiring timeline to generate a clear picture of who you need to hire first and how often you will onboard new hires once critical positions are filled.

4. Target audience and customer segments

A sales plan is useless without knowing who to sell to. Having clearly defined customer personas and segments is critical for success.

Start with your target account criteria. Include the following information to clearly define which companies you’re looking to attract:

  • Industries: Which markets and niches do you serve? Are there certain sub-segments of those industries that you specialize in?

  • Headcount: How many employees do your best accounts have within their organization?

  • Funding: Have they secured one or several rounds of funding?

Collect as much insight as you can around their organizational challenges. This may include growth hurdles, hiring bottlenecks and even barriers created by legislation.

Within those target accounts are your buyers. These individuals have a need for your product and service, each with their own challenges and goals. The way you sell to each buyer will vary, even when they’re within the same organization.

How to communicate target audience and customer segments

Well-documented customer personas fueled by customer insights will help you steer your sales plan in the right direction. Strong personas include the following customer insights:

  • Profile: Include basic information about their role, what their career journey looks like and the common priorities within their personal lives.

  • Demographics: Add more detailed information about their age, level of income and living situation. Demographic information can help tailor your message to align with the language used across different generations.

  • Attributes: What’s their personality like? Are they calm or assertive? Do they handle direct communication themselves or have an assistant? Use these identifying attributes to communicate effectively.

  • Challenges: What hurdles is this persona trying to overcome? How does it affect their work, and what’s the impact on them personally?

  • Goals: What are these challenges preventing them from achieving? Why are these goals important to them?

  • How we help: Using this insight, state how your product or service helps these people overcome challenges and achieve their goals.

These insights will change as your business grows. Enterprise companies may wish to revisit their personas as they move upmarket. For startups, your target audience will evolve frequently as you find product-market fit.

It’s important to constantly revisit this part of your sales plan. Even if your goals and methodologies are the same, always have your finger on the pulse of your customer’s priorities.

Within this section of the sales plan, include the following information:

  • Defined customer personas: Include clearly defined customer personas and target account criteria. These should include specific insights that explain what qualifies a person or institution to make this list.
  • Supplemental customer insights: More details about the customer personas to paint a clearer picture of their pain points, challenges, goals, demographics and more. This will help you train your reps on how to sell to these types of buyers, what methodologies will work best across various sales stages and further refine your sales process.
  • Space for change: Your customer personas will constantly evolve as you scale your business and release new iterations of your product or service. Keep this front of mind and update this section as needed.

5. Sales strategies and methodologies

With the groundwork laid out, you can begin defining your sales approach. This includes the strategies, techniques and methodologies you’ll use to get your offering out to market.

This part of your sales plan may end up being the largest. It will outline every practical area of your sales strategy, including:

  • Sales methodologies: The different practices and approaches you’ll adopt to shape your sales strategy.

  • Sales stages: The different steps required to convert prospects into paying customers.

  • Sales playbooks: The tactics and techniques needed to guide contacts throughout each stage of the sales process.

Start by mapping out each stage of your sales process. What are the steps needed to guide a prospect through your deal flow?

Traditionally, sales stages are broken down into nine categories:

  1. Prospecting and lead generation: Marketing must deliver leads, but sales reps must supplement this volume with their own prospecting efforts.

  2. Qualification: Measure those leads against your target account criteria and customer personas. Ensure they’re a good fit, prioritizing your time on high-value relationships.

  3. Reach out to new leads: Initial emails and follow-up activity to guide new leads into the sales funnel. This activity includes cold calling and direct mail.

  4. Appointment setting: Schedule a demo, discovery call or consultation.

  5. Needs defined: After the initial meeting, you’ll understand your prospect’s problems and how your product or service can solve them.

  6. Presentation: Reveal the solution. This can be in the form of a proposal, custom service packages or a face-to-face pitch.

  7. Negotiation: This stage is dedicated to overcoming any objections your prospect may have. 

  8. Winning the deal: The contract is signed and your prospect becomes a customer.

  9. Referrals: Fostering loyalty is an organization-wide activity. Delight your customers and encourage them to refer their friends and peers.

Not all of these stages will be relevant to your organization. For example, a SaaS company that relies on inbound leads may do much of the heavy lifting during the initial meeting and demo.

Map out your sales process to identify each step. Get together with other stakeholders to figure out what it takes to close new deals. Your sales map should look something like this:

sales diagram process

How to communicate sales strategies and methodologies

At this stage, many of your playbooks may not exist. The purpose of the plan is to forecast what you’ll need in order to achieve your new goals.

Break each sales stage down into separate activities, along with the stakeholder who is responsible for them.

With your sales activities laid out, you can research the techniques and methodologies needed to execute on them. For example, if you sell a complex product with lengthy sales cycles, you could adopt a SPIN selling methodology to identify pain-points and craft the best solution for leads.

To summarize, each stage must be broken up into the following sections:

  1. Description: Explain why this stage plays an important role in nurturing leads and closing deals.

  2. Activities: Break down the tactics and techniques needed to move opportunities along your sales pipeline.

  3. Stakeholders: Define who is responsible for each stage and the activities within them.

Finally, use these activities and stages to form your sales playbooks. This will help you structure your training plan, providing a reference that reps can rely on for guidance.

Within this section of the sales plan, include the following information:

  • Comprehensive sales approach: The strategies, techniques and methodologies you’ll use to get your offering out to market. This includes defining the various sales methodologies, stages and playbooks that your reps will use throughout the buyer’s journey. 

6. Sales execution plan

You have the “who” and the “what.” Now you must figure out “when” your sales plan will be put in place.

A structured sales execution clearly communicates when key milestones will be reached. It must outline when certain projects and activities will be complete, as well as recruitment timelines across each quarter.

The order in which you implement your plan will also depend on your priorities. Many sales organizations prefer to front-load the activity that will make a bigger impact on the bottom line.

For example, upon analyzing your current sales process and strategy, you may find your existing customers are a rich source of qualified leads. Therefore, it would make sense to prioritize account management activities that nurture more of these relationships using a structured referral program.

You must also consider how recruitment will affect workload across the rest of your team. Hire too quickly, and you may end up spending more time getting new reps up to speed and neglecting your existing team. This can make a big impact on culture and deal flow.

How to communicate your sales execution plan

By prioritizing each activity and goal, you can create a plan that balances short-term results with long-term investment.

Segment each stage of your plan by month and quarter. Start with a rough schedule detailing ballpark deadlines. This should include key hires, process implementation and any one-off projects that need completing.

Collaborate on this schedule with the boardroom before setting it in stone. Get all stakeholders involved in deciding when tasks should be completed. When applying this to your sales plan, use GANTT charts and tables to visualize projects and key milestones.

Within this section of the sales plan, include the following information:

  • Key milestones: When do projects, activities and recruitment efforts need to be completed? You can map them out by week, month, quarter, or all of the above. This schedule will be defined by your priorities and revenue goals.
  • Strategize short- and long-term goals: With a high-level schedule mapped out, you can clearly see when you will achieve your goals. From here, you can shape your schedule so that it balances both short- and long-term goals. 

7. Measuring performance and results

Finally, your plan must include details on how performance is measured. Outline your most important sales metrics and activities, along with the technology needed to track them.

Performance metrics can indicate the effectiveness of your entire sales process. Your chosen metrics typically fall into two categories:

  1. Primary metrics act as your “true north” guide. This is commonly new business revenue generated.

  2. Secondary metrics are those that indicate how well specific areas of your sales process is performing. These include lead response time and average purchase value.

The metrics you select must closely align with your goals and sales activities. For example, at the appointment setting stage, you might measure the number of demos conducted.

Each team needs its own sales dashboard to ensure they’re hitting their targets. Sales development reps will have different priorities to account executives, so it’s critical they have the tools to focus on what’s important to them.

How to communicate sales performance metrics

Structure this part of your plan by breaking down each sales stage. Within these sections, list out the metrics needed to ensure you’re running a healthy sales pipeline.

Assign each metric to a member of your team, ensuring they’re measured against them as KPIs. For example, a sales rep could be measured against:

  • Average opportunity value
  • Close rate
  • Number of new leads
  • Meetings set

Doing this will help you run a smooth operation as soon as you implement your new sales plan. Finally, research and evaluate the technology needed to accurately measure these metrics. A good CRM is the best system to use for bringing your data together.

Within this section of the sales plan, include the following information:

  • Performance measurement: Outline exactly how and what tech you will use to measure your team’s activities and metrics.
  • Chosen sales dashboard: Explain why you chose your sales dashboard technology and exactly how it works.
  • Break down each sales stage: Identify the metrics for each specific sales stage and make sure they align with your KPIs.

Final thoughts

An effective sales plan is an invaluable asset for your sales team. 

Writing it helps you to define your sales strategy, targets, metrics and processes, while distributing it helps your reps understand what is expected of them and how to reach their goals.

That’s because providing supportive, comprehensive resources is the best way to motivate your team and inspire hard work. When you do the work to build a solid foundation, you equip your reps with everything they need to succeed.

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