How to Create a Sales Plan in B2B (a Go-to-Market Guide)

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For sales managers, planning for the future can feel quite different from stomping out fires in the present. Efficiently structuring your market opportunities and deploying your sales team to match is how sales leaders translate high-level strategy into execution in the field.

Sales planning is complex, especially in B2B. Complexity creates opportunities. The more that sales organizations can organize their customers and prospects and then empower their sales team to effectively deliver on those opportunities, the more successful they’ll be at beating the competition.

Read on to learn what sales planning is, how to optimize it in B2B, and what best practices develop a successful sales planning process.

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What is Sales Planning?

Sales Planning is how a sales organization slices up the market and aligns its sales team to fit. Sales planning is the crucial link that connects high-level strategy—goals, markets, products—with execution in the field.

By optimizing its sales planning, a sales organization can make sure that it pairs the right salespeople with the right accounts and that it groups accounts most efficiently. It can ensure that the way it organizes customers and prospects remains in sync with the company’s overall sales goals. Good sales planning also puts a company’s salespeople in the best position to succeed.

Sales planning comprises the key building blocks of a sales strategy: sales quota planning, territory planning, account segmentation and scoring, and sales capacity planning. By optimizing these and connecting them to one another, a sales organization can increase the productivity of its sales force, reduce attrition and, ideally, raise its bottom line.

What’s the difference between Sales Planning and a Sales Plan?

A sales plan is something a sales leader (or a team of sales leaders) make once, or maybe once a year; sales planning is an ongoing activity. In this way, companies who shift from making a sales plan to doing sales planning year-round are able to stay more flexible and can more quickly adapt to market or other business changes.

The transition from making a sales plan to doing sales planning becomes more important the more a sales team grows and a company’s sales strategy matures. As the sales strategy integrates more and more moving pieces—which can be people, products, territories, customers, markets, currencies, geographies, or any other element—it’s critical that sales leadership be able to address changes as they happen.

Rather than seeing a sales plan as an inflexible framework that to be rigidly adhered to at all moments, sales leaders should view sales planning as an evolving set of modifiable guidelines that help a sales organization best fulfill its goals. Taking this approach helps a sales team to figure out the best way to address its key priorities, even if those priorities change.

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What are the key aspects of a sales plan?

Sales planning generally includes those aspects of the sales strategy that deal with organizing prospects and coordinating the sales team, including account segmentation and scoring, sales quota planning, territory planning, and sales capacity planning.

Account Segmentation and Scoring

Account segmentation and scoring is how sales organizations classify and group their opportunities. Doing both effectively helps sales teams understand which markets, products, and customers they should target to best grow their business, which opportunities are ripe for cross-selling or upselling, and how the company’s salespeople are best deployed.

Both account segmentation and account scoring exert a downstream influence in the sales organization, helping determine how that organization plans its territories and quotas, how it makes its forecasts, and how it interacts with other parts of the organization, including marketing and HR.

The key steps for evaluating sales opportunities

There are three key steps for developing an initial understanding of sales opportunities:

  1. Define account segments

    A good segmentation strategy begins with knowing which attributes are most important to your company’s success, and which allow you to most efficiently group accounts by sales strategy. Accounts can be grouped by any number of criteria: industry, revenue, prior-year sales, employee headcount, wallet share, tenure, and more. Any of these may correlate with your product offerings (perhaps you have different products for different-sized companies, or companies in different industries), or with the salespeople in your company (perhaps your salespeople are better equipped to sell to companies in the same industry, even if those companies have different sizes. Perhaps the opposite is true.).

    You can additionally segment accounts based on whether they are active or pipeline accounts that require further nurturing. Classifying accounts in this way can help you forecast revenues for the quarter or year.

  2. Assess account potential

    Sales managers are often lured by the rush of chasing after new business—but it’s often easier, faster, and cheaper to sell to an existing customer than to get a foot in the door with a new account. Take a look at prior-year sales and identify key active accounts with large expansion opportunity. Then calculate the potential ROI of devoting different resources to existing accounts versus potential new ones.

  3. Collaborate with front-line salespeople but incorporate actual data

    Make prioritizing and ranking accounts a collaborative process between sales leaders and front-line salespeople, like field managers and sales reps. Front-line teams work with your customers daily and often have valuable insights that can help calculate account growth potential versus exhausted accounts.

    At the same time, make sure that you have data to reinforce whatever hunches your sales people might have. In this way, account segmentation can be a bi-directional process: front-line salespeople can give you insights into how to read your data, and data can help front-line salespeople better prioritize their activities.

Sales Quota Planning

Did you know that 50 percent of organizations create five to ten iterations of their sales quota plans before rolling those quotas out to the field? Here are some tips for setting more effective sales quotas.

  1. Weigh past performance against future opportunity

    Many organizations set their sales quotas based on the historical performance of individual sales reps, but that can unintentionally discourage collaboration or penalize your best salespeople. Instead of simply upping last year’s quotas, take a closer look at the overall market opportunity and make sure your quotas are encouraging the behaviors that best fit the unique drivers in your market.

  2. Use technology to monitor and measure the results

    The key for setting better quotas is to use the right technology to evaluate effectiveness. “The right technology” means technology designed to do this sort of work.

    For example, you’re probably using a CRM to monitor data for leaders and sales teams and to keep track of leads, calendars events, meetings, and deadlines. But this kind of technology doesn’t collect the information you need to design good quotas. Nor can it consolidate, reorganize, and track data in the forms you need.

    Instead, you need technology that can collect and analyze sales data automatically, and that can supply this data when you need it.

  3. Strike the right balance

    Setting sales quotas is all about balance. Sales quotas need to meet the needs of your sales reps, your sales managers, and your company as a whole, while also syncing with your company’s overall business strategy. With a more transparent process, you’ll get sales reps buy-in to their sales quotas, which leads to their working harder toward reaching and exceeding those goals because they believe in the process and understand the decisions that produced those quotas.

  4. Create a consistent process

    A recent Anaplan survey found that 38 percent of companies suffer from a “lack of effective processes” when setting quotas. At many companies, the process changes yearly. For example, different sales reps might be assigned higher or lower quotas based on their past performance. When these kinds of variables are arbitrary, reps tend to ignore them. To keep both your field and leadership happy, determine a consistent process and stick to year after year.

Territory Planning

A recent article in Harvard Business Review found that by optimizing their sales territories, sales organizations can increase sales by two-to-seven percent without changing anything else about their strategy and without allocating resources any differently. Indeed, it’s crucial to evolve your territory and quota strategy to keep up as business priorities and objectives change.

Here are three tips for taking the guesswork out of territory planning and integrating your territory planning into your overall enterprise performance management strategy:

  1. Use a data-driven approach

    Territory and quota planning needs to be part of your team’s overall sales forecasting and sales analytics processes. Your organization likely has a massive amount of sales data. Look for ways to use this data to gain insights into where the biggest opportunities lie and how those opportunities are spread across your sales territories. Locate territories that show signs of growth and assign reps whose strengths best align with these opportunities. Make sure that your territory assignments and sales quotas are based on real data and solid trends, not just wishful thinking.

  2. Listen to front-line sales managers and reps

    As with quota-planning, creating sales territories should be a collaborative process. Instead of handing down the latest territory assignments from the top, work with sales managers and sales reps to get the latest intelligence from the front lines. Which territories are seen as particularly promising, and which ones are the backwaters that no one wants to work and why? Sales people are hyper-aware of opportunities, so take advantage of their insights and intuition to build a stronger sales performance management program.

  3. Make a “living” plan

    In the business of sales, you often have to improvise and respond to unforeseen circumstances. A territory plan should be similarly flexible. Be willing to modify your territory plans based on shifts in the economy, changing business priorities, or headcount changes.

    Like “sales planning” versus “a sales plan,” territory plans shouldn’t be fixed entities; they should evolve with your sales strategy.

    It’s for this reason that cloud-based sales planning tools are crucial for maintaining your territory plans. They’re far more flexible than any other solutions. Massive spreadsheets and legacy systems do not offer flexibility or visibility into scenario-based planning. With a cloud-based tool that gives a view into the whole sales organization, sales leaders can foresee the affects a change in territory or account strategy will have and can focus their teams on the most profitable accounts and regions.

    With the right data-driven approach, enhanced collaboration, and the ability to do scenario-based planning, territory and quota plans can better align with overall revenue projections, as well as your organization’s big-picture business strategy.

Sales Capacity Planning

Having the right number of sales people deployed in all of the sales territories and assigned quota targets is critical to capturing all market opportunities and meeting revenue targets.

Sales Capacity Planning allows Sales and HR professionals to plan, model, and optimize the sales capacity and resource requirements, ensuring that the sales organization has complete coverage in all territories, eliminating the risk of unassigned quotas.

Top-down vs. bottom-up capacity planning
  • Top-down Sales Capacity Planning: Take the goal and build a model that lists your current team and their quotas, and then add the “to be hired” assets to get enough quota coverage to hit the goal.
  • Bottom-up Sales Capacity Planning: Look at your past performance, new information pertinent to the coming year, and your rate limiting factors, and build a model that will predict how much you can do.
Three steps to successful capacity planning
  1. Align sales capacity and resource requirements with territory and quota plans. Ensure that the sales team is leveraging every opportunity to meet revenue and quota targets.
  2. Connect sales capacity plans with HR hiring and recruitment plans. Make sure HR is recruiting and hiring the right number of sales reps at the right time for sales onboarding and training.
  3. Quickly identify sales capacity and resource gaps. Understand the impact of covering all sales territories and attaining quota targets.

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How should you prepare for the Sales Planning process?

According to SiriusDecisions, preparation should begin at least 30 days before sales leadership gets together. To prepare, stakeholders should assemble the previous year’s sales and productivity data: customer counts, channel information, revenue by product, revenue by geography or business units, overall profits, costs, and anything else that can help with the processes described above. It’s key that sales leadership validate the data to ensure that it’s trustworthy.

Once sales leaders have collected data, they should comb through it to locate problem areas. Observing data in different time dimensions (yearly, quarterly, monthly) can help isolate trends, and potential areas of future success.

Before sales planning meetings, trends and conclusions drawn from the data should be packaged in a reader-friendly format and distributed to all stakeholders with enough time for decision-makers to internalize the results.

What are some best practices for Sales Planning?

Making sales planning easier can sometimes be a matter of adopting best practices and maintaining them as goals change. For example:

  • Cross-organization collaboration

Because sales planning is about aligning the nuts and bolts of a sales strategy to corporate goals and objectives, sales planning needs to be viewed as a collaborative and interactive process. Planning meetings should involve stakeholders from across the organization. Be sure to include:

  • Sales: CSO, Sales Operations, Sales Enablement
  • Marketing: CMO, Marketing Operations
  • Product: Head of Product, Product Marketing
  • Gain a clear line of sight

To gain a competitive edge, sales leaders need to maintain clear line of sight into the behaviors of their sales reps and the reasons for those behaviors. In many companies, for example, sales reps find that too much of their time is spent on administrative tasks. OpenSymmetry states that that 65 percent of sales leaders report that spending too much time on non-selling activities is a top business issue for sales in the coming year. On the other hand, when companies invest in best-in-class sales performance management solutions, they experience 25 percent lower turnover rates, 36 percent shorter sales cycles, and seven percent more sales reps making their quota.

  • Use metrics that matter

The sales organization’s ability to collect valid data over multiple years is critical to sales planning. Advanced technology can help extract nuggets of insight from vast amounts of data.

  • Integrate your tools

Tools add efficiency to the sales planning process and make everything more accurate—but only if they are part of an integrated tool kit. To be done right, sales planning requires data from marketing, finance, workforce, and whatever business intelligence tools your organization uses. By adopting better tools, you can calculate territories and quotas much more quickly.

  • Retain top talent

According to the BMS Quarterly Sales Index, 56 percent of sales leaders report that retaining good performers will be a big problem for them in the coming year. Adding to the problem is the fact that different companies lose talent for different reasons, which makes it hard to develop a universal solution. Because of this, many sales leaders simply increase salaries, hoping that this will retain the best people. Although this may work in the short term, retaining talent in the long term requires sales leaders to create a culture in which salespeople are able to do their best work.

What is the future of Sales Planning?

As sales organizations develop their sales planning, the more successful ones will adopt the practices described above: turning the yearly sales plan into ongoing sales planning; coordinating stakeholders from across the organization; adopting advanced technology to automate sales planning processes; using modeling capabilities to plan out new territory and quota scenarios.

As the sales world continues to develop, companies who can plan most effectively will be those who continue to beat their competitors. We encourage you to learn more about how sales planning software can help you meet these goals.

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