June 2, 2016 by Ashwin Ramasamy

Well planned is half done, they say.

It can’t be truer for sales planning. In fact, you could be certain to miss your annual sales targets if you don’t begin your planning by September (for the year that begins in January). Between the thought of doing a sales plan and actually getting done, lies the big chasm of  Where do I begin?

Right? I hear you. You can head straight to this sales plan template. It’s free to use!

Before you rush to plug in your numbers, do some groundwork though. The template is just a beginning and there are several nuances you could add to make your sales plan close to reality.

Here are seven aspects of the sales plan that you ought to model for, before sending it to your VP of Sales.

1. There is no “one” sales target

For most traditional companies there is a booking target (the amount that the customer agrees to pay you – which is in the contract); a billing target (the amount that you bill your customer by sending an invoice – it could be 100% of the booking or 10%, depending on the milestones); a collection target (which is the money the customer eventually pays you after you’ve raised your invoice).

It’s important for sales reps to understand the concept of ‘Accrual’ to appreciate the difference between booking and billing.

You’d be able to bill a customer for the work that has accrued (or to be simplistic, completed). In a software-as-a-service company that bills on a monthly usage basis, the bill accrues in installments of a month.

2. Inbound delivers over time, outbound pays immediately

When preparing your sales plan or discussing sales strategy, bear in mind that it would hurt you to take sides on the utility of certain sales channels. Inbound marketing is unpredictable if you take a time window and try to predict the leads you’d get out of it. However, over the long run, good content continues to deliver leads.

On the other hand, outbound marketing (especially one that’s precise and done intelligently – which is what PipeCandy helps you to do) targets people one-on-one and the results are immediate.

You need both. You need inbound to set out a perpetual lead engine and you need outbound to target named accounts & deliver immediate results. Take the basic sales plan template from PipeCandy and improve it by adding these channels.

3. Less than 10% of the people you reach out to become named prospects

If you are new to sales planning, this might come across as abysmal because it is! Sales and Marketing channels become more and more useful until they reach a point of complete uselessness. If a channel works, everyone gets there and spoils for all of us.

Expect any channel to deliver less than 10% conversion from leads touched to leads converted to prospects. In fact, I am being very bullish with that number. 2% is not far from reality. With PipeCandy we are trying to change this for you – by delivering contextual messages to your leads so that the conversion rates (warm responses) are in the healthy double digit percentage range.

4. Conversion rate (from prospects to paying customers) is unique to you

There is no industry rule-of-thumb or norm, even though we all like to have an anchor to base our expectations on. Your conversion rates depend on your product or service, how good a sales rep you are, how easy and well-articulated your pre-sales process is, etc. We’ve seen companies that convert 1 in 4 prospects. We’ve also seen companies that convert 1 in 10. Both aren’t bad – the context decides. According to FitSmallBusiness, this is how you create your own template:

If you are writing a sales strategy report for the first time for your company, it’s not a bad idea to borrow conversion rates from a peer. But, iterate on your plan after a quarter.

5. Account for lead times when writing sales plans

A sales rep is not rewarded for being optimistic with the sales plan. She is rewarded for meeting the targets. So, prepare a realistic plan – while you could have a stretch target, the workings that lead you up to achieving that target have to reflect reality. One important component in predicting deal closures is ‘lead time’.

Prospects take some time to warm up. Push hard and they may leave. Explore various customer segments for a couple of quarters to arrive at representative lead times for closure and fine tune your model.

Be ruthless to discount any leads that cross a certain threshold. Your sales plan could have positive surprises (like prospects closing well after the expected lead time) but not negative surprises (like prospects that you consider would close, even after crossing the lead times and they never convert).

6. Last quarter is a myth. Acknowledge that in your sales plan template

Your sales plan template would have the last quarter. But in reality, there is no such thing called the last quarter. Your last quarter is actually the quarter zero for the next year’s pipeline. If you achieve your yearly targets in November but there is no pipeline for January, you’d miss your first quarter of the coming year.

In your sales plan, account for vacation season, year end budget crunches etc and accelerate activity during the third quarter and the first half of the fourth quarter to have a smooth sailing in the next year’s first quarter.

Building a predictable sales funnel starts with a good plan that is battle-tested. Make copies of the sales plan template we have shared, improve it and comment below. Let’s build a good, comprehensive sales plan for the community.

Ashwin Ramasamy

Co-founder @ PipeCandy

Slips poor jokes & gets away with a poker face. Carries a no BS attitude at getting things done. First to arrive at the office, Ashwin’s energy does not ebb through the day. Ashwin is one of the co-founders and he sets the tone for marketing, sales, design & culture.