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Leslie Groene Website Homepage November 2020, Vol. 184

Goal Setting for 2021 Part #1

As we get close to finishing this particularly challenging year, it might be time to look at goal setting for 2021. We have more insight into our sales career, customer base and market segments. How can we use these data points to build a successful plan for next year?

What is a sales plan? And why should you care?

A sales plan is the "who, where, why, when and how" that will guide you to hitting your sales goals for the year.

Big picture aside, a sales plan is a month-to-month forecast of the level of sales you expect to achieve and how you're going to get there. It covers past sales, market concerns, your specific niches, who your customers are, and how you're going to find them, engage with them, and sell to them.

Armed with the information you'll compile within your sales plan, you can quickly identify any upcoming problems, sales droughts, or opportunities—and then do something about them. It may seem like a lot of work to develop a sales plan template at this point, but once you answer all these questions you'll be in a place to take your sales (and brand) to the next level.

10 tactical steps to create a bulletproof sales plan.

This will break down your sales plan into 3 distinct sections:

  • Sales forecasting and goal setting
  • Market and customer research
  • Prospecting and partnerships

Each part of the sales plan naturally works itself into the next, starting with your high-level goals, then taking into consideration market factors, and finally looking at who you know, and how to find more prospects to help hit your sales goals.

1. Set realistic sales goals in your sales plan

Before we get into the process of how you're going to get your sales next year, we need to talk about something bigger: Goals.

Your sales plan needs an end goal. You need a number—either sales or customers or whatever metric you choose—that will tell you whether or not what you've done has been a success. I've written about setting realistic sales goals before, but what it all comes down to is determining what realistically you can bring in based on the size of the market, your goals, and the experience and resources available to you.

Aside from that, there are 5 other pitfalls you should be aware of when setting your sales goals:

  1. Wishful thinking: You want your business to grow, so it's understandable that you might be over-optimistic in developing your sales plan. Start by looking at last year's forecast and results (give yourself some grace here as 2020 was very unusual). Were you being realistic? For new businesses, avoid working out the level of sales you need to be viable and putting this as your figure.
  2. Ignoring your own assumptions: Make sure your forecast is based on your assumptions about your market and verticals. If you assume the market's going to decline and you're going to lose some market share, it just doesn't make sense to forecast increased sales.
  3. Moving goalposts: For the most part, you want your forecast to be finalized and agreed within your sales plan on a set timeframe so you can get onto the business of, well, business. Avoid making adjustments to the goals outlined in your sales plan—even if you discover you've been overly optimistic or pessimistic in your sales planning. This document should be a benchmark to judge your success or failure.
  4. Not asking for consultation as a sales manager: Your sales teams are in the trenches with you and probably have the best knowledge about your customers. So, why wouldn't you ask their opinions, give them time to talk to their customers, and come to an agreement about the targets that go into your sales plan?
  5. Not setting aside time for feedback: Having set your sales goals, you need someone to come in and challenge it. Get an experienced person—your sales manager (if you have one), a senior salesperson, or qualified friend—to review the entire document before solidifying your sales plan.

Above all else, remember that when you're developing your sales plan, it's natural to be wrong in some of your assumptions—especially around goals and forecasting. But what's important, is that you carefully document what needs updating when it's time for a version two of your sales plan.

2. Define clear deadlines and milestones in your sales plan

In order to know whether or not the assumptions you're making in your sales plan are close to the mark, you need to break that big number down into smaller expectations with strict deadlines. We call these milestones and they're incredibly handy in tracking whether or not your sales plan is on the right path.

Again, start with last year's numbers (if you have them). Track how sales revenues increased or declined annually and compare your company to the industry standards. This will give you a real, frontline take of what milestones to set in your sales plan.

Next, it's time to set your milestones. These need to be specific with clear goals and deadlines. For example, you might want to increase your customer base by 20% or increase sales 50% for a specific product. Or even increase the percentage of users on a paid plan by 15% by mid-year. Whatever the milestone is, be clear what your expectations are and set a hard deadline for your team to work towards.

Brought together, these milestones inform and support your overall sales plan, giving you a clear, actionable plan of how you're going to hit your overall goals for the year.

3. Pick a niche to focus on and build traction in that vertical

First, we need to know the market we're in and the niche we're going to occupy so we can properly position our business for growth (and to achieve the goals in your sales plan).

What's a business niche? Essentially, it's what your business specializes in, but it goes a bit deeper than that. A niche is the space your business occupies, not just with your products, but with your content, your company culture, your branding, and your message. It's how people identify with you and search you out over the competition.

Start by looking at a niche and asking yourself these questions:

  • How big is the market?
  • Is there a built-in demand for what you're selling?
  • What's your current market position: Including any strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats?
  • Who are your competitors? What are their strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats?

The beauty of working in a field that you already have an interest in is that you can build traction through becoming a thought leader. These kinds of strategic advantages will amplify the results you're able to get from your sales plan.

Do you have something unique to say about your market? Blog, write and contribute to relevant publications. Be a guest on podcasts. Speak at events. Add value to the lives of your prospects before you ever ask them to become a customer.

The more visibility you can have in your vertical, the more chance you have of hitting the goals and milestones in your sales plan.

And even if you focus on one niche, it doesn't mean your business can't grow. Start with one product in one niche and then branch out to a complementary niche. Sell beautiful, handcrafted teacups? How about a booming doily business? Or customizable teaspoons?

A vertical doesn't limit you. It focuses you.

4. Understand your target customers

It makes no sense spending time and money chasing after the wrong prospects, so don't allow them to make their way into your sales plan.

Once you know your niche, it's time to dig into finding out as much as possible about your target customer in order to properly sell to them.

So, just what should you look to define about your audience within your sales plan? That depends on your company and your market, but start with basics like company size (in terms of employees or turnover), geographical information, industry, job title, etc.—any traits that are common across your best customers or the types of customers you'd love to have.

Also, don't forget to think about whether they're going to be a good 'fit'. If this is a long-term relationship, you're developing rather than a one-night stand, you want to make sure you're speaking the same language and share a similar culture and vision.

Use this information to build out an ideal customer profile. This can be your ideal 'perfect customer' or a fictitious organization that gets significant value from using your product/service and provides significant value to your company. A customer profile helps you qualify new leads and disqualify ones before you spend months barking up the wrong tree and under-delivering on your sales plan.

Once you know the type of company you want to target, it's time to get inside their head. Start by hanging out where they hang out:

  • Are they on social media? What's their network of choice?
  • Are they members of any Facebook or LinkedIn groups?
  • What podcasts do they listen to or what resources do they read?

Get in your customers' heads and you'll be in a much better position to sell to them.

5. Map out your customer's journey

Alright, now we're getting somewhere solid.

With your ideal customer profile in place, the next part of your sales plan needs to address how that customer becomes your customer. We can do this by mapping out their journey from prospect to loyal customer.

So, what do we need to know about our soon-to-be customers? Let's start with the basics to ask them:

  • What do you want our product to do for you?
  • What features are important to you? Why?
  • What's your budget for this?
  • How are you currently solving this problem?

These are all great questions to ask. However, it's a huge mistake to only focus on the present in your sales plan.

Great salespeople take their buyers on a journey through time—from before they even knew they needed your solution to when they're a happy, loyal customer.

If they had a great previous experience, think of ways to align your pitch with that experience and differentiate yourself with your unique value proposition (more on this next!). If they had a bad experience, distance yourself and explain how you would fix that situation.

Next, get your prospect to define their own roadmap to a close by asking them 'what's next?'

Putting your prospect in this future-thinking state of mind makes them imagine buying from you. This is a powerful tool, which can help uncover any potential roadblocks and even help accelerate the sales process.

In your sales plan, be sure to address the entire customer journey from pre- to post-sale.