The First Rule of Selling: Have a Plan

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Most of us have heard that many times in our business careers, but it’s amazing how seldom it’s followed. We start out with the right intentions, but things get in the way. To be successful, nothing should get in the way of having and implementing an effective plan for selling our products and services. A good plan should include:

Our target market. What market (geographic/vertical/etc.) do we serve? Are we focused on one metropolitan area or internationally? As you move forward in implementing a sales plan, it’s important to know the scope of your sales efforts.

Our target customers. Few things are as basic to sales success as understanding our target customers – what types of businesses or individuals will use our services, their annual revenues or incomes, and how they will use our products and services. A good plan will also estimate the numbers of target customers that exist within the market that we serve.

Just as importantly, a good sales plan will define what is NOT a target customer. For most businesses, there are customers that are too small (and, believe it or not, too large) to serve profitably. Some of us will define our target markets by their values and the way that they do business, and eliminate those potential customers that are a bad fit. Remember – it’s okay to turn away bad business. In fact, it’s best to refer bad business to your competition.

Our ideal salespeople. What attributes do we want in a salesperson? Should they be high activity (lots of cold calling, prospecting, and presenting), or high relationship (less cold calling, more work with current accounts)? Is there a specific technical expertise that they need? Do we want them to travel? All of these things should be thought out and put on paper before any people are hired. Compensation plans should be included.

The key thing to remember here is that “selling isn’t selling.” A salesperson that might succeed in one sales environment may fail miserably in another. I firmly believe that the vast majority of salespeople truly WANT to succeed, and are able to succeed if they are correctly matched with their ideal selling environment.

Finally, be aware of what you can afford, and stick to it. If you have enough working capital to hire a 15-year salesperson with an impeccable track record, where the environment is a match, great. Do it. Just remember that you’ll pay for the privilege. Most small businesses have to give up something – prior training, experience, or track record – in order to find someone they can afford. That’s okay, too, just be prepared to supply more support to help the person succeed.

The quantity of people on the sales force. How many salespeople does it take to effectively cover our market? How often do we want to expand the sales force? Are support people (sales secretaries, telemarketers, etc.) needed? “Design” your sales force starting at the bottom, and work up.

While you’re designing, don’t overestimate. In the past, I’ve noted that one of the worst things a company can do is to “cattle call hire,” where they hire a greater number of salespeople than they can support and afford – figuring the good ones will survive and the bad ones won’t. Usually, the end result is the opposite. Good salespeople quickly figure this scheme out, and move on to better work environments. The ones that don’t achieve don’t have that option, so the employer ends up with a small, mediocre, and expensive sales force. Be diligent in interviewing and hiring, and hire what you need.

Growth plans. A good plan should cover revenue growth plans for at least the next three years, and should have a plan for hiring additional people as needed. With that said, there should be some basis for revenue growth (How much can each salesperson reasonably be expected to sell each year?), and sales staff growth (How many prospects/customers can each salesperson manage? At what level of company revenue can we afford new people?). A good sales plan will quantify all of this, and have certain objectives which trigger expansion. More salespeople do not automatically produce more sales.


SalesForce Solutions is owned and operated by Troy Harrison. Troy has been a top salesperson and sales manager for over fifteen years, and has turned around territories and entire sales forces. While working for a national managed services provider, he turned one of the company's worst sales forces into a two-time consecutive National Champion, with six President's Club salesperson awards and two National Champion Sales Manager awards. From there, he has worked as a "turnaround specialist," p...

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