As an outside sales manager, you feel like you’re doing all the right things. You’ve created an effective sales performance plan for your team, establishing well-balanced territories and assigning each region to the most capable sales reps. The team knows all the important KPIs and have their goals hammered out. But still, they’re having trouble executing and hitting their quotas.
What might be missing? A personal, documented sales plan can help an outside sales rep map out their activities and plan their time efficiently. Here’s why outside sales leaders should coach their team on how to plan, and tips for creating a plan that gets results.
What Is Sales Planning?
A sales plan is a documented outline of tasks that set short-term goals and help reach long-term goals. These steps and action items tell sales reps how to structure their day and what to focus on. A sales plan comprises various sales activities like in-person sales visits, sending emails, making calls, gathering collateral, and preparing for sales presentations.
Further, a sales plan dictates what tasks and accounts take priority over others. When done correctly, a plan provides sales professionals with a clear picture of their daily and weekly targets and what steps are required to hit those targets.
Why Planning Is Important For Outside Sales Reps
Planning Helps Sales Reps Use Their Time More Efficiently
Remember the old adage, “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail”? As it turns out, it’s a cliche for a reason. According to Gartner, companies miss up to 10% of annual sales due to poor sales planning.
As any sales leader knows, outside sales reps are frequently on the move, spending up to five days in the field each week. Without a sales plan, reps are navigating their day without a compass. With a sales plan, reps can map out their routes ahead of time and make the most of sales trips. Ensuring there is time in the week to tend to emails, return voicemails and provide feedback in CRM customer files prevents activities from falling through the cracks.
Planning Helps Prioritize The Right Customer Accounts
While every customer deserves great service, not every account is created equal. Some may bring in far more revenue than others, and some may require more time and patience. It’s important for reps to understand these nuances and plan their time appropriately.
Planning nudges reps to ask themselves important questions, such as:
- Which high-value accounts deserve the most attention?
- Would this particularly difficult client relationship benefit from some extra TLC?
- Are there customers on the verge of buying who need one more phone call or email?
- Are there existing customers or prospects I haven’t contacted in a long time?
As a bonus: The more efficiently a sales professional plans their time, the more time they have to pursue those “unicorn” or dream clients.
Planning Sets The Stage For Future Success
A good sales plan tells sales professionals what to do right now. A great plan also tells them what to do in the future. Sales is a process, often requiring various tactics and numerous touchpoints. A strategic plan that considers the full sales cycle reminds reps to nurture valuable relationships and plant seeds that will bear fruit in the long term.
Planning Relieves Stress And Improves Job Satisfaction
Going into a work week without a sales plan is daunting. Having a clear, simple template to follow can lower stress and lead to reps feeling happier and more secure in their roles. The more satisfied a rep is with their job, the more likely they are to stay in their current position. This means lower outside sales attrition, which is a huge plus, considering the average sales turnover rate has been reported as high as 35%.
Establishing A Sales Planning Process
One of the hardest parts of creating a plan is getting started. First things first, decide when and how often you’re going to plan. For example, will you do your planning on a daily basis, or once a week?
In our 2021 Annual Field Sales Benchmark Report, we asked nearly 200 sales professionals to share insights about their roles, responsibilities, and day-to-day behaviors. When asked how they preferred to do their planning, 30% of reps opted to create their plans on a daily basis.
The far more popular option was to create weekly plans. We learned that 64% of reps plan at the end of each week, or even on the weekends, for the upcoming week.
Benefits of planning on a daily basis:
- Requires less thought and preparation day-to-day
- Focus on one day at a time
- Plan your time hour-by-hour if needed
- May be necessary if you have rapidly changing priorities
Benefits of planning on a weekly basis:
- See the entire week’s meetings, appointments, and tasks at a glance
- Ability to set larger goals for the week as opposed to just goals for the day
- Eliminates the need to carve out time each day to rewrite your plan
- Helpful for working on projects that last a week or more
- Less likely to forget the small tasks when planned a week ahead of time
- Easier to identify the tasks that are not helping you reach your goals.
- Provides more freedom for reps who feel confined by a minute-to-minute schedule.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if the planning happens daily or weekly -- as long as it's consistent.
Choose Your Sales Planning Tools
Every house needs a strong foundation, and you can’t build a strong foundation without the right tools! Before diving into creating a sales plan, consider what tools or templates will best suit your needs and work style.
1. Paper Sales Planner
The most basic approach to planning is purchasing a physical sales planner book. There are endless options to choose from, including daily versus weekly sales planners, and planners that span a year versus 6 months.
2. Sales Plan Template
For something a little more advanced, but with plenty of customization options, plans can be tracked in a simple Word document or on an Excel spreadsheet. If you need guidelines to get started, there are a number of free templates available online.
3. Digital task and project management tools
No matter what you are looking to track, there’s a task management tool for you. Hundreds of free and paid task management apps are available for both desktop and mobile use. These tools can help manage day-to-day tasks, time tracking, goal tracking, and more. Options range from more simple and straightforward apps like ToodleDo to robust project management platforms like Trello.
4. Sales Planning Software
If we’re ranking your options as good- better-best, then leveraging a sales built CRM system is definitely taking the “best” title. CRMs give sales teams an organized view of their most important sales data in one place. You can easily track all contacts, interactions, and tasks on a daily and weekly basis.
When CRMs are paired with a mobile-friendly mapping software like Map My Customers, a field sales rep can have their entire game plan (right down to the perfect travel routes) in the palm of their hand. Map My Customers offers a Smart Planner, which automatically creates daily action plans for your field sales reps. Reps start with a calendar view of their planned visits and follow-ups. Smart Planner then suggests activities to add to their day - like nearby accounts or customers who are overdue for follow up. These daily agendas can be turned into an optimized route with just a tap, putting reps on the road in minutes.
How To Create A Sales Plan: The Essential Building Blocks
You want your sales team to spend their time selling, not bogged down with tasks. The goal of planning is to make a rep as efficient as possible, and get the most done in the least amount of time. A sales plan that is truly worth the time investment will also touch on all the strategies that lead to maximum efficiency and productivity. Encourage your sales reps to include the following elements in their plans:
Identify and prioritize goals
Ideally, sales professionals already know their individual quotas and conversion rates. Part of the sales plan’s value is helping them blend these high-level goals with daily micro-goals. While every sales activity should be aligned with the rep’s ultimate KPIs, identifying smaller goals for the day or even the week helps break larger objectives into manageable chunks. Additionally, accomplishing even small goals can trigger the release of dopamine, a "feel-good" brain chemical that plays a key role in motivation.
A tried and true method is the SMART guide to goal setting. SMART — which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Based — is a goal setting strategy that can be used to reach any objective.
The beauty of the SMART method is that it requires specificity. Rather than making a wish and hoping for the best, SMART requires you to pinpoint exactly what you want to achieve, whether it's realistic, how you plan to achieve it, how you plan to measure it, and how you will know when the goal has been achieved.
Each letter in the SMART acronym highlights the most important characteristics of a goal.
Review Account Histories
Utilize company tools (like your CRM system) to review all interactions with prospects and existing clients. This places reps in the best possible position to learn about their customers and understand their goals and preferences. Frequent reviews help ensure reps approach clients the right way, and avoid looking careless or inattentive.
Gather All Sales Collateral In Advance
Sending the right information to prospects at the right time is critical. Once the week's objectives are established, make a list of the various sales materials needed to support these efforts, and gather them ahead of time. This saves time, helps cut back on errors, and reduces the need for stressful last-minute scrambling.
Optimize Your Routes
In our 2021 Annual Field Sales Benchmark Report, we learned the average outside sales rep spends 22 hours a week behind the wheel and attends between 30-40 in person sales visits a week. This is where purpose-built sales engagement tools like Map My Customers really shine. In addition to helping traveling sales reps plan optimized multi-stop routing, it can also identify potential clients in areas they are already visiting.
Schedule Future Follow-Ups
Staying in front of prospects is just as important as identifying new ones. Weave a follow-up schedule into a sales plan, telling you exactly when and how to reach out. Planning follow-ups stops leads from falling through the cracks and helps set you up for successful planning later.
While setting small, attainable goals can boost performance, overdoing it can have the opposite effect. Scheduling back-to-back meetings all week assumes that unexpected things never happen, like bad weather, missing a flight, or getting stuck in traffic. Include buffers to take some of the stress out and add some flexibility in.
Include Planned Breaks
Sales managers should encourage reps to take breaks and avoid burn-out. A rep may not consider the immense value in scheduling rest-and-refuel time into their day. Research indicates that even planned, short breaks can help us perform at our best.
Dedicate Time To Building Tech Skills
Research shows that high performing sales teams are twice as likely to provide ongoing training than low-performing teams. Newer sales reps, especially ones with no experience or very little experience, should build time into their plan for technology training. While many modern programs and sales software are quite intuitive, setting time aside to properly learn to leverage these tools can supercharge a new rep’s effectiveness and productivity. Learn more about the importance of including tech in your sales onboarding here.
Coach Your Reps On Sales Planning
A rep’s sales plan is somewhat personal, and no boss wants to feel like they’re micromanaging. Still, it’s important to have insight into what your reps are doing and what they view as important so you can provide guidance. This is particularly important for outside sales leaders managing a team that’s frequently on the road.
Keep an open line of communication with your team, and offer to coach them on creating their sales plans. If needed, schedule regular check-ins to review their progress, point out new opportunities, and offer suggestions for improvement. If your team is leveraging a CRM mapping tool, you can quickly check on your team’s whereabouts and activities without crowding them.
Start Planning Today
Crafting a daily and/or weekly plan is key to the success of a field sales rep. Writing a plan gives sales professionals the opportunity to take ownership of their territories and target accounts, map out their strategy, and track their progress. Further, planning boosts productivity and helps outside sales reps make the most of each day in the field.
Encourage your team to create individual plans and evaluate them on a regular basis. With guidance from management, and the right sales technology and resources, a plan can lay the foundation for a sales team to take their efforts to the next level.