Sales planning is usually a subject that frustrates a lot of sales professionals – including Sales Directors!

If your experience is anything like mine, then planning to achieve sales targets for the next year is at best an arbitrary percentage growth figure on this year’s entire figures. Alternatively and at worst, it is an unrealistic target figure that seems to have been cooked up somewhere, by someone and then comes down from on high to you and your team to then deliver on it! No pressure!!

So, when I talk about getting the sales team making more sales, clearly targets have to be set that are both realistic and stretching at the same time, but not so demanding that they demoralise the entire team and the organisation in the first few months of the New Year as revision after revision is brought in, because they were so far out!

In basic terms, sales planning can be very simple! All we have to do is look at existing customers and what they did this year – factor in some growth as a realistic percentage, having gone through the list and taken out any growth from whom you know won’t produce the same level this year versus last. At the same time, factoring in more sales for those accounts where you know growth is very likely to be more significant in the next 12 months than your ‘average’ percentage.

That done, then it’s a simple case of working through your pipeline prospects (those which are currently being developed, but haven’t signed on the dotted line yet..but you may be getting close). Allowing at the same time for some ‘fallout’ from that segment i.e. business which will not be converted (that’s sales!). Then decide on a reasonable ‘net figure’ for next year for this pipleine area of your business.

All that then needs to happen is for you to add up all estimates on your existing customers and ‘net pipeline prospects’ to come up with an overall figure of what is most liklely to happen.

Finally then, take a view on what is realistic in terms of additional new business to be won next year on top of that (i.e. how many accounts/contracts/orders etc). Add all three together and this will then complete the full sales growth picture for your business.

You should now be able to formulate a series of activity targets across the three main areas of focus any business has to worry about. This is: keeping and growing what you’ve got (account management); maximising closure of your pipeline opportunities (proposals/presentations etc); and finally, going to the coldest place on Earth to prospect for brand-new business (cold calling)!

In my opinion, this whole process should be a collaborative approach between you and your sales team, with you leading the way and influencing to some extent.

It should also align to your marketing activities too, so that any historic ratios across all the above activity types are reduced.

Once these targets are agreed, the team are far more likely to hit them; be motivated to keep going throughout the whole year (as targets are more easily reacehed and exceeded); empowered to run their part of the business as if they were MD of their own territory/portfolio and have a clearer focus in what needs to be done month by month, week by week in their activities and in order to hit their overall target.

This approach isn’t intended to be a time management process by the way (although you get that out of it!). It is about how salespeople can keep focus on all the areas of their business that’s important in terms of growing the ‘future shape’ of their sales territories.

Ultimately, best results for you and for them!