What is a Sales Improvement Plan - and what should it contain?

A Sales Improvement Plan is a strategic plan aimed at improving sales performance in a role, region, or territory. The Sales Improvement Plan often contains details explaining how sales revenue will improve, over what timescales, and what actions will be taken.





Why is a Sales Improvement Plan needed?


When sales performance is falling short of expectations, it is not unusual for management to demand a plan be put in place to rectify the situation and improve bookings performance. A Sales Improvement plan focuses attention on a step-change in behaviour and ensures that the account manager and the supporting team work together to analyze the issue and get behind a plan to solve the problem.


What areas should be covered in the plan?


A strong Sales Improvement Plan will aim to cover the following areas.

  • Current performance vs expectations.

  • Commentary relating to the recent challenges.

  • Plan timescales - when it will commence and when performance will be reassessed.

  • The expected performance improvement (with a specific target goal).

  • Who is responsible for the plan and the team that will support them.

  • A list of activities that will be taken to ensure sales will improve.

  • Who is responsible for each activity (e.g. marketing).

  • What investment will be made in the plan (financial or time).

  • What help is needed from other members of the team.

The plan should be comprehensive but not too detailed. The intention is to convey the key messages in a way that delivers sufficient information to demonstrate a solid understanding of the current problem and a well-thought-through plan. The Sales Improvement Plan will likely be reviewed by different levels of the sales management team. We suggest that a good plan be in the region of 5 to 7 pages.


Internal Reviews


Once completed, the Sales Improvement Plan should be peer-reviewed. Although the success of the plan is associated with the salesperson (and the consequences of its failure), it is critical that the document is peer reviewed and signed off by the sales leadership team. The intention of the document should not be to test the abilities of the lead salesperson, but rather it should be a document that genuinely aims to ensure an improvement in revenue performance.


Looking for other issues


Whilst the salesperson is responsible for the Sales Improvement Plan, it is also critical that sales management take time to look at structural issues that may be impacting performance. It is easy to associate performance issues with a lack of sales ability - although this can be the case, it is often a more complex issue. By simply assuming that the salesperson is the issue there is a risk of continued pure performance when another person is in the hot seat. It is worth checking the following areas:


1) Why customers have chosen alternative options.

Win Loss Analysis is a critical process for any sales team - whether that be in the IT world or in car sales. It is crucial to interview the key contact in your recent losses and to ask what went wrong. This exercise will highlight challenges that your team may not be aware of. Learn more about Win Loss Analysis.


2) Team Analysis.

Have you looked at the strength of your team compared to that of your most important competitors? It is all too easy to look at issues with the individual salesperson, the product or service, the marketing plan etc, but have you spent time looking at your team comparison? Think of this like a sports team, we spend time talking about the relative merits of one club versus another, and how one player compares with his or her counterpart. This should be the same for your sales team. Does your team have the same educational background? Do they have the same level of experience? Are they in the same league?

Learn more about sales team head to head comparisons here.


3) Baseline Analysis

Have you talked to the supporting functions and how they view the situation? The Baseline Review should be a 360-degree assessment of all the key aspects of the sales sector. For example:

  • What do your key partners think is the issue?

  • What do your prospective customers think of your brand or product/service.

  • What does your extended sales team think?

  • What do your support function leaders think is wrong (e.g. pre-sales / legal etc).

This will give you a 'baseline' viewpoint and pinpoint issues that may be outside of the control of the sales lead and the Sales Improvement Plan. Learn more about the Baseline approach here.


Conclusion


A strong Sales Improvement Plan will have the power of the sales team (including leadership and extended support teams) fully behind the plan. It will be well thought through and enable the team to change approach, leaving the previous sales plan behind and testing a new approach.


If the sales leadership team can marry the individual plan with a more strategic analysis of the situation (something which the salesperson is not able to do and is not responsible for), it will ensure that there is a much greater chance of success.


The success (or otherwise) of the Sales Improvement Plan will be assessed at the end of the agreed period. Alongside the plan is usually a stated implication of failed performance and an incentive to hit the new target. The plan should be fluid and the team should not be concerned to change elements if they are not working.


Sales Improvement Plans are a crucial mechanism to give a higher chance of sales targets being achieved.

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