The end of second semester of 2010 is fast approaching.  It’s again time for most companies to conduct strategic sales planning sessions.  Managers are expected to spend sleepless nights to prepare enormous amounts of data needed in the planning session. These planning activities may be conducted outside the office or even outside the country to provide an environment where managers can focus and squeeze their creative juices. 
 
Many sales planning sessions, however, merely result to plans that fail to define clear roadmaps to reach specific goals. The sales plans are oftentimes peppered with motherhood statements and nice words that convince everyone to call it a sales plan and then “please, let’s proceed to the next topic so we can all go shopping?”  The action plans are usually misaligned if not vague, and strategies are not executable. This results to sales people abandoning the strategies in the early middle part of the game and find comfort in their old tactics that further misalign them from the overall marketing intent.  Did I recently find an infant formula bundled with NFA rice to ‘help us hit our month’s sales quota?’ The reason is largely because most sales managers are ill equipped to design a robust sales plan that provides clear paths to reach the company’s goals.
The following are just some of the factors adversely affecting the development of a winning sales plan:
Poor situation analysis. This happens when sales managers do not use a ‘frame of reference’ in identifying core issues affecting sales growth and customer service.  The absence of this frame of reference drifts the analysis to the sales blame game. This is the old sales joke that points to the weather, broken bridges, the economy, and whatever hindrances to attaining sales goals.  The frame of reference is sometimes referred to as key sales drivers.  Examples are: coverage, numeric and weighted distribution, display, inventory level, information, promotions, and customer relationship where each driver is analyzed. How do we make our competitors obsolete in all or most of these drivers? The SWOT analysis is the most commonly used tool for this activity.  Analysis in each sales driver is then consolidated to provide a summary of issues and opportunities.  Strengths and opportunities when combined provide the key leverage points the sales force can ‘leverage’ on to advance the plans.  Weaknesses and threats when combined show the implications of the issues in the attainment of goals and strategy execution. This part of the exercise is so critical to the entire process.  Poor situation analysis leads to a poor sales plan.
Objectives and strategies do not align with the situation analysis.  Apart from the top-level objective handed down by management, the winning sales plan needs to outline specific objectives derived from the SWOT analysis.  For example, if one of the core issues affecting distribution expansion is the lack of effective distributor partners, then, an objective could be, ‘to deploy x number of distributor partners.’  In this way, the objective is cognizant of the requirements affecting the attainment of the overall plan. In setting the objective, it is also important to qualify the assumptions of the objective. In this case, you may assume, for example, that you will find distributor partners who will pass your selection criteria for a quality partner; your company’s logistics and order processing department are capable of serving the increased number of distributors, and so on.
Lack of specific executable details– This is the part where most sales managers neglect to scrutinize and mentally simulate the details.  Each sales strategy must have at least one action step outlined in the Sales Activity Plan (or a Gantt chart) with timetables, sources of information and supports, people responsible, budget and cost estimates. Each action step has to be tested if indeed, it is actionable and resources are available.
So, avoid the pitfalls in sales planning that could derail your efforts to success.  Learn how to use tools to sharpen the logic of your sales plans. Use a framework that maps out the process of developing the plan that should serve as a living document for your sales people. In this way, your plans can clearly articulate the sales requirements of the overall business plan. Meaning, it is seamlessly aligned with the company’s overall strategic intent and provides practical executable action details that ensure achievement of goals.  Happy sales planning!
 
Emilio “Bong” Macasaet III is Partner and Chief Distribution Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc. (www.mansmith.net), the leading marketing and sales training company in the Philippines. For inquiries, please email info@mansmith.net, call (+63-2) 584-5858 /412-0034 or text (63) 918-81-168-88.  Also send your strategy, marketing and sales questions to mentors@mansmith.net.