Sales Best Practices

5 Key Steps of Strategic Planning (And How to Use it For Sales)

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Serena Miller

Editor, Sales Best Practices

It’s no secret that the sales landscape is changing. High customer expectations, new technologies, and economic uncertainties as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to impact sales success. Many leaders decided to stand firm in their traditional sales strategies: They’ve continued to focus on the in-person sales dynamics of the pre-pandemic world with the hopes that things will soon return to “normal”.

But in proceeding without a digitally-minded sales strategy, these organizations have failed to adapt to the evidently permanent changes within the sales industry. Buyers now spend only 17% of their time actually meeting with potential suppliers when considering a purchase. Gartner has predicted that by 2025, 80% of B2B sales interactions will occur in digital channels. Organizations that fail to adopt a digital-first approach — and implement an effective strategy to carry out that approach — will likely be left behind by more forward-thinking competitors.

To enable short- and long-term growth and drive revenue, sales leaders must develop modern strategies, leverage new technologies, and ensure their people and processes are ready to adapt at any given moment. A competitive approach starts with a strong strategic plan that takes into account the ever-evolving factors of today’s sales environment.

Here, we’ll take a deep dive into strategic planning as it relates to sales, including the overall process, some best practices, and how to measure success.

What is Strategic Planning?

Strategic planning is the process of organizing, preparing, and aligning an organization’s priorities and resources to achieve a specific outcome. It’s essential for enabling a sales operations (SalesOps) team, empowering reps, and driving business growth.

Generally speaking, the strategic planning process covers a wide breadth of elements — all of which come together to create a detailed roadmap for effectively executing business initiatives. It’s important to note that a strategic plan is different from a strategy map, which companies use to visually demonstrate how each action they take will impact a specific outcome. Strategy maps are usually used to give team members and other key stakeholders a quick, birds-eye view of each task’s value to the organization as a whole. They provide an easy-to-digest overview of how each individual’s efforts will contribute to the business’s success.

A strategic plan is typically a document that outlines organizational or team goals, everything that’s needed to reach those goals, and the steps that individuals will actually take to accomplish their objectives. After developing a strategic plan, leaders usually share the document with relevant team members to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Sure, most sales organizations use operational planning to determine how revenue, sales volumes, costs of products and services, and other quantifiable factors will influence their path. But they also need a thoughtful strategic plan to marry their sales strategy with their data, increase efficiency and effectiveness, and develop a clear framework for organizational growth and a better bottom line.

It’s no wonder that the top three factors currently influencing sales leaders’ go-to-market strategies are the shift to digital commerce, changing buyer preferences, and economic uncertainties in the wake of COVID-19. Organizations are scrambling to adapt to the transformations within the sales landscape; and those who will thrive moving forward are using an effective strategic planning process to do so.

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The Strategic Planning Process

While the strategic planning process differs from one organization to the next (depending on company size, industry, competitors, etc.), there are some tried and true steps that can help get you started in building an effective strategic plan:

1. Prepare

The first step in strategic planning is to evaluate your needs. In other words, what are you hoping to accomplish? Determine exactly who will need to be involved in the planning process (e.g. executives, functional leaders,, et. al.) from each part of your organization — including your marketing, finance, operations, product, sales, and human resources teams.

Once you’ve gathered your team of strategic planners, outline and prioritize your objectives. Do you want to improve profitability by x% or launch and sell a new product to a specific market? Identify what initiatives currently matter most to your business and sort them into categories based on achievable timelines and required resources.

Then, set a timeline for the completion of your plan that everyone can agree upon. Some strategic plans require several weeks, while others may take a few months. This all depends on the complexity of both your plan and your company.

2. Choose your framework

There are many different strategic planning frameworks that can aid your team in building a successful plan. The most common models include:

  • Objectives and key results (OKR) - Using this framework, you’ll create a list of three-to-five higher-level objectives. Then, under each objective, you’ll choose another three-to-five measurable results that correlate to a score (e.g. 1-10 or 1%-100%). This helps team members evaluate the progress and impact of their actions.
  • The Balanced scorecard (BSC) - With the BSC model, team members identify the company’s mission, vision, and strategy in a visual manner. It also includes key objectives, detailed targets, KPIs, and the strategic steps that are needed to reach your objectives.
  • Theory of change (TOC) - A TOC framework is used to first determine your longer-term objectives, then work backwards to identify the specific actions needed to achieve each goal.

By developing your strategic plan around a structured framework, your team can flesh out their strategies, create a detailed list of necessary actions, and identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) they’ll need to measure progress and performance.

3. Create the strategic plan

Next, outline the specific actions that team members will need to take to reach their intended objectives. Don’t forget to note how each of these individual steps will contribute to the overall goal. Clearly communicate these responsibilities to each relevant team member and assign a deadline for their actions.

A strong strategy map can be incredibly useful in this step, as it will provide a clear visualization for what needs to get done (and when). Team members can refer to the strategy map as a refresher on the business processes, necessary resources, and required tasks. Plus, by illustrating your strategy, you’ll increase the likelihood of team members quickly identifying any issues, opportunity gaps, or room for improvement within the strategic plan.

4. Implement your strategic plan

Once you’ve nailed down the details of the plan, your team can begin to execute their initiatives. Don’t make the mistake of letting team members run wild with the plan, though, as this tends to result in lost details, missed deadlines, and tasks that get off track. Instead, tie each action to a specific KPI to help you measure and assess progress.

Sales performance management software solutions that offer easy-to-access KPI dashboards are your best bet for ensuring everything gets done effectively and efficiently. They help you clearly communicate expectations, assign ownership, and track the progress and completion of each step.

5. Analyze and revise your strategic plan

A successful strategic plan is a living, breathing document. Outside factors (like budget, available resources, tools, etc.) might impact your plan or your ability to reach your objectives, so adaptability is crucial. As you create and execute your strategic plan, be sure to revisit your priorities and make adjustments, as needed.

On a monthly or quarterly basis (depending on your plan’s timeline), identify which KPIs your team has reached, which ones no longer make sense to target, and how you can better support individuals to complete their strategic tasks. Regularly analyzing and revising your plan is a vital part of tracking progress and ensuring long-term success.

Strategic Planning for the Sales Process

Every type of business should have a strategic plan, and those in the sales industry are no exception. In fact, developing and implementing a strategic plan is particularly crucial for a successful sales process, as sales organizations contend with a variety of dynamic factors that — without the proper approach — can impede their growth.

Every revenue team suffers a Sales Execution Gap, which is the gap between their organization’s potential revenue and the actual revenue it achieves. There are three root causes of this issue: inefficient prospecting, weak deal management, and inaccurate sales forecasting. Each is exacerbated by outdated, legacy sales technology that doesn’t meet sellers’ needs. And as that gap expands, the business misses more deals, wastes more time, and loses more reps.

Traditional revenue organizations never reach their full growth potential because they can’t consistently identify the best actions or make fully informed decisions throughout each sales cycle. To ensure innovation, growth, and success, sales leaders must invest in and leverage the right technology to improve their teams’ execution. Salespeople need powerful tools that automate productivity-hindering, administrative tasks and provide actionable intelligence that makes their sales cycles more efficient and effective.

When businesses are able to close the execution gap and operate at their full potential, they close more deals with less effort, accurately forecast without guesswork, and consistently deliver an exceptional customer experience.

Sales leaders and managers can plan their go-to-market strategies with the best intentions in the world and still fail to reach their goals or drive growth. Truly successful strategic planning for the sales process requires visibility, real-time information, and data-driven efficiency.

Intelligent Technology for Successful Strategic Plans

As sales organizations attempt to keep up with ever-changing industry standards, obstacles, and innovations, they must adopt a digitally-minded approach — or risk losing their competitive edge. Productive, profitable sales teams know that effective strategic planning (backed by modern tools) is the key to driving growth and reaching business goals.

Outreach’s Sales Execution Platform helps organizations maximize their efforts and optimize their sales execution. With intelligent tools for automating workflows, identifying key insights that enable smarter decisions, and providing end-to-end visibility across the entire revenue cycle, Outreach can turn your team’s strategic plans into successful realities. 

Read on about how the right tools can drive efficiency, predictability, and growth across the entire sales cycle, or request a demo today.