What Is a Sales and Marketing Plan and Why Do You Need One?
A sales and marketing plan is a document that outlines strategies for creating awareness of your product or service among a defined group of prospective buyers. It also describes pricing and distribution structures that provide the highest anticipated return on investment.
A successful sales and marketing plan is based on the estimated market share and sales included in the business’s original business plan. It requires research into the demographics of the intended customer base and an algorithm to determine pricing along with a well-defined budget tied to a particular time frame (quarterly, annually, etc.). It should also specify the advertising channels, such as social media, television spots or direct mail, with the highest probability of successfully delivering your marketing messages relative to the money invested.
In addition, a sales and marketing plan establishes benchmarks that can guide you if circumstances force you to change course. “Without a sound strategic plan in place,” financial journalist Samantha Gluck notes, “those in charge of the sales and marketing responsibilities may make rash decisions during times of uncertainty and stress that are not well thought out and not best for business.”
How a Sales Plan Differs From a Marketing Plan
Wait. We just defined a “sales and marketing plan” as if it’s a single entity. Now we’re breaking down the difference between a “sales” plan and a “marketing” plan as if they’re two different things. What gives?
In reality, both of these perspectives are valid. Yes, a “sales” plan is distinct from a “marketing” plan. But to be effective, the two plans need to be so closely linked that it helps to think of them as part of a single overarching strategy as you write them. Basically, the marketing portion of the strategy is designed to locate prospective customers and the sales portion is designed to convert them into actual customers. One can’t succeed without the other.
So, with those qualifiers in mind, let’s break down both the differences and the similarities and also look at different sales and marketing plan templates.
A marketing plan helps you figure out exactly where you’re trying to go so you can determine how to get there. Opening a business without a marketing plan would be like starting a car trip without a map, a GPS or the address of the location you’re trying to reach.
When writing your marketing plan it’s important to remember the difference between strategy and execution. Email, for example, is not a marketing strategy; it’s simply a delivery system for your marketing messages. If your marketing message is muddled, even a highly targeted email list won’t produce good results. It will just result in an expensive failure. What Thomas V. Bonoma wrote in the Harvard Business Review in 1984 still remains true: “Good execution of bad strategy acts as the engine on a plane in a nosedive — it hastens the crash.”
While your marketing plan determines who your customers are, the sales plan determines how many there are and whether you can efficiently deliver your product in sufficient numbers to be profitable.
In practice, this is often not as abstract as it sounds, especially among small businesses. Let’s say you decide to open a pizza parlor with the idea of selling a good-quality pie at an affordable price. In that case, your marketing plan is practically implicit. With most small businesses, “Your brand should be instinctual by the time you even have your first customer interaction,” said Curt Doherty, a member of the Forbes Business Development Council.
What matters far more in that case is the sales plan — determining how many prospective customers there are within your geographic range, how many competitors you’ll have and whether your “affordable” pizza will bring in enough revenue to cover your expenses. In situations like that, Doherty said, “I've found that you can help keep the lights on by placing a greater emphasis on your sales plan.”
Taking It Step by Step
Now that you know what’s involved, here are the specific steps you’ll need to write a sales plan and a marketing plan. And again, because the two are so closely linked, you should create them in parallel so that they are effectively a unified “sales and marketing plan.” Here are some basic templates.
- Always Include an Executive Summary
This describes your company’s reason for being. What’s the marketing opportunity that led you to start your business, and what is your basic plan for executing it? Here you briefly describe the strategy that you will then break down in greater detail.
- Define Your Target Market
Who needs your product or service or at least will want it enough to pay for it? How large is this market segment, where are they and how will you reach them?
- Explain Your Differentiator
There are many different ways of expressing this concept, such as “unique selling proposition.” It’s the thing that sets you apart from your competitors. Maybe you offer a “boutique” version of a product that’s otherwise available only in standard, mass-produced form. Or the opposite; maybe you offer a cheaper, mass-produced version of a boutique product. Regardless, you have to be different enough in at least one key area — price, quality, service or convenience — to stand out in your field.
- Attract Attention
Nailing the first three steps will mean nothing if you don’t have a plan for getting your message in front of the right people at the right time and right place. In a B2B environment, that means identifying the decision-makers. Once you’ve done that, it’s a matter of tailoring your message in a simple, two-part format: “We feel your pain … and we can solve it.” Also, as you refine your messaging, be alert to related pain points within your target market that can form the basis of a growth strategy.
- Find Your Why
In a book of the same name, author Simon Sinek calls this “the most important step any business can take.” You need to articulate your passion for your product. Because if you’re not fully committed to what you’re selling, you can’t expect people to commit to buying it.
- Pricing and Positioning
Like sales and marketing, pricing and positioning are actually separate considerations that have to work in concert. Take fast food. The name “fast” connotes convenience — an inexpensive meal that you can acquire quickly. A pricing structure for a full-service, made-to-order meal that’s more aligned with the fast food approach would likely be a shortcut to bankruptcy because the pricing and positioning are so far out of balance.
- Distribution Strategy
Depending on the nature of your proposed business, this could be the most important component of your entire plan. Do you have a method for delivering your product or service to prospective customers in a cost-effective way? If you’re selling software as a service (SaaS), the answer is probably yes. If you’re selling a tangible item that is unusually large, heavy or requires hazardous materials, the answer is far more complicated.
- Special Offers and Promotions
Once again, sales and marketing overlap. Think of the classic coupon. In one sense, a coupon is a piece of marketing collateral: It’s created, printed and distributed among your prospective customer base to raise awareness of your product. But in this case the actual selling point is a reduction of the sales price in some form — either as a free trial, 50% off, BOGO (buy one, get one) or some other discount. Many businesses can benefit from promotional opportunities that occur organically, such as back-to-school sales. Be sure your sales and marketing plan includes these opportunities and budget for them accordingly either by adding the cost of the marketing collateral or subtracting the discount from anticipated sales revenue.
Tailor a Sales and Marketing Plan That’s Right for You
Your sales and marketing plan could be far more detailed than the basic templates outlined here. But granularity for its own sake isn’t necessary. The goal is to figure out what works for your particular business.
As Gluck observed, “Large companies produce in-depth sales and marketing strategies that may include hundreds of pages and quarterly divisions. Smaller businesses usually have smaller marketing budgets, so their strategic plans might have fewer than 10 pages. [But] the brevity of the plans produced by smaller companies should not give the impression that writing one is not important.”
And whether you write your sales plan and your marketing plan separately or together, it’s vital that the sales and marketing components complement each other as part of your overall company strategy.