How to Win with a Sales Plan

Use sales planning to reduce uncertainty, improve sales forecasting, and win more sales.

Picture of converging tracks to illustrate Clive Miller's article about the importance of planning in selling anything.

The secret of success lies in forethought, sales planning, and preparation.

The closer you get to winning, the closer you are to losing. The closer you get to the end of the race, the less opportunity you have to make a difference. The final spurt rests on your prior forethought, sales planning and preparation. When the moment comes, the time for thinking is gone. Reaction and instinct are all.

The vacuum left by lack of preparation is quickly filled by angst and uncertain bravado (those who know they don’t know) or unbridled arrogance (those who don’t know that they don’t know). In the latter case, blind persistence can work out. Some are lucky for a while, supported by fortuitous circumstances. In the long-term, there is no substitute for appropriate forethought – thinking about the task in advance, planning – anticipating the likely progression of events, and preparation – practising what one will have to do, in advance.

Everyone knows the truth in this. Everyone smirks when someone utters those time-honoured phrases, “failure to plan is planning to fail”, “proper planning prevents particularly poor performance”, and “planning is the only shortcut to success”, yet we continue to wing it whenever we run into a little time pressure.

Behind the façade of outrageously good results or spontaneous elevation to stardom or overnight success, is the hard slog of forethought, planning, and preparation. If you don't know how to win a sale through sales planning, hope is all you have.

At this point, you may be thinking of the examples that disprove the idea - that all success is the result of hard work. If you have the worldwide pond to observe, if you Google success, I’m sure you can find some genuine examples where people have achieved great things without an appropriate investment of effort. After all, someone has to win the lottery, every week. It could be you, but don’t turn off the alarm clock just yet.

Diagram illustrating the importance of plan quality to support Clive Miller's article about sales planning.

The vast majority of people will die without ever winning a major prize from a game of chance.

Paying the Price

A large and successful Company had ceased to be successful. Profitability had ebbed away and shareholders were beginning to sell up. The share price was falling rapidly. Try as they did, the directors could not understand the problem. Managers made many excuses for the falling sales and spiralling costs. They promised that results would soon return to normal but things continued to get worse.

The directors called in all manner of experts for advice and none could solve the problem. Soon the directors would have to start cutting costs by slashing budgets and making people redundant. The spectre of a downward spiral loomed.

When yet another consultant approached the managing director, he was unimpressed by her lack of credentials and track record. He almost dismissed her out of hand. She claimed that she could tell him how to fix the problem, just as all the others had. For some reason he let her stay and explain. In response to his invitation, she said that he must first agree the fee. He was amused. She asked for £250,000.

“What will you do for £250,000?” he said.

“Tell you how to fix the problem.” she replied.

“How can you possibly justify £250,000 for a half hour consultation?” he exclaimed.

She said, “it has taken me all of my life to come by this knowledge.”

There are a few gems of advice that are repeated, over and over. Anyone can use them to increase their chances of winning a sale, achieving something fulfilling, or accomplishing the extraordinary. You will have heard or read of the following principles before. You may have rediscovered them yourself and taught them to others. Still I think they bear repeating. These are the secrets of effective salles planning. Perhaps more importantly, they are essentia for exercising free will.

1. Have a definite and worthwhile purpose.

If there is such a thing as free will, it exists within our ability to focus on a particular desired outcome and our willingness to sacrifice, perhaps sacrifice everything else, in pursuit of it’s attainment. Without a definite overriding purpose that raises our passion whenever we think of it, we are lost amongst a myriad of distractions. Winning a sale might not be inspiring enough. What purpose will winning this sale move forward?

2. Make a plan and then keep reviewing it, updating it, and reconnecting it with reality.

Forethought, planning, and preparation diminish all obstacles. If you don’t know how to do something, break it up into a series of simpler tasks. Don’t try to eat the whole Elephant at once. Complex and lengthy tasks become light steps if you break them up. As Lao Tzu said, ’a journey of a thousand miles, begins beneath ones feet’. Begin sales planning now if you hope to smash a sales target in twelve or eighteen months time.

Write the plan. Having a plan in mind is no use if it requires the cooperation of other people. In any case, the act of writing forces rational review. All worthwhile planning should be written, regardless of who needs to see it.

3. Never give in, never yield in the face of a difficult problem.

"No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking" wrote Voltaire. Go around, over it, under it, through it. Leverage problem solving and creative techniques until you have a workable solution.

4. Never put off doing something that needs doing now.

Reasons for not doing something that needs to be done include uncertainty about what to do, fear of appearing foolish, fear of failure, and apprehension about the work. All these demons of procrastination can be dealt a 'coup de grâce' by dividing the task into manageable elements.

5. Be ready to push yourself beyond your comfort zone.

We cannot become something we are not worthy of becoming and we cannot win a sale that we don't deserve. Those who attract the resources necessary to achieve great things have learnt how to do so. Those who have fashioned themselves into the kind of person who makes things happen, makes things happen. Luck has nothing to do with it, unless you want to wait for that lottery win.

6. Be decisive.

Contrary to common belief, most people don't make difficult decisions until they only have one option. Free will diminishes the closer you get to an event. It is only through diligent use of these three diamond edged tools – forethought, planning, and preparation - that people reclaim initiative and exercise true choice.

It's difficult to know how to win a sale with a high degree of certainty. Most sales opportunities are competitive where a buyer is seriously considering more than one solution and all the contenders believe in their sides success. Sales Planning that details how to win a sale is a critical skill. The difference between failure and success is thinking.

Forethought, planning and preparation are the tools of the thinker and the means of deliberate success. First, there has to be a dream, then a plan, and then the will to pursue it to the end. Selling is like any endeavour and better sales planning is at the root of more success.

Article by Clive Miller

If you need to develop a sales plan or improve sales planning, we can help. Telephone +44 (0)1392 851500. We will be pleased to learn about your needs or talk through some options. Alternatively Send an email to for a prompt reply or use the contact form here.