Remember all that research and hard work you put into the Market Analysis section of your business plan? You learned all about your company, your customers, and your competition. This is where it will all pay off!
In this section of the plan, you’re actually going to spell out how you’ll market your idea, along with the specifics of how you’ll get business. Sales and marketing are what will drive your business and help you achieve success.
As always, keep your audience in mind. If your business plan is meant for your eyes only, or as an internal document for your staff, you won’t have to be as detailed or specific as you should if it’s intended for a lender or potential investors. In the latter case, you’ll want to demonstrate a very well-planned strategy that will give them confidence in your proposal and make them more likely to want to fund your business.
Sales and marketing strategies will vary by industry, and your strategy will be individually tailored to your company, but there are general guidelines that cover most businesses. Because your marketing plan will lead to sales, let’s start there.
4 Things Your Marketing Plan Must Cover
Many marketing textbooks refer to the “four Ps” of marketing, which is an easy way to remember what’s involved in a solid plan.
Explain in detail the product(s) or service(s) you’re offering, particularly how they are different from or better than what’s already available. What benefits do they provide to your potential customers? What ways is your product or service unique? What makes doing business with you preferable to dealing with someone else? All of these things will help make up your marketing message.
Talk about how you’ll portray the company and what kind of image you’ll present, especially how it will help connect you to your potential customers. Include a picture of your logo and anything that might carry your image, such as vans, trucks, or uniforms. Show screenshots of your website, photos of your store, pictures of your packaging, and anything else that conveys your company’s brand.
Once you’ve gotten the customers in the door (or online), you have to deliver on what you’ve sold them. Marketing isn’t just about promising, it’s also following through and delivering what you said you would.
You may find it helpful to outline exactly how a transaction with your business would take place. Also touch on return policies and customer service. You may not immediately think of these as “marketing” issues, but think back to the last time you had difficulty with a company and told five friends you’d never do business with them again, or you saw someone complain about a company on Facebook or Twitter. Cover your bases before you get caught short in a situation you hadn’t planned for.
It’s important to talk about where you’ll be located and how you’ll get your products and services to your customers. If you’re planning an online business, will you also have a brick and mortar store? What percentage of sales do you project will come from each?
If your business involves manufacturing or distribution of a product, discuss shipping and labeling requirements, and how you’ll meet them. What are your delivery terms and costs? Are you using distributors, and will you charge separately for shipping or build that into the product price?
How you decide to price your product or service is key to how much you’ll sell and how much profit you can make. Again, the Market Analysis work you did will come in very handy in helping you to price your product competitively while still turning a worthwhile profit.
By now, you should have a solid understanding of what your expenses will be, so you know how much you need to make to break even. Of course, if you have startup expenses (and who doesn’t?), you will need to factor those in, as well, understanding that your profit margin will grow when they’re paid off.
Discuss how you’ve arrived at the prices you have, where they fit in with what the competition is doing, and what kind of volume you’ll need to do to be profitable.
You can have the best idea in the world, but if no one knows about it, it won’t sell. So, how are you going to reach your target audience and turn them into customers? Will you advertise? Which media? How often? And how will you split up the budget?
Keep in mind that some forms of traditional and digital advertising cost money, such as buying radio or print ads, or advertising through Google. Some, such as social media or public relations can be handled in-house by a staff member (or outsourced for a fee). And others can be quite variable in cost, such as printing brochures, flyers, catalogs, etc.
How much business do you think you’ll get from each campaign? Will you give coupons, discounts, or offer other incentives to get people to try you out?
Describe how you’ll know whether or not your marketing strategy is effective, such as how many coupons are redeemed or how much of an increase in web or store traffic you expect. You’ll need to project what kind of a return on your advertising investment you anticipate to figure out how much you should be spending.
The Fifth P: People
Some marketing experts think a fifth “P” should be added to the four we’ve already discussed: people. We touched on it under customer service, but a big part of marketing is the level of service you’re able to offer to your customers, and your people are the ones responsible for that.
Your restaurant might serve the best food in town, but your servers can have an even greater impact on the dining experience. You can discuss it here or in the next section, sales, but do make sure to talk about the people who will deal with your customers and handle your customer service, what kind of training they’ll get, and how you’ll measure their effectiveness.
Now that you have your marketing plan together, you need to close the sale and make it pay off. Marketing will help you get customers in the door, to your website, or on the phone, but the best marketing in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t make the sale. That brings us to the next step of the plan, your sales strategy.
What to include in your sales plan:
How much product will you sell or how many contracts will you close over the first month, six months, and year? Be specific, understanding what your cash flow needs to be to keep the lights on and your employees paid. Keep the numbers realistic, however, even though you may want to impress potential funders.
How will you make the sale, and who will do it? Are you selling a product directly to users through a website? Will you bring your merchandise to retailers for them to sell? Are you doing the selling yourself or will you have a sales force? If you have salespeople, will they be paid straight salary or commission? If you have a service business, where will you get your leads, and how will you follow up? Perhaps you’ll offer an incentive program to current customers for referrals. Describe the sales effort in your plan.
If you offer different product lines or services, you may need a separate strategy for each. Similarly, if you’re selling to different segments of the market, you shouldn’t rely on the same approach to sell everyone. Selling at a craft fair is quite different than setting up a website or offering your product through ebay.com or etsy.com.
Detail whichever approaches you’ve decided on and spell out how you’ll proceed, including any sales quotas you may have established.
Get specific about the numbers you’re looking to achieve over a specific time period. Not only will investors want to see that, it’s an important way for you to know if you’re meeting your targets so you can make any necessary adjustments along the way.
Once you’ve established yourself, how will you continue to expand? This covers both your internal growth as a company, such as how you’ll increase your staff, and how you’ll grow beyond your current boundaries, such as buying another business or setting up franchises, if that’s applicable. Will you grow by offering a wider range of products and services? Perhaps you’ll expand by offering your current goods to a wider audience.
Perhaps more than any other section of your business plan, the Sales and Marketing section will act as your playbook for the actual running of your company, so think it through very carefully and use it!