So, what's the plan? Or should I say, what's the strategic plan?

Without a proper strategy, your business or organization can suffer. But, with strategic planning, businesses can increase productivity, profitability, and increase their longevity by creating a clear plan for the future.

Free Download: Sales Plan Template

Does strategic planning sound too good to be true?

While it sounds great in theory, it can be challenging in practice. In fact, 56% of executives and their teams wasted time on strategic planning, while only 44% spent the strategic planning time productively.

Luckily, you can join the 44% of leaders and teams that had productive strategic planning sessions. If you take the right approach, strategic planning can have a positive impact on your business and its bottom line, and it will certainly be worth your time.

The purpose of strategic planning is for an organization to determine the direction it's heading in the next three to five years. The objectives set during strategic planning can be modified if strategies were based off incorrect assumptions, or if the organization needs to adjust in response to changes in the business environment (e.g., internal or external). And strategic plans are often adjusted each year.

Balanced Scorecard Institute sums up strategic planning nicely:

"It is a disciplined effort that produces fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, who it serves, what it does, and why it does it, with a focus on the future. Effective strategic planning articulates not only where an organization is going and the actions needed to make progress, but also how it will know if it is successful."

While strategic planning and operational planning sound similar, they are different business activities. Strategic planning focuses on long-term goals -- these goals are often set by the executive leadership team. They'll outline their mission and vision for the business and

Operational planning breaks down the long-term goals of the strategic plan into short-term goals and activities. Oftentimes, this sort of planning is performed by individual departments or teams, and the planning is done by department leaders. They focus their efforts on creating strategies and tactics they can pursue throughout the year that will support the broader goals laid out in the strategic plan.

Wondering how strategic and operational planning impact sales teams? The strategic plan is determined by senior leadership or executives to develop a long-term vision for the company. It's up to individual departments to create plans and strategies for their teams to align with and work towards the objectives set in the strategic plan.

Sales leaders create a sales plan (operational plan) that outlines the short-term strategies and tactics that will be used to achieve long-term goals. This aligns sales teams and salespeople so they know exactly what they're working towards, and how progress and success will be measured.

What is a strategic plan?

A strategic plan is a document that outlines the results of the strategic planning session. The length of the strategic plan varies depending on the complexity of the company and its size. The document is the source of truth and keeps the organization on track to hit its goals.

So, what exactly does the strategic planning process look like? Here are the steps.

1. Prepare for strategic planning.

Who do you want to include in the strategic planning process? Ideally, you should assemble a cross-functional group that includes executives and leadership from your critical business functions (e.g., finance, operations, product, sales, marketing, human resources, etc.).

After your strategic planning group is assembled, set a timeline for completion. Depending on the size or complexity of your company, planning can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Pick a timeline that works best for your organization.

2. Assess the business.

Look at the internal and external factors that impact your business. For example:

  • Is there a particular business area that's growing quickly? How can the business further support its growth?
  • Will a new technological advancement help improve your business processes?
  • Are any pieces of legislation being passed that the company needs to respond to?

These are just a few things to consider when evaluating the environment your business is operating in. Tools like SWOT Analysis, Porter's Five Forces, and PESTLE Analysis can help you assess the strongest and weakest parts of the organization. Plus, you can determine opportunities for growth and see where potential challenges might arise.

3. Outline your mission, vision, and key stakeholders.

What's the business' mission or vision? Identify the core values and priorities of the business by outlining your mission and vision statements. Determine who your key stakeholders are (e.g., customers, employees, owners, board members, suppliers) to understand exactly who your strategy will impact.

And take the opportunity to identify your target customer as well. Since customers are your primary stakeholders, you'll need to create an accurate customer persona or profile so you know how their needs should be met.

When working through the strategic planning process, you'll start by outlining your aspirational goals first, so you can eventually develop specific strategies and tactics that will be used to achieve the aspirational goals.

4. Choose a strategic planning framework.

Once you've identified key opportunities, it's time to choose a framework that will help you develop your strategic plan. Here are a few of the most common frameworks businesses use for strategic planning.

1. The Balanced Scorecard (BSC)

The Balanced Scorecard (BSC) framework helps you outline your business' mission, vision, and strategy and creates a visual strategy map that your business can follow. It includes strategic objectives, targets, measures and KPIs, and the strategic initiatives that will help you reach your goals.

2. Objectives and Key Results (OKR)

With this strategic method, organizations make a list of three to five, high-level objectives. Below each objective, they'll list three to five, quantifiable key results which are measured with a score between 0 to 1 or 0-100%. Check out these OKR examples to get started.

3. Theory of Change (TOC)

The Theory of Change (TOC) is a framework where you identify your long-term goals, then work backward to determine which conditions must be in place for each goal to be reached. Here is an in-depth description of how and when to use the Theory of Change method.

By using these frameworks, you'll be able to develop your strategies, the tactics you'll use to accomplish them, and the key performance indicators (KPIs) you'll use to track performance.

These are the strategic planning methodologies that are used most often. If they don't seem like they'll work for you, check out this list of strategic planning models and find the best one for your business.

5. Create a strategic plan.

Now that you've consulted with your team and came up with your long-term plans, it's time to record the agreements and strategies in a strategic plan. The strategic plan is a physical document that can be shared across departments in the company.

But, many companies have gone digital with strategic planning software, so their strategic plan can be accessed by anyone in the company from their electronic devices. Many of these software options are collaborative for people at all levels of the company, which increases the transparency of the business' primary goals.

Strategic Planning Software

Need some tools to start your strategic planning with? Here are some strategic planning software options, in no particular order.

1. Cascade Strategy

Cascade Strategy helps you create a plan and execute it with its strategy planning platform. It allows you to create a strategy map, outline your goals, and include specific details like goal timeframes and the metrics used to evaluate goal achievement.

Additional features include a KPI builder, smart frameworks, goal and project management tools, and dashboards to report on progress.

A strategy map made from Cascade Strategy softwareSource: Cascade Strategy

2. ClearPoint Strategy

This strategic planning tool has Balanced Scorecard Software that enables you to build your strategic plan. The platform provides you with the ability to build interactive Balanced Scorecards, and create dashboards and strategy maps to track your goals.

You can assign elements of the strategic plan to different owners so they can tackle specific parts of the strategy.

Scorecard made with ClearPoint strategy softwareSource: ClearPoint Strategy

3. WorkBoard

WorkBoard offers a strategic planning solution that's specifically for CEOs and General Managers. And with tools like the active OKR solution, teams can identify plan using the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) technique.

The tool provides a way to align organizations and help them identify risks with OKR heatmaps.

Operational dashboard made from WorkBoard softwareSource: WorkBoard

4. Khorus

Khorus is a strategy execution software that creates transparency for CEOs, management, and individual contributors. CEOs set objectives in Khorus, and then teams and individuals can add their own goals that contribute to the overarching objectives.

This strategic planning software improves the ability of businesses to execute their strategies, and it increases alignment and transparency.

Strategic planning dashboard made with KhorusSource: Khorus

5. COMPASS® Quality Management System

With this project portfolio management system, you can manage ideas and projects to help you and your team develop a strategy. An interesting feature is the star rating system that allows employees to rate each project. The system takes this information, analyzes it, and rates the project's overall potential.

The tool creates transparency between leaders and employees, and management is able to engage with the feedback to improve upon their strategic goals and projects.

Compass Quality Management System Dashboard by CreatoSource: Compass Companion

With a strategic plan, your company and your sales organization will be well-equipped to set goals and achieve them.

sales plan


Originally published Apr 3, 2019 7:30:00 AM, updated March 25 2021


Sales Operations