Every year, around this time, business leaders set goals, plan, and strategize.

Nothing ever goes according to plan. Yet, if you don't plan, you fail. 

You plan so you will know what to execute on and how you will grow your business. 

As entrepreneurs and sales leaders, you all know that taking the right action is key to growth. Choosing what is right is not always easy though. Often, it is hard to know what exactly is most important. 

After many years of annual sales planning and setting clients up for success as well, this is what was learned:  

Start with the basics. 

In order for any business to grow, the client list must grow. That might be internal or external, but no matter what, more business is driven by more partnerships. 

I reached out to Anthony Iannarino, the best-selling author of "The Only Sales Guide You Will Ever Need" and he agreed: "Put first things first, and focus on acquiring clients." 

If you are not focused on acquiring new clients, you are doing it wrong.

As with any endeavor, the more you focus on the basics, the better your final results will be. This is the basic foundational rule of business, find the people who want and need what you have to offer. 

When starting and running a business, after having something of value to offer, nothing is more important than having customers who will use your product or service. Your clients are your advocates and will support your evolution. To help them, you must first find them.  

Know your customer. 

It is incredible to see how many entrepreneurs and sales leaders really don't know their clients, let alone their ideal customer. Max Altschuler, the founder of Sales Hacker, said that: "There's no better time than now to really sit down and think through your Ideal Customer Profile (IDC)."

Your IDC is where you analyze everything about your perfect client. Their needs, wants, challenges, budget, current clients, size, industry, everything and anything that will help you get to know them better. To find success in 2018, you must be curious enough to know your clients' goals, challenges, and problems. Then you must care enough to want to solve their problems.

When you know your customer, you can then determine if and how you can help them. Once you know that, then messaging and selling becomes much easier. 

Get aligned.   

Once you know your customer, then you need to work in partnership with them. Alignment is when objectives and actions are all pushing toward the same goal. 

When I emailed Steve Andersen, the sales performance consultant and author of "Beyond The Sales Process" he told me that in 2018 the key to sales success is found in proper alignment: "The most successful entrepreneurs are those that effectively develop a keen sense of what's most important to their customers, including how they define value and how they measure success."

There is no point in having customers who do not want the same thing you do. The only way you will ever find true sales success, is when you and are your clients are aligned. This often takes hard work. In order to get aligned, it takes two things: open communication and a desire for partnership. Of course, transparent communication is vital and all sides must be looking for partnerships rather than just vendor/supplier relationships. 

Increase efficiency.

In order to find new clients and help existing ones, rep efficiency must be increased.

One of my mentors and YouTube's most-watched sales trainer, Victor Antonio, encourages entrepreneurs that to succeed in 2018: "Companies need to embrace technologies like automation and artificial intelligence to reduce the mundane tasks not associated with meaningful sales behavior."

This means enabling your sales force to do the work they were meant to do, and that is to sell. Much of your gained efficiency in 2018 will be found in applying and using better technology. The technology you need is available, now actually use it. 

We all know that, when done right, true selling is helping. As you get down to the basics to align your mission, goals, objectives with clarity and action, you will create sales success. As you plan and execute your sales strategies in 2018, put the above ideas into practice and you will find success. Happy helping.

Published on: Dec 27, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.