How to Plan a Sale That Actually Works

‘Tis the season for sales. Every single customer-facing business I know is starting to promote discounts, buy-one-get-one, you name it. 

But having a successful sale doesn’t just mean marking something down and hoping people will buy it. That only works for enormous chains that have endless analytics on their margins and the purchase rate of specific products. 

If you’re not a big box store, your sales events will need some planning and your success depends on it. 

Don’t waste a single sale. 

I have planned so many events and every single one is the same. Whether it’s a 5K for charity, a 500-person event, or an online-only sale, the process never changes. I’ll share some foolproof tips that will help you feel ready for your sales event and help to maximize the profits made.

Set the date. 

This is the most obvious step. Of course, in order to have a successful event, it needs to eventually happen. But there is some thinking that you should do in order to choose the dates for your sale. 

Consider what’s happening on and around that date. For example, Monday, November 29th is Cyber Monday. Everyone and their brother is going to be having a sale that day and the entire week prior. If you decide to have a “Welcome to Christmas” December 1st sale, there are going to be some issues. You’re going to run into customers who have already blown their spending budget for the month, customers who are tired of receiving emails, followers who are so over all of the posts about everything being on sale. Sales fatigue is real and it will impact the profits you make during your event. 

Instead, when planning your event, consider already established buying patterns within your clientele. If you’re having an online-only sale, consider starting on a day where web traffic is already high. This means it’s less legwork for you because there’s already established web traffic ready to buy, anything from that point on is the cherry on top. It’s the same concept in-store, choosing days where foot traffic is already high. 

Don’t pick a date at random, make sure you know what’s happening in your business and industry before you decide. 

Know who needs to be involved. 

An event is a huge undertaking for any organizer. There are roles that must be filled outside of what is necessary during normal business hours. You, your staff, and any associated contractors need to be aware of the sale and what their role is so that they can feel prepared. 

I’m sure you’ve experienced this… You’re online waiting for a massive product launch, you have your credit card in hand ready to make your purchase before everyone else. You hit “checkout” and the website crashes. What would you do if this happened to your business?

Prepare for the best-case scenario and assume that with all of your planning and research this sale will be a huge success. Understand where there could be hiccups and issues, then solve them before they happen. 

Have someone on-hand to manage your website any of the issues that can arise on the event day. You can’t troubleshoot someone’s experience on the website if you have a line of customers out the door. Ensure that you have enough staff working the floor to restock shelves, mind the door for capacity limits, and pack orders as they come in online. 

Having a thorough understanding of what everyone will be doing on the event day is the only way to anticipate what you’ll be dealing with and how to plan around it. 

Time for the Work-Back Schedule.

Now that you have the team, you need a game plan. Anyone who has spoken to me for even one minute in a professional setting knows that I love a good work-back schedule. 

For this blog’s sake, let’s build a schedule for a sale that begins on December 15th and ends on the 19th. 

The first step is deciding which day you’ll announce the sale to your customers. I like to give myself about two weeks to promote the event of a sale. You want to generate excitement about upcoming deals, new product launches, or whatever is happening in-store, but it can’t be too far out from the event itself or your customers will forget. Most event marketing is based around the “fear of missing out”. With a retail event or anything that doesn’t require ticket sales, they’re missing out on the discount or worried that they could miss out on a product forever if it’s sold out. Maintain excitement by keeping your marketing interval short and sweet. 

The second step is then plotting out what content you’ll need leading up to the event. In this case, I’d recommend a total of five marketing emails: 

  • December 1st - to announce the sale.

  • December 8th - to remind customers about the sale

  • December 14th - email goes out to remind customers the sale starts at midnight.

  • December 15th - early morning email to announce the beginning of the sale. 

  • December 17th - late-night email goes out to remind customers the sale is ending.

I suggest planning your email marketing strategy before your social media strategy because you can use social media to get people into your email pipeline. The emails are designed to increase traffic to your website or store, whereas social media is built to encourage users to keep scrolling. For example, I’d suggest an Instagram/Facebook strategy that looks like this to encourage users to get on the newsletter while also promoting the sale: 

  • November 29th - tease a big announcement on social media and encourage customers to join the newsletter for early access. 

  • December 1st - announce the upcoming event in a post and in your stories. 

  • December 2nd - 7th- passively talk about sale preparations in stories and captions, but focus on your usual strategies. 

  • December 8th - post and story go up to remind customers about the upcoming event. 

  • December 13th - post goes up to tease another big announcement and encourage customers to join for early access. 

  • December 15th - 18th - Announce the sale has begun and continued posting until completed. 

Using social media, we built out two instances in our work back plan that would allow us to add emails to our mailing list.

Third, you’re going to need to figure out how you will be communicating with customers about the sale in-store as well. If this isn’t an online-only event, then you’ll need signage or printed materials on hand to share the news with your customers in person. Remember, every printer has a different lead-time. I’d say on average, expect a 3-5 day lead time on any print work done. 

Once you have your entire content strategy in place, the final step is figuring out when you need to get everything done. I like to give myself a week to develop all of the content and get it scheduled. Do yourself a favour and automate everything. There’s nothing like doing busywork when you’re already feeling a time crunch. 

For an example of what this particular work back schedule would look like, click to download this template. If you’d like to make edits or add your own information make sure to hit File and select Make a Copy. 

Make sure you can handle a sudden influx of business.

I alluded to this when we talked about knowing who needed to be involved. But it’s important enough to repeat. Build contingency plans for every single worst-case scenario. 

I live in the world of “What If” and when it comes to planning events, so should you. 

Keep these “What If’s” in mind:

  • What if my website goes down? Who will manage this?

  • What if my store is packed? How will we handle capacity issues?

  • What if the shelves are empty? How will we manage restocking throughout the day?

  • What if a customer has an issue trying to purchase an item online during the sale? Will we remedy this on the same day with an IT partner, or just honour the price when we’re less busy?

  • What if one of my staff members calls out? Will I have someone else to help me?

These are only a few, but some of the most important scenarios you should have a plan for if they should arise. Put processes in places where something is likely to go wrong, that way you’re already prepared on game day. 

Communicate post-sale. 

It seems obvious to have a marketing strategy leading up to the event, but communication after the sale is important too. 

This tip is more applicable to your online customers as they are waiting for you to pack and ship their orders. Send a follow-up email to anyone who made an online purchase during your sale, thanking them for their business! In the same email, explain that shipping times may be delayed because of the high volume of orders. It’s better to set that expectation early, rather than leaving customers unsure when their product will ship out. 

If you can answer a question without a customer having to pick up the phone and ask you, you’ll be a happier business owner and they’ll feel more acknowledged as customers. 

Do an accurate breakdown of your success. 

Finally, make sure that you do a full-fledged wrap-up of your event. Even if it was just a basic clearout sale, make sure that you have all of the necessary analytics on hand. 

Start with how many sales you would’ve done on a comparable weekend and compare that to your sales during the event. Keep in mind that your margins changed, they went down when you offered a discount. You should know before your event how many sales need to happen in order to make the same amount or more. 

Next, consider your marketing costs for the event. Some of these things are expenses you wouldn’t have needed to spend if it weren't for the sale. Factor in things like print materials, additional staffing, and online ad spend to determine your overall net profit from the sales event. 

Once you have the numbers, look at the execution in hindsight. Did the website crash? Were the areas of the weekend that could’ve gone better? Make those notes and adjust for next time so that you can be sure each event is better than the last. 

Finally, do you feel prepared?

If you want to chat one-on-one about how to plan an event or just need someone to point you in the right direction, feel free to reach out to me at You can also pick up the phone and call (519) 400-5531 any time!

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