Your sales team is trained and ready to start selling. Time to pursue deals, right? Not so fast — not without a sales strategy.
Only 20% of salespeople create value for clients and are able to meet customer expectations, according to . Another study reveals the top reason sales reps fail to meet quotas is their inability to articulate a value message.
A strong sales strategy helps your team avoid these pitfalls. It arms your team with the skills, knowledge, and best practices to deliver results for your company, making it a necessary component of every sales organization.
Overview: What is a sales strategy?
A sales strategy is a plan for selling your company’s offerings to qualified buyers in a way that differentiates you from competitors. It delivers sales objectives and guidelines to your team, including KPIs (key performance indicators) that denote clear revenue targets, buyer personas, and a positioning strategy.
An effective sales strategy outlines your value proposition from the customer’s perspective, so they understand how your products and services apply to their needs.
This requires a deep understanding of the customer so sales reps can speak to how your company helps, factoring in considerations such as the market in which your client operates, their buying process, and competitor offerings.
Sales strategies involve several operational considerations, such as compensation, the sales team’s organizational structure, and whether to adopt an outbound or inbound sales approach, or both.
Outbound sales is the traditional sales method where a sales rep contacts potential customers and works to close deals. Inbound sales involve the customer coming to you by discovering your company online, through advertising, social media, your website, or via referrals.
How to create a sales strategy for your small business
A successful strategy incorporates many components. These steps outline the key pieces.
Step 1: Set measurable goals
Sales is a numbers game, and it starts with your sales strategy. Each strategy involves measurable goals. What’s your revenue target for the month, quarter, or year? This must align with company revenue objectives.
Once you know your target, model the number of sales leads required to hit your revenue goal based on your lead-to-conversion ratio. Look back at past performance to estimate these numbers with accuracy.
Consider factors such as which clients bring in 80% of your revenue, how you can grow these clients’ spend with you, and where you can find similar clients.
Ensure your strategy aligns with company initiatives. If your company is pursuing a new market, the sales strategy should include capturing a percentage of sales in that market.
Validate your goals are achievable by vetting against past team performance and getting team buy-in on the targets. If sales reps feel the goals are not achievable in the allotted time frame, they become demoralized.
While sales is numbers-driven, it’s also a confidence game; maintaining strong team morale is critical, or you'll be fighting an uphill battle to hit your numbers.
Step 2: Identify buyer personas
The key to a successful strategy is to focus on the customer’s needs. Your offerings resolve customer problems, and incorporating that fact into your sales strategy is essential to generating sales. To that end, the sales strategy defines your target markets and customer profiles, called buyer personas.
Look at your most profitable clients, in or those spending the most to identify the ideal buyer personas. If you’re just getting started, examine your products and services to determine the best fit for these offerings. Research customer demographics and psychographics to help fill in your personas.
These buyer personas focus your sales team on the right kinds of leads, and their likelihood to close deals increases. Reps are more efficient with their lead qualification time.
Step 3: Define the value proposition
Your value proposition is what convinces potential customers to buy. It relies on deep customer knowledge so it can speak to your client’s needs. Sales and marketing collaborate on this piece to create a unified, consistent message across all external company communication.
The buyer persona outlines your customer and the problems they’re looking to solve with your solutions. Layer this with a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.
The SWOT looks at your company’s position in the market, identifying your strengths and weaknesses, while looking at market opportunities and competitive threats. Knowing your market position allows you to contrast your offerings against competitors, and it highlights why your solutions are best.
Combine these elements into a cohesive, easily understood value proposition in your sales strategy. Back up your value proposition with data, testimonials, and case studies, which serve as real world examples of how your solutions helped other clients.
Step 4: Outline sales operations and compensation
The sales strategy incorporates key sales processes. This ensures the team operates efficiently and fulfills the responsibilities necessary for an effective sales team.
If your team doesn’t have enough leads in the sales pipeline, you know you won’t hit the monthly revenue target and can act swiftly to change course.
The strategy addresses sales operational components such as defining sales territories, whether your team includes inside sales or field sales, the use of outbound or inbound sales techniques, and if the sales team includes account management, which addresses what happens after you acquire a customer.
Training is also a consideration. How do you onboard new sales reps? How do you coach underperforming reps?
Sales team compensation is a key component. The sales strategy outlines how your team is financially compensated. These are common options.
- Salary only
- Salary plus commission
- Commission only
- A spiff or bonus layered on top of one of the above
Step 5: Create an action plan
Many companies leave it to sales reps to figure out how to make quota. A better approach is to define repeatable best practices through a sales action plan. This plan is part of your sales strategy and ensures your team uses the methods that consistently capture sales.
The sales plan helps reps create their sales funnel by outlining elements such as the prospecting process, how many leads are needed in the rep’s pipeline to hit quota, and how many sales calls this requires.
Sales strategy examples
The sales strategy encompasses many concepts. To help you apply successful strategies, let’s look at examples of how to implement different sales strategy components.
1. A relatable value proposition
Everyone loves a good story. View your value proposition as the story of how your offerings solve client problems to make it relatable.
The story begins with your company’s insights about the market. Provide data and connect the dots for the buyer regarding why these data points are relevant.
A few years ago, when consumers researching businesses on a mobile device was still nascent, I remember explaining to a client why their small business needed to have a mobile-optimized website. After I shared numbers of how quickly mobile research was growing, the client was shocked. He assumed online research still happened on desktop computers and didn’t realize how big the mobile market had gotten.
Just be careful not to throw out too many numbers. The goal is to illustrate your company’s knowledge and expertise in your industry, and have it lead into your value proposition in a natural way.
Remember, your objective is to get the prospect talking. This approach makes you memorable to the client, setting you apart from the competition.
2. Customer journey over sales process
Sales processes such as lead nurturing are an essential part of the sales cycle. The danger is that your sales team executes these procedures on autopilot, like checking items off a list, rather than adjusting their approach organically to each customer’s buying process.
When you categorize a lead as further down the sales funnel, are you looking at it from the buyer’s perspective? Are they further down the funnel because they see how your solutions create value? Or are you making that decision based on their signing up to your email list?
A sales team must focus on solving customer problems rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach. I had a client triple their spend when I provided data correlating their sales numbers with my software product’s results.
It took extra effort to develop the reporting capabilities to validate these results, but the work paid off because I looked at how the buyer made their purchasing decisions. I spoke to that.
3. Beyond the buyer persona
A buyer persona is a useful tool to obtain a baseline understanding of a customer segment. It’s a starting point, though, and sales reps must understand that buyers are people — different factors affect each client.
Some buyers struggle with difficult internal processes. Others operate in competitive marketplaces. Addressing the buyer’s unique situation is more impactful than applying a boilerplate buyer persona.
Asking the buyer to define their challenges doesn’t work. They’re not always aware or willing to share details, instead they may give you the same answer they share with your competitors. This results in your reps talking to the same issues as your competition, leaving little room for differentiation.
Instead, introduce potential clients to missed opportunities or solutions to problems they may not realize they’re experiencing. Do this by looking at industry trends so you can introduce buyers to these opportunities — and look at the buyer’s website for clues.
Don’t overlook the one customer segment where you possess data and deep insights: your existing clients. Talk to them to see how you can help them further. It’s easier and less expensive to grow spend with existing clients than to acquire new ones.
Final advice about sales strategies
Your sales strategy plan is a living document. It should evolve as your organization grows and your customers or markets change.
Use your measurable goals to evaluate improvement opportunities and incorporate customer feedback to help you strengthen your sales process. If you put solving customer challenges at the heart of your plan, your sales strategy will deliver results for your organization.