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What Is Sales? Meaning, Types, and How to Succeed

Salesperson shaking hands with a prospect: what is sales
Knowing about each type of sales can help you choose the career path that's right for you. [Adobe]

Learn the fundamentals of a sales career and what it takes to be successful.

On the surface, sales seem like a simple concept: One person buys something from another. But in reality, it’s much more than a transaction. That’s because the journey from initial interest in a product to close can be windy and complex, often requiring a personal touch to make it complete.

If you’re interested in starting a career in sales, you’re in the right place to learn the fundamentals. We’ll dig into the types of sales, common methodologies, sales goals, and the qualities that make great salespeople.

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What is sales?

Sales is the exchange of one thing of value for currency. Salespeople, often called sales representatives or sales reps, do everything involved in closing a sale: finding and attracting a prospective buyer, educating and nurturing that buyer so they’re interested in a purchase, and closing a deal.

Sales vs. marketing

Sales and Marketing are two distinct business processes. Marketing works from beginning to end to increase awareness for a company’s product or service. The marketing department manages activities like market research, digital marketing and advertising. It’s possible to use them as consultants on projects such as a marketing persona or content marketing.

8 common types of sales

Sales is a broad concept, so it’s helpful to break it down into the types of sales, highlighting the intricacies and strategies of each. Knowing how each type differs can help you choose the career path in sales that’s right for you.

1. Inside sales

Inside sales involves selling to customers remotely, often through live chat, video conferencing, email, or by phone. These reps usually work at an office or from their homes (hence “inside”) and rarely need to travel for business. Those who work in an office could be in a call centre or another shared environment.

For this type of selling process, reps typically train on a specific product and can take a prospect through all of the product’s features and benefits.

Prospects for inside sales come from a variety of sources. Some inside sales reps use purchased contact lists from third-party companies or lists generated by their own marketing teams based on people who have taken action on the website or engaged via email, phone calls or social media. Others may support existing customers, reaching or cold calling out to them to upsell or cross-sell.

An inside salesperson will:

  • Have specific goals or quotas to meet
  • Reach out to prospects to try and set up appointments
  • Educate prospects and customers about products and services
  • Follow up on incoming leads (from engagement via web forms, email, or social media platforms)
  • Enter or update customer data in a CRM system

Some inside sales reps may not sell to customers directly. Instead, their job may be to qualify a lead and turn it over to the field sales’ department or an account executive who will continue the nurturing process.

2. Outside sales

Outside sales is the process of going out into the field to sell directly to prospects and customers. These salespeople don’t tend to work in a traditional office, because they travel to meet with clients. To support their own sales team and their sales efforts elsewhere, they lead presentations and product demos and build customer relationships in person at the prospect’s place of business, at a trade show or convention, or in a location that’s near a prospect where they can engage face-to-face.

This sales approach is still common, even in the digital age. According to our State of Sales report, 34% of all sales closed completely in person and 34% took a hybrid approach over the past 12 months. That’s why it’s critical for companies to consider outside sales, even if remote selling seems to be growing in popularity.

An outside sales rep will:

  • Have specific goals or quotas to meet
  • Travel to visit with customers
  • Prospect or cold call organisations that fall into their sales area
  • Do in-person demonstrations or product education
  • Enter or update customer data in a CRM system

Many outside salespeople have an area or sales territory that they focus on, along with existing accounts to nurture. Since their office is remote, they use tools such as laptops or tablets and carry digital samples/demos, brochures, and price lists.

3. B2B sales

Business-to-business (B2B) sales involve a business selling a product or service to another business. A wood supplier may sell its products to a furniture manufacturer, or a software as a service (SaaS) company may sell its solutions to a tech company, for example.

The B2B sales cycle is typically longer than traditional B2C (business-to-consumer) selling since it can involve much higher costs, more complexity, and more stakeholders. Enterprise sales, which involves selling to large organisations, may have longer lead times since selling to an enterprise can be highly complex. A small or midsize business (SMB), on the other hand, may only have a handful of people who need to sign off on a deal, so it can often close sooner.

To be an effective B2B salesperson, you need to have extensive knowledge of your product or service, as well as your prospective customer’s business needs and challenges. You need to know how your solution can benefit your prospect’s company by alleviating pain points and meeting business goals. Above all, you need to be able to communicate that to them in a way that instils authority and trust. According to the State of Sales, 82% of business buyers expect sales representatives to act as trusted advisors.

4. B2C sales

Business-to-consumer (B2C) sales is when a business sells its services directly to its customers. When you make a personal purchase at a store or online, that’s a business-to-consumer (B2C) sale. Because these deals are usually simpler and less costly than B2B sales, the sales cycle is shorter.

The B2C sales process is simple and effective. In this model of spin selling, a business uses advertising or word-of-mouth to get potential customers interested in buying their products. This model is commonly associated with retailers, since they sell directly to their shoppers.

5. Channel sales

In channel sales, companies sell through partners or intermediaries. This model of sales pitch is also called partner selling or indirect selling, because the company does not have a direct connection to the customer. For example, you might sell through independent brokers or agents who arrange transactions with more customers in exchange for a commission.

To get started, you’ll need to find and recruit channel sales partners that align with your own business growth strategy. You might identify new markets and contact potential partners proactively by going to trade shows to highlight your solutions. Or, you could let them come to you directly by setting up a form on your website so prospective partners can show interest in selling your products.

6. E-commerce sales

E-commerce sales can be B2B or B2C. Both involve the same process of selling products or services online. For B2C sales, this might mean chatting with someone online to provide customised product suggestions and quickly closing a deal. B2B e-commerce salespeople typically work through more complex engagements, offering things like product demonstrations to spur interest.

7. Direct sales

If you’ve ever bought something at a friend’s home-based sales party, you’ve seen direct sales in action. Manufacturing companies can also conduct direct sales by avoiding a middleman; they make the products they sell. In essence, direct sales involves selling products directly to consumers, without the support or inventory of a retail store.

Direct salespeople may find qualified leads all on their own by prospecting. They could go to networking or industry events, advertise or search for potential leads on social media sites, create their own websites, or ask for referrals. At its core, direct sales relies on professional relationships and personalised customer support.

There are advantages and disadvantages to direct sales. While direct salespeople build relationships through face-to-face interactions and create relationships with companies and individuals, it can be time-consuming to find and service customers. Direct sales also require a thick skin, since frequent rejection is often part of the game.

8. Account-based sales

Account-based salespeople focus on a specific sector or set of customers and prospects, creating personalised sales strategies for each one. Above all, long-term relationships with small and medium businesses are important to account-based sales. That’s because they often involve high-value products and services which take time to sell.

One example of account-based sales is pharmaceutical sales. As an illustration, pharmaceutical reps focus on sales vs a specific high-value practice. They may, for example, sell blood pressure drugs to a few highly-reviewed cardiologist practices in a specific metro area.

Account-based selling demands sellers be both product and account experts. As a product expert, you can provide crucial information, answer questions, field objections, and ease uncertainty for your accounts’ decision-makers. As an account expert, you become a trusted source to your client, which can lead to a lasting business relationship.

Common sales terms

No matter what kind of selling you choose to pursue, there are some terms you must know. Here are five common terms that you’ll hear every day:

  • Lead: A lead is a potential customer that has not yet been qualified as a likely buyer. They may have taken action on your website, dropped a business card in a jar at a conference, or been referred to you, but there’s no way to know if they’re likely to make a purchase.
  • Prospect: A prospect is a lead that has been qualified as likely to buy based on behavioural data, intent signals, or demographics that align with your buyer persona.
  • Sales funnel: A sales funnel is the journey that a lead travels through from awareness to interest to decision, ultimately making a purchase.
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) tool: An application, technology, or service that is used to track, manage, and analyse everything related to the customer and their journey through the sales funnel. CRM platforms keep track of the basics of a sale, such as customer name, contact information, purchase details, and communications.
  • Conversion: Conversion is when a step of the sales process is completed and a customer moves close to a sale. This term can be used in each stage of the customer journey (a lead can be converted to a prospect, and a prospect can be converted to a customer) but is commonly used to refer to the moment a prospect completes a purchase.

Types of sales methodologies

Ready to start selling? You’ll need to have a solid framework to succeed. Let’s walk through some of the most common methodologies you can apply to the sales types noted above.

Solution selling

Solution selling is a technique that focuses on your customers’ needs and pain points and provides recommendations to solve them. This is often a collaborative process where you work closely with a customer to define a business problem and explore customised options to help.

These proposals might contain information about competitor products or solutions, why your solution is a better option, and how your product or service will solve the customer’s business problems.

Value selling

Value selling is slightly different in that it focuses on the value proposition of helping prospects solve problems while delivering positive economic and resource impact. That impact can be seen in different ways from cost and time savings to competitive advantage and risk mitigation.

B.A.N.T.: Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline

B.A.N.T. is a sales methodology that asks the salesperson to consider the person they are selling to. Do they have the budget and authority to approve a purchase? In addition, is there a need that’s being unmet and, if so, can you deliver on that need in time for them to succeed?

Using BANT, a salesperson can make sure that they can match their outreach efforts accordingly so they can make the sale.

N.E.A.T.: Need, Economic impact, Access to Authority, and Timeline

N.E.A.T. was developed by the Harris Consulting Group and Sales Hacker. It is very similar to B.A.N.T. with some exceptions: The salesperson makes sure there is a need but focuses on what the purchase can do for that customer from a financial perspective. In essence, N.E.A.T. asks the salesperson to consider the negative effects on the prospective customer, if they don’t complete the sale.

S.N.A.P.: Simple, iNvaluable, Align, Priorities

SNAP was coined by Jill Konrath, who wrote the book on S.N.A.P. selling, literally. Her tome, “SNAP Selling: Speed Up Sales and Win More Business with Today’s Frazzled Customers,” focuses on simplicity. She teaches sales professionals that it’s important to keep it simple and nurture prospects with pitches and collateral that are easily understandable.

In her book, Konrath says salespeople need to get into the head of the buyer so they feel understood. For example, they can use selling points that meet the customer’s needs instead of sticking to a canned script. To do this effectively, salespeople need to listen actively and discover the customer’s most important pain points.

M.E.D.D.I.C.: Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, Champion

M.E.D.D.I.C. is a B2B, sales training methodology developed in 1996 by businessman Dick Dunkel. It was designed to help Dunel’s company figure out why its salespeople were winning or losing deals.

In this model, all of the win/loss reasons fall into one of the six buckets. It asks sales reps to start their evaluations by looking at how a prospect’s organisation evaluates success.

For instance, sales managers and reps should consider how they are targeting potential buyers, the person who greenlights a purchase as well as the champion who can inform the economic buyers. The main differentiator of M.E.D.D.I.C., according to its authors, is the way it details decision-making.

S.P.I.N.: Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-Payoff

S.P.I.N. was created in 1988 by sales expert Neil Rackham as a way to get salespeople looking at their prospects more granularly. It focuses on actively listening to prospects and thoughtfully brainstorming solutions to their business problems. By doing so, he said, prospective customers will realise on their own that a company’s product or service is the right one for them.

This technique requires relationship-building, the ability to ask plenty of questions, and the willingness to become an educator rather than just a sales director focusing on the hard sell.

5 qualities of successful salespeople

While successful salespeople have a variety of skills and qualities, there are some characteristics that seem to cut across all salespeople, B2B and B2C. These include:

  • Being assertive. Salespeople must be willing to jump in and talk to people who may not be outwardly interested in what they are saying.
  • Having empathy. Sales is all about solving a person’s or organisation’s problems. The easiest way to do that is if you put yourself in someone else’s shoes to help them figure out a solution.
  • Embracing organisation. A B2B salesperson might have 100 accounts. A B2C salesperson might have 100 different products they cover. You’ll need to keep a lot of details straight between your various products/accounts. You never want to mix up customers on a call.
  • Staying positive. The RAIN Group says it can take up to eight touches of a prospect before a salesperson even gets a meeting. In addition, some sales conversion rates are very low — 1% or 2%. With that in mind, a salesperson needs to have a thick skin.
  • Being a people person. In sales, you’ll spend a lot of time talking to people. If you enjoy making connections, building relationships, and helping people, sales might be a good fit for you.

While this list of traits and skills might seem daunting, with a little training and a lot of drive, you can hope to reach your goals in-person meetings here.

Find your path to sales career success

No matter how you define sales, salespeople spend a significant amount of time building relationships and closing deals. People are looking to sales teams for personal connections, and they want customised information and services. Regardless of the state of the economy, understanding the different types of sales and how you can be most effective in closing deals is an excellent way to find success.

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