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Sales Strategy Guide: 5 Steps to More Efficient Selling

Don't leave success to chance. Learn how to create a winning sales strategy and seal more deals.

Dini Mehta

What’s better than making a sale? Making a selling machine that matches your customers with your product and has tools and data to make your salespeople more efficient and productive. With this, repeatable and dependable sales are sure to come — that’s what a sales strategy is all about.

Let’s talk about why having a sales strategy matters and how to build one in six straightforward steps.

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What is a sales strategy?

A sales strategy is a detailed plan to reach revenue targets where you first identify target customers and selling channels and then create a sales processopens in a new window to make it possible. It’s never one and done, though. Sales strategies must continually adapt to business and market changes, usually seeking to do more with less. Sales leaders must keep digging into customer and sales performance data to track progress, make adjustments, and stay on course.

Are sales strategy and sales planning the same thing?

Not really. A sales strategy is a holistic approach to your goal, and planning outlines the details to make it happen. Some people use them interchangeably, but a sales strategy focuses on how to capture market share while sales planning involves detailing how to accomplish it — deciding on resources, revenue types from each channel, number of accounts, and pipeline coverage.

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Why do you need a sales strategy?

A great strategy will rally your salespeople around common goals, help them spot risks and trends as they move deals along, and train them to get better every day. Without a strategy, sellers would be out on their own — no unified vision, no shared ideas about the next best action, and no compiled data to learn what is and isn’t working.

Sales strategies are increasingly important to develop when organizations face the challenging combination of limited resources and high pressure. Because sales representatives are usually tasked with meeting lofty goals, you can’t afford to waste time, budget, or resources. A strategy that’s tightly aligned with your company and product strategy, you help you gain revenue even in today’s competitive marketplace.

These are the top three reasons sales strategies are essential:

1. Clear steps to advance customers in the pipeline

Sales strategies create a blueprint for sellers on handling leads’ objections and rejections, when to reach out with another email, when to loop other people into the conversation, etc. Repeatable steps and reusable techniques help you close deals.

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2. More productive sellers and faster onboarding

A strategy distills lessons — both good and constructive — into standards every seller can benefit from. Newbies and sellers with room to improve can learn to mimic your high-performers with guidance and actions on everything from prospecting leadsopens in a new windowto closing deals.opens in a new window

3. Real-time visibility of the data within your sales process

The structure of your sales strategy will create a consistent sales process for you and your team. You can then bring all your data into one place and track the same key metricsopens in a new window for every rep. Are sellers performing as expected? Are they selling enough to hit your forecast? Are there red flags showing more attention and training is needed? This baseline understanding of all your data (especially when it’s updated in real time) helps you coach your reps to perform better.

1. Direct selling

This is classic sales — one rep builds a relationship with one customer over time until they close the deal. This sales strategy is a solid method when your product is complex or the deal size is large, requiring a longer sales cycle and a high level of human involvement. Direct sales is often the preferred sales strategy for enterprise sales, also known as complex sales.

2. Inbound selling

Inbound sales come from customers who find your company on their own through marketing efforts, word of mouth, or organic SEO. The strategy may be as easy as laying down the breadcrumbs for customers to follow. A high volume of inbound leads that convert to customers signals a clear need for your product and suggests your organization has a strong presence in the industry.

3. Outbound selling

Outbound salesopens in a new window happen when sales reps contact prospects who haven’t interacted with your company before and convert them into customers. Outbound sales strategies are often more complex than inbound ones because you often have to create a sense of demand or prove why your product or service is the solution the prospect needs.

4. Partner selling

With this strategy, also known as channel sales, you collaborate with partners to sell. This can be a smart strategy if your goal is to break into a new customer segment the partner has expertise with to or to gain more market share. You may choose a partner because they already have a customer base and distribution engine you can tap into. Successful partnering can require extra training to ensure your brand is being represented the way you want, but it’s generally not as time-consuming or expensive as hiring new employees and can provide a significant return on investment for your organization.

5. Account-based selling

Account-based sellingopens in a new window focuses on building relationships with high-value account holders so you can close bigger deals. It’s a more targeted approach to selling, focusing on personalized solutions based on the specific needs of the account. Sales teams using this strategy typically see higher conversions, improved customer loyalty, more cross-selling/upselling opportunities, and long-term relationships.

6. Consultative selling

Instead of a traditional sales relationship, consultative sellingopens in a new window places reps in a trusted advisor role. During the early days of the relationship, they focus on learning about the customer’s needs and educating the customer about how their product can help meet them. This approach focuses heavily on providing customers with resources and knowledge that position you as an expert in the field. Once they view you as an advisor, purchasing your products becomes a natural next step.

7. SPIN selling

An acronym for situation, problem, implication, and need-payoff, the SPIN sellingopens in a new window strategy asks prospective customers probing questions in these four areas. After reps have a solid understanding of the customer’s needs, they can identify their specific pain points and begin discussing potential solutions. This is a great sales strategy for deepening customer relationships, but it can often take more time than other approaches.

8. Value-based selling

A value-based sellingopens in a new windowstrategy focuses on helping prospects solve problems while delivering positive economic and resource impact. Common focus points in this method include cost savings, time savings, competitive advantage, and risk mitigation. With value-based selling, customers develop a high level of trust in your company, which typically leads to longer-term customer relationships.

9. Solution selling

Instead of leading with product features and benefits, solution sellingopens in a new windowfocuses on your customers’ needs and pain points and provides recommendations to solve them. This customer-centric sales strategy helps you tailor better solutions, which can make customers feel like you have their best interests in mind rather than simply looking to make a sale.

10. Challenger selling

This sales strategy emphasizes challenging the customer’s thinking and assumptions. Your goal with this approach is to bring new insights and value to their business. It typically works better when the whole company — not just sales — buys into delivering solutions that change perspectives.

How to build a sales strategy in 6 steps

Ready top build a sales strategy? Start by understanding what you want to achieve — a sales target to work toward. Then think about the type of customers you want to target and how you’ll reach them. Gather leads, and then, finally, build a sales process that you can study, learn from, and refine over time.

1. Define your sales goals

A sales leader will often begin the year with a target of how much revenue to bring in. This will help determine the customers you need to target and how many deals you need to close in the coming year.

Let’s imagine your target is $1 million in revenue by this time next year. Analyze what product(s) or service(s) you’re going to focus on and how many you would need to sell. This gives you a base start; the next stage of strategizing is identifying the best target customers and selling channels to help you meet this goal.

2. Determine your target customers

You need to have a clear idea of who you’re going to sell to. Determine your target customer based on how you want to subdivide the market in way that’s most likely to get you to your sales goal.

  • Size: Categorizing this way can let you split your sellers into two approaches. One targets large companies for a relatively small number of high-value deals, and the other targets small and medium businesses for lower-value, higher-volume deals.
  • Region: This approach makes sense as you expand into a global presence because you’ll need to identify the best practices for different local needs, with an emphasis on the unique languages, business pains, and cultural nuances in each place.
  • Industry: A sales strategy that serves specific company groupings (manufacturing, health care, financial services, etc.) can help you increase your closed deals as sellers can develop subject matter expertise. This intel lets them cater their selling technique to solving those customers’ unique pain points.
  • Product: This often makes sense for large companies with a mix of legacy products and new products. Holding certain sales teams accountable to new products while dedicating other sellers to legacy products will help you shore up success on all sides.

3. Select your selling channels

Now you’re ready to get deeper into strategy by deciding how you will go about selling. Studying competitors and learning about your potential customers’ operating methods can help you know how your target customers like to buy. It’s important to review the options and think about how each — or a combination — might help you achieve your sales goal.

For example, say you’re selling accounting software to enterprise business customers and you see a big opportunity among financial services firms. You know from experience that these buyers like to buy one-on-one from experts who understand the nuances of their regulatory environment. Ding-ding-ding! Train your sellers to speak the language of this specific industry and move forward with direct sales.

With your goal, your customers, and your channels narrowed down, you can move on to laying out a process.

4. Build an efficient sales process

Core to building your strategy after you have your base information is establishing a process. Identify steps your sales team can follow to complete a sale based on the type of customer and channel you’ve chosen. Think of it as a roadmap with checkpoints between first customer contact and close, with guidance on moving from one checkpoint to another.

The stages you choose and the milestones for each will depend on the customer and channel. Here’s an example of a sales process that might fit our example target customer (financial services) and channel (direct sales):

  • Prospect: Find new leads via online sources or your professional network.
  • Qualify: Determine whether your product is a good fit for a prospect by calling bank managers.
  • Research: Learn more about your prospect via online sources and industry research.
  • Pitch: Connect with your prospect again to demonstrate the value of your offering.
  • Overcome objections: Answer questions and address concerns. Consider showing a demo to demonstrate how your product will help.
  • Close: Negotiate terms and sign the deal.
  • Nurture and continue to sell: Focus on post-sales activities, such as customer adoption and success, renewals, and marketing partnerships like events and referrals.

5. Fill your sales pipeline with leads

Once you’ve defined the stages in your sales process, fill your sales pipeline with prospects. Determine how many you need based on likely deal size for the customer types you’re targeting and past conversion rates. Then, use marketing channels and network outreach to connect with them.

Let’s say you need to hit a $1 million revenue target. If the enterprise tier of your accounting software sells for $10,000 a year, you’ll need to close 100 deals to hit your goal. You know that last year’s conversion rate for enterprise prospects was 30%, which means your team probably needs about 330 prospects in your pipeline. You also know that many of the decision-makers you need to target attend conferences, so you register several of your team members for major ones in your region to make connections and identify prospects.

6. Put your sales process to work and adjust as you go

As you roll out the rest of your strategy, your team will dive into selling — going from cold leads to warm opportunities to red-hot deals. At the same time, your business and your market will experience disruption and change. So it’s critical to monitor the health of your pipeline constantly. If things aren’t going as expected or a change throws a wrench into your selling machine, then act to adjust.

For example, if several of your prospects have tightened budgets, consider changing your approach. Instead of pushing your enterprise software, maybe you pivot from fewer high-value deals to more mid-value deals. How? You start recommending a lower-cost, midrange tier of your accounting software that can be easily upgraded when the time and budget are right.

Tools to improve your sales strategy

Building and executing a strategy starts with a single source of truth, where you can segment your customers and channels and map specific actions to your sales process. Additional tools can be combined with a CRM to boost productivity and efficiency, from reports and dashboards to forecasting tools and revenue management software.

Here are a few of the most important tools to consider:

Customer relationship management

A CRM system gives you a complete view of all your prospects and customers. This visibility is critical for tracking your leads from initial contact to close, monitoring what is and isn’t working, and making smarter decisions about where to invest.

Reports and dashboards

Reports and dashboards provide a real-time picture of your business revenue at a glance. This data lets you as a sales leader continually adjust your strategy to stay on target. You can even dig deep into detailed reports that show insights at the level of the individual deal or seller.

Pipeline management and sales forecasting

Part of the sales strategy is creating a sales process — and you’ll need to monitor it. Bring in pipeline and forecasting technology to help you stay up to speed on your team’s progress. Get a handle on where every deal sits in the pipeline and roll those numbers up to create accurate sales forecasts. Then, make cost-effective decisions about where to focus your resources.

Revenue management

A revenue management tool can help you connect customer touchpoints — like quoting, selling, and billing — that used to be locked away in different systems. When you connect the flow of customer data from one touchpoint to the next, you can make it easier and faster for customers to buy.

When in doubt, go back to basics

Creating a sales strategy can be like building a car while driving it. You may be asked to hit your sales projection numbers while also building and refining the process to make it happen.

It can help you develop a strong strategy if you focus on the basics. It comes down to three questions: Who is your customer? What is your product? And how does your customer like to buy? When you have an answer, you know you’re on the right track.