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Sales Strategy Explained: Here's Everything You Need to Know

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12 min

Inside this article:

What Is a Sales Strategy?

Why Do You Need a Sales Strategy?

2 Types of Sales Strategies: Inbound vs. Outbound Sales

Sales Strategy vs. Marketing Strategy

Building a Sales Strategy: How to Develop a Sales Strategy in 5 Steps

The Hallmarks of a Successful Sales Strategy

Who Are the People Responsible for Driving the Sales Strategy?

Ready to Improve Your Sales Strategy?

COVID-19 has changed our customers’ circumstances in unprecedented ways. According to the latest State of Sales research:

  • 79% of sales reps say they’ve had to quickly adapt to new ways of selling
  • 58% of sales reps think their job has changed forever because of the pandemic

That means sales strategies have to evolve in response to customers’ changing needs. And that also means sales leaders need to step up and set the tone. After all, without an effective sales strategy, SDRs, AEs, and everyone else in the sales organization will struggle to reach their full potential and hit their sales goals.

Sales strategy is critical to business success. It provides a pathway for sales teams to achieve goals, and it serves as a guide for individual sales reps to know how they should spend their time. A solid sales strategy aligns the entire organization behind the same set of priorities and goals, empowering everyone to work together towards the same result.

In this article, we’ll cover all the important things you need to know about sales strategy, including:

  • What is a sales strategy?
  • Why do you need a sales strategy?
  • How do you develop one?
  • What are examples of winning sales strategies?

Let’s dive in!

What Is a Sales Strategy?

A sales strategy is a detailed plan for achieving sales objectives and overall business goals. It’s the game plan that your sales team follows to close more deals, increase revenue, and hit revenue targets.

A sales strategy is made up of five key elements: 

  1. Your ideal customer profile
  2. Your unique value proposition
  3. Your sales process
  4. Strategies for closing deals
  5. Forecast of how many deals you anticipate closing

By taking time to clearly define these elements in advance, you set yourself up for success by giving your reps the tools they need to consistently win deals.

Without a clear strategy in place, it’s easy for reps to get lost in their day-to-day activities without making progress toward big picture goals. A sales strategy ensures reps are clear on what actions will drive the biggest returns for their time and efforts.

Remember, a tactic is an activity you do; a strategy is an overarching principle you follow and then find tactics that fit inside that overall strategy.

For example, a sales tactic might be an email campaign that tries to get customers to buy one of your products in a particular price range (like under $100). A sales strategy might be to use that tactic as part of a larger plan to sell more high margin items.

Pro Tip: Schedule time to review and adjust your sales strategy. Your sales strategy isn’t a one-and-done document you can print out and stick on the wall. It should be a living breathing document that evolves amid shifting market trends, company goals, and the changing needs of your organization.

Why Do You Need a Sales Strategy?

Frank V. Cespedes, author of Aligning Strategy and Sales: The Choices, Systems, and Behaviors that Drive Effective Selling, notes, "... in a recent survey of more than eighteen hundred executives, more than half (56 percent) say their biggest challenges are ensuring that day-to-day decisions are in line with strategy and allocating resources in a way that supports the strategy. Poor alignment of sales and strategy means direct and opportunity costs."

In addition to reducing those costs, there are many other advantages of sales strategy.

You need a sales strategy because it will bring clarity and focus to your daily sales activities. Some other benefits of a sales strategy are that it can help you: 

Sales strategy can bring structure to your organization. Strategy can also help you hit your sales goals. After all, when a perennial sales challenge is exceeding the monthly, quarterly, or yearly revenue target, you need something to inform your team’s actions for the year ahead.

Image caption: Have you optimized your yearly sales strategy? Image credit: MD MAMUN

Steve W. Martin, author of Sales Strategy Playbook: The Ultimate Reference Guide to Solve Your Toughest Sales Challenges, conducted an extensive study of 786 sales professionals — top-level sales leaders, front-line sales managers, hybrid sales managers, and salespeople — to find out what separated top sales organizations from their competition.

"High-performing sales organizations employ a more structured sales process than average and underperforming sales organizations. Fifty percent of study participants from the high-performing sales organizations responded they had sales processes that were closely monitored, strictly enforced, or automated compared to 28 percent from the underperforming sales organizations. Forty-eight percent of the participants from underperforming sales organizations indicated they had nonexistent or informal structured sales processes compared to only 29 percent from high-performing sales organizations."

It's no secret that the success of a company depends on its sales. Without sales, there is no revenue. Without revenue there is no profit. Without profit, there won't be much of a company.

2 Types of Sales Strategies: Inbound vs. Outbound Sales

At a high level, there are two types of sales strategies: inbound and outbound. 

The main difference between the two strategies is where the customer comes from. With inbound sales, customers come to you; with outbound sales, you go to them.

In inbound sales, because prospects come to you, you’re typically set up for a warmer reception since they've already identified a need or problem and have decided to do something about it.

In outbound sales, you're soliciting prospects who may or may not have a need for what you're selling. This strategy requires more legwork but can also be very rewarding if done right. When it comes to choosing between inbound and outbound sales strategies, there is no “right” answer for every company. The best answer for you depends on your goals, resources, and industry. Here's everything you need to know about both strategies and how they work together.

Inbound Sales Strategy

When it comes to inbound sales, prospects find your business through search engines, marketing campaigns and/or referrals. In other words, they've already expressed interest in what you offer by actively seeking it out. As such, inbound strategy involves building a strong online presence (i.e., an optimized website) and creating content that's valuable enough for prospects to want to find it.

Inbound sales strategy is a customer-centric method of sales. The process includes providing value to customers through content and interactions that help them solve their problems and reach their goals.

An inbound sales strategy usually involves these steps:

  • Developing buyer personas to better understand your customers' needs, goals and challenges;
  • Creating a buyer's journey map to identify where prospects are in the customer lifecycle (awareness, consideration, decision) and what actions they're taking;
  • Creating a content marketing strategy to attract, engage and delight prospects with educational content that helps them learn about the different options for solving their problem or reaching their goal;
  • Using social media marketing to promote your content, establish thought leadership, provide customer support and nurture relationships with prospects that are not yet ready to buy;
  • Using customer relationship management (CRM) software to keep track of customer interactions and manage leads through the sales cycle.

In other words, inbound sales is all about building relationships. It’s about understanding your prospect’s pain points and providing value throughout every stage of their buyer's journey so that when they’re ready to make a purchase, they think of you first.

Pro Tip: Align your sales goals with your content marketing efforts. Your content should be used as a tool to build awareness and engagement. That naturally leads to sales opportunities. When your inbound and outbound sales strategies are aligned, that means you have a clear pathway from awareness to consideration to decision. And when everyone understands what it takes to get there, then they can take action together to achieve those results.

Outbound Sales Strategy

There are a few benefits outbound sales offer that may not be easily obtained with inbound marketing.

  • Highly-targeted outreach
  • Immediate feedback and results
  • Personal contact with prospects
  • Control over the pace of marketing and selling 

Outbound sales strategy is the process by which you go out and find your potential customers. This approach is extremely effective for growing your customer base — especially if you have a newer business or limited resources. The most common way to implement an outbound sales strategy is through cold calling, but you can also use email and social media to connect with new leads.

Outbound sales are the traditional form of sales that many people think of when they hear the word "sales." It's when a salesperson reaches out to prospects and tries to sell them a product or service. Outbound sales may happen over the phone, via email, through social media, in person, or any other method.

Because outbound sales strategy is a sales method that involves your business proactively reaching out to potential customers, it pays to be deliberate when creating outbound sales strategy.

Outbound tactics can be effective at building relationships with potential customers and driving revenue for your business. However, these strategies can also annoy potential customers if you're not careful.

  • Social media marketing
  • Cold Email Marketing
  • Cold calling
  • Word-of-mouth and referral marketing
  • Print ads
  • Outdoor advertising
  • Direct mail

The secret to outbound sales success is to create a feedback loop that takes in actionable data and pumps out better processes. A great sales organization has a feedback loop that takes in raw data and pumps out better people.

What is an example of an effective outbound prospecting strategy?

Let’s look at cold calling. Data shows 41% of sales reps say the telephone is their most important sales tool. And with 92% of customer interactions being telephone-based, it’s clear that the phone is still the primary way businesses interact with customers.

Effective cold calls generate qualified leads and appointments, leading to increased sales opportunities and increased revenue. Cold calling works well because you get to talk directly with the decision maker, and you can find out all sorts of information about their company, like how they're planning on growing their business this year, what their biggest challenge is right now, and which competitors they are most concerned about.

Pro Tip: The key to a successful outbound sales strategy is research. You need to know the ins and outs of the companies you are targeting, as well as their pain points. This will help you develop a meaningful conversation with your prospects, rather than just reciting generic lines about your product or service. 

Sales Strategy vs. Marketing Strategy

Sales strategy is a plan to reach the sales goals of your business; it’s a path to get more customers and increase revenue. A marketing strategy is vital to the success of your business, but the two terms are not interchangeable.

Here’s how you can tell them apart:

Sales strategy focuses on driving revenue and profit now, by identifying new opportunities to close deals quickly. Marketing strategy is longer term and focuses on building brand awareness and reputation, measuring ROI and creating lasting customer relationships.

Because sales strategies tend to be more short-term, they’re easier to implement and they make it easier to link results directly back to specific tactics. Marketing strategies are best considered as part of a larger plan that includes sales strategies, since the two go hand in hand.

It’s possible for something to fall into both categories. If you have an email list with loyal customers who have bought from you before, for example, you could use marketing tactics like email campaigns or social media posts to drive additional sales from those customers — essentially driving quick wins with a tactic that falls under both strategies.

A sales strategy defines your company goals, the priorities and targets that your company will pursue. A marketing strategy defines the messaging and positioning that you use to take advantage of channels such as social media, search engine optimization (SEO), email marketing and direct mail.

A sales strategy is typically used in the context of a product or service, while a marketing strategy encompasses all aspects of a company's marketing activities. 

The difference between sales strategy and marketing strategy can be illustrated using an analogy. Imagine if you were playing soccer against another team. Your sales strategy would be your game plan on how to win the game, while your marketing strategy would be your training plan to make sure that you stay fit and ready to play at any time.

Sales strategy focuses on specific steps a sales team takes to convert a customer from prospect to sale. A good sales strategy will outline what tactics you use, how they fit into your overall sales process, and how you measure success.

A marketing strategy is how you plan to grow your business by creating awareness, generating leads, and converting customers. It's an overview of how your company markets its products or services to potential customers.

Pro Tip: Never forget the success of a company depends on both their marketing and their sales strategies working together. Marketing needs to work with sales to create messaging that drives customers through your sales funnel, but also ensures that there are enough qualified leads for the sales team to take action on.

Building a Sales Strategy: How to Develop a Sales Strategy in 5 Steps

First, let's start with what a sales strategy isn't. It's not a set of goals that look like this:

  1. Make 100 calls per week
  2. Get 10 appointments with new prospects
  3. Close three deals each month

Goals are outcomes; they represent what you hope will happen as a result of taking certain actions. Goals are important, but without an effective strategy in place, they're unlikely to be met.

A good place to start is clarifying the difference between a "sales strategy" and a "sales plan."

Your sales strategy is the big picture — long-term goals, milestones and initiatives that help you become more effective at selling your products or services. A sales plan covers a shorter period — usually one year or less — and includes details about how you intend to achieve those goals.

If you're going to spend time and energy building a sales strategy, you want it to work. Here's how to build a sales strategy that will maximize your efforts.

1. Identify Your Best Prospects

The person most likely to buy from you is the one who fits your target buyer profile. The key is knowing what that profile looks like. What kind of company is most likely to buy from you? How large are they? What industry are they in? Are they growing or downsizing?

Next, determine the role of the person you want to sell your product or service to and what their job responsibilities are. You can use LinkedIn or other social media sites as a resource for identifying which companies might be interested in doing business with you and finding out more about the people who work there.

2. Qualify Your Leads

Not every prospect should be treated equally — some will be better than others. One way to help identify the best prospects is by using BANT: Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline. Work to understand each prospect's ability and desire to buy from you before moving forward with selling efforts.

3. Set Your Sales Goals

You should set concrete sales objectives. What will your sales team achieve in a set timeline? Come up with specific sales goals and track your team’s progress toward them on a regular basis. This will help you hold your team accountable for reaching these goals, which should lead to more sales overall.

4. Build Your Sales Organization

Next, you’ll need to build a team that knows how to sell. Determine what channels or activities you'll need to focus on (and where you'll need to invest). Will your sales team include account executives (AE),  Inside Sales Representatives (ISR), or BDR/SDRs?

5. Identify the Right Metrics to Track Progress and Success

The best way to do this is to create key performance indicators (KPIs) for each goal. KPIs are measurable values that show just how well you fulfill your strategy's mission. They can include the number of loyal customers, the number of new customers you gain over time, or even the total revenue earned over a certain period.

The best sales metrics are simple, quantitative, and relevant. They should be easy to understand and give insight into how well your salespeople are performing against their goals. It's also important they make sense in your business context; a metric that might work well in one company may not work at all in another company. Here are some examples of sales metrics:

  • Lead-to-customer conversion rate
  • Average order value
  • Average time to close a sale
  • Sales quota attainment

Pro Tip: Activity metrics might include things like calls made, emails sent or meetings set. Results metrics might include things like proposals submitted or deals closed. If a rep is making a ton of calls but not closing any deals, it's time to dig into why that's happening and provide some extra training or coaching to help them improve their closing rate.

The Hallmarks of a Successful Sales Strategy

We’ve covered a lot of ground. 

We’ve answered important questions like: What should be included in a sales strategy? and What are the steps in formulating sales strategy?

Now, it’s time to dig a little deeper by asking:

What makes a sales strategy effective?

A good sales strategy will help you build stronger relationships with your customers, while also boosting your bottom line.

Although there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to selling, successful sales strategies all have common elements.  Here are some of the hallmarks of a successful sales strategy:

They're Backed by Market Research

A good sales strategy is based on thorough research into your market and competition, which gives you insight into what your potential customers need, who they are and why they should buy from you. Without this research, your team won't know who to target or what tactics to use.

Your strategy needs to be based on facts and numbers, not assumptions or gut feelings. A strong sales strategy is rooted in understanding your customers' needs and how your product or service can help address them.

Customer-Centric

A good sales strategy focuses on meeting customer needs and providing value to them, rather than simply selling products. Customers need to feel that you’re thinking less about how much they can spend and more about how they can succeed.

Sales Teams Have Deep Knowledge of the Market

Your sales team should know your industry well enough to understand your customers’ challenges and to be able to position your company as the solution. The sales team should be empowered to sell the value of your product. This means they should be able to position your company in such a way that it stands out from the competition and resonates with the customer.

They should understand how you’re different, and why that matters. In order to do this, they need to know your industry well enough to understand your customers’ challenges. They need to know your customers—what their pain points are, what motivates them, what their needs are, and what their buying process looks like.

Clearly Defined Goals 

Good sales strategies set concrete, measurable goals for each account manager, which can include activities like number of calls to make or number of visits to specific clients during a certain time frame. You should also assign financial goals for each person on your team — there should be no ambiguity about what it means for them to be “successful” when evaluating their performance at the end of the year.

Teamwork Between Sales and Marketing Departments

Marketing materials, including case studies, white papers and email campaigns, can provide useful information for sales teams that can help lead to bigger deals with customers. Conversely, salespeople who engage directly with customers can share valuable feedback

It is important that both teams receive appropriate training so they know their roles and responsibilities and how they fit in the big scheme of things. Sales and marketing departments should be able to communicate properly and share information on a regular basis so that there is no miscommunication or conflict between them.

Pro Tip: Talk to your customers. The first step in creating a successful sales strategy is understanding who your customers are — this means talking to them and engaging them at every opportunity. The more often you talk to your customers, the better sense you'll be able to make of their needs and wants. 

Who Are the People Responsible for Driving the Sales Strategy?

Now, you might be thinking that this is a no-brainer: the sales team. But if you, as a leader, fail to involve other departments, parts of your company will end up working against your overall strategy.

Many sales teams create strategies to drive their short-term goals, but then don’t put any thought into who is going to be responsible for making sure the plan actually gets executed.

While a company’s executive leaders are ultimately responsible for sales strategy, it is not your CEO or sales manager’s job to ensure that your reps are following the plan day in and day out. Below are five roles within a company that should be responsible for ensuring that your sales strategy gets followed:

  • Sales leaders -- You can have all the right tools, processes, and compensation, but without a strong leader who is respected by his or her team, results will suffer. A good sales leader has to be credible with the team to keep them motivated and focused on their goals.
  • The sales manager(s) --A good sales manager excels at all aspects of sales management. They will either help your strategy succeed and help the team reach their goals or they’ll be a big part of why strategy failed and the sales team missed its targets. Research shows the top 25% of sales managers had 65% of reps achieving quota.
  • The marketing team -- They also have a part to play, since they will be responsible for driving leads through the sales funnel and nurturing them until they are ready to buy.
  • The frontline sales team -- They are closest to your customers and prospects, so they know what motivates them and what will compel them to buy. They also know whether or not their current tools and processes enable them to achieve the sales results you want.
  • Sales operations -- Sales ops provides strategic direction and reduces friction in the sales process by supporting and enabling your frontline sales team to sell more efficiently and effectively.

Assuming the sales strategy has been created by senior management, it is their responsibility to ensure that everyone in the organization understands it, and more importantly believes in it. This means that the CEO, head of sales and other executives must do everything they can to make sure that this message is effectively communicated throughout the organization.

However, communicating a message is not enough. Every member of the team must also be aware of how their work contributes to achieving or detracting from the overall strategy.

For example, if you are using a focus on customer service as part of your strategy, then everyone must understand why this is important and how they are contributing to it. This includes receptionists who are responsible for answering phones and responding to emails within a certain time frame, account managers who will be communicating with customers on a daily basis and anyone else who will be interacting with customers directly or indirectly.

Pro Tip: A good sales strategy involves a lot of people, so it's important to get everyone on the same page. The key to driving this alignment is consistent communication between all the parties involved in your sales strategy.

Ready to Improve Your Sales Strategy?

As a sales leader, you’re responsible for ensuring that the sales engine of your organization runs at peak performance.

The question is, what does it take to get there?

The sales strategy is a key component of every business, regardless of the industry. Without a well-thought out plan on how to promote and sell your products, you will have little to no chance of growing your business 

Your sales strategy is a high-level document that should guide your organization's overall sales & marketing efforts. While it does not provide an in-depth level of detail for specific tactics, it sets the stage for the rest of your sales planning process. The sales strategy should be closely aligned with other aspects of the marketing effort and reflect the overall mission, vision and values of your organization.

If you’re looking for more ways to improve sales strategy, check out our resources for sales teams:

If you use the phone as a relationship-building and selling tool, PhoneBurner can help you do it better. Our easy-to-use platform can help sales professionals triple their prospecting productivity and have up to 4x more live conversations. And that’s a strategy any smart sales leader can get behind.

And if you’d like to learn how to help your reps be 400% more productive with PhoneBurner’s cold calling software — the #1 rated outbound dialer for 10+ years — get your free trial here, no credit card required.

This is a guest post by Anthony Sills, the Founder & Content Strategist at Professional Pen. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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