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Article 9 min read

What is sales engagement? The definitive guide

Learn how sales engagement helps your company improve communication with your customers in meaningful and specific ways.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Last updated July 28, 2022

If you’ve ever been aggressively approached by a salesperson 0.5 seconds after walking into a store, you’ve experienced firsthand how poor sales engagement can tank a sale. Rather than calmly guiding you through the sales pipeline toward a purchase, a sudden, eager, and tone-deaf salesperson can send you running for the door.

That is why a sales engagement plan is essential.

Companies tell their sales reps to follow up with or reach out to prospects and customers all the time, but random interactions are not always positive ones. By organizing specific customer interactions and creating a plan of attack, you can increase communication between buyers and sellers without overwhelming them.

In this piece, we’ll walk you through the basics of sales engagement and give you the tools you need to make a brilliant sales engagement plan.

Sales engagement meaning

Sales engagement is a blanket term referring to all interactions and communications between sales representatives and buyers. This can make sales engagement a tricky beast to pin down. When you’re looking to improve every aspect of customer communication—including calls, emails, and face-to-face interactions—it’s extremely difficult to implement specific plans.

That said, we know sales engagement is one of the primary concerns of business leaders around the globe. According to a recent study by Gartner, more than 90 percent of sales leaders are planning to “invest in technologies and methodologies to help their sellers engage effectively with prospects and customers.”

With so many company leaders invested in improving such a significant aspect of their businesses, it’s essential that you understand the types of sales engagement, sales engagement best practices, and why businesses are scrambling to improve.

sales engagement

Why is sales engagement important?

Any company that knows how to effectively communicate with buyers is going to produce more revenue than a company that struggles with engagement—that’s obvious. Buyers want to find products and people they connect with, and sales reps that excel in connection are going to generate more revenue. So, why all the focus on sales engagement if we’ve known its importance for years?

The answer lies in ramp-up time and the cost efficiency of onboarding.

On average, it takes three months for a new sales rep to be ready to interact with buyers and another six months before they are considered “competent to perform.” That’s a massive amount of money spent on training and supervising. When you understand that turnover for sales organizations now sits around 34 percent and only about 67 percent of reps are hitting quotas, it becomes clear why solid sales engagement practices are critical for company success.

When you have strict, clear protocols for how to interact with buyers and helpful technology to facilitate communication, you give your sales reps a reliable road map to success. Sales engagement, while broad and varied, is all about company consistency and communication. You want to create sales scripts, sales plans, and sales styles that not only reflect your company brand, but are also easy to implement during training.

When you have strict, clear protocols for how to interact with buyers and helpful technology to facilitate communication, you give your sales reps a reliable road map to success.

This need is the spark that has triggered an explosion of sales engagement platforms, but we’ll get into that a little later. First, let’s look at the types of sales engagement.

Types of sales engagement

Sales engagement is usually broken down into four main categories:

  1. Workflow

    This includes email and call sequencing, email scheduling, outreach templates, sales scripts, and CMS/email integrations. Ideally, if your workflow engagement strategy is strong, your sales reps don’t have to waste any time figuring out the next interaction step in the pipeline. This aspect is also the most flexible. What works for one prospect might not work for another, so it’s important to build options into your sales playbook.
  2. Analytics and data

    This category includes all your KPIs, whether your reps need to see them or not. Some common sales engagement KPIs include open rates and views, content engagement, and rep goals (interactions per month, sales per month, and so on). Keep KPIs in mind when developing your sales engagement plan. You won’t be able to improve everything all at once, so move step by step until you find a full system that works.
  3. Calls

    Companies have a wide range of perspectives on phone engagement (especially regarding cold calls), but they all agree that calling efficiency could be improved. Whether you’re looking at a click-to-call function or a power dialer, increasing dialing speed is a crucial aspect of sales engagement. The calls category is one of the only categories solely focused on rep productivity.
  4. Contacts

    Last but not least, your contacts category is all about the customer. This is your prospect management, account-based selling support, and prospect qualification and management. A great contacts category is heavily influenced by a solid pre-sales plan, which we’ll address in just a bit.

Sales engagement vs. sales enablement

Sales enablement is very closely entangled with sales engagement, so it’s easy to confuse the two. If you’re refining one, you’ll improve the other by default, but it’s still important to understand the differences so you know which one you’re addressing.

Sales engagement, as we’ve discussed, focuses on the customer and how to engage with them.

Sales enablement, meanwhile, focuses on sales reps—teaching them how to sell and giving them the necessary tools for selling effectively.

Again, there’s considerable overlap. For instance, a sales script is a sales enablement tool, but it also improves sales engagement by strategically targeting customer pain points.

What about pre-sales engagement?

Pre-sales engagement is everything that comes before interacting with the customer. Ideally, your pre-sales engagement prepares your sales team for a successful sales engagement process.

Some common pre-sales engagement activities include:

  • Lead prospecting

  • Lead qualification

  • Product research

  • Market research

  • Data analysis

  • Customer analysis

  • Deal and proposal qualifications

  • Creating sales propositions

Each of these activities, if done well, directly affects your sales engagement. If a sales rep is handed a blank lead, they’re starting out at a disadvantage. They have to spend time getting to know the lead, doing their own research, and then hopefully crafting a pitch—if they haven’t already lost the prospect’s interest. Ideally, you want to hand a sales rep a well-researched, qualified lead so they can start off strong with a personalized sales pitch.

The motherlode of sales email templates

We’ve compiled 24 email templates that cover every sales pipeline stage, from prospecting to closing.

The most important tool in pre-sales engagement is the right CRM. When you use a CRM (like Zendesk Sell), you can organize your pre-sales engagement data on a universal platform that’s accessible to your entire company. Interdepartmental communication is already one of the biggest problems in the sales industry. Don’t make your team members waste time tracking down information via emails and calls when they can easily access full customer data sheets in a CRM.

How to maximize seller engagement

No matter what aspect of sales engagement you’re looking to improve, there are always best practices to keep in mind. Here are just a few ways you can maximize seller engagement as you implement improvement strategies.

  • Monitor engagement across all channels

    In order to fix problems, you need to know where they are. When you’re looking at improving sales engagement, ensure you’re tracking all types of seller channels. These include social sales, emails, calls, and sales collateral. When you can pinpoint which channels are showing the lowest engagement, you can produce a plan to ramp up those channels.
  • Track content through the pipeline via consumer engagement

    You want to make sure that your sales reps and your consumers are aligned. If you have email content with a high click rate but your reps don’t know that, they’re missing out on an opportunity to engage with a prospect during a key point of interest. Similarly, your sales reps may be interacting with prospects at points in the pipeline where they aren’t engaging with marketing materials or product demos. Aligning the timing of touchpoints and interactions is key to capitalizing on interest.
  • Be flexible and open to change

    Making a sales plan is great, but don’t get so committed to implementing it that you ignore issues. If your plan hits a snag, adapt. You don’t have to wait for a quarterly or monthly meeting to fix an obvious problem. For example, if part of your plan is to offer a bundle but you’re finding that first-time customers are hesitant to invest in more than one product, give your sales reps permission to shift gears. It’s better to alter the plan and keep that prospect than lose them to a rigid strategy.

What is a sales engagement platform (SEP)?

The sales engagement platform is a streamlined interface used to plan, track, execute, and optimize interactions between your sales team and customers across multiple types of communication (or channels). SEPs are now so popular that 87 percent of sales organizations already have one, and 92 percent of sales organizations consider their SEP critical to their sales team’s success.

92% of sales organizations consider their SEP critical to their sales team’s success.

A SEP is not identical to a CRM, but the two tools do have a great deal of overlap. If you’re new to the SEP game, you’ll need to start out with a CRM before you add on the SEP layer. The base of a SEP is your customer data, and customer data is the core of a CRM.

Ready for your first SEP? Gartner analysis recommends either Outreach or Salesloft as your definitive sales engagement platform software. Zendesk agrees—our CRM partners with both of these SEPs for smooth integration and optimal workflow.

Improve communication by tracking it with a powerful CRM

Sales engagement is a monumental task. Your sales team needs to be on top of customer interaction and customer behavior at every step of the sales pipeline for every single prospect and long-term consumer. Even your top sellers can’t do all of that without a bit of help.

That’s why we created Zendesk Sell. A great sales team needs the support of fast-calculating, accurate, and easily accessible data. Our unified platform is designed to give your entire company the full customer picture with the click of a button.

Using Zendesk Sell, you can automate follow-ups, set communication alerts, track sales KPIs, and centralize all interdepartmental communication within one software product. Not only that, Zendesk products integrate with hundreds of other software companies, so implementing Zendesk Sell won’t disrupt your existing workflow.

Looking for an accompanying customer support platform? Streamline your entire sales engagement process with Zendesk for service. Not only will you be able to provide customer support through a diverse selection of channels, but you will also have the ability to personalize the customer experience as you scale.

Keeping all of your prospects and customers engaged is a daunting task, but the right data and automation support can make that burden much easier. Request demos of Zendesk Sell and Zendesk for service today to start building lucrative and loyal customer relationships.

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