Give your sales team the best chance at success by equipping it with a strategic sales strategy plan.
What is a sales strategy?
The product or service you’re selling is the “what”—the strategy you use to sell it is the “how.”
Whatever you’re selling, whether it’s a cutting-edge software platform or the best cupcake in town, you need a streamlined plan for how you’re going to sell it. As great as software and cupcakes are, they don’t sell themselves—that’s up to your sales strategy.
Strategizing is all about doing your planning on the front end, so you’re not constantly cleaning up messes after deciding to wing it. It’s like drawing a detailed roadmap to your final destination before you leave, so you can eliminate the chances of winding up on a dead-end road with no gas station.
In this guide, we’ll offer a comprehensive sales strategy definition, identify some of the most effective sales strategies, and offer a five-step framework for developing a sales strategy for your business.
Let’s start with the basics.
Types of sales strategies
Just as there are different types of businesses, there are different types of sales strategies to suit them. Choosing the right approach for your company is key to making sure you’re not pulling more weight uphill than you need to. Here are eight examples of effective sales strategies:
1. Know your product and your customer
It’s vital that your sales reps know your product inside and out. They need to be able to confidently speak to the features and benefits of your product or service while also handling any hard-hitting questions or criticisms from potential customers. Thorough product training is essential for excellent sales.
Understanding your customer base is similarly important. Knowing who your primary customers are and what’s important to them allows you to pitch and market in a way that speaks directly to your target audience. If your product or service benefits daily commuters, consider taking out a subway ad. Does your product assist visiting tourists? A billboard in an area for sightseers might be the most effective placement.
2. Use social media to boost sales
As you consider which approaches will best appeal to your customer base, you also need to consider which social media platforms will speak to them. Where are your target customers spending their time? Find out and make an effort to meet them where they are.
Your marketing language and tone may need to shift depending on what platform you’re using. You want to connect with potential clients, not come off as stiff or cringely out of touch on social platforms. Stay active, post consistently, and make important or repeat customers feel valued by sharing or commenting on their posts.
3. Cold call and email
Some customers who might be perfect fits for your business have no idea you exist. It’s vital to do the legwork to get the word out about your amazing product, service, or organization. Cold calling or cold emailing clients may seem daunting, but the more you do, the higher your chances are of finding a great lead and increasing your conversion rates.
4. Be flexible to meet the customer’s needs
Potential clients will be drawn to your company and your products for a wide variety of reasons. Some might come to you with unique needs or interests that require a new tactic. Never shut down or dismiss a customer’s desires. Instead, make sure your sales strategy is adaptable. You want to meet leads where they are and offer quick solutions to their problems.
Get creative and work on visualizing how your offering can be a solution to their specific problem. After all, something engaging or appealing about your business drew them here in the first place — you probably have what they need.
5. Always follow-up
Consistent, regular follow-ups can help foster trust between your prospects and your business. You want every potential customer to feel like they are important to you (because they are!) Letting your prospects know that you are thoughtful and consistent in your sales process will indicate that you’ll be just as thoughtful and consistent moving forward in a collaboration or partnership.
Things come up that can distract a lead from your offering or cause them to miss or decline your sales call. Reaching back out may feel like an intrusion, but it’s often a welcome reminder. If you’re worried about irritating potential customers, you can always offer to follow up at the customer’s convenience and then reach out at their selected day and time.
6. Demonstrate the effectiveness of your product or service
You want customers to believe in your product and trust your company. There’s no better way to convince them than to demonstrate exactly how the product works and how it will solve their pain points. Offering a trial period or free demo are tangible ways to build value and transparency. Be sure to explicitly explain how particular features would translate into real benefits for the customer.
7. Be solution-focused
Whether potential customers are looking to resolve critical issues or improve upon business practices, all prospects will approach your organization with problems that need solving. Having a fantastic product is great, but it’s even more essential to ensure your prospect understands how your product is going to solve their particular problem.
Stay goal-oriented and always offer specific, personalized solutions for each potential client. Keep them thinking about the improved end result. This will allow your prospects to clearly see the value of your product or service and feel less hesitation about moving forward.
8. Retain your repeat customers
While it’s important to hook new prospects and secure new deals, it’s equally if not more important to nurture your existing relationships with customers to ensure that they continue to buy from you. How you close a deal is just as important as how you start one. Make sure you’ve delivered on everything you’ve promised and leave the customer completely satisfied.
Loyal, happy customers are more likely to recommend you to other potential buyers, as well as to return and patronize your business again and again. Always go the extra mile to build a personal connection with your clients and to let them know that you would love to help them with their future needs and projects.
Inbound vs. outbound strategy
Inbound sales is the process by which interested customers come to you. Their interest is built on their existing knowledge of your company and product, which they found through online marketing materials like blogs, social media posts, and optimized web pages.
In outbound sales, the sales rep initiates first contact. The contact might know a lot about your company, or they may know next to nothing. That means an outbound sales strategy should include tactics for how your reps will address every level of awareness and keep the contact’s interest.
With inbound sales, you can assume that these leads are already well-informed about your product or service. You don’t need to overwhelm these potential customers with a ton of general information. Instead, the sales rep should nurture these leads on a more personal level and offer information about their more specific needs and questions.
Your sales and marketing strategies must be closely aligned to ensure the inbound leads coming to you won't waste your time. A large part of developing a sales strategy for inbound sales is making sure your marketing efforts are attracting the most qualified buyers. If they aren’t, your sales reps could end up wasting company resources trying to nurture bad leads.
In contrast, outbound sales are much more of a numbers game. The more prospects your sales reps cold call or email, the more chances you’ll have of initiating contact with a qualified buyer. Your outbound sales strategy needs to include A/B testing and optimizing of outreach efforts. By analyzing which strategies and channels had the best responses, you can adjust your approach in order to ensure the highest possible conversion rates.
A strong outbound sales strategy involves prioritizing wide outreach to draw potential customers in, while a strong inbound sales strategy focuses more on carefully nurturing prospects that are already interested in your business.
How to create a sales strategy plan in 5 steps
If you perform a search for strategic sales plan examples, you’re going to find a wide range of formats. This sales strategy example business plan can (and should) be tweaked to fit your business model, but the framework is a good starting point.
Step 1: Identify sales goals
Your sales goals provide direction for your entire strategy and serve as targets for your team. However, a goal that’s too ambitious can cause burnout and damage morale, while a goal that isn’t ambitious enough drags down progress.
The key to setting goals is finding a comfortable middle ground where goals are realistic and achievable. Here are some things you can do to ensure your goals land squarely in your comfort zone.
- Assess your company resources
Which resources does your sales department have, and how could they help or hinder your team from reaching their targets? Do you have enough salespeople? Do you have the tools, such as a CRM, to quickly move leads through the sales pipeline? Make sure your operations are positioned to succeed.
- Review past customer data
It's important to create reasonable goals for the upcoming year. Maybe a significant amount of customers churned last year, so your goal is to improve retention. Or perhaps you have a larger sales team that can handle a higher volume, so you want to focus on customer acquisition. Use this data to determine goals that are both realistic and useful for your sales team.
- Use the S.M.A.R.T. model
Actionable goals are S.M.A.R.T.—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Examples of S.M.A.R.T. goals could be “increase deal size by 35 percent through upsells” or “achieve $1 million in sales during 2022.”
Once your overall sales goals are set, work backward. Set realistic short-term deadlines for the steps your sales department and reps must take to ensure that final goals are reached.
Step 2: Nail down your market fit
Understanding how your brand fits in its market is essential in sales. If you can’t articulate your brand’s unique value, you’re unlikely to persuasively sell your product or service.
Conduct a SWOT analysis
One way to identify how you fit in your market is to create a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. This information will help you understand which opportunities you can leverage and which threats might hinder your sales team from effectively selling your product or service in your target market.
Here are a few questions you might answer when following this model:
- What specific need does our product/service solve in our target market?
- What is our value proposition?
- Are there internal and external obstacles for our sales department that could stop us from achieving our goals?
Step 3: Build customer personas
Your buyer persona is a fictitious profile that describes your ideal customer and why they want your product or service.
A buyer persona should include the following information:
- A fictitious name and title such as “Dana Matthews, CPA”
- The person’s industry, age, salary, and education
- Their goals and challenges
- How your value proposition aligns with their wants/needs
To create buyer persona profiles, first divide your customers into segments based on shared characteristics—industry, location, demographic, etc. Then, create a single buyer persona profile for each of those segments.
Work closely with your marketing team on this project—after all, they’re also bringing in leads and need to be on the same page as to what constitutes qualified ones. Personas should be referred to regularly by sales reps and marketing team members to ensure they’re prospecting the right people.
Step 4: Identify opportunities for improvement in the customer journey
Look closely at how customers are currently moving from being prospects to making a purchase. If you understand this journey, you’re able to determine efficient ways to convert customers in the coming year.
Here are a few ways to identify opportunities for improvements:
- Reach out to your current customers
Ask them about their interactions with your brand and what they appreciated or disliked. Are reps pushing a sale or focused on the customer relationship? Do customers feel neglected after the sale has been made? Find this information through informal conversations or surveys.
- Determine what drives (or hampers) purchases
Ask current or prospective customers about obstacles to purchase. Is budget a common factor? Or is your product difficult to understand? You might need to include more affordable package options or coach your reps in explaining how your product/service works.
- Review your competitors’ customer journeys
What methods are competitors using to capture the attention of their customers? What platforms do they use? Research competitor website content, social media platforms, and customer reviews. By knowing the specific journey that your customers are taking and what they like or dislike about the process, your sales team will be able to craft a customer journey that attracts and converts more prospects.
Step 5: Outline an action plan
You know what you want your reps to achieve—now help them get there. To build this plan, use the research you completed in steps 2 through 4 to define the tasks reps need to follow to meet the goals you set in step 1.
The tasks you outline for your reps are going to be unique to your team and stem from the research you did prior to this step. Here are a few examples of customer acquisition and retention tasks you might set for your team:
- Generate leads through social selling
Reach prospects by answering questions on Quora or participating in LinkedIn groups related to your industry. Provide value on these platforms and build relationships with those you meet.
- Source leads from support ticket conversations.
Source important leads that typically fall through the cracks by integrating support tickets within your CRM, so reps can see the questions customers are asking and determine who would benefit from your product/service.
- Go for the upsell
If your company is proving your value to customers, don’t be afraid to suggest an upgrade to the customer. Highlight the benefits that your product or service is already bringing to the table and how additional features could help.
- Ask for referrals from current customers
A strong relationship sales strategy can put you in a position to comfortably ask satisfied customers if they would be willing to provide a referral. Target the top 20 percent of your customers and ask for an introduction to similar companies.
By setting an action plan, you ensure that your entire team is on track to meet your company’s sales goals.
Four tips for developing a sales strategy
Here are some tips for developing a sales strategy statement that’s flexible enough to allow for course correction where needed but solid enough to be clear in its direction and next steps.
- Champion your USP
Establish a unique selling proposition that everyone understands and can articulate clearly. Your USP is what makes your product or service stand out from the competition, even if your pricing and offerings are nearly identical on paper. Each salesperson can have their own opinions on what makes their product good, but there should also be a single value that everyone champions that’s unique to your organization.
A marketing sales strategy is extremely helpful in creating and effectively communicating your USP. Marketing sales strategies align the two departments. Alignment assists with unifying your brand voice so there’s a seamless transition between a lead viewing your online content and speaking to an actual sales rep. This will help avoid errors and missed opportunities to let leads in on why your company and product are so special.
- Create urgency
If your product or service is something that people can do without for a while, they can easily make a decision to not purchase from you or anyone else. You need to come up with a concrete reason for why your qualified buyers shouldn’t wait to purchase down the road. You don’t want qualified leads with buying power to move on or forget your company.
That said, don’t use scare tactics. Instead, juxtapose any negative imagery with the positive image affiliated with using your product or service. Make leads feel as though delaying to buy will cause them to miss out (on savings, on increased efficiency, or on whatever other wonderful benefits your organization offers.) This emphasizes positive acquisitions while also creating a sense of urgency.
- Examine your past
Speak to your best sales reps and find out where they’ve found the most success in the past. Not every sales rep’s behavior can be quantified, but your best sellers often have valuable insight into what works and what doesn’t. Keep in mind that these insights don’t have to be taken at face value. Plus, you can gain just as much insight from strategies that worked as strategies that didn’t work.
As you use these insights to develop your strategy, make sure you are effectively communicating every aspect of your plan back to your team members. Back up your decisions with hard data and draw a distinct line between your goals and how you plan to achieve them. If your team understands why you’re pursuing certain metrics or goals, they’re more likely to give you their full effort.
- Don’t ignore existing customers
While it may feel more exciting to win a new client as opposed to working with an old one, the truth is that repeat customers spend 67 percent more than new ones. Your existing customers are a huge force for generating revenue, and you should have a strategy for selling to them, too. Don’t assume that just because they’ve purchased once, they’ll purchase again.
With time, recurring personalized care, and attention, customers will develop trust in your business and be more likely to purchase with you in the future.
Good and bad strategic sales plan examples
A bad roadmap can be as disastrous as having no roadmap at all. You could even argue that it’s worse.
To give you an idea of what a good strategy looks like, we’ll dissect two weak excerpts from strategic sales plan examples. We’ll pinpoint their weaknesses, make suggestions for improvements, and then provide a revised sales strategy example for comparison.
Example 1: Goals
In this first strategic sales plan example, we’ll examine the first step of our 5-step plan: identify your sales goal.
A business that sells educational materials to schools, libraries, and learning centers has been building up its offering of digital products. The company wants to push sales of its digital packages and move to more subscription-based offerings. So, the team is devising a sales and marketing strategy that includes creating more free online content.
The goal is to increase sales of digital products and shift revenue away from hard-copy materials in order to reduce supply costs and expand our target market.
What’s wrong with it?
This goal is far too vague in terms of measurement. Your plan should always include measurable metrics and time frames that are determined by a realistic analysis of past sales, current trends, and available resources. Your goal should be stated in terms of quantifiable targets, which you can track and trace to the specific activities that influenced them.
Our goal is to increase sales of digital products by 35 percent over the course of the first two quarters. In that same time frame, we also aim to convert 10 percent of existing customers currently purchasing hard-copy material to digital subscription-based packages.
Example 2: Action plan
Let’s imagine that our hypothetical company has done a proper SWOT analysis and has a strong grasp of customer personas. We’ll jump to the fifth step of developing a sales strategy and examine the company’s action plan.
The action plan
- Establish a strong presence on LinkedIn to engage more educators and make them aware of our free online content.
- Participate in more educational conferences and bring live demonstrations of new digital products.
- Create more free downloadable content like digital worksheets, slides, and lesson plans to attract new prospects.
What’s wrong with it?
Who is deciding what a “strong presence” on LinkedIn looks like? How many more educators is “enough?” How many educational conferences can you attend, and how many attendees will you be able to reach? Also, none of these actions draw a clear line to the stated goals from earlier. If you have goals for new and existing customers, your action plan should lay out specific actions to serve both targets.
- Publish at least two LinkedIn posts every week to drive engagement with our existing customer base.
- Attend the three education conferences with the highest attendance rates from the past three years.
- Add 15 new pieces of free content every quarter, addressing the full range of the five most common pain points expressed by our highest spending accounts.
Strategic sales strategy plans will vary in length depending on the complexity of your sales process. If you take away anything from these strategic sales strategy examples, it should be that specificity is key.
Numbers can be adjusted if need be. But the important thing is that you can track your progress and draw a direct correlation between your strategies and their outcomes. That ensures you can replicate the successful tactics and eliminate the others.
Perfect your sales strategy with a strong CRM
Staying organized and tracking your progress becomes easy and intuitive with a good CRM. Zendesk Sell was recently named best CRM for collaboration by Business News Daily, and can help break down communication barriers and keep your collaborative projects on track and accessible. Learn more about Zendesk Sell or reach out with questions or inquiries.