5 powerful sales strategies, examples, and best practices
Here’s a five-step approach to creating a sales strategy that attracts, converts, and retains customers.
By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer
Last updated August 16, 2023
Whether you’re selling cutting-edge software or the best cupcakes 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.
An effective sales strategy will ensure everyone on the team is familiar with revenue goals, approved strategies and processes, sales messaging, and what success in their role looks like.
Give your sales team a competitive edge by equipping them with a comprehensive sales strategy plan that enables them to sell successfully. Use our eight-step framework to create a sales plan that works, and you’ll be well on your way to hooking more qualified leads and reeling in more revenue.
What is a sales strategy?
A sales strategy is a detailed compilation of organizational goals, team structure and responsibilities, existing market data, customer personas, and other key details that impact the success or failure of your sales efforts.
Importance of having a sales strategy
A well-planned sales strategy is a must-have for any growth-oriented organization.
The goal of a sales plan is to do all the strategizing up front so you can prepare for the future and preemptively navigate problems, identify and speak directly to your ideal customer, and ensure that your go-to-market positioning and sales strategies are ready for use.
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 go on a road trip to eliminate the chances of winding up on a dead-end road with no gas station in sight.
Inbound vs. outbound sales methodologies
No matter your organization, you will use one of two types of sales methodologies: inbound or outbound.
- Inbound sales strategy: determines how you will attract new clientele without pitching them and how you expect representatives to handle leads that contact you via your website, social media, email, or another channel.
- Outbound sales strategy: outlines which channels sales reps should use to seek out potential buyers and which actions they should take at each stage of the sales funnel.
Types of sales strategies
Just as different types of businesses fill unique needs, there are different sales strategies to suit them. Choosing the right approach for your company is key to ensuring you’re not pulling more weight uphill than you need to.
Generally considered one of the most effective sales strategies, value-based selling focuses on how a product or service will benefit the customer or resolve a problem they’re experiencing. Outlining the application of a product generally yields better results than just rattling off a list of technical specs and industry-specific jargon that may confuse less informed customers.
One potential downfall is that in industries where the product or service shares similar attributes and outcomes (like SaaS applications or financial planning), the “value” generally comes down to price—meaning you may take a substantial pay cut in oversaturated markets.
- Tip: Remain honest and authentic throughout conversations with prospects to earn their trust, and listen carefully to their personal experiences. Their experiences should inform which benefits you highlight—things like streamlined operations, cost savings, or increased productivity will showcase the value of your product.
The consultative sales strategy encourages representatives to take on the role of an advisor rather than a traditional salesperson pushing a product. Consultative sales reps aim to educate customers and present solutions to problems.
This strategy shares some of the same core tenets of value-based selling. However, it’s distinct in that your team shares industry-specific knowledge and resources, adding value for the customer.
- Tip: All sales reps must establish themselves as subject matter experts and be capable of answering questions about best practices and applications.
SPIN is an acronym for:
Successful SPIN selling relies on agents asking and answering strategic questions within those four categories at just the right time. The sales methodology focuses on relationship building, allowing agents to create trust with customers and close complex deals.
SPIN selling: Win complex deals
Learn more about your prospect’s current situation.
Identify a specific problem your prospect is experiencing that you can resolve.
Ask hypothetical questions to better understand what the implementation of your product would look like.
Establish if your product is the right fit for the prospect and if they’re ready to buy.
SPIN selling is a top choice for complicated deals because it allows your agents to:
- Understand the buyer’s current state and needs.
- Identify pain points and frustrations.
- Discuss the pros and cons of various solutions and potential impacts.
- Present products or services using a customer-first approach.
- Tip: When closing a big deal, focus on features, specs, and functionalities. Larger organizations typically know exactly what they need and want basic information to determine if your product is the right fit for them.
When it comes to solution selling, it’s imperative that you deep-dive into your prospect’s company to understand their product, target customers, needs, pain points, and unique value proposition. This information will help your reps recommend solutions to highly specific issues rather than pushing a broad-spectrum solution using a one-size-fits-all approach.
Solution selling works best when sales reps clearly understand a prospect’s problem and have the necessary data to provide data-driven recommendations.
- Tip: Avoid selling customers products that they don’t need. This can help reduce customer churn and frustration and increase customer trust in future sales situations.
Challenger selling is modeled after the processes, messaging, and closing strategies the most successful sales reps on the team use. These top-performing salespeople are known as “challengers,” and they follow this simple process: teach, tailor, and take control.
Companies that utilize the Challenger selling methodology encourage everyone on the sales team to sell more like those stand-out representatives, regardless of their selling personality.
According to the sales methodology outlined by Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon in their book The Challenger Sale, there are five key selling personas, and each comes with strengths and weaknesses.
The Challenger Sale: Types of salespeople
This person offers fresh insights, stays abreast of industry trends, has perfected their pitch, and remembers the three Ts: Teach the customer something valuable, tailor your pitch, and take control of the conversation.
The relationship builder
This type of rep works hard to make meaningful connections with prospects to earn trust and increase the likelihood of a sale. They tend to thrive with a consultative strategy.
The hard worker
This salesperson knows the ins and outs of every offering and has an admirable work ethic. They are self-motivated and often see high success rates.
The lone wolf
A lone wolf possesses great instincts and can generally lock down high-value accounts solo. Their drive and self-assuredness are key to their success.
The problem solver
This rep understands that details matter and thrives when finding custom solutions to client problems. They tend to take a customer service approach to sales.
- Tip: Use the Challenger sales strategy in fast-moving industries and at large organizations where businesses and their reps benefit from a uniform approach to sales.
Build a sales strategy that works in 8 steps
Your sales plan should clearly outline goals, product positioning, ideal customers, pipeline activities, and any other information to help your team make more sales. Your sales strategy plan can (and should) be tweaked to fit your business model, but the following framework is a good starting point.
1. Set 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 one 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: What 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 right sales tools to quickly move leads through the sales pipeline? Make sure you position your operations 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 defining customer acquisition strategies. Use your data to determine realistic and useful goals 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. sales goals are “increase deal size by 35 percent through upsells” or “achieve $1 million in sales during 2023.”
Once you set your overall sales goals, work backward. Set realistic short-term deadlines for the steps your sales department and reps must take to ensure you reach your goals.
2. Nail down your unique value proposition
Define a unique selling proposition (USP) 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 your products so good, but there should also be a singular value that’s distinct to your organization that the team champions. If you can’t articulate your brand’s unique value, you’re unlikely to sell your product or service.
Here are some ways you can create an irresistible USP:
- Examine your past: Talk to your top sales reps to learn more about what pain points prospects are experiencing and what incentives led to a closed deal.
- 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 to leverage and which threats might hinder your sales team from effectively selling your product or service in your target market.
Still having trouble defining your USP? Ask yourself these questions to get started:
- What specific need does our product or service solve?
- How are our ideal customers using our offerings?
- What do we offer that none of our competitors do?
- Are there internal and external obstacles that could prevent us from meeting revenue targets?
- What values and features are most important to our target market?
3. Create customer personas
Your buyer persona is a fictitious profile that describes your ideal customer and why they want your product or service.
To create buyer personas, 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.
A buyer persona should include the following information:
- A fictitious name and job title
- The person’s industry, age, salary, and education
- Their role at the company and decision-maker status
- Size of their organization
- Their goals and challenges
- How your value proposition aligns with their wants and needs
- Their preferred social media channels
Work closely with your marketing team on this project—after all, they are also bringing in leads and need to be on the same page for what constitutes qualified ones. Sales reps and marketing team members should refer to personas regularly to ensure they’re prospecting the right people.
4. Take note of opportunities for improvement
Assess past pipeline analytics to assess how customers are currently moving from the prospecting stage to purchase. Deeply understanding their journey can help you determine more effective tactics for converting customers in the future.
Here are a few ways to identify opportunities for improvement:
- Reach out to your current customers: Ask customers 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? Gather this information through informal conversations or surveys.
- Determine what drives (or hampers) purchases: Ask current or prospective customers about barriers 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 on explaining how your product or service works.
- Review your competitors’ customer journeys: What methods are competitors using to capture attention? What platforms do they use? Research competitor website content to see what information they share on product pages, landing pages, and blog posts, and take note of how they present it. You can also look at their social media platforms to assess their customer engagement and read online reviews to identify what customers like or dislike.
5. Outline an action plan
You know what you want your reps to achieve—now help them get there. The tasks you outline for your reps will 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.
- Read through support ticket conversations: Source important leads that typically fall through the cracks by integrating support tickets within your CRM. That way, reps can see the questions customers are asking and determine who would benefit from your product or service.
- Go for the upsell: If your company is proving its value, 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 explain 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 will ensure that your entire team is on track to meet your company’s sales goals.
6. Build and maintain a sales pipeline
Once you develop the foundation of your sales strategy, design your sales cycle. Start by documenting your current process and noting what does and doesn’t work. After that’s done, you can define your sales pipeline.
At this stage, one of the most important to-do’s is assigning tasks for each stage in the pipeline.
- Prospecting: Cover how salespeople can find prospects, create the ideal customer profile, and write customizable outreach scripts.
- Lead qualification: Describe the process for lead scoring and list qualifying questions.
- Meeting and demo: Outline your value proposition, sales messaging, and demo guidelines.
- Proposal: Define the prices for various products and services, along with any pre-approved deals or promotions that can help move stuck deals forward.
- Negotiations: Establish negotiation guidelines so salespeople know how to effectively illustrate your company’s value and when to walk away.
- Closing: Explain the next steps after a deal is won, including payment, onboarding, and implementation expectations.
- Retention: Specify which role is in charge of following up with existing customers and when.
7. Implement sales tools
Investing in quality sales tools is worthwhile because they help sales teams close high-value deals faster. In our State of Sales report, 72 percent of business leaders said that sales tool integrations are essential to retaining business and beating the competition.
Sales tools can include the following features:
- Sales forecasting
- Analytics and reporting
- Workflow and automation systems
- Lead management
In your sales strategy, outline the available resources and how salespeople should use them.
8. Measure performance
Set sales KPIs for individual salespeople and your organization as a whole to ensure you hit performance benchmarks. It’s generally a best practice to review performance quarterly as well as annually to see what’s working and what’s not.
Sales plan examples
To give you an idea of what a good strategy looks like, we’ll dissect two excerpts from strategic sales plan examples that could use improvement. We’ll pinpoint their weaknesses, suggest improvements, and then provide a revised sales strategy example for comparison.
As we discussed earlier, goal-setting is the first thing that you must do before delving deeper into a new sales strategy. Here’s an example of what that process would look like.
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 this goal?
This goal is far too vague in terms of measurement.
Your plan should always include measurable metrics and time frames determined by a realistic analysis of past sales, current trends, and available resources. You should state your goal 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 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.
Now, imagine that our hypothetical company has done a proper SWOT analysis and created customer personas. Let’s examine how that information can help us develop a strong plan of action.
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 do 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 this plan?
There are too many unknown variables.
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 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.
Fine-tune your sales strategy with a strong CRM
Staying organized and tracking your progress becomes easy and intuitive with a good CRM. Zendesk Sell can help break down communication barriers and keep your collaborative projects on track and accessible. Learn more about Zendesk Sell and reach out with questions.
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