By Iqbal Thokan
Rethink how you are selling. Refocus your sales strategy on the new needs and wants of your customer.
The basic sales process starts with the message and how we communicate that message to the decision maker, our customer. Communication is a vital part of sales and it’s not about what we are selling but rather its about how we go about convincing our target audience that we exist and that they need what we’ve got and that we are the right person from whom they should buy it. While the process is a repetitive one, the message has to continuously evolve.
We understand that effective communication especially within our marketing messages which are focused according to our various target markets can provide a good lead generating platform but once we have got the market to come to us, the next step is crucial and that is to convince them to purchase.
When we are working in our business we often find that as owners we are very easily able to communicate effectively to our target market and convert them much quicker than our sales team would and this is usually driven by the passion and understanding we have of our business and products as well as the power we have to make the most informed decision at the point to convert the lead into a sale. However, when we are growing our business we often find that we do not transfer this effectively to our team and this is a crucial aspect for sustainable growth.
The first step that many great businesses start off with is creating and documenting a well thought out and outlined process the sales team can follow. Many of us get frustrated when we find that our sales team are not able to convert leads into sales as is expected from them. The reality is that the worst part for any sales person is to run around without any clear direction and goals and that has to come from us, the business owners and business leaders. Remember within the retail environment a lead can be any person that walks into our store and a lead is not necessarily a customer until we have converted them into a sale. So how do I go about doing this? well, the first thing is to start a conversation with our sales team and find out what is working and what is not. Documenting the process is the next most important step.
While there are tons of off the shelf sales processes, they still need to be tweaked and amended according to our own needs. However, when we start tweaking off the shelf sale processes we often find that we have to redefine them completely as each of our businesses are unique to us.
A well-documented sales process is just that and nothing more unless we are able to implement it in a way that is simple and easy to understand by those that need it the most, our sales force. As Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, and by keeping our sales process simple it makes it easier for our people to understand and implement but more importantly to tweak and review as we move along in changing times.
COVID19 has clearly shown us that our customer needs and wants have changed or at least the way they purchase has changed and as business owners we need to start rethinking about our sales process in order to continue convincing our target market and customers that we are still relevant to them. When we are looking at the sales process of the business we need to understand that there are two types of sales methods, inbound sales, usually when a customer comes looking for us (online) or a particular product or service and finds us, or outbound sales when we actively go out looking for new prospects and leads. While each of these brings in sales, some businesses either rely on one or both of the methods and the key is knowing how to leverage on each of them to the best of our advantage, keeping in mind that both require a unique and good communication technique and process.
Inbound sales require us to be able to communicate effectively through a written dialogue that either convinces the customer to purchase or at the very least to give us a call to take the discussion forward. Outbound sales require a very verbal communication technique that again is needed to convince the customer to purchase.The most simplistic formulae I have found to achieving sustainable sales growth is to build content. Content drives curiosity; curiosity leads to attention; attentions allows for relationship building, relationship builds trust and trust equals sales.
The question now is where do I start? The first is to ask ourselves the following questions:
- Do I have sales process in place and is it still relevant?
- Is my sales process easily understood by my sales team and are they implementing it?
- Do I understand what is the new needs and wants of my target market?
- Is my communication still relevant to my target markets new needs and wants?
Once we are able to answer these questions clearly than building the right sales process becomes a lot clearer.
Communication is the key to any great sales strategy and one of the most successful salespeople of all time was taught that from a very young age and used communication as a sales tool to become one of the wealthiest people in the world. From a very young age Oprah Winfrey’s father instilled in her the value of reading which is an integral part of becoming a good communicator. Even though she had a difficult childhood and did not come from a well to do family she realised the power of communication in selling whatever you wanted to sell and she knew from a very young age she wanted to be paid to talk and as we know she has developed her self into a very well-paid speaker. As business owners, while we are not paid to talk, the way we communicate to our target market makes a difference in how we achieve sales and growth and a well understood and defined sales strategy that is easily implementable for the current needs and wants of our customers allows us to stay relevant, survive and thrive.
Iqbal Thokan is an experienced business management consultant and the founder and co-owner of breedingpositivity.com
Implementing business processes can streamline the completion of any task, simple or complex. Processes can also make your employees more efficient, consistent, and accurate both in their roles and their interactions with customers.
The benefits of processes in business apply to your sales department as well. A sales process that complements your business, sales representatives, customers, and products or services will allow you to boost conversions, close more deals, and ensure all of your reps are providing customers with positive and consistent experiences — no matter who they’re talking to.
However, building a scalable and repeatable sales process can be tough, especially because every business, sales team, and target audience is unique.
We’ve created this guide to help you. Below, you’ll find the best tactics to create and map a sales process tailored to your business that works for both your sales team and target audience.
A sales process refers to a repeatable set of steps a sales team takes to move a prospect from an early-stage lead to a closed customer. A strong sales process helps reps consistently close deals by giving them a framework to follow.
Before we cover the details of creating and mapping your sales process, let’s review the answer to a common question: What’s the difference between a sales process and a sales methodology?
Sales Process vs. Sales Methodology
Understanding the distinction between a sales process and sales methodology is important. Although closely related, a sales process and sales methodology are two very different things.
A sales process, as we reviewed above, is a concrete set of actions your sales team follows to close a new customer.
A sales methodology is the framework for how your sales process is to be carried out and how it will help your business grow.
Here’s a diagram to help you visualize this:
Think of your sales process as the high-level map of the steps your team takes, while your sales methodologies are the different ways your team can approach the sales process.
Choosing a sales methodology sets the foundation for your team as they approach your sales process. You might choose to incorporate one as they are another way to streamline your customer’s buyer journey and ensure professional, impactful, and helpful interactions between those customers and your sales team occur.
Here are five popular sales methodologies.
1. Challenger Sales Methodology
The Challenger Sales method is an approach to sales that says the seller, or Challenger, must teach the prospect. Sellers learn about a customer’s business, tailor their selling techniques to their needs and pain points, and challenge any of their preconceptions throughout the process.
2. Solution Selling
Solution selling requires reps to focus solely on the customer’s pain points instead of the products or services they’re selling. Products are framed as solutions and emphasis is placed on what a resolution for the customer’s pain point would look like.
3. Sandler Sales Methodology
The Sandler Sales methodology says the buyer and seller are equally invested in the sales process. Reps are trained to address customer objections early so valuable time is saved for both parties and the buyer is almost convincing the seller to make the sale.
4. Consultative Selling
Consultative selling places emphasis on the salesperson becoming a trusted advisor to the customer, gaining authority and trust over time. Consultative selling happens when sales align with the customer’s buying experience — it’s defined by the customer-rep relationship.
5. Inbound Selling
The inbound sales approach is characterized by attracting buyers with tailored and relevant content rather than advertising irrelevant messages and hoping they’ll buy.
With so many choices in today’s marketplace, it’s important for sales teams to put the needs of their buyers ahead of their own.
The inbound approach came from the belief that:
- Buyers can now find most of the information (online or elsewhere) they need about a company’s products or services before they engage with a salesperson.
- Buyers have become better at blocking out cold and interruptive sales techniques (cold calls and irrelevant sales emails, for example).
- Buyers have heightened expectations around the experience of buying. They can control the experience and move through the process largely on their own timeline.
These shifts in buying trends are all examples of how buyers have seized control of the sales process from the sales reps who once held all the power.
With these changes in mind, it’s important for sales teams to adopt a more helpful, human approach to selling — or inbound selling.
Sales Process Steps
- Connect and qualify.
- Handle objections.
- Communicate and continue to sell.
Now that we’ve covered the difference between a sales process and methodology, let’s review the six steps of the sales process so you can begin developing one for your team.
Prospecting is the process of sourcing new, early-stage leads to begin working through the sales process. It’s a vital part of the sales process and part of most reps’ daily or weekly workflow. Prospecting might involve online research on sites like LinkedIn or Quora. It also might take place at conferences or industry events. Additionally, you can prospect by asking current clients or colleagues to refer individuals who might be interested in your product or service.
2. Connect and qualify.
The connect step of the sales process involves reps initiating contact with those early-stage leads to gather information. The second part of this step qualifying new leads — deciding whether or not they’re a good-fit lead for your business and whether or not they’ll likely move forward in the buyer’s journey.
A rep can typically determine this over a “connect” or “discovery” call (sometimes over email if not via phone). To do this, a rep might ask qualifying questions like:
- “What is your role within your company?”
- “What do you do day-to-day?”
- “What problem are you trying to solve?”
- “Why is this a priority for your business?”
- “What other solutions are you evaluating?”
Next comes the research step, when reps learn more about each prospect and company. This allows your reps to offer a more tailored and personalized experience and improves the likelihood of closing a deal. The key part of this stage is understanding each prospect’s challenges and needs and establishing how your product or service can help. This might require a rep to speak with other people at the company in different departments to get a holistic view of the business and its objectives. Many longtime reps say a good salesperson understands the company as a whole better than the individual prospect who works there.
The presentation step is typically when your salesperson runs a formal presentation or demonstration of your product or service for your prospect. This step is time-consuming, so it typically comes deeper in the sales process and is reserved for more serious prospects — which is why the connecting and qualifying step is so critical. You don’t want your reps wasting any of their valuable time if it’s clearly avoidable. Each presentation should be tailored to meet the specific prospect’s unique use case and pain points. Additionally, a rep might bring an engineer or executive to the meeting with them to demonstrate the level of service the customer will receive when doing business with your company. This also allows them to answer more technical questions the rep might not be best suited to comment on.
5. Handle objections.
It’s not uncommon for prospects to have objections to your salesperson’s presentation and proposal. In fact, it’s expected — which is why this is a specific step in the sales process. Your sales team should be prepared to handle any and all objections. Listening to your prospect’s objections and questions can help your reps better tailor your product to fit their needs. Through their research and presentation preparation, reps should identify and anticipate possible objections, whether pertaining to cost, onboarding, or other parts of the proposed contract.
This step of the sales process refers to any late-stage activities that happen as a deal approaches closing. It varies widely from company to company and may include things like delivering a quote or proposal, negotiation, or achieving the buy-in of decision-makers. The close step is what every salesperson works toward. It should result in a mutually-beneficial, contractual agreement between the prospect and the seller. Once a deal closes, the salesperson receives a commission on the price they negotiated with the customer, and the account usually passes to an account manager or customer success representative.
7. Communicate and continue to sell.
Although closing deals is the ultimate goal in sales, it’s not where sales reps stop working with customers. Not only should reps oversee that customers receive what they’ve purchased, but they should also play a part in transitioning customers to whichever team is responsible for onboarding and customer success. The final step of the sales process also involves continuing to communicate and reinforce value to customers. This can provide opportunities to upsell and cross-sell to customers as well as secure referrals from delighted customers.
Next, let’s unpack how you can improve this process.
How to Improve Your Sales Process
- Analyze your current sales process.
- Lay out the buyer’s journey for your target persona.
- Define the prospect action that moves them to the next stage.
- Define exit criteria for each step of the sales process.
- Measure your sales process results.
These four best practices will help you improve the impact of your sales process across your team and customer base.
1. Analyze your current sales process.
Consider what is and isn’t working for both your sales reps and prospects to tailor your new process to better fit their needs. This will help close more deals and delight more customers.
One way to analyze the success of your current sales process is to observe reps as they work through the sales process.
Look back at the last five or 10 deals you closed. What did these deals look like from beginning to end? What were the touch points with the customer?
Consider roughly how long the entire process took and how much time elapsed between each step. The more examples you have (and the more people on your team those examples come from), the better.
Once you’ve identified that timeline, work backward to understand the timeline for each deal. For example, if six of those 10 deals closed in approximately six weeks, take a look at what the average steps were to get there during that time period.
Working backward might look something like this:
- One week of deliberation before a signed contract (during the “closing” step)
- Three-to-five follow-up emails and phone calls (during the “handling objections” step)
- One demo (during the “presenting” step)
- One phone call and two to three emails (during the “researching” step)
- One discovery call (during the “connecting” step)
- Two warm emails and three phone calls to prospect (during the “prospecting” step)
You can also dig a bit deeper to understand the subtle motivations and pain points that drove each deal to close.
2. Lay out the buyer’s journey for your target persona.
Lay out the buyer’s journey for your target audience, or your buyer personas. This will allow you to look at your sales process from the perspective of your customers. You’ll be able to get a better understanding of the interactions they have with your reps, the pain points they experience, and why they need your product or service.
When you lay out the buyer’s journey for your target persona you’ll gain insight into how you can tailor your sales process to ensure your team has everything they need to build strong relationships with prospects and close more deals.
3. Define the prospect action that moves them to the next stage.
Get a clear understanding of what causes a prospect to move from one stage to the next to really understand your sales process. Ideally, the reason or cause will be based on the actions of the prospect, not the perception of the sales rep.
To determine the action that moves prospects to the next stage, ask the following questions:
- “While conducting warm outreach, did a rep hit on a specific pain point(s) that motivated the prospect to schedule a discovery call?”
- “During the demo, were there objections that stalled the deal or featured that moved it forward?”
- When a rep made a pitch, was the answer an immediate “yes” from the customer? If so, consider carefully why that happened. How did they build up to the pitch?
4. Define exit criteria for each step of the sales process.
Define exit criteria for each step of the sales process for your team. This means you should identify the things that need to happen for your prospects to move from one step of your sales process to the next. You can refer to the sales process steps and the steps of the buyer’s journey (as mentioned above) to get started with this.
For example, if you’re working through the “presenting” step, your reps might determine they need a specific type of content — such as customer testimonial videos — to share with your prospects to move them to “closing”.
When determining exit criteria for each step of the sales process, consider the following questions to ensure all of your reps have the same information so they can provide all of your prospects with positive, professional, and on-brand information.
- What information should reps know about your brand, whatever it is they’re selling, and your sales process steps prior to getting in contact with a prospect?
- What actions should your reps take throughout each step of the sales process?
- What should your reps say throughout each step of the sales process? Make sure your reps are aware of the multiple ways a conversation could potentially go and that they know how to manage all of them.
- What specific types of content should your reps show your prospects during different steps of the sales process? This is especially important in the “presenting” step, where your reps might need to provide your prospects with videos, blogs, testimonials, or case studies to move that prospect to close.
5. Measure your sales process results.
It’s likely your sales process will evolve as your team finds ways to work more efficiently and move prospects through your pipeline faster. As you define and enhance your sales process over time, you’ll want to measure your success to ensure your sales process is successful in coordinating the efforts of your team and reaching your target audience.
For example, look at how many prospects transitioned into and out of each step of the sales process in a given time period.
This way you can draw conclusions like, “In July, we started with 75 prospects in the ‘awaiting demo’ step … at the end of the month, we had moved through 28 prospects, and added 19, leaving us with 66 prospects in the ‘awaiting demo’ step.”
Here are some other examples of metrics to consider for the different steps of your process:
- The average time prospects stay in each step
- The step (if any) that takes too long for prospects to move out of
- The percentage of prospects who close after a demo
- The percentage of prospects who request a demo after a discovery call
- The churn rate (i.e., if certain customers are churning quickly, how can you use this data to identify mismatched prospects early in the sales process?)
These are the basic metrics most teams find value in measuring. Give some thought to metrics specific to your business that will help you define success or the need for improvement in a particular step.
Another great way to measure your results is with the three levels of sales process success. Determining which level of success you’re in will provide you with more insight into what it is you need to fine-tune for your team and prospects in terms of your sales process.
Your sales process is humming when 80% or more of your reps are hitting their quota every month. This is also when all of your new hires are being ramped up quickly to target performance and your team isn’t providing you with any negative feedback about the sales process.
Experimenting is when your sales process isn’t quite humming, so your team is experimenting and testing different tactics within the steps of the sales process to determine what’s most effective for reps. For example, a team might be experimenting with different modes of contact, in the “connecting” step of the sales process, to get sales discussions going with prospects. They can test to see whether or not their prospects respond best to a specific email template when getting a discussion started with a rep.
Thrashing is when a team is rapidly moving from one solution to another within a specific step of the sales process. Thrashing is ineffective and something you’ll want to ensure your team gets out of as quickly as possible if you’re ever experiencing it. For example, your reps might be trying different presentation techniques in the “presenting” stage making it impossible to really determine what’s working for the majority of prospects. Remember, your sales process is never perfect. It should always be evolving to fit the needs of your team, business, and prospects.
How to Map the Sales Process [Example]
Mapping your sales process is the practice of walking through each step in real-time and understanding how it applies to your business, sales team, and customers. This process allows you to uncover inefficiencies, gain insight into what’s working, and align your sales process with your business goals. It helps your team develop a sustainable strategy suitable for long-term growth. When you map your sales process, you answer the “why” behind every decision you make — which is critical because your sales process is the foundation of everything your team does. Let’s walk through how to map the sales process using a fictional business example.
1. Start at the end.
To know where you’re going, you must know your destination. In terms of sales process mapping, this involves setting goals for your sales team. Keep your goal specific but simple. Example: Fred’s Vegan Food Supply is mapping their sales process. They’ve set their destination “goal” to increase their win rate by 5% next quarter.
2. Bring all stakeholders aboard.
Your sales team can’t meet their goal alone. Other departments across your organization — including marketing, product, customer service, IT, and more — have a stake in your sales process and impact your customer experience. Gather these stakeholders, share your goal, and involve them in your process. Example: Fred brings together his sales team, marketing managers, customer service leaders, product designers, and distributors. These teams touch potential and current customers and can, therefore, affect the sale team’s win rate.
3. Map the sales process steps.
We covered the sales process steps above, and now it’s time to walk through each step as it pertains to your business, products, and sales team. Take a look at your sales process history. What steps were effective, and where did prospects fall off? Moreover, how long, on average, did each step take? Also, with your stakeholders on-board, you can map what teams affect each step and what actions they can take — particularly your sales team. Example: Fred’s sales team maps the six sales process steps and jots down the actions they take within each stage. They also review the last 12 months of sales activity with respect to each step to better understand where they can improve their new sales process to meet their new goal.
4. Map the buyer’s journey.
Next, take a look at your sales process from the customer’s perspective. On the same document, jot down your customers’ actions and reactions to your sales process. Keep your buyer personas handy while doing this to ensure your team stays customer-centric. Example: Fred’s sales team now maps the buyer’s journey within their established sales process. By aligning these actions, the team is able to identify where their team is experiencing inefficiencies, what steps are working well, and where they need to improve to meet their goal.
5. Implement changes, test, and measure.
Once you’ve mapped your sales process from both the seller’s and buyer’s perspectives, you’re ready to put it to work. You won’t know if the process will help with your goal until you test it and measure the results. Example: Fred puts his new sales process in action with his team. They walk through each stage and the appropriate actions, and they pay close attention to how their customers act and react. As they move through each stage and towards their new goal, they tweak the parts of their process that aren’t working so smoothly.
Sales Process Common Mistakes
Let’s take a look at some common mistakes made when developing sales processes. These will help you develop a sales process ideal for both your team and customers.
Leaving your sales process steps open to interpretation
It’s important to define specific, concrete actions that move your business’s prospects from one stage to the next. If you don’t identify these triggers, your sales team might come away with a less than accurate understanding of what is and isn’t working for prospects, potentially causing them to mishandle part of the process. Once you define your sales process, document it, share it, and practice it with your team. Try role play exercises to drive home the valuable techniques they should be taking during each step.
Expecting just one sales methodology (if you use one) to be the “silver bullet”
While some teams choose to stick with and follow one methodology closely, others choose to study several popular sales methodologies and combine bits and pieces they find useful from each. Regardless of which approach you take, it’s a good idea to stay aware of what’s new and changing over time. As the needs and desires of buyers and your business change, different approaches, methodologies, and ways of managing your sales process will fall into and out of favor. On that note, it’s important to remember your entire sales process is also ever-changing.
Forgetting your sales process will always be a work in progress
Your sales process is never complete or perfect. It should always be a work in progress. So, in addition to consistently measuring your success, you should also have check-ins with your reps, who are working through your sales process every day and communicating with prospects, on a regular basis to ensure they haven’t uncovered any major issues or red flags in regards to your process. Remember, continually developing and improving your sales process will make the work of your reps more straightforward and improve the interactions and experiences your customers have with your reps and business as a whole.
Dive Into Your Sales Process
Creating and mapping a sales process will help your sales team close more deals and convert more leads. This will also ensure your team provides every prospect with the same type of consistent experience, representative of your brand. Follow these steps to create and map a sales process tailored to your business, sales team, and customers to begin boosting conversions and building lasting relationships today.
Since the advent of social media, how we promote our products and services has changed dramatically. We’re in a world of “I’ll have what you’re having. If you like it, and I like you, it must be good for me.” If you and I are virtual friends, you are 27% more likely to find credibility in a product recommended by me than from a pop-up, TV ad, billboard or centerfold.
That’s why third party testimonials used during the sales process earn you more credibility than ever before. Stories resonate better with your customers. They create more of an emotional connection than pure data. One of the best salespeople I’ve ever met, Nancy C., tells third party stories seamlessly throughout her entire presentation. In fact, she’s so effective that she works six months per year and travels the world the other six months. She attributes her success to documenting, practicing and telling effective stories.
Are you using stories to your full advantage?
Many salespeople share how others have used their product, but they’re not strategizing why they’re telling the story and how it will benefit the customer and the sales process. Ask yourself these questions:
- Why am I telling this story?
- What’s the intended impact?
- Does it serve a purpose?
- Does it tie into my customer’s emotional motivator, solve a problem or overcome an objection?
- Is it structured in a way to hold the customer’s attention?
- What’s the punch line, and is that punch line crafted to create a memorable ending?
- Effective stories are both authentic and compelling. Whether you’re selling solar power, copiers, software, vacations, or consulting by the hour, follow these five distinctions of a good third party story:
The story must serve a purpose
Quite simply, ask yourself “why am I telling this story?”. What is its desired impact on my audience? A story must serve one of three purposes. It must:
- Hit an emotional buying motive
- Solve a customer’s potential problem
- Overcome an objection
Stories help you connect emotionally with your customer and link what’s important to them with your product: Remember, “logic causes us to think, emotions cause us to act.” Advertisers employ this masterfully.
As a salesperson, you don’t have a multi-million dollar advertising budget. You have something much more powerful. You are face to face with your customer.
The story must be based on truth
Only when you seek examples of real people, who can share real experiences, will your stories resonate as authentic. According to expert speaking coach and Stanford Lecturer, Lee Eisler, it’s important when telling a story that you relive it as you tell it. Put yourself in the moment that the event occurred. When stories are made up, passion is lacking, emotion is forced, and your connection is lost.
The story must be relevant
Don’t tell your CEO customer from New York City, that he reminds you of another client, Bernie Hansen, who’s a farmer from Nebraska. Stories only resonate with customers if they can listen and think, “me too!” I’m just like so and so, therefore, I would obviously have the same good experience.
The story should be about a third party
Obvious? Look, you’re supposed to use the product. You’re selling it. Stories are endorsements from other customers who’ve received emotional or financial value from your product.
Specificity – Have you ever noticed that the more specific a story or claim is the more credible it is?
Just as specific praise for accomplishment is more effective than generalizations, so too with stories. Attorneys, advertisers and top salespeople know that specificity engenders believability.
For example.. Generalization:
“This diet is the best in the world to help you lose weight.”
“Independent laboratory tests prove that the high mineral content in Luci Systems reduces fat by 75%. The average user lost ten pounds after just 30 days.”
With the strong influence of technology today, storytelling humanizes your sales process. Make your stories credible, authentic and compelling and you’ll not only sell more, but you’ll have a better time doing it.
Having the right sales strategy will make or break your startup. From doubling down on perfecting your cold email outreach, to identifying profitable niche markets, leveraging storytelling, knowing how to follow up the right way and more—here’s how the best are creating winning sales strategies.
Some sales strategies come and go with the bestselling book of the week, or the advent of new tools & technologies. Yet others are firmly here to stay—rooted in hard psychological principles that explain what really motivates people to buy or not buy.
Today, we’re sharing the 25 most effective, proven sales strategies that real entrepreneurs and successful startups are employing to grow their brands.
Your sales strategy needs to lead with a clear articulation of the challenge you can help your prospect solve. Here’s why: During the beginning of a sales conversation, your prospect likely doesn’t fully understand the benefits of what you’re selling. The last thing you want to do is immediately treat your product or service like a commodity, rather than a valuable solution to a real business need they have. Do your best to research their needs up front and start your outreach conversation by explaining what’s in it for your prospect.
2. Clearly articulate end results
People buy results, not just products or services. Once you’ve captured your prospect’s attention with what they’ll be able to achieve by using your solution, it’s now your job to clearly explain how that’ll happen and what they’ll get after signing up. End results equal value. If you’re selling a premium CRM system to SMB’s that have never used one before, you’ll need to educate them about how the platform will work, how much of a time investment they should expect to make in managing it moving forward and the types of ongoing support they’ll have access to.
This sales strategy is particularly relevant if you’re selling a product or service that comes with an upfront fee, requires a complex rollout, time-intensive integrations or ongoing collaboration with your customers after closing the deal. Your prospect needs to know exactly what they’re going to get as far as deliverables, when those milestones will be met, and the downstream impact they’re expected to have on their business.
3. Start with small niche markets
You can dramatically increase the effectiveness of your cold outreach by targeting specific niche markets of people that share common pain points you’ll be able to uniquely address. Rather than reaching out to businesses of all different sizes, industries, and offerings, focus in on a narrow grouping of companies to pitch.
For example, if you’re selling inventory management software, choosing a small niche market could mean starting with pitching only to businesses that manufacture construction equipment. You could narrow your beginning niche by focusing only on these types of companies that are located in the western United States and have 100 to 250 employees. By working your sales strategy only with this homogenous group of companies, you’ll be able to perfect your pitch for this space much quicker than if you were mixing in businesses of all shapes and sizes.
Don’t worry that choosing a small niche could limit your options, either. Entrepreneur and marketer, Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income shares, “Selecting a niche is a long-term decision, but if it’s the wrong one, it’s not a long-term loss. You may fail, but as long as you learn, it’s time well invested.”
Adding that choosing a small niche in the beginning allows you to specialize, Flynn continues, “It’s great to think big and shoot for the stars, but when it comes to niche selection you can get more results, faster, by thinking specialized. Start by picking a market that actually interests you. The competition doesn’t matter at this point—just pick something you like.”
The same principle applies to your decision of whether or not to invest in starting to blog for your business—pick a niche to own and become the ultimate resource for your readers. You can read more about how Flynn teaches his readers to find the right niche markets on his blog right here.
Here’s another example—let’s take a look at the email marketing software company, ConvertKit. They self-identify as, “email marketing for professional bloggers.” In the highly competitive landscape of well-established email marketing providers like MailChimp, Constant Contact, and Active Campaign, this small company has carved out a curated niche market of customers to go after—professional bloggers. By forging creative partnerships with big name bloggers and brands that reach an audience of bloggers, ConvertKit has gained invaluable brand advocates & affiliates to spread their message as a major component of their sales strategy.
4. Be flexible
During your sales conversations, you’re naturally going to come across new challenges and unique demands from your prospects. This makes sense, since each company you work with is structured a little differently, has a distinct set of internal processes and objectives. Since saying “you can’t,” “won’t,” “that’s impossible” and other variations of no to your prospect is a death sentence, your sales strategy needs to be flexible enough to adapt in the face of new challenges on the go.
As bestselling author and sales strategy coach Grant Cardone shares, “In selling you are seeking an agreement. Your customer is almost always distrustful and uncertain, not about you, but about themselves. Most salespeople think selling is about gaining trust, but in reality, selling is about getting the customer to trust themselves enough to take action and close—which often takes flexibility. Learn to close the sale not just make a sale.”
It’s that simple: You can’t afford to say no. When you do, you lose your perception as a problem-solver and instantly close the door to a room full of possibilities. Instead of disagreeing with or flat out turning down a request from your prospect, use a response like, “I’d love to make that happen for you,” which will give you the opportunity to check with the rest of your team and see if there’s any possibility to accommodate their request. Even if that means coming back to the negotiation table with a minimum order quantity or project spend that’ll justify the out-of-the-box solution, you’ll keep the deal alive.
5. Use lead scoring to prioritize your prospects
If you’re dealing with a large volume of leads, incorporating lead scoring into your sales strategy is a must. After fully qualifying your sales prospects, lead scoring will help you prioritize your prospects based on the strongest possibility for closing the sale quickly—before even beginning your outreach efforts.
Lead scoring is simple. It’s a point system for ranking prospects on a scale of 1 to 10, that assigns a point to the value each lead represents to your company. For example, if a new lead comes across your desk and they’re a CEO, they’d likely be assigned a 10 since they have the ultimate authority and typically result in more closed deals. On the other hand, a manager level lead may be assigned a point value closer to 4 depending upon the relevance of their job title, since they’ll require additional stakeholder buy-in before signing up for your service. Work your prospect list from top to bottom so that you’re prioritizing time on the highest scoring leads who have the greatest potential for conversion and make sure you’re asking them the right questions.
6. Connect with the decision maker
It seems obvious that you don’t want to waste time spinning your wheels having countless conversations with lower-level managers who won’t ultimately be able to champion your solution through to implementation. However, there’s an art and science to the sales strategy of finding and connecting with the right decision maker for what you’re offering—whether you’re selling complex software or launching a t shirt printing business.
The best prospect relationships are built upon a foundation of providing immense upfront value without expecting anything immediately in return—they’re not strictly transactional, which (surprise!) takes time to create. Inventory your company’s core competencies and determine how you can best provide value to your decision making prospect before opening up a line of communication with them.
- Can you get them featured in a story you’re writing for a major publication?
- What about a positive mention on your corporate blog?
- How about sharing their latest thought leadership piece through your social channels?
Strive to look beyond just a “recommendation” that can conveniently be solved by purchasing your solution; people who’ve been in business long enough to become a decision maker will see straight through that tactic.
When your sales strategy includes reaching out to your prospect to let them know about the cool thing you just did for them, rather than jumping straight into selling your solution, your chances of building a meaningful rapport go up significantly. Keep in touch, continue providing value over the coming days or weeks and make the ask when it feels appropriate.
Will you close a sale from that new relationship the day you reach out with this sales strategy? Probably not, but if your product or service has a long sales cycle with a hefty price tag, building meaningful relationships and listening to the unique needs of your prospect will ultimately lead to your best long-term results.
7. Perfect your sales pitch (make it exciting)
Once you’re confident that you’ve connected with the right point of contact, you need to have an effective sales pitch. One that captures the attention of your prospect and keeps the conversation moving in the right direction. Spend too much time talking about your company, the benefits of your solution, the clients you’ve worked with, why your prospect should sign up today and you’ll risk ruining the relationship straight out of the gates.
Entrepreneur, investor, and co-star of ABC’s Shark Tank, Robert Herjavec has heard an elevator pitch (or two) in his day. When it comes to delivering an effective pitch, he says it’s more about showing your expertise—not just rattling off the highlight reel of numbers and clients you’ve worked with.
Herjavec shares, “You have 90 seconds, if you’re lucky. If you can’t make your point persuasively in that time, you’ve lost the chance for impact. Facts and figures are important, but it’s not the only criteria, you must present in a manner that generates expertise and confidence. If you’re not prepared for it, you may just miss your next big opportunity.”
How do you demonstrate your expertise within your elevator pitch? Lean heavily upon showing your prospect that you’ve already developed an understanding of the challenges they’re facing, as related to the area of the business your solution will help with. Do the research up-front and use your knowledge about your prospect’s business to take control of the conversation in your sales pitch by teaching, fine-tuning your message and not being afraid to share controversial views if they’re ultimately in the best interest of your potential new customer.
8. Use storytelling
Humans have been telling stories in the form of cave paintings, books, radio shows, movies (and more) for nearly 40,000 years with the goal of educating, communicating with, and entertaining each other.
Incorporating storytelling into your sales strategy can help captivate your prospects on a deeper level beyond just selling them strictly on the benefits, thus netting you more customers over time. Storytelling works well as a sales strategy because we’re wired to absorb information much better when we encounter it through stories.
As Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Jennifer Aaker explains, “Research shows our brains are not hard-wired to understand logic or retain facts for very long. Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories. A story is a journey that moves the listener, and when the listener goes on that journey they feel different. The result is persuasion and sometimes action.” When you tap into storytelling as a component of your sales strategy, you’re exploiting the thousands of years of evolution that have designed our brains for storytelling.
You can use storytelling at every stage of your sales process, even during the early formation phase after emerging with an idea from a design sprint—to help clarify your mission. Then, explain product features through highlighting real-life customer problems a particular feature solved.
An example of this is the story of a luxury furniture retailer that’s helping high-profile clients like Floyd Mayweather, Jamie Foxx, and Robert Duvall with their interior design needs. Their sales approach combined both highly targeted outreach and handling a high volume of inbound inquiries, often triggered when an Instagram influencer gave the company a shout-out from their Instagram account. Oftentimes, hundreds of inquiries about a certain piece of furniture would flood into the inboxes of the sales reps.
This presented its own unique set of challenges: How to move sales conversations forward with high-profile clients, while also responding promptly to a large influx of questions that come in through social channels. Close’s Inbox and Smart View features enabled the furniture retailer’s reps to personalize their responses at scale while ensuring that no lead fell through the cracks. The result? An almost immediate 10% increase in revenue.
Handle objections by building trust and walking through a case study of how other customers moved past these same objections and now get positive results for their bottom line. Answer questions, negotiate and strive to use a diverse sampling of stories about your company, customers, product and yourself to keep them captivated along the sales process. Keep in mind too, that storytelling can be applied to more passive forms of selling by incorporating a captivating story into the sales pages of your eCommerce website.
9. Listen to what your prospects are telling you
Do you frequently get pushback from prospects on just one area of your pricing structure? How about requests for the same new features over and over again that prospects cite as a top reason why they’re not interested in signing up for your product yet? Are there specific competitor solutions that tend to be easier to win over new customers from?
By building your sales strategy around listening carefully to (and recording) the most common objections, feature requests, competitor software in use and other key bits of information, you’ll be able to perfect your approach and gradually increase your close rate.
Behavioral investigator and author Vanessa Van Edwards agrees. She shares, “One of the most important aspects of selling or even going into business for yourself is being flexible. Listening to feedback from your prospects, watching the data and making changes as needed. Sometimes having a rigid plan can limit you.”
More than just listening, how are you actually sharing this feedback with the rest of your team? Don’t let your learnings slip into a black hole where they don’t reach other team members who are making product decisions that could potentially increase the effectiveness of your product. Since side comments are often forgotten, use these strategies for sharing meaningful customer feedback with your team.
- Create an internal Trello board
- Keep a series of ongoing Google Docs
- Host a public feature request page with voting options like Asana does
Granted, you’ll need to filter whether or not the prospect who’s giving you the feedback or making a feature request is actually a good fit for becoming a customer of your product before rushing to make accommodations. A common mistake many startups make in their sales strategy, is to make big decisions based on the sheer number of prospects requesting a specific function, even if they’re not an ideal customer. And if you’re using one of the best CRMs for small business to track these requests, it can be tempting to make decisions based on the sheer number of feature requests—rather than spending the time to determine whether or not it’s actually the best strategic move for your business in the long run.
Then, be sure to schedule a recurring review meeting with your manager and other key stakeholders at least once a month to compile & share this feedback in a productive manner.
10. Give your undivided attention to sales calls
Whether you’re making a cold call or following back up with one of your sales leads, it’s important to treat the call at hand as the most important thing you could possibly be doing at the moment. If you’re not engaging with your prospect, expressing interest while they’re talking or asking them questions that show your breadth of understanding, they’ll be able to see through your lack of attention.
Giving undivided attention to your calls, especially if your sales strategy relies heavily upon following a script, means that you also need to free yourself up to listen to your prospect. That requires removing yourself from distracting environments. If you typically make sales calls from a loud office space, try moving into an open conference room for your next set of calls and see if that gives you more focus. If you get sleepy at your desk, try standing up, walking around or making your next sales call from a quiet outdoor location.
11. Negotiate for a win-win
The real purpose of negotiating for a win-win with your prospects is to demonstrate respect and the intention to work with them again in the future. It’s valuing long-term relationships over insignificant details.
For example, if you bring a new prospect all the way to the finish line on a big deal and allow yourself to get hung up on a minor detail request that won’t significantly impact the success of the sale, your lack of accommodation will likely turn the prospect away for good. You do, however, need to know your walk away number—the bottom line price you’re able to accept in a negotiation before you even walk into a meeting or pick up the phone. If absolutely necessary, having this foundational number in mind and being willing to share it with your prospect near the end of your negotiation will give you clear guidelines by which to strike a win-win scenario.
Providing additional value, rather than axing your pricing structure is a must. Prepare yourself ahead of time with a list of additional features, bonus add-ons and special offers you can potentially throw in to sweeten the negotiation if necessary. Keep in mind the higher the value of the solution you’re pitching, the more important it’ll be to remain flexible enough—and get your manager’s buy-in for leveraging win-win deals that overlook the minor details as much as you can.
12. Follow up until you get a definitive answer
For Steli, following up is the necessary backbone of any good sales strategy. Having a couple of good sales calls with your prospect, only to let them silently drop off the face of the planet signifies a death spiral for your sales strategy.
Steli explains, “I follow up as many times as necessary until I get a response. I don’t care what the response is as long as I get one. If someone tells me they need another 14 days to get back to me, I’ll put that in my calendar and ping them again in 14 days. If they tell me they are busy and they don’t have time right now, I will respond and ask them when they feel like a good time would be for me to ping them.”
As Steli continues, “The key here is to actually keep following up. If someone tells me they are not interested, I leave them alone. But here is the kicker—if they don’t respond at all, I will keep pinging them until they do. And trust me, they always do.”
The point of following up until you get a definitive answer is that you’re never leaving a maybe on the table. In the world of startups, maybe can kill your business and you need to strive for extremely clear outcomes with every prospect you speak to. Otherwise, if you have a great first call and you allow them to drop off the map without a clear yes or no, they’ll just hang around on your list of “people you should get back to” and you’ll never move on from them.
Get the definitive answer—no matter how long it takes or how many follow ups you need to send.
Tip: Whenever a prospect gives you a follow-up date, make sure you set yourself a reminder to reach back out on their timeline. In Close, you can do this directly from the lead view so you never miss a follow-up.
13. Highlight risks and opportunities
Many salespeople tend to focus the majority of their conversations with prospects around highlighting all of the potentially amazing opportunities, benefits and quick results the prospect will get from using their solution.
Rather than presenting your solution as the sole solution to your prospect’s “problem,” be honest with them about any risks associated with making the switch to your platform or venturing into this new strategy.
The reality is that there’s no opportunity without some measure of risk in business, so why try and paint a reality that isn’t true for your prospects? That’s setting yourself up for failure. Instead, focus your sales strategy around proactively identifying the potential risks associated with using your solution—and present even more support that’ll show your prospect you’re already familiar with the risks.
For example, if you’re selling marketing software that includes a CMS platform for blogging and the prospects you’re pitching don’t currently have a blog, they need to be educated about how blogging is a long-term investment that typically doesn’t impact revenue overnight. In order to use your software, they’ll need to make a calculated risk of investing resources into people who can manage this new responsibility. If you close a client that isn’t fully aware of the potential risks associated with what you’ve sold them, there’s a good chance that they may close their account early or request a refund after running into their first speed bump.
Also, take the time to use research, share your own experiences or develop case studies with other customers in order to meet those risks head-on.
14. Sell yourself
Even if you have a great product that practically moves itself, if your sales strategy focuses solely on the product, you’re missing most of the equation that can turn doubt into trust.
Your prospects are buying more than just a product—they’re expressing trust in you and investing in that relationship. They’re also voting with their wallets and expecting your company to be around long enough for them to benefit from your solution.
Since most people you’re selling to likely don’t possess a strong understanding of how your product works from a technical standpoint, your sales strategy needs to get them to trust you—and your company. Build that trust by being completely honest, sharing both the good and the bad, sticking to your commitments and showing that you’ll be an advocate for them long after closing the sale.
15. Develop the right mindset
If you’re going to be spending a lot of time picking up the phone, knocking on doors or otherwise reaching out to prospects over the coming months, you need to prepare yourself for what’s coming your way.
- You’re going to hear no (A LOT).
- You’ll experience that rejection multiple times every day.
That’s part of the reality of being a salesperson, or even an entrepreneur focused on selling. What you’re selling isn’t going to be perfect for everyone—regardless of what you may think. Sure, it’ll take a degree of product or market education in order to close the majority of your prospects, but all the education or sales strategies in the world won’t turn some skeptics into paying customers.
Therefore, you need to develop a mindset of resilience. A thick enough skin not to take the inevitable dismissals personally. An attitude that allows you to dust yourself off and pick the phone right back up after hearing a hard no.
As the best-selling author, philanthropist and business strategist Tony Robbins explains, “The most painful mistake I see in entrepreneurs is thinking that just having a good plan or a great product is enough to guarantee success. It’s not. Business success is 80% psychology and 20% mechanics. And, frankly, most people’s psychology is not meant for building a business.” He adds, “The biggest thing that will hold you back is your own nature. Few people are emotionally ready for the challenges of building a business.”
16. Be helpful
At the end of the day, if your sales strategy isn’t built around being genuinely helpful to your prospects, you’ll leave a lot of deals on the table. Being helpful throughout your sales process, whether through education, researching your prospect’s challenges ahead of time or coming up with creative solutions to present rather than simply pitching your product, is how you’ll win their trust.
SaaS founder and co-host of The Startup Chat podcast Hiten Shah adds, “The best salespeople have always been helpful. As humans, one of the most genuine things we can do is to help each other. When you’re selling a product or services, it’s hard to go wrong if you’re genuinely looking to help the other person. That’s really when selling becomes more than just sales. It becomes all about building a genuine, meaningful relationship instead of about just selling what you have to someone.”
By thinking of yourself as a proactive problem-solver for each prospect you engage with—especially if it’s primarily over the phone—you can shift your own perception of the role you’re playing in the sales process.
No, you don’t want to forget your sales goals, benchmarks and quotas, but if you set out with the primary objective of helping your prospects, you’ll naturally be leading them to the best solution for their business. If your product isn’t the best fit for their unique needs, be honest and point them in the direction of a more suitable solution—that’s how you create the foundation for relationships that have the opportunity to continue onward. You never know where your prospect may be working in a few months or a year, and you can’t predict whether or not they know someone else who may be a good fit for your solution after being impressed with how helpful you’ve been.
A good sales strategy is long-term; there’s no substitute for making a positive lasting impression. Don’t miss out on a future potential sale because you weren’t helpful.
17. Ask for specific referrals
We’ve all gotten the casual ask for referrals, whether in a LinkedIn message or over coffee with friends, asking you for introductions to anyone that “might be a good fit” for the product they’re selling. How often does that translate into new accounts? Not very.
In 99% of these scenarios, the person you ask for a broad referral from will tell you they need to think about it and get back to you—which rarely happens. Not because they don’t want to help, but because they’re probably busy doing their own job.
Unlike when you’ve got the backing of a franchise business to help with marketing and driving foot traffic to your business, if your sales strategy instead requires tapping into your existing network or leveraging current customers to get in touch with new leads, you can get more high-quality referrals by taking the time to identify prospects in advance. Check out their list of connections on LinkedIn and look through previous companies they’ve worked with to create a shortlist of strong potential referrals you can ask for.
Eliminate even more friction by giving your connection a quick and easy referral email template, like the one below that they can use to make the introduction right away.
Hey [first name],
I wanted to connect you with Steli, their company does XYZ. I think this could be really interesting for you, and a conversation would be mutually beneficial.
I’ll let you guys take it from here,
This direct approach of giving your connection a specific referral candidate and arming them with the tools they need to send that email right away makes it easier for them to take immediate action. You’ll be well on your way to getting more referrals with this sales strategy.
18. Give short product demos
Giving a product demo that sells isn’t just about knowing your product inside and out.
Summing up a recent interview on First Round Review, startup founder and author Robert Falcone of Monetate explains the purpose of giving product demos based on his own personal experience giving hundreds of them. He shares, “As quickly as possible, get to ‘here’s what you told me your goal is, here’s the challenge you told me is in the way, here’s what it will look like when our product takes down that challenge.”
By showcasing upfront how your product will specifically address your prospect’s challenges, you’re leaving no room for ambiguity. Focus on showing the solution your prospect is most interested in rather than running through a laundry list of product features.
Rather than showing up to your next product demo meeting with the standard presentation you use for everyone, crafting your product demo to suit the needs of each prospect will translate into more closed sales. Personalization is what matters most and Steli agrees. He adds, “When you’re demoing a product, you always want to demonstrate value, not features or functionalities. Nobody cares about the features of your software—the only thing they care about is what it’ll do for them.”
19. Reach out to SQL’s within 24hrs of sign up
Once you’ve qualified a sales lead, engaging them in direct conversation within their first day of signup is very important for keeping the momentum moving in the right direction.
Assume your prospect is also comparing competitor products, doing research and coming to their own conclusions—based on what they can see about your product from reviews, videos, and screenshots—about whether or not you’ll be the right solution for their needs.
By employing a sales strategy that allows you to stay on top of your qualified leads and get in touch with them as quickly as possible, you’ll be able to answer questions, meet objections and help walk them through the different ways your product will help achieve their goals.
Depending upon the amount of information you have about the qualified prospect and how much interaction they’ve had with your company up to this point, it’s usually best to keep your initial outreach email short. Engage them by asking if they have time to speak on the phone today or tomorrow about a few ways you think you can be helpful to them—make it easy to accept by giving a few options for specific times you’re able to connect.
Tip: Automate a “hot list” for fresh leads that’s shared with your team. Our team does this using Smart Views in Close to make sure that inbound leads get contacted quickly.
20. Address uncertainty when you see it
Let’s say you’re in the middle of a product demo and there’s been some head nodding so far, but not too many questions from your prospects. You’re starting to feel that there’s a little uncertainty about whether or not this is right for them, but you’re not exactly sure why.
Instead of pushing through your presentation or sales script for the sake of finishing up quickly, pause and use this as an opportunity to address the uncertainty you’re feeling in the room. The deal isn’t lost yet and demonstrating how your product does what they need can help you recover in this situation.
However, if you ask something along the lines of, “Are you getting this?” or “Did that make sense?”, most prospects aren’t likely to give you an honest answer because they don’t want to sound dumb in front of their peers.
Rather, when you’re sensing that uncertainty, call it out. If you notice a questionable reaction to something in particular that you just said, acknowledge it by saying, “I feel that might not have come across 100% clear. Would you like me to explain that more?” If your prospects sound relieved to hear a better explanation of how a feature will help them achieve a specific goal, take note and consider these potential changes to your sales strategy moving forward.
21. Use the PAS framework
If you subscribe to behavioral psychologist Adam Ferrier’s notion that humans are ultimately motivated to take action by either pleasure or pain, then the PAS framework should be at the core of your sales strategy regardless of what type of product you’re selling.
P-A-S stands for problem-agitate-solution. This sales strategy is defined by shaping all interactions with your prospect around the context of identifying their biggest problems and positioning your product as the best possible solution to them—if indeed that’s true. Here are the three stages of the PAS framework in action.
- Problem: Identify and clearly state the #1 problem your product solves for prospects.
- Agitate: Highlight how dangerous the problem is and remind prospects about all the negative implications it can have.
- Solution: Position your product as the solution to their specific problem.
It’s important to note that the PAS framework isn’t about generating false problems or convincing people to buy into your business idea out of misplaced fear—the goal of this sales strategy is to help your prospect identify their problems. To make their challenges more clear, which gives you the opportunity to agitate that problem with more context around further implications, how the situation can worsen and what would be different for their business if they could solve it.
Then, if your product can genuinely help your prospect solve the problem at hand, positioning it as the solution is the natural last step in this sales strategy.
22. Create urgency
Most people don’t buy until the last possible moment—until they absolutely need your product.
This makes sense. We’ve been indoctrinated with mottos like, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” despite this line of thinking being an excuse for inaction more than anything else.
However, creating a real sense of urgency for your prospect is built around the sales strategy of helping them realize why they need your solution right now. If your prospects aren’t sold on why your product is important for them to take action on immediately, they’ll push it off until the next quarter.
When it comes to creating authentic urgency instead of just employing endless tricks or tactics, small business coach and author Tara Gentile adds, “Urgency is about need. If you want people to feel a sense of urgency for buying your product, you need to know why they need it now. It’s not based on numbers or time. Sure, those things help people make a decision, but people buy now because they’ve reached a point of no return.”
Creating urgency is about helping your prospects acknowledge that they need to take action right now and do something about the area of their business or life that your product can have a positive impact on. This sales strategy is about showing them the understanding you have for their challenges, respecting their needs and getting them excited to take the leap today.
Once your prospect is fully on board with why they need your solution, here are three foundational strategies for creating even more urgency with SaaS sales:
- Limited enrollment: If your product is new or you’re rolling out additional features, frame your urgency around an offer to get them into your limited program of 10 clients who are testing out the new product.
- Upcoming price increases: If you’re adding more to your product over time, it’ll increase the amount of value your customers get. Be sure to announce price increases in advance to existing customers & prospects to encourage quick buying decisions.
- Custom offers: Consider offering prospects on the verge of making a purchase a special service, consultation, training sessions, plan upgrades or short-term discount in exchange for making a decision today.
At the end of the day, there’s no better sales strategy than guiding your prospects to a deeper understanding of the place your product can help them get to, and showing them a clear path to that destination. Feeding your prospects words of encouragement and motivational quotes alone, just won’t cut it today. You’ll naturally create urgency without the need for employing flash sales, 24-hour discounts and other tactics that won’t work forever.
23. Sell more to your existing customers
Studies have shown that on average, it’s about 5x more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to retain and continue providing value to your existing ones.
Of course, gaining new customers is an essential part of growing your business, but when you’re considering piloting new features, expanding into new related markets or thinking about potential shifts in company strategy, it’s easy to overlook the value of selling first to your existing customers. For one, you already have an established relationship that’s been built upon mutual trust and value.
Beyond just new feature testing, if your existing pool of customers benefit from your product, what are some additional ways you can provide even more value to them? If it looks like they’re frequently maxing out on their plan limitations each month, reach out to determine whether or not you can strike a mutually beneficial deal for an upgrade.
If there’s a plan with features you know an existing customer would get a lot of use from, invite them to test it out for a limited time, give them the resources and training they need to experience real results and help them through the upgrade if it works out.
24. Intelligently use free trials
Incorporating a free trial into your company’s sales strategy can lead to massive gains in paid signups—if you do it right.
What constitutes a smart free trial? A short one.
The real purpose of giving your prospects a free trial should be to help the right people commit quickly to signing up, while giving others the opportunity to verify whether or not your product is right for them.
It’s a tool that needs to be used sparingly, which for 99% of startups means no more than 14 days in length, since usage statistics for most free trials show that only a small minority of people use products for more than three days in a row during trials. By keeping your free trial short (remembering that your goal is to earn more from offering the trial in the first place), you’ll also increase the likelihood of prospects taking it seriously and spending time truly evaluating your product.
On top of that, instead of just handing over the reins and letting your trial customers poke around completely on their own (which isn’t much of a sales strategy), invest in onboarding. Be sure to create the onboarding flow with a clear, simple goal in mind that’ll help your prospects get to their first small win using your product. If you can get them to experience real results and begin to invest in your product, their likelihood of conversion will go up significantly.
25. Employ email automation
Email automation will become an increasingly important component of your overall sales strategy as your organization grows. In the very beginning, you can get by with manual outreach to people who sign up for more information on your product, but that won’t last for long.
From delivering a timed sequence of educational content like a free sales course that introduces your product to new emails subscribers, to activity-based emails that get triggered when your prospects take a certain action, email automation is ultimately designed to create (or reinforce) the right behavior for encouraging conversion to paid accounts.
To get started with email automation, think carefully about your customer’s journey from first discovering your website to eventually paying for your solution (important: a slow website can lead to frustration early on in the sales cycle with your prospects, so if your site is hosted on a CMS like WordPress, be sure to set yourself up with a high-quality provider of a managed WordPress hosting plan that’ll guarantee fast page loading and no downtime).
Interview your existing customers to get a consensus on what was most convincing for them to sign up—then construct a series of automated emails that are designed to get your newest readers and subscribers to experience that same positive effect or result.
At the same time, it’s also essential to humanize your automated emails. Your subscribers want to know that there are real people behind your emails and that when they hit reply to ask a question, they’ll get an answer. Make your automated emails appear to be coming from the email account of a real person on your team and write in a conversational tone that represents who you are as a company.
Ready to get started with email automation? We have a direct integration with Drip and dozens of connections on Zapier to sync your Close account with your email automation provider.
What’s your most effective sales strategy?
Whether you’re running a startup of your own, trying to increase your organization’s sales effectiveness, or just become a better salesperson yourself, these time-tested sales strategies will help you hit the ground running.
At the end of the day, however, you can try all of the sales strategies in the world, but the best way to improve your close rate is through real experience. There’s no substitute for emailing your leads, picking up the phone, and having conversations with your prospects. Learn what you can from every interaction and develop an understanding of what motivates your customers to buy or not buy.
We’ve been teaching sales strategies for years, but we want to hear from you.
What’d we miss? What’s working best for your organization?
How do you create the best and most effective sales strategy? Most advice out there tells you that as long as you have a documented plan, a solid process, and a bullpen full of reps who know your solution inside and out, you’re ready.
Well, not quite.
The problem is, most sales strategies are too internally focused. They succeed in documenting internal procedures but lose sight of the messages and skills your reps need to communicate value to your customers.
Consider the following insights:
- Research performed by SiriusDecisionsshows that the number-one inhibitor to Sales achieving quota is an “inability to communicate a value message.”
- In corresponding research in which SiriusDecisions asked executive customers about the quality of interactions with salespeople, only 10 percent said sales calls provide enough value to warrant the time they spent on them.
- A Forrester Researchstudy revealed that only 15 percent of sales calls add enough value, according to executives surveyed.
- The Forrester study also showed that just seven percent of surveyed executives say they would probably schedule a follow-up.
In other words, if your sales force can’t communicate value—why your solution is different, better, and worth more—your sales strategy won’t help you get more sales.
So, what can you do?
In this article, you’ll learn 10 tips for building a sales strategy that actually works. Each one is backed by research and has been rigorously tested and proven to be effective in B2B selling situations.
But first, it’s important to step back and clarify what it really means to create a successful sales strategy.
What is a Sales Strategy?
A sales strategy is defined as a documented plan for positioning and selling your product or service to qualified buyers in a way that differentiates your solution from your competitors.
Sales strategies are meant to provide clear objectives and guidance to your sales organization. They typically include key information like: growth goals, KPIs, buyer personas, sales processes, team structure, competitive analysis, product positioning, and specific selling methodologies.
Most of these guidelines are helpful for communicating goals and keeping your sales reps on the same page. Where most sales strategies fall short, however, is that they’re too focused on the internal workings of your organization. The actual skills needed to have winning conversations with customers—along with the messages reps need to be successful—are merely an afterthought.
When you boil it down, the goal of every sales strategy is to make sure your salespeople hit their quota, right? And it’s the messaging element—what salespeople say, do, and write in order to create perceived customer value—that wins or loses the deal.
To truly be effective, your organization’s sales strategy needs to focus on customer conversations. These skillfully delivered conversations are what creates a distinctive purchase experience, creates value for your buyers, and separates your company from the competition.
With that in mind, here are 10 things to keep in mind when creating a sales strategy.
10 Keys to Developing a Successful Sales Strategy
- Build a Powerful Value Proposition in Your Messaging
Most prospects either don’t recognize or can’t articulate the root challenges they struggle with on a daily basis. So, even if you sell a truly remarkable product, your buyers probably won’t recognize the real value you offer to their organization. That’s why you need to create your value with a powerful and persuasive message.
In fact, Forrester research found that 74 percent of executive buyers will give their business to a company that illustrates a buying vision, compared to vendors among a group of commodity suppliers.
This isn’t just about touting your product’s features, hoping that your buyer chooses you over your competition. That approach only puts you at value parity with similar solutions, and it forces a competitive bake-off.
Instead of talking about what you do and why you think you can do it better, create a buying vision that defines a new set of challenges which align to your distinct strengths. This powerful value proposition will uncover previously unconsidered needs for your prospect, create contrast, and drive the urgency to change using stories and insights.
- Create the Urgency to Change
Most companies unknowingly position themselves for a competitive bake-off of features and benefits. They answer the “why should I choose you?” question for their prospects. But in doing so, they miss a critical first step.
The truth is that the majority of buyers prefer to do nothing instead of change. In fact, 60 percent of deals in the pipeline are lost to “no decision” rather than to competitors.
Staying the same is safe and comfortable, while change is associated with threat and risk. To break through Status Quo Bias and get prospects to leave their current situation, you need to tell a story that makes a compelling case for why they should change, and why they should change now.
Successful sales strategy requires you to understand your real competitor—the status quo. Help your prospects make the decision to change before you help them make the decision to choose you. Answering these questions are what creates your unique value, differentiates your solution, and sets the tone for your buyer’s entire Deciding Journey.
- Tell a Compelling and Memorable Story
When salespeople prepare for conversations with prospects, they usually focus on getting all the facts straight about their offerings. But the most accurate information in the world won’t resonate if you can’t connect with your customers in a memorable way.
Telling personal stories and using metaphors and analogies helps bring your message alive in a more compelling way than simply reciting facts and data. Storytelling paints a vivid picture for your buyers, illustrating the contrast between their current situation versus what’s possible, and connecting what you offer directly to their unique situation.
Once you start sharing stories in your sales conversations, your customer relationships will become deeper and more rewarding.
- Speak to the Deciding Journey, Not Your Sales Process
A sales process is a set of repeatable steps that a salesperson uses to lead a prospect to purchase. Typically, the sales process involves several steps like prospecting, qualifying, discovering needs, negotiating, and closing. This would be an ideal checklist to follow if all your buyers were robots being taken through an assembly line. But that’s just not the reality.
Marketing and selling today isn’t a predictable progression that you’ve decided is how your prospects and customers should buy. What you’re really up against today is a Customer Deciding Journey—a series of key questions your buyers are asking as they look to address specific business goals.
Instead of being “program-centric” with a one-size-fits-all sales strategy, you need to be problem-centric, addressing the specific needs of your buyers as they arise with situationally relevant messages, content, and the skills to deliver them.
- Don’t Rely on Buyer Personas in Your Sales Strategy
Customer profiles and buyer personas sound good in theory. The idea is to collect common demographic attributes, attitudes, and behaviors of your target audience to help frame and target your messages. But when used as a superficial profiling approach, personas can lead your messaging astray.
Persona-based selling assumes that the behaviors or actions of your target buyer are motivated by their internal characteristics. In reality, buyers are motivated by outside influences that challenge their status quo and convince them to change. These outside influences might include rapid growth within the company, inefficient or unsustainable processes, or broader changes that affect their industry as a whole.
The real drivers behind behaviors and behavior change are the challenges within your buyer’s situation, not their professional disposition. So, instead of focusing your sales strategy on a lot of inconsequential attributes, speak to your buyer’s situation and why their current approach is putting their business at risk.
- Avoid the “Commodity Trap” in Your Sales Strategy
Too often, salespeople base their marketing messaging on the needs that prospects tell them they have. Then, they connect those identified needs to corresponding capabilities, in standard “solution selling” fashion.
The problem with this approach? You fall into the trap of commodity messaging along with your competitors, who are likely constructing their value message in response to the same set of inputs. As a result, you sound just like everyone else, leaving your prospects indecisive and without any real urgency to change.
Instead, you need to introduce Unconsidered Needs that extend beyond the identified, known needs and solve for those. Introduce prospects to problems or missed opportunities they’ve underappreciated or don’t even know about. Then, connect the Unconsidered Needs you’ve identified to your differentiated strengths, which are uniquely suited to resolve those risks.
Research conducted by Corporate Visions found that a provocative messaging approach that begins by introducing an Unconsidered Need enhances your persuasive impact by 10 percent.
- Lead with Insights, Not Discovery Questions
Many salespeople try to be a “trusted advisor”—asking their buyers discovery questions, diagnosing the customer’s needs, and then presenting a solution that fits the criteria. But this approach does you and your customer a disservice.
To be of real value to your buyers, it’s not enough to say, “Tell me what you want; I’ll get it for you.” Buyers want salespeople who will tell them what they should want. They want you to sift through all the information that’s out there and deliver insight into what they’re missing that will improve their performance.
This means more than just finding data and statistics online. A fact without a story is just a data point. To make it real for your buyer, wrap your insights in a story that connects the dots for them and provides context within their world.
- Align Sales and Marketing
Too often, sales and marketing are siloed departments, each with individual goals that appear compatible. Marketing creates sales messaging and tools and generates leads for the sales team. Sales teams use the messaging and tools to transform those leads into revenue. But a lack of alignment and gaps in your process can sabotage your efforts.
You might hear the following complaint from both sides: “We’re doing our job, but they just don’t get it.” The problem with these goals is that they foster an us-versus-them attitude and miss the big picture. Sales is a design point for better marketing. If Sales is the storyteller of your organization, then Marketing is the story builder.
Ultimately, these two teams share—and must be aligned to achieve—one purpose: to persuade buyers to choose you.
- Tailor Your Sales Strategy for Customer Expansion
Most sales and marketing teams spend the majority of their budgets and effort on customer acquisition and demand generation. Meanwhile, the majority of your annual revenue likely comes from your existing customers, through renewals and upsells.
Nearly half of the companies surveyed by Corporate Visions invest less than 10 percent of their marketing budgets in customer retention and expansion. Clearly, your customers are highly underrated yet powerful growth engines within your company. And you shouldn’t overlook the potential of this untapped revenue stream.
The challenge is, retention and expansion require a distinct messaging and customer conversation approach. Existing customers are in a different position than your prospects—one that carries a unique buying psychology.
While customer acquisition is all about challenging the status quo to highlight the benefits of switching to your solution, customer retention and expansion requires you to reinforce your position as their status quo. In fact, research shows that using a provocative, challenging message when you’re trying to renew or expand business with your customers will increase the likelihood that they’ll shop around by at least 10-16 percent.
- Enable Ongoing Situational Training
Most training and learning efforts are based on a collection of competencies, supported by a curriculum and catalog that gets scheduled on calendar-based interest and availability. But what does that have to do with helping the company’s business strategy, responding to shifting market demands and intervening to fix emergent needs when they arise?
To be as effective and efficient as you need to be today, your sales training has to rise to a new level of flexibility, customization, and situational relevance. Using a flexible, on-demand training model enables you to deploy it at a moment’s notice to solve problems as they occur, and tackle initiatives as they arise. Training your sales team for situational agility equips them with the messaging and skills they need relative to the customer conversations they’re having.
Take Your Sales Strategy Beyond “Best Practices”
Most of the so-called “best practices” out there won’t help your sales team succeed. Instead of following a fill-in-the-blanks template, create a strategy that communicates more value in your sales conversations.
Only with Corporate Visions will you learn tested and proven customer conversation approaches for enabling buyers to choose you at every stage of the customer lifecycle. That’s why the best global B2B sales organizations come to us when they want skills training and messaging solutions that are backed by rigorous research and proven to improve results.
Stories are a powerful selling tool, but rarely is one story right for every situation or customer. To be successful in a dynamic marketplace, there are 5 types of stories every salesperson should be prepared to tell in a pitch or presentation. Here is a brief description, example and tips on where and when to use each type of story:
1. Your Organization Story
This is your company’s unique origin story, shedding light on the problem you solve and why. A compelling, succinct founding story can humanize your company and offer a fresh perspective into your values and purpose.
Tips: Keep it under a minute. Company stories are inherently less engaging than other types of stories so keep it tight by picking one story line and highlighting a few key details.
Don’t lead with your organization story. Your opening should be focused on your customer (like the other 4 types of stories) and not you. Save your company story for when you are asked or when it helps to support other key points in your presentation.
Example: A company selling secure bike lights was launched because a friend of the founder had his bike light stolen and then was hit by a car coming home. That’s a powerful backstory for why the company is in business and the types of problems they solve.
2. Customer Story
A good case study or customer testimonial is a powerful tool to have in any pitch. After all, a customer who has benefited from your product or service has much more credibility with a prospect, especially initially, than a vendor or salesperson.
Tips: Select a customer who has experienced a similar situation, challenge, or goal. Demonstrate outcomes. This speaks directly to what your prospect can expect from working with you. Hone your story to stand out. As the story most likely to be told by a salesperson, you need to make sure your story is polished and engaging.
3. Business Story
Using a story about a business or industry that is unrelated to your customer’s business can provide surprising insights into problems, solutions or opportunities.
Tips: Look for businesses who have experienced a similar challenge or opportunity. Everyone knows the cautionary tale of Blockbuster and Blackberry – companies who failed to adapt to the future – so try to find something less widely known. Or give a new twist to something familiar.
Example: Fiji water is sold in a unique square shaped bottle. Many people think this was a marketing effort to set them apart from competitors. In fact, this new design proved to be a less expensive way to ship water as more bottles could be packed in a case. A story like this makes sense if you’re selling a creative solution to a prospect who is hesitant to break from the status quo.
4. Analogy or Metaphor
A story that compares something new to something familiar is a quick and effective way to help your customer understand a new technology or capability. Analogies are also useful for softening any beliefs or misconceptions your customer may have.
Tips: To find the right analogy topic, focus on what your key message is (i.e., growth, accuracy, safety, etc.) Make sure your audience will quickly understand your analogy, otherwise you will then have two concepts to explain!
Example: A solution that is convenient and can be used in multiple situations might be compared to a Swiss Army Knife. A product that provides insights and recommendations could be compared to Siri.
5. Personal story
Drawing on your own personal experience to make a point or shed light on a subject can be very powerful and highly memorable. Unlike most business-based stories, personal stories can help form a stronger emotional connection with your customer.
Tips: Know your audience. There may be customers or businesses where a personal story is inappropriate. (Caution: Don’t use this as a general excuse, as there are fewer of these than you think!) People are human and most respond to a tight, well-told, purposeful personal story. Focus on why you’re telling the story. It can be easy to meander in a personal story so be disciplined. Stick to the point and when you’re done, stop.
Example: “I thought I’d save some money by going with a newer real estate agent. After three failed offers, I finally went with a proven agent. He helped me price it correctly and put my house in front of more potential home-buyers. It sold in 3 weeks for $10,000 over the asking price. Like that experienced realtor, we can help you avoid costly mistakes and make sure you get in front of as many potential customers as possible.”