It’s the rare entrepreneur who hires a consultant to teach them about what a sales strategy is. In fact, we’ve never heard of that happening.
CEOs aren’t lining up for that service either, as far as we know. In fact, we’ve never even seen an aggressive Facebook advertisement for a big-ticket coach who will teach CEOs what a sales strategy is. And, to be clear, we’ve seen an aggressive Facebook advertisement for just about every other topic imaginable being pitched to CEOs by a big-ticket coach…
But is there a market for someone to teach sales strategy basics outside of the corner offices?
Well, not really. Few experienced sales professionals pop into their supervisors’ offices to ask them to define what a sales strategy is. No, it seems like within most organisations those staff members who are tasked with creating the company’s sales strategy, and those employees who are empowered to carry out that strategy aren’t asking a lot of questions about just what a sales strategy should ideally be.
But that doesn’t mean that they all know what a sales strategy is.
And it certainly should never be read as evidence of most CEOs, entrepreneurs, and sales professionals knowing all there is to know about sales strategies: what it should contain, how it should be built, and what makes it functional.
What it means, instead, is probably that everyone assumes they’re already supposed to know the basics of creating a sales strategy. So they’re not inclined to ask. It may also mean that many professionals are under the false impression that sales strategies are essentially blown-out sales calendars that simply tell you what needs to get done and when you must accomplish it.
Whatever the reasons behind it, the lack of conversation about the nuts and bolts of sales strategies has a clear functional outcome. Many organisations are made up of team members who arrive with extremely varied understandings of what a sales strategy is and what it should mean to their company.
That’s why we’ve created this guide.
Without having to admit that there may be more they can learn, this guide offers sales and marketing professionals–from entry-level employees through top executives–the chance to learn a lingua franca surrounding sales strategies that can help them all to start on the same page. Beyond that, it will help everyone who creates or works with sales strategies to get exposure to some of the tactics that the best minds in business are currently finding to be useful.
This guide will address:
● What a company’s overall strategy should be;
● The definition of outbound selling;
● How to explain and employ inbound selling;
● The specific examples of individual sales strategies that smart companies are using today, including.
At its core, a sales strategy is a plan that lays out how the organisation will market and sell its services and create/increase its profits.
The best sales strategies are built by the staff members who occupy the C-suite in tight concert with key members of the sales, advertising and marketing teams.
The upper-level executives bring to the table a good grasp of the high-level goals of the company and a deep understanding of numbers that the organisation must hit in order to stay in business and thrive. The closer-to-the-ground team members should bring to the conversation a more precise grasp of the way that resources are being used, the competencies of the existing staff members, and the assets that may be required in order to move on specific goals or action items.
Sales strategies often dig down into developing the personas of great-fit potential customers. They may also include the different ways that the organisation expects to pitch its services and/or products. And, for some businesses, the sales strategy documents will even include scripts that can help to guide sales and marketing conversations in different formats.
It’s important to note that the term “sales strategy” is frequently used almost interchangeably to refer both to a broader strategy document and smaller, more tactical portions of that document. The definition in the previous paragraph refers to that larger strategy-defining document. Later in this guide, readers will be treated to several sales strategy examples from leading marketers. These are those more tactical items, which might live within the broader strategy document but also guide the overall tone, scope, and purpose of the overall plan.
Gay Gaddis founded the advertising agency T3 in Austin, Texas and is a sought-after author and speaker on the topic of business building (she also raises Texas Longhorn cattle in her “spare” time).
Recently Gaddis penned a piece for Forbes aimed at offering companies advice on creating an effective sales strategy that will help their business to grow. Before delving into her own hard-won knowledge that’s the product of 25 years at the helm of T3, however, Gaddis chose to share a story about how she recently realised she still had some things to learn on the topic.
At a dinner recently in New York, Gaddis met Charles Bernard, founder and CEO of Criteria for Success. Bernard’s claim to fame is that he helps CEOs to balance delivering on their company’s vision with valuing their company’s profits.
Gaddis describes walking into that dinner thinking that she had sales strategy knowledge locked down. She knew all she needed to. By the end of dinner, she describes feeling quite differently. Gaddis’s experience isn’t unique: her repeated and growing successes had made her feel like she knew all there was to know about building a sales strategy. But she was reminded, as we all need to be from time to time, that there’s always something additional that can be picked up from our peers.
That night in New York, what Gaddis learned from Bernard was his three-pronged philosophy of selling, which focuses on philosophy, mechanics, and action. In particular, Gaddis gravitated toward the philosophy of discovery-based selling that Bernard spoke about. Essentially discovery-based selling is built around the idea that it’s better for customers to discover how great an organisation is than for that organisation to tell them how great they are.
“Leave bread crumbs for your clients to find you because it is much more valuable for someone to discover you than for you to pound your fists declaring your greatness,” Gaddis writes. “Buyers are trained to weed out the ordinary and the obvious, yet many presentations start with slides on how big and how great they are. This is the fastest way to lose their interest.”
Gaddis also shares that she learned that evening from Bernard about his belief in ridding companies of “head-trash.” Gaddis defines this as negative thoughts that create gossip and negative behaviour. She agrees that it kills companies, and has to be sought out and removed once found.
But it was Bernard’s parting words that evening that seemed to have the most significant impact on Gaddis. She quotes him as saying:
“Humans love storytelling. We all grew up with ‘the once upon a time’ interest in learning through stories. Tell the stories of your ideas, passions, lessons learned and what you and your brand stand for. It is irresistible. Oh, and don’t forget the numbers. We all love to see the results.”
Storytelling isn’t only crucial to Bernard and Gaddis. It’s a watchword in sales and marketing in 2019 and has been since at least 2014. The consultants at Launchpad Solutions find storytelling to be a useful tool in outbound marketing, including in cold calling. And many inbound marketing experts will tell you that storytelling is a perfect tool to help lay those breadcrumbs for prospects to discover. But, just what do those terms mean?
Let’s start by defining outbound sales.
The difference between inbound and outbound sales is who is initiating the contact. In outbound sales, the contact is being initiated by the company. The consumer isn’t picking up the phone to call the salesperson. The salesperson is calling, emailing or LinkedIn messaging the potential customer. That doesn’t mean that the outreach is a completely cold call or email. It may well be that the prospect has previously expressed interest in the products or services of the company. However they haven’t asked for the contact that’s currently taking place, and that’s what differentiates outbound sales from inbound sales.
We’re partial to the supporting information that the sales engagement gurus at PersistIQ use. Outbound sales, according to PersistIQ, requires vision and a willingness not to simply follow the crowd. To craft your outbound sales plan, they share, sales managers will want not only to compile a list of names and emails to reach out to but also detailed information about each prospect on that list. That includes the position title, background information including alma mater, and recent social media posts and published pieces that might be used to connect around.
But PersistIQ would like companies to go further in planning their outbound selling, as well, by creating prospect profiles and personas and sample content (emails, scripts) that might be used for each.
Brooklyn, New York-based creative firm Responsify cautions that, while the word seems simple to understand, the definition of inbound sales can be a difficult concept to nail down.
At its core, inbound sales is the opposite of outbound sales. Inbound sales conversations are initiated by the consumer. But smart organisations have done a lot of work to prepare for, and publish around, that anticipated outreach from the potential customer.
So inbound marketing, then, is the practice of preparing for the moment when a potential client is looking for the solution that a company provides. An excellent inbound plan includes SEO because the business wants to be sure that the prospect can find them when they start looking. It includes content planning and creation so that there will be superb assets for the prospect to consume when they find the company. And it includes a detailed and customised plan for automated and personal responses to each touch that a prospect initiates with the company.
Most inbound sales plans lay out an inbound marketing funnel, or a path to purchase for inbound leads.
Responsify describes the inbound marketing funnel this way: 1) use marketing to attract a large number of visitors, 2) convert them into leads, 3) turn them into sales.
Web Canopy Studio builds conversion pipelines and web sites for clients. And they’ve found chasing unproductive leads to be one of the biggest time wasters and productivity killers that their company, and their clients, experience. There are prospects who will never purchase anything from an organisation no matter how well they are treated or shepherded through the selling process. And those prospects should no longer be considered leads.
But in companies without a good sense of who their perfect buyer is, it may be impossible to identify who those time and productivity wasters are. Businesses need to build as accurate a picture as possible of their ideal buyer or buyers are and use those pictures to inform the way that the sales portion of the organisation allocates its time and energy.
Before developing buyer personas, organisations need to take a step back and make sure that all of its stakeholders are clear on what services and products they are seeking to sell. Does the company have core offerings that are highly profitable and that they are excellent at executing on? If they don’t, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and make sure that those key decisions have been agreed upon. Once the product or products are clear and defined, it’s time to figure out who the business’s best customer is.
Web Canopy recommends doing this by looking at patterns in existing buyers. Are there commonalities in location, demographics, industry, employee count or revenue? The best type of buyer is the one that an organisation already has. So organisations should mine those relationships for information about the problems people are happy to pay the company to solve.
This is also where you want to build a clear image of the buying cycle of your ideal prospect. And that can be done by looking at what it took–the content, the time, the information–to close the sale with current buyers.
Once a business has neatly and confidently defined its ideal prospect, they’re not going to ignore or fail to pursue leads that fall outside of those parameters. They may, however, choose to prioritise those prospects that fit within their ideal buyer persona over those who do not.
Clarke is a marketing firm located in Lynchburg, Virginia that cautions its potential clients against starting business relationships with “an academic pretty boy with a degree in marketing who has never had to practice what he preaches…”
(For the record, we’re not prone to insulting folks simply because they’re good looking and have degrees in marketing. But we are fans of getting expert advice from people who have walked the walk in whatever sphere they’re consulting in.)
The rest of Clarke’s sales advice similarly focuses on keeping it real, including their recommendation that companies should actually be useful to their potential clients.
Clarke shares that 60 per cent of a buyer’s purchasing decision has already been made before their first official contact with an organisation’s sales representative. That means that companies who want to be able to have an influence on their prospects’ decision-making process need to find a way to insert themselves into the path to purchase before that official contact takes place.
The key to starting a relationship before a prospect is ready to officially begin the sales process is by being helpful. Organisations that present themselves as solutions finders and best-practice coaches may find that prospects are anxious to engage in order to talk about issues within their industry and have an expert sounding board. The way to do this will differ depending on the organisation’s size, make-up, and offerings. Some will choose to make their help available in person through seminars and meet-ups. Others will need to do so in the form of downloadable guides and webinars.
Matthieu Gauthier is head of marketing at the social media monitoring firm Mention. Gauthier wants companies to know that their customers probably don’t care about their product.
Sales representatives care deeply about their organisation’s offerings, and great ones are often chomping at the bit to explain how the solution that they’re selling can quickly solve the problem that they believe that their prospect has.
But, here’s the thing, Gauthier cautions: the client probably doesn’t care.
The rare one may. But sales reps should not assume that the contact on the other end of the phone is invested in anything beyond the pain points within their daily job duties. That’s why a key sales strategy that Gauthier recommends is to keep clients’ problems in the foreground, and the product in the background.
The conversation should progress to the ways in which the sales representative can offer assistance in smoothing out those pain points. That, in turn, will lead to talk of the products and services that the organisation has available for sale. It’s fine that the conversation ends up there. In fact, it’s still the goal. It’s simply not the place that the conversation should start if the prospect’s engagement is to be maintained.
Another example of an actionable sales strategy from the conversion experts at Web Canopy Studios is becoming aware of when potential clients are talking to your company.
Salespeople know when they place a call to someone on their outbound list. And hopefully, it’s tracked in a centralised CRM so that the whole company is aware of the outreach and the eventual next steps. The same should be able to be said for inbound contacts. The proper sales and marketing representatives should be aware every time a prospect fills out a form on the company website or participates in a training session. Web Canopy says that these are instances of a prospect “raising his or her hand.” And the moment that a prospect raises a hand, the organisation should be tracking it in a centrally accessible CRM and putting into practice protocols for follow-up and monitoring of the new live lead.
In some organisations, not every prospect is actually handed over to a sales representative. However, Web Canopy suggests that these hand-raising prospects should be considered for fast-tracking to sales while they are still interested. For some products and/or company structures that hand-off might happen after the first sign of inbound interest. In other cases, automated follow-up may be enough until three or five discrete instances of customer-initiated outreach have been documented.
At least for those best-qualified leads, organisations need to set up some automation that will keep prospects moving through the lead funnel. That wisdom, too, comes from the Web Canopy Studios team. But it shouldn’t be taken to mean that one size fits all where follow-up is concerned. In order for automation to do the most good, it should be carefully tailored to deliver content that fits each customer persona that has been developed and each stage of the sales funnel. A prospect that has sent one email to an organisation or filled out one website form should not receive the same information as a prospect who has attended multiple free online events.
Those straight-talking folks over at Clarke also want companies to get way better at following up with potential clients as a sales strategy.
Beyond automating that portion of follow-up that does not call for bespoke communication, organisations need to develop a process by which salespeople handle the situations that require actual human interaction.
Clarke suggests companies do that by designing a process, finding the technological tools that will make it easier to execute, and then exercising discipline to ensure that no balls get dropped. Whatever CRM a salesperson is using, it should be able to help set reminders for intervals at which to reach out to prospects. After each interaction, the next planned contact should be scheduled in the CRM based on whatever the prospect agrees to. If live contact was not achieved, the timing should follow the process that is part of the sales strategy. Following up doesn’ mean just reminding the prospect that the company’s product exists. Clarke recommends that salespeople stay on the lookout for that recent blog post or ebook that would be of interest to a lead. Send that, then leverage the contact to get the next call or meeting approved by the prospect.
Before he went to work at Mention, Gauthier worked in a role that called for creating monitoring alerts for companies with new chief marketing officers and/or chief technology officers. What Gauthier says that he found is that professionals who join the team in one of these roles often want to make some big changes. Knowing about this pattern was perfect for outbound sales groups. Gauthier would receive an alert that a new CMO had joined a company, and he would then reach out to the new hire to find out if they were in the market for the product or services that he was selling. Mention is one tool for setting up such a monitoring service, but Google Alerts can also be used. While the new-CMO-equals-a-chance-to-sell-solutions connection is one example of a sales strategy that ties an industry trend to a company’s sales outreach plans, it’s by no means the only one that can be used. Organisations should think critically about what they can monitor at companies that would potentially be great clients that might signal that now is a great time to initiate contact. Monitoring may also be a great way to develop a reason to reach out to a company–with congratulations, ideas, or an introduction.
Close is a company that makes and markets sales software that they call their “special sauce,” and they tell entrepreneurs to talk to prospects with the end in mind.
What does that mean? It means that Close has seen great results when salespeople focus in on the problem that their solution can fix, as addressed above, but then take it further by looking beyond. They should tell the story of what the prospect’s landscape will look like once the solution has been put in place and proven to be successful. What will that look like? If the salesperson is able to get the prospect to picture that space, picture what it feels like to live and work there, they will be more likely to want to do what it takes to get to that place. And that’s when the sales rep needs to remind them that the journey to that place beyond the solution starts with purchasing their product.
Close also offers clients some interesting advice that may feel like the opposite of the old adage “go big or go home.” Instead Close wants their community of business owners to get out there and go small! They’ve seen organisations dramatically increase the effectiveness of their cold outreach in particular by targeting highly specified niche markets whose members share the same pain points. Identifying such a set of companies means a company can create a script and content for the outreach to address the pain points in question but can use them at not one but all of the companies within that niche.
As an example, Close points to an inventory management software company that chose a small niche market consisting only of businesses that manufacture construction equipment, are located in the western United States and have less than 250 employees. Once the perfect pitch has been created for the problems these organisations are experiencing, it can be used again and again.
Geoffrey James is the author of the book titled “How to Say It: Business to Business Selling,” but he sat with CNBC to detail some of his best sales strategies for small companies who haven’t yet had a chance to read his entire book.
James suggests that companies consider treating their weaknesses as strengths. For instance, James shares, consumers may not be aware of an organisation, which is a weakness. But they also don’t have any negative preconceived notions of the company, which is a positive. A sales team at a small company may not have the budget to take prospects out for a fancy business lunch, which may be seen as a negative. However, you may be willing and able to craft flexible terms for a client because of that small size and lack of red-tape and infrastructure, which is a positive.
Here’s one more tip from the crew over at Close: implement lead scoring into your pipeline prioritisation planning.
Having more leads than you can handle seems like a nice problem to have. And it certainly is preferable to the alternative of having none or too few. But an embarrassment of riches is useless if the sales team doesn’t know how to move on the leads that are most likely to turn into sales.
In the same manner that teams qualify their sales prospects, they should then score their leads. The marketing and sales teams should get together to design a point system for ranking prospects on a scale of 1 to 10. The criteria for earning a point will differ between organisations but should focus on those qualities that have been shown to show up more often in prospects that convert to buyers. As leads present themselves, they should be scored using the agreed upon plan, and then prioritised for follow-up accordingly.