Every sales team needs sales strategies and initiatives. Moreover, a strong sales strategy plan creates the foundation for a cohesive, successful sales team and organization.
Sales strategies and initiatives also align salespeople on shared goals and empower them to do their best work — keeping them happy and successful, too.
In this guide, we'll dig into some sales strategies and initiatives that helps you generate more leads and close more deals.
What is a sales strategy?
A sales strategy is an approach to selling that allows an organization’s sales force to position the company and its product(s) to target customers in a meaningful, differentiated way.
Most strategies involve a detailed plan of best practices and processes set out by management. Different sales strategies work for different sales teams and industries.
The most important component of choosing and implementing sales strategies is your customer.
Let's cover some popular sales strategies — including inbound sales.
- Researching and Qualifying Prospects
- Cold Calling
- Giving a Sales Presentation or Demonstration
- Closing Techniques
- Account Management Policies
In addition to these, there are two primary types of sales strategies: inbound and outbound.
In outbound sales — the legacy system of most sales teams — companies base their sales strategy on seller actions. They rely on manually-entered data to monitor the sales pipeline and coach their salespeople, and they run sales and marketing independently, creating a disjointed experience for buyers.
In inbound sales — the modern methodology for sales teams — companies base their sales process on buyer actions. They automatically capture seller and buyer data to monitor the pipeline and coach salespeople, and they align sales and marketing, creating a seamless experience for buyers.
In the past, buyers suffered through evaluating a product and deciding whether to buy it using only the information provided to them by the seller.
Today, all of the information needed to evaluate a product is available online and buyers are no longer dependent on the seller.
If today’s sales teams don’t align on the modern buyer’s process and fail to add value beyond the information already available to the buyer, the buyer then has no reason to engage with a sales team.
Inbound sales benefits buyers at each stage of the buyer process: awareness, consideration, and decision. Inbound sales teams help the buyer become aware of potential problems or opportunities, discover strategies to solve the buyer’s problems, evaluate whether the salesperson can help the buyer with the problem, and then purchase the solution. They're helpful and trustworthy, creating partnerships rather than power struggles.
Sales Planning: Building a Sales Strategy Plan
Every sales team should have a sales strategy plan outlining its goals, best practices, and processes designed to align the team and create consistency.
Here are the essential components of a sales plan:
1. Organizational Goals
Each goal should be specific and measurable, such as “to sell 150% of the projected sales quota in Q2.”
2. Customer Profile and Product Offering
This entails a detailed profile of the target customer — a buyer persona — including their company size, psychographics, and buying process. The product offering should outline the product benefits and features, with emphasis on those that solve the target customers’ pain points.
3. Hiring, Onboarding, and Compensation
Developing a list of criteria and attributes for sales managers to screen for when interviewing candidates is essential to recruiting and retaining top talent.
The next step is to develop a training and onboarding program that will prepare them to start selling effectively and efficiently, followed by a compensation and rewards plan that will motivate them to continue performing.
4. Demand Generation
This section should include a detailed plan for how to target potential customers in order to increase awareness of your offering, such as using paid social acquisition channels, creating e-books and hosting webinars, hosting events, etc.
5. Performance and Measurement Procedures
Time to track! Once the infrastructure is set up, create a procedure for tracking performance on the individual, team, and company levels. This measurement can take the form of quarterly KPIs, weekly dashboards, monthly reviews, or some combination of all three. This section should also highlight the specific metrics that the team should focus on.
6. Sales Activities
This should span everything from the sales presentation to closing techniques. These activities include the following.
Outline what criteria a prospect meets in order to qualify them as a high-probability potential customer. This should be based on a prospect’s engagement history and demographics.
This should be an overall outline of the connect stage for each salesperson, whether it’s a discovery call or a final sales pitch. Inbound sales teams should lead with a tailored message to the buyer from their specific context or point-of-view rather than a generic elevator pitch.
What are the biggest challenges to purchase? Sales teams should be equipped with responses, resources, and educational material to handle any common objections that a prospect may address.
Keeping a list of proven, go-to closing techniques will help salespeople routinely win deals. Such techniques can include the now or never close, “If you commit now, I can get you a 20% discount,” or the question close, “In your opinion, does what I am offering to solve your problem?”
What is the typical timeline of your sales process from the first contact to close? This section should guide sales teams to better understand the length of each stage in the sales process.
Businesses should always be looking for ways to innovate their approach to sales. Here are some creative things sales reps and teams can do on their own to jumpstart their performance, stand out from competition, and boost team productivity.
Refresh your buyer personas regularly.
Buyer personas inform all kinds of activity at your business, including (and most importantly) who your marketing and sales teams pursue as customers. However, as things in the market and at your company shift, your buyer personas can become out-of-date — which can cause your sales team's work to become stagnant and ineffective. Work with your marketing team to refresh your buyer personas to best equip your sales team for prospecting and outreach.
Actively align Sales and Marketing.
Speaking of Marketing, create and honor a service-level agreement (SLA) between your Sales and Marketing teams. This agreement will detail how each team can support each other, contribute to the other's goals, and honor boundaries in a way that still moves prospects toward conversion.
Use a CRM.
Successful sales teams and strategies require the right tools. HubSpot free CRM eliminates manual work and streamlines your sales activity and data. It also keeps your sales team up-to-date about all relevant activity with your prospects — an important transparency factor that helps motivate and align your team.
Listen to your prospects.
Just because prospects aren't customers doesn't mean they can't provide valuable feedback. As you move prospects through their sales funnel and (especially) when they drop off, ask for candid feedback about their experience with your team and products. You may learn something that can help convert them or your next prospect.
Invest in sales development and team-building.
The very best sales teams not only align with customers but also with their coworkers. Sales is a difficult career and can lead to burnout without proper encouragement and camaraderie. Invest in sales development and team-building activities to keep your sales team feeling satisfied and supported.
Sales Strategy Examples from Successful Sales Teams
In this section, we’ve analyzed two incredibly high-performing sales teams and how they achieved success using their unique sales strategies.
Founded in 2006, HubSpot has since grown to over 56,500 customers in over 100 countries and over $510 million in annual revenue. With an IPO in 2014, HubSpot is now valued at over $6.5 billion.
That said, we want to share a few pages from our own sales strategy playbook.
1. Hire the right people according to repeatable evaluation criteria.
We first started by determining a list of attributes that made a successful sales rep.
- Work ethic
- Preparation and knowledge of HubSpot
- Adaptability to change
- Prior success
- Organizational skills
From there, we established a repeatable process to evaluate candidates during interviews based on these weighted criteria.
2. Train the sales team by making them wear customers’ shoes.
Again, the first step we took was to define the sales process that we thought would be most successful. We outlined our unique value proposition, target customer, competition, most common objections, product features and benefits, and so forth.
Then we created a hands-on training program that would not only imitate the sales process for reps before they actually began selling but also allow them to experience our target customers’ pain points.
Today, a large part of our training program involves making reps create their own website and blog and then drive traffic to it. This exercise allows reps to better consult potential customers in the future. We also use exams, certification programs, and presentations to measure each rep’s performance.
After employees are on-boarded, we continue tracking their progress throughout the various stages of our sales process. The primary criteria we look at include: leads created, leads worked, demos delivered, and leads won. Then we measure these criteria against each other to create ratios such as leads created to leads won.
We track each stage in the process so that if a rep is struggling with any particular metric, we can dig deeper to understand why that’s the case.
3. Align sales and marketing.
The sales and marketing teams work closely together in a process we call “Smarketing” to generate consistent leads each month.
In this process, Marketing understands which qualities a sales lead needs to meet before it’s handed over to sales as well as how many of those qualified leads it must create each month to meet our sales projections.
Meanwhile, Sales understands how long they should wait before contacting a lead and how many attempts they should make to contact that lead.
All of these decisions are lead by data and science, not by gut.
Like Salesforce, Shopify has set a record of its own: reaching $1 billion in revenue faster than any other SaaS company. Today, they’ve reached a valuation of over $20 billion.
Loren Padelford, VP at Shopify and General Manager of Shopify Plus, shared his secret sauce for increasing sales tenfold in 15 years.
1. Hire great people, not necessarily great salespeople.
Hiring is arguably one of the most essential components of a great sales strategy. Many sales managers, though, are misled into believing that they must hire sales superstars. Padelford looks for six key personality traits when hiring salespeople:
- Work ethic
- History of success
The truth of the matter is that sales teams first must look for great people and then train them well so they become great salespeople.
2. Treat sales as a science, not an art.
According to Padelford, we can now measure sales down to the second. We can explain success according to cold, hard data-points rather than mystical qualitative assessments. Every sales team should be tracking their average deal size, average sales cycle length, lead to deal conversion rate, calls per day per rep, and the number of deals in the pipeline.
Each of these metrics, tracked over longer periods of time, will inform companies as to the health of their sales process and pinpoint areas they need to improve upon.
3. Build a smart, technological foundation.
Before Padelford took over the sales process at Shopify, sales reps would manually log phone calls and emails into the CRM, consuming five precious hours each week. With a sales force of 26, that added up to 130 wasted hours per week.
Realizing this misuse of time and capital, Padelford led Shopify to adopt the free HubSpot CRM. With the CRM, sales reps are able to receive notifications when prospects open their emails, click links, and view document attachments.
With the prospecting tool, they also have access to over 19 million prospects as well as detailed information about said prospects like estimated revenue, number of employees, suggested email addresses, and so forth.
4. Maintain a high-quality pipeline by eliminating unqualified leads.
Shopify uses the 4/5 Threshold to filter out unqualified leads, thereby allowing his sales reps to focus on selling to leads who have a higher probability of becoming customers.
When evaluating whether a lead is qualified, a rep must have a concrete answer to four of the following five variables:
- Pain: Is the prospective customer experiencing a prominent business issue or challenge that requires them to make a change?
- Power: Is the prospective customer directly involved with the decision-making process? If not, who is?
- Money: Does our offering fall within their budget constraints?
- Process: What's their buying process?
- Timeline: What stage are they in the buyer’s journey? Will they purchase within a reasonable time frame?
Grow Better with Sales Strategies, Initiatives, and Templates
Every company can benefit from crafting a sales strategy plan. Regardless of what strategy you choose, always implement a buyer-first approach. Learn from these winning sales teams, too, to grow your sales team and performance.
Editor's note: This post was originally written in April 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.