A strong sales strategy plan creates the foundation for a cohesive and successful sales 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 can help you generate more leads and close more deals. But first, let’s define what a sales strategy is.
What is a sales strategy?
A sales strategy is a set of decisions, actions, and goals that inform how your sales team positions the organization and its products to close new customers. It acts as a guide for sales reps to follow, with clear objectives regarding sales processes, product positioning, and competitive analysis.
Most strategies involve a detailed plan of best practices and processes set by management.
The most important component of choosing and implementing your sales strategy is your customer. For this reason, a sales strategy shouldn't be one-size-fits-all. Every customer is different; therefore, different organizations should draw up and implement different strategies.
Let's cover some popular sales strategies — including inbound sales.
- Increase online sales through social media.
- Become a thought leader.
- Prioritize inbound sales calls as hot leads.
- Properly research and qualify prospects.
- Implement a free trial.
- Don't shy from cold calling.
- Offer a demonstration of the product.
- Provide a personalized, clear end result.
- Be willing to adapt your offering.
- Close deals with confidence.
- Nurture existing accounts for future selling opportunities.
1. Increase online sales through social media.
Social media is one of the most popular ways that people consume information these days. That’s why nine out of ten retail businesses are active on at least two social platforms. With the data on your side, increasing online sales through social media is attainable with some creative thinking and strategic planning.
Although it may be tempting to jump on the hottest social media trend or go where your competitors are, that probably won’t be your best choice. Time is of the essence and you’ll want to build your pipeline as efficiently as you can. So, be diligent about figuring out where your target customers are spending their time and meet them where they are most active.
Keep in mind that your tone and voice may need to adjust to the platform so that you can connect with your audience. You’ll want your content to blend in naturally with the platform and not seem out of place.
Featured Guide: 37 Social Selling Tips for LinkedIn
2. Become a thought leader.
Sharing your advice, tried-and-true best practices, and niche expertise are some of the most long-lasting ways to build your personal brand and lend more credibility to your organization. I’m sure we all can agree that nobody wants to feel like they’re being sold to. Instead, it’s better to help people by offering solutions to their problems.
Thought leaders do exactly this, and it’s even been backed up by Edleman data. In its 2022 Thought Leadership Impact Report, Edelman found that “Thought leadership is one of the most effective tools an organization can use to demonstrate its value to customers during a tough economy – even more so than traditional advertising or product marketing, according to B2B buyers." According to the study, 61% of decision-makers said thought leadership could be moderately or very effective at demonstrating the value of a company’s products compared to traditional product marketing. Additionally thought leadership becomes even more important during economic downturns with 51% of C-suite executives stating it has more of an impact on purchases.
So what’s the catch?
Not all thought leadership content is created equal. Just as much as it can positively affect a company, poor thought leadership can be devastating to a company’s sales goals. A quarter of decision-makers who answered Edleman’s previous survey reported that thought leadership content contributed to their reasons for not doing business with an organization. Ouch!
Before you plan a spree of LinkedIn posts to drive leads, consider who your audience is, what they need to know, and how your organization can help. And, it may not hurt to have a second set of eyes from your marketing, communication, and PR departments review your plan first to make sure everything is on-brand (and trackable!)
3. Prioritize inbound sales calls as hot leads.
There’s the age-old question: “Should I discuss product pricing with a prospect on the first sales call?” The honest answer is: It depends. You and your sales team know your process front and back and if you’ve seen success with pitching with pricing first, last, or somewhere in between, stick with what’s working for you.
In addition to that, your team should always prioritize those prospects who call into sales first. These hot leads are definitely interested in what you have to sell and want to know enough information about how it’ll benefit them before they make a decision. By prioritizing talking to these prospects as soon as they call or send an email, you’re putting your best foot forward and showing them that you’re helpful, solutions-oriented, and considerate of their time. If it means closing the deal on the first call, there’s no harm in it so long as the customer has the information they need to make an informed decision.
4. Properly research and qualify prospects.
Even the strongest sales strategy can't compensate for targeting the wrong customers. To ensure your team is selling to the right type of customer, encourage them to research and qualify prospects before attempting to discuss your product. They'll find that more work on the front end can lead to smoother closing conversations later on.
Outline the criteria a prospect should meet to qualify them as a high-probability potential customer. This should be based on a prospect’s engagement history and demographics.
Featured Guide: 101 Sales Qualification Questions
5. Implement a free trial.
Offering a free trial or freemium version of your product is a highly effective way to convert prospects. HubSpot’s sales strategy report found that free trials were 76% effective followed by a freemium option with 69% effective in turning prospects into paying customers.
Free trials give potential customers the opportunity to test your product out before committing. You can place restrictions on your free version like limited features or usage caps. In addition to providing prospects a risk-free chance to try your product, free trials also help build brand loyalty and expand your customer base. Prospects that have a positive experience using the free version will be more likely to convert to the paid version.
6. Don't shy from cold calling.
In Sales, cold calling is unavoidable. But it doesn't have to be miserable. There are a number of cold calling techniques that really work, including our bulletproof cold calling template. Have your sales team practice cold calls on one another before making actual calls; it'll boost their confidence and get them comfortable with the script.
7. Offer a demonstration of the product.
Pitching can be the make-or-break moment in a sales strategy. The sales pitch has to be a powerful, compelling presentation, but it also can't come on too strong lest you’ll scare away the prospect.
Study the elements of a successful sales pitch and demonstrate to prospects how they’ll benefit from making the purchase. Have your team practice amongst themselves, too. Better yet, test your presentations on a few loyal customers and gather their feedback.
8. Provide a personalized, clear end result.
When customers come to your business, they aren’t necessarily looking for a product or service, they’re looking for their desired end result. These customers want to purchase a means to improve their own operation, or simply improve their strategies with the help of your offering.
After you explain your product or service offering, you have to personalize the benefits to each client in a way that’s valuable to them. If you’re selling customer service software to a small business that has no experience with one, it’s your job to educate them on its use in the setting of a small business, not to manage hundreds of employees in larger ones. By doing so they will have an easier time seeing how they can use it and spend less time debating what they’ll use it for.
By painting a clear picture of the end result, your customer will be able to see the value of the purchase and feel more inclined to accept the offer.
9. Be willing to adapt your offering.
In sales conversations, you should expect to come across clients with unique demands. It’s only natural when working with companies of different structures and needs.
Instead of saying “you won’t” or “you can’t” — make sure your sales strategy is adaptable to accommodate the customer’s desire.
10. Close deals with confidence.
How you close a sale is just as important as how you start the conversation. Encourage clear, concise, and firm closing techniques to ensure your sales team sets the right expectations and delivers on their promises.
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?”
Available for free is our downloadable Sales Closing Guide to improve your closing techniques and to close deals with confidence.
11. Nurture existing accounts for future selling opportunities.
Once a deal is done, there's no need for a sales strategy ... right? Wrong. Account management is an incredibly important part of the sales process, encouraging loyal, happy customers, and leveraging cross-selling and upselling opportunities.
After your sales team sees success with the sales strategy, go the extra mile and form a partnership between your sales team and customer service/success teams. By ensuring customers’ continued satisfaction with your product or service, they will be more inclined to do business with your company again and even advocate for it.
Inbound vs. Outbound Sales Methodology
In addition to upselling and cross-selling, there are two important types of sales methodologies: 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 them, then they’ll have 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 problems, evaluate whether the salesperson can help with a problem, and purchasing a solution to their problem. They're helpful and trustworthy, creating partnerships rather than power struggles.
Not sure how to get started with inbound selling? Every sales team should have a sales strategy plan outlining its goals, best practices, and processes designed to align the team and create consistency.
Sales Planning: Building a Sales Strategy Plan
Free Sales Plan Template
Fill out the form to get this sales planning template.
Now that you have the template you need, let's go over how you can build a sales strategy.
How to Build a Sales Strategy
- Develop organizational goals.
- Create a customer profile that is tailored to a specific product offering.
- Hire, onboard, and compensate sales team members adequately.
- Create a plan to generate demand.
- Measure individual and team performance.
- Track sales activities.
To build a comprehensive sales plan, you’ll find the following activities helpful along the way:
1. Develop organizational goals.
Setting goals is a no-brainer for most sales teams. Otherwise, how else will you know you're executing the right activities to deliver the best results? One key factor to note when developing sales goals is to avoid doing it in a silo. Get input from stakeholders across the organization since every department is held accountable to the company’s bottom line.
Each goal should be specific and measurable, such as “... to sell 150% of the projected sales quota in Q2.” This helps reduce confusion when it’s time to review the goals to see what worked and what didn’t.
2. Create a customer profile that is tailored to a specific 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. Hire, onboard, and compensate sales team members adequately.
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. Create a plan to generate demand.
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. Measure individual and team performance.
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. Track sales activities.
Tracking your efforts is imperative if you plan to optimize your processes and practices for growth in the future. Even if you’re just getting started setting benchmarks for the team, write those down and track your progress toward them.
You should track everything from the sales presentation to closing techniques. If you’ll be publishing some thought leadership content or even sourcing leads from social media, ensure that any link you share is trackable with a UTM parameter.
Featured Resource: Sales Plan Template
Download the Template for Free
- Refresh your buyer personas regularly.
- Actively align sales and marketing.
- Use a CRM.
- Listen to your prospects.
- Invest in sales development and team-building.
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 the competition, and boost team productivity.
1. 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.
2. 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.
Download our free SLA Template for Sales & Marketing to align Sales & Marketing goals and activities.
3. Use a CRM.
Successful sales teams and strategies require the right tools. HubSpot all-in-one 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.
4. 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.
5. 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 $23.81 billion.
That said, we want to share a few pages from our own sales strategy playbook.
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, coachability, intelligence, passion, preparation and knowledge of HubSpot, adaptability to change, prior success, organizational skills, competitiveness, and brevity.
From there, we established a repeatable process to evaluate candidates during interviews based on these weighted criteria.
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 onboarded, we continue tracking their progress throughout the various stages of our sales process. The primary criteria we look at includes: 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.
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, the sales team 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 led by data and science, not by gut.
Shopify has set a record of its own: reaching $1 billion in revenue faster than any other SaaS company. Today, it’s 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.
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: intelligence, work ethic, history of success, creativity, entrepreneurship, and competitiveness.
The truth of the matter is that sales teams first must look for great people and then train them so they become great salespeople.
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.
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 HubSpot CRM. With the CRM, sales reps were able to receive notifications when prospects opened their emails, clicked links, and viewed 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, the number of employees, suggested email addresses, and so forth.
Maintain a high-quality pipeline by eliminating unqualified leads.
Shopify uses the 4/5 Threshold to filter out unqualified leads, thereby allowing its 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. The free template below includes everything you’ll need to customize your strategy to your business and sales team. Regardless of what strategy you choose, always implement a buyer-first approach. Learn from these winning sales team examples, 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.