What Is Sales? A Quick Guide [+ Examples]

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Meredith Hart
Meredith Hart


By definition, the term "sales" refers to all activities involved in selling a product or service to a consumer or business. But in practice, it means so much more.

Two sales representatives learning about sales in an office setting

A lot of effort goes into successfully closing a deal – from sourcing prospects, to building relationships, and providing customers with solutions. We’ll dig into types of sales, common sales terms, and sales methodologies to help you solve for the customer and increase revenue.

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Companies staff entire departments with employees dedicated to selling their products and services. Salespeople reach out to contacts that might be interested in purchasing the product or service that their company is selling — prospects that demonstrate interest through actions like visiting the company website or interacting with the company on social media.

The goal is to reach out to leads who have shown interest in or fit the description of the company’s target customer, in hopes of providing them with a solution that results in a purchase of your product or service.

While many sales teams are held to monthly quotas and benchmarks for converting leads and closing deals, the real goal of sales is solving for the customer.

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    Marketing and Sales

    Where can salespeople source leads and prospects? The campaigns and efforts of the marketing organization are some of the best ways to generate qualified leads. And the State of Inbound Report found that salespeople source 28% of their leads from marketing. While marketing and sales use different processes, both business functions impact lead generation and revenue.

    So, how do sales teams sell? Let’s review the most common types of sales.

    1. Inside Sales

    When sales teams engage with their prospects and customers remotely, often from an office alongside their team members, they follow an inside sales approach. This means they are selling from within their company. Organizations that use an inside sales approach often tend to have leaner, more automated processes and structured hours.

    Inside Sales in Action: AT&T

    types of sales example inside sales

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    From phone service to internet to TV, AT&T provides products and services for just about any consumer and business. The company's inside sales reps contact leads and prospects to complete the traditional sales process — uncovering the customers' needs, matching them with the right solution, and closing the deal. They might use a sales software to keep track of customer interactions and sales won.

    2. Outside Sales

    On teams where salespeople broker face-to-face deals with the prospect, they are following an outside sales approach. This implies that they are selling from outside their company — traditionally through door-to-door or field sales. These teams tend to not have strictly regimented processes, allowing freedom and flexibility for reps to develop and implement their own sales strategies.

    Outside Sales in Action: Medtronic

    types of sales example outside sales

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    As a leader in medical-grade equipment, Medtronic utilizes the skill set of experienced sales reps to match their products with medical professionals. Medical devices sales reps spend the majority of their time traveling — but once they reach their destinations, they meet with medical professionals and administrators who make decisions about what to purchase.

    In addition to traveling to prospective customers, they might attend conferences and events where these decision-makers might be in order to network and build relationships before it’s time to make a sale.


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    3. B2B Sales

    This common acronym stands for "business-to-business" and describes companies that sell products and services to other businesses, instead of individual consumers.

    B2B sales tend to have a higher ticket value and more complex terms because the goods sold to other businesses typically play an essential role in how the buyer’s business operates.

    Within the realm of B2B, sellers can primarily support SMBs (small to medium businesses) or enterprise customers.

    B2B Sales in Action: GetAccept

    types of sales example B2B

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    GetAccept is a sales enablement platform that helps sales reps build relationships with buyers. As a business that helps other businesses sell better, GetAccept classifies as a B2B company. Its sales reps work with other sales team managers to promote the benefits of the GetAccept products and create long-term clients that generate revenue for the business over time.

    4. B2C Sales

    Unlike B2B sales, B2C (or business-to-consumer) sales revolve around transactions between a company and its individual consumers. These deals tend to be of lower price-value and complexity than B2B sales and can involve multiple deals with a variety of customers.

    B2C Sales in Action: uPacktypes of sales example B2C

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    Moving companies rely on B2C sales to connect directly with the consumer who uses their services. uPack uses digital ads to source leads which their B2C sales team turns into customers.

    Its sales process is simple, but effective — the company gets customers interested in their services by offering them a free quote on their move. Then, the B2C sales reps get to work enticing the prospective customer to choose their moving service over the competition because of lower prices and faster moves.

    5. Business Development Sales

    Though business development doesn’t account for an entire sales transaction, it’s an important aspect of the sales function for many companies. This role is typically held by Slack

    types of sales example business development

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    BDRs at Slack are responsible for the pipeline within enterprise accounts. They drive outreach to several stakeholders at the companies where they work. People in these roles are expected to be product experts and build demand for the Slack product.

    6. Agency Sales

    This type of sales involves generating and converting new leads to sign onto service packages from an agency. According to HubSpot’s 2019 State of Agency Selling, the average agency sales cycle is between 31 and 90 days, with most agencies bringing on one to three new clients each month.

    In the agency sales space, clients are typically signed either by project or on a retainer. For agencies that sign clients by project, they primarily focus on bringing in new business, selling service packages to new clients as their current projects wrap up.

    With a retainer model, agencies can engage with clients on an ongoing basis which allows for predictable recurring income with less dependence on bringing in a steady stream of new customers.

    Agency Sales in Action: UMG

    types of sales example agency sales

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    The UMG team of brothers started their creative agency using agency sales — selling one-off projects like business plans and ongoing website services to businesses in South Carolina. Now, the business has grown to multi-million dollar heights with several loyal clients on retainer.

    Free Sales Plan Template

    Outline your company's sales strategy in one simple, coherent sales plan.

    • Target Market
    • Prospecting Strategy
    • Budget
    • Goals
    Learn more

      Download Free

      All fields are required.

      You're all set!

      Click this link to access this resource at any time.

      7. Consultative Sales

      Consultative selling is a style of selling that focuses on building trust with the customer to understand their needs before recommending a specific product or service.

      With consultative selling, sales reps focus on building a relationship with the buyer and leading the sale with how the offering will benefit the individual customer, instead of solely focusing on the features of the product to make the sale.

      Consultative Sales in Action: Legacy Home Loans

      types of sales example consultative sales

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      When shopping around for a mortgage lender, there are a lot of variables that can influence a home buyer’s decision to choose one over the other. The truth is, those variables are cold, hard numbers.

      Consultative sales works for mortgage lenders because they can bring a human aspect to the home loan process. Legacy Home Loans does exactly this, even measuring success "one smile at a time."

      8. eCommerce Sales

      Does your company sell products exclusively online? Is your customer able to research your product, determine whether they want to buy it, and make their purchase online all without needing to engage with someone from your company? If so, you’re following an eCommerce or online sales model.

      Though this type of selling is more hands-off than other types, it can work well for lean companies who can’t staff a full sales department, or for companies who offer products that can be effectively sold through targeted digital marketing.

      eCommerce Sales in Action: Kissed By A Beetypes of sales example ecommerce

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      Worldwide eCommerce sales grew by more than 27% in 2020, and Kissed By A Bee received a share of that growth. This company provides herbal remedies and beauty products completely online. While it does provide live customer service, most of their marketing and sales efforts take place completely online.

      9. Direct Sales

      With a direct selling model, individuals are able to sell directly to consumers outside of a traditional retail environment. With this method, sellers conduct the sale one-on-one with their customers, often earning a commission. This form of selling is commonly used by network marketing representatives and real estate professionals.

      Direct Sales in Action: Telfar

      types of sales example direct sales

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      Telfar is an international unisex fashion company founded in 2005. As a completely digital business, orders can only be placed online and are not sold in department stores like traditional fashion brands are. The company is known to sell out of its handbags and accessories in minutes which has created a popular second hand retail market for the brand’s merchandise.

      10. Account Based Sales

      Businesses that have large enterprise accounts with several points of contact look to account based sales to serve these customers. Unlike business development sales, account based sales teams don’t hand off their opportunities to a sales development rep to close.

      Instead, the opportunity stays within the account based team to serve that customer from lead to opportunity and all the way through to customer success. The benefit of account based sales is that the sales team gets to build a relationship with the enterprise over a longer period of time which results in a higher LTV.

      Account Based Sales in Action: PepsiCo

      types of sales example account based sales

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      Can you imagine how difficult it would be to buy your soda directly from the bottling warehouse? Like many other food and beverage companies, PepsiCo does business with retailers of all sizes, locations, and types to get its products to consumers.

      To manage all of this, the company takes an account based approach to sales and account management. The role responsible for managing these relationships before, during, and after the sale is called the Key Account Manager (KAM).

      They’re responsible for achieving profitable sales targets for large retail stores like Walmart and Target. KAMs ensure that the demand from the account matches what the sales team has forecasted for the account so that consumers never find a store that’s out of Mountain Dew.

      Common Sales Terms

      Here are some of the common terms that are associated with sales and selling.

      1. Salesperson

      A salesperson is an individual who performs all the activities associated with selling a product or a service. Synonyms for salesperson include sales associate, seller, sales agent, and sales rep or representative.

      2. Prospect

      A prospect is a point of contact at a company that the salesperson would like to sell products or services to. The salesperson uses prospecting techniques like making warm calls, email outreach, and social selling. And if they're interested in the product or service, the sales rep can apply different sales closing strategies to turn the prospect into a customer.

      3. Deal

      A deal represents the product or service you'd like to sell and the price associated with it. Deals have multiple stages, which can vary depending on the business, its processes, products, and industry — and deal performance can be tracked using a CRM. Salespeople can put together deal plans to make the selling process easier on the prospect and the sales rep.

      4. Sales Pipeline

      Sales pipeline describes all the steps in your sales process. It gives salespeople a visual representation of where prospects are in the sales cycle.

      What Is Sales Deal FunnelImage Source

      According to the Gartner 2021 Chief Sales Officer poll, the top two priorities of sales organizations in the U.S. were building a new sales pipeline and enabling virtual selling.

      5. Sales Plan

      The sales plan outlines the goals, objectives, and strategies for a sales organization. It includes details about target customers, market conditions, revenue targets, pricing, team structure, and more. It also lays out the tactics the sales teams will use to achieve their goals.

      HubSpot Sales Plan Template

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      Types of Sales Methodologies

      A sales process is key to running a successful sales organization. Here are some of the top sales methodologies businesses use.

      Free Sales Plan Template

      Outline your company's sales strategy in one simple, coherent sales plan.

      • Target Market
      • Prospecting Strategy
      • Budget
      • Goals
      Learn more

        Download Free

        All fields are required.

        You're all set!

        Click this link to access this resource at any time.

          • Solution Selling: Solution selling is when the salesperson leads the conversation with the benefits that a custom solution will give the prospect. This method acknowledges that prospects are informed and have done their research on the product or service before the sales rep reaches out.
          • Inbound Selling: With this sales method, salespeople act as a consultant. They meet the prospects where they are and solve for prospects' pain points.
          • SPIN Selling: SPIN is used to describe the four types of questions salespeople should ask their clients: Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-Payoff. The questions identify the prospect's pain points and help the salesperson build rapport with the buyer.
          • N.E.A.T. Selling: This is a framework that's used to qualify leads. N.E.A.T. stands for: core needs, economic impact, access to authority, and compelling event.

          • Conceptual Selling: Conceptual selling is a method where salespeople uncover the prospect’s concept of their product and seek to understand the prospect's decision process.

        • SNAP Selling: SNAP selling is an acronym for: Keep it Simple, be iNvaluable, always Align, and raise Priorities.
        • The Challenger Sale: The Challenger Sale follows a teach-tailor-take control process. Salespeople teach the prospect, tailor their communications, and take control of the sale.
        • The Sandler System: This system prioritizes building mutual trust between the sales rep and prospect. The salesperson acts as an advisor and asks questions to identify the prospect's challenges.

        • Customer Centric Selling: With this method, the salesperson focuses on communicating with the key decision-makers in the sale, and finding solutions to address their pain points or challenges.
        • MEDDIC: MEDDIC stands for: metrics, economic buyer, decision criteria, decision process, identify pain, champion. The salesperson asks questions about these topics to help move the prospect to move forward in the sales process.

        Learn the Art of Sales

        The primary goals of sales are to create custom solutions for their prospects and generate revenue for the business. Whether you’re looking for growth opportunities within sales or you’re joining the field for the first time, we hope this quick guide to sales has provided you with a basic understanding of the types of sales you can do and how they work within the entire business.

        Editor's note: This post was originally published in April 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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        Topics: Sales Strategy

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