In this guide, we’ll help you build the foundations of a strong sales strategy so that you can meet your sales targets for leads, and close deals at a higher rate.
By establishing a strategy based on these proven sales principles, you’ll create a culture that values efficiency and empowers reps to do their best work and be properly rewarded for it. An effective sales strategy will also help provide your customers with value at every step of the customer journey.
You’ll also learn the sales activities and elements to include in order to create a well-oiled system. This sales strategy guide includes these sections:
You probably already know about setting data-driven sales goals is, so we won’t spend too much time on it. By using data to drive decision making, you can set reasonable and attainable goals at every stage of the sales pipeline.
Each stage requires a different approach, messaging, content and, most importantly, unique sales activities. The objections and obstacles you’ll come across will also vary, which is why setting goals for every deal stage is key.
The desired outcome for one stage of the sales process is different from the next. Let’s take a look at some of the most common pipeline sales stages:
For example, the desired outcome of a discovery call is to identify a problem, as well as to qualify whether a lead will be a good fit for your solution. At the proposal stage, however, you must position yourself as the best solution for their problem, prepare for negotiation and win the sales.
Establish goals in two categories:
This is where mapping your entire sales process is invaluable. When you know which actions are required to guide a lead to the next stage of your relationship, you can work on optimizing those activities.
Another sales strategy example, as advocated by Tom Pepper, Director of Marketing at LinkedIn, is to use a bottom-up revenue forecast:
Build a bottoms up forecast to get visibility into the business, then set a stretch goal on top. A target should feel ambitious but achievable. As a guide, feeling 80% confident hitting your number is about right. This approach is centered around assessing your current situation and capabilities to see what you can reasonably achieve from there.
You’ll also get an objective view on how much effort, time or resources it will take to reach your set of key predefined goals (e.g. number of sales across a period or revenue), helping you with your sales plan efforts.
Your sales team members shouldn’t work in silos, and every company has their own customer journey. Start by collecting insight on how leads are generated, new customer onboarding processes and solution fulfillment for customer success.
A consulting firm’s sales strategy example could see them attracting leads through their demand generation efforts. Those leads are then passed on to sales professionals, who work to qualify and guide those leads to an appointment. Then, once the problem has been identified, the reps work with account managers or other consultants in order to develop a proposal with a possible solution.
Whatever this process looks like for you, make sure you have a clear view of every step of the customer journey and client relationship.
No matter which tool you use (from pencil and paper to software like Lucidchart), you’ll need a method of illustrating your process using a specific structure for your sales strategy.
Using Lucidchart for reference, you can choose from several ‘shapes’, or charts, to visualize the nature of each stage of the sales process. The shapes range from top-down family tree style charts to circular charts to process diagrams, and each one works better in different scenarios. The key is to identify what chart works best for each stage of the sales process so that you can easily optimize and adjust your sales strategy down the line.
To improve and optimize your sales process, you must understand the activity and steps you’re already using. Start by interviewing other reps and stakeholders throughout your sales organizations.
Here are some example questions you can ask based on different roles and responsibilities:
Asking these questions will fill out any gaps when mapping your sales strategy.
With your existing sales strategy mapped out, it’s time to look where your strengths lie and for any opportunities you can take advantage of.
For example, you might have a strong workflow that nurtures existing leads towards the close, based on fewer leads dropping out mid-process, but your initial lead generation could use some work. Digging deeper, the biggest problem might be getting inbound leads to agree to a discovery call.
Here, your strength is the process you use to close leads once the initial appointment has been made, and your opportunity is generating more leads and increasing the conversion rate to appointment.
With your sales process mapped out, you can now work to create a future sales process to fill in the gaps and increase performance across your entire organization.
First, you need to build a map of your existing process. Here’s the possible process map of a sales strategy example:
When developing your sales strategy template maps like this can really help guide you and your sales team. Go back to the opportunities you outlined above. These will act as the goals for your sales process optimization. Here are a few sales strategy example goals:
Finally, it’s time to set goals for each existing and new stage. Again, you must set activity- and outcome-based goals throughout the sales process. For example, goals for the appointment-setting stage could be:
Sales strategy mapping is about understanding the activities required to close a deal. But how do you measure those activities and create accurate performance benchmarks?
The first step to setting benchmarks is, of course, measuring the right metrics. The Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you measure will depend on the activity. Here, we’ll run through a simple, three-step process to develop sales performance benchmarks for your sales strategy.
Step 1: Collect the right metrics
With your sales process mapped out, choosing and measuring your sales metrics will be 10 times easier.
First, let’s go through some common sales metrics based on different activity categories:
Most importantly, you must always measure high-level sales KPIs. While the above metrics will give you an overview of activity performance, sales KPIs are what indicate the health of your entire sales organization. Metrics that fall under this category include:
Finally, you must ensure each metric and benchmark is assigned to the different roles within your organization.
For example, a sales development rep (SDR) will be most keenly focused on their lead generation and outreach numbers. Whereas a sales manager will need a top-level view of these numbers, as well as how they’re contributing to the core sales KPIs.
Step 2: Calculate your benchmarks
As you collect data over time, you’ll have sufficient volume to calculate accurate benchmarks. However, the way in which these are calculated will vary.
Let’s start with sales KPIs for every position within your sales team. Sales benchmarks for these are often straightforward, depending on how complex you’d like to segment them. For example, you can set long-term benchmarks across the previous year to set 12-month goals. You may also wish to set revenue benchmarks per month and quarter to keep up a more aggressive sales strategy.
Then, there are activity-based benchmarks. As performance will vary between reps, a team-wide average may not always be the best approach. Therefore, you have two options:
The latter is more complex, but will allow you to set personalized goals based on the performance of your reps.
For example, if a top-performer is surpassing team-wide benchmarks every month or quarter, they’re not going to feel challenged. This then presents a problem for talent retention and could hurt your sales strategy.
Segmenting benchmarks by performance can help keep your best reps engaged while contributing to the continued growth of your organization. It will also help other reps focus on what they need to do in order to do better.
By segmenting teams you can also add a healthy level of competition. Use a tool like Pointagram to visualize and reward performance, in a way that boosts morale.
Step 3: Implement benchmarks into your sales training
With your benchmarks defined, it’s time to communicate these with your salespeople, SDRs and anyone else involved in the day-to-day operations of your sales organization.
There are two ways you can use benchmarks to drive team performance:
Communicating revenue benchmarks will boost team morale and provide a tangible number everyone can aim for. It also turns your sales strategy into a team effort, with everyone working towards hitting your revenue goal.
For activity-based benchmarks, save these for your one-to-one interactions. Show reps what someone within their percentile should be aiming for, and provide the data behind why those benchmarks are made. Most importantly, keep their morale high and show them why they have the ability and talent to achieve those numbers.
Finally, use these benchmarks to set more ambitious goals within your strategy. Couple these benchmarks with the opportunities you uncovered when mapping your sales process earlier.
Ask questions like “how can you double the rate of growth by focusing on this opportunity?” This is how sales can stimulate explosive growth for their organizations.
While this sales tactic is often seen as an activity reserved for marketing, collecting and sharing your own data about leads and customers will not only help you close more deals, but help the entire organization expand and improve.
Collecting customer insights has several benefits:
With this in mind, let’s look at some practical ways to collect customer insights to fuel your sales strategy.
Listening is one of the best soft skills a salesperson can have. You talk to your target audience on a daily basis.
Every single conversation you have is an opportunity to learn more about their common pain-points, challenges, desires and the things that keep them up at night. Knowing these pain-points can help you tailor your pitch and sales techniques to better suit your audience.
Start using this skill, and make a note of the common (and even one-off) pain-points and challenges that your prospects raise during sales calls.
As a sales leader, it’s also up to you to encourage this behavior. Create a process that allows your reps to collect these insights. It could be something like:
Over time, as you collect data around this insight, you can help your reps identify which are mentioned most often. Standardize how they’re positioned by looking at the common language used, and order them by importance.
Some publications have already done the hard work for you. Say, for example, you sell software (like Pipedrive) and many of your customers work in sales development. By searching for “top sales development challenges” in Google, you will find some of the challenges SDRs will face, such as high-performance expectations.
When selling to SDR teams, mention this pain point in your pitch and then explain how your solution can help them tackle this common challenge.
Anecdotes and stories will only get you so far. Sometimes, you’ll need cold hard data to make an argument (especially when selling to senior decision makers).
There are two main ways you can use statistics to make an argument:
Do both if you can. Third-party data and statistics can help make an objective, impartial case for your sales pitch.
Again, you can usually find a collection of third-party stats through a simple Google search.
Collect the relevant statistics in a single place, such as a spreadsheet, and use them during your pitch when addressing objections.
What makes you different from your competitors? Asking this question is usually another activity that’s often up to marketing to figure out. But just like customer pain points, you’re in a unique position to uncover gaps left open by your competitors.
There are two stages in your sales conversations where you can collect insights on competitors and uncover gaps in the market:
Let’s look in-depth at both approaches:
During the qualification phase, you’ll be asking questions that ensure a prospect is a good fit for your solution or product. This includes simple things like budget, as well as more qualitative insights on how they and their organization currently does things.
But another, often forgotten question is around the solution, product or service they’re currently using. This is a prime opportunity for uncovering what attracted a prospect to you, and why they’re dissatisfied with their current vendor.
To uncover gaps your competitors are leaving open, when the opportunity arises, ask questions like:
Dig deeper into their responses by asking follow-up questions. This is where you find their true motivations and frustrations.
You’re nearly at the close, and you’re confident you’ll win the deal… only to have the dreaded “Competitor X does this, and you don’t” objection.
While this can be disheartening for many salespeople, it’s a tremendous opportunity to learn and figure out the gaps in your own positioning.
When you get an objection like this, follow-up with “why is this important to you?” or “how do you feel this will solve [their problems] better than [your feature]?”
Not only will you better position yourself against the competition, but their response will provide a platform to address and overcome these objections.
For more guidance on tackling objections, check out our sales objections tool.
What’s the best way to build long-lasting business relationships based on trust? Consultative selling is the hallmark of a good sales strategy.
As per our definitive guide on the subject, consultative selling is “a philosophy rooted in building a relationship between you and your prospects. A salesperson who practices consultative selling develops a holistic and nuanced understanding of the buyer’s needs, and then they try to fulfill those needs with a customized solution.”
As poor customer relationships are one of the biggest causes of churn, it’s wise to do everything you can to connect with leads at every stage of the customer journey.
Let’s look at what it means to adopt a consultative selling philosophy as part of your sales strategy.
To successfully create a consultative selling approach, your prospects need confidence in your expertise on the problem they’re looking to solve.
To build authority and position yourself as an expert, follow these tips:
Part of consultative selling is understanding that no two conversations are the same. A key skill to cultivate is leading your conversations, uncovering a prospect’s pain-points and their true motivations, and tailoring your conversations to them
This means asking the right questions at the right time, while making sure your prospects feel understood. Make a list of these questions before the initial call.
Research your prospect's organization and role to get a feel for what their pain-points might be in order to elicit the information you need to craft a relevant solution.
For example, you might discover that they’re already using a competing solution. Therefore, you could ask them why they’re looking for a new solution now, and perhaps why they decided to use the competitor in the first place (as discussed earlier).
Consultative selling requires a full picture of your prospect’s current situation. Ask the right questions, and you’ll get the right insights to craft the best solution for each prospect.
With the right information, you can begin to craft a solution specific to their needs. This can be as simple as tying software features to specific challenges, or as complex as building a bespoke done-for-you service to help them achieve a big project or goal.
When crafting a bespoke solution for your prospect, follow this three-step process:
Couple this approach with traditional elements, such as case studies, to bring the sale home. Demonstrate how you can solve their specific problems by showing them the results you’ve got in the past.
Show them how you can get similar results while maintaining relevance to their unique situation.
For salespeople, a strong position in the market can often make the job ten times easier. But not every salesperson works for a recognized market-leading business, and for those who do, taking this stance can be difficult—especially when you don’t truly understand your customer.
Which is why, especially in today’s competitive climate, targeting a specific segment of the market can help you get the attention of those who operate in it.
For example, you may offer a solution that helps SaaS companies generate more leads for their business. But each segment of the SaaS market has their own set of challenges and goals unique to them.
So, you could go one level deeper and focus on marketing technology (MarTech). With a little research, you’ll find that selling to marketing decision makers is harder than most other roles. Therefore, you can position your product or service as the best solution to this problem.
To do this, you’ll need to collaborate with your marketing team as part of your sales strategy. However, understanding your position in the market and how that ties into your sales strategy is key. Let’s go through a proven process to help you do this.
The first step is to identify the right market segment to target. This can be done through a number of data points and qualities, but the best place to start is with the market itself.
Ask yourself, which market niches are saturated? Which have you already generated ample amounts of traction with in the past? Which market has particular pain points that your solution or product can help solve. Look for markets that you have plenty of experience and in-roads with.
Once you’ve found a niche, it’s time to get specific about commonalities among potential customers in the niche. This might include company size, the way they market to their audience or the average amount raised during Series A fundraising.
Once you know the market you’re targeting, it’s important to truly understand the individuals you’re serving within those markets. There are a number of ways you can collect qualitative and data-driven insights on these people:
Finally, collect information on the average buying cycle, as well as their lifecycle as a customer. For example, does the average deal take three months to close and include several stakeholders? This is all information worth collecting.
Now it’s time to use this insight to measure whether or not this segment is worth pursuing. After all, if it’s harder to sell than other segments of the market, it might be worth pointing your focus elsewhere.
Here are some qualities to look for:
With these questions answered, you can now move on to establish your position in the market. Positioning maps is an easy way to do this. For example, here’s what a positioning map looks like:
The variables used here are “price” and “quality.” It maps where each brand sits along these two variables, giving a clearer view of their position in the market.
To create your own map, start with the two variables that make the most sense for your brand and solution. Common positioning variables include:
Once you’ve chosen your variables, use the map to place your competitors and evaluate their own market positioning.
Use this to drive your overall position in the market, using the core differentiators you identified earlier to lead the way. Couple your features and service offerings with common pain-points of your leads to show you’re the best solution for your chosen segment.
For sales organizations dealing with a large volume of leads, unqualified opportunities are a huge time-suck. An effective sales strategy includes a reliable qualification system that targets leads in a meaningful way.
A strong qualification process should be positioned at the beginning of your sales process.
Here, we’ll show you how to create a process to focus on the strongest opportunities that enter your pipeline.
Much like the market segments above, not all qualified leads are the same. It’s up to you to figure out the qualities of a qualified lead, and what the best sales opportunities look like.
There are three stages of qualification that you should consider when defining what makes a strong lead:
Letting a sales opportunity go is a difficult thing for salespeople to do. We’re so hungry for leads that it’s a shame to end a conversation when the opportunity isn’t a good fit.
But disqualification is a key part of an efficient sales strategy. Wasting time on poor leads distracts you from other tasks that will bear better fruit.
Disqualifying is about knowing when an opportunity doesn’t fit the criteria you set above. For example, if you see that a company has only been in business for a year, and you know that your ideal clients are well-established with 100+ employees, you can end the process without setting an initial appointment.
But it’s also important not to get misled by signs of a golden goose. For example, you might speak to a stakeholder that has ample amounts of budget. However, upon digging into their needs, if you find they don’t have a problem you can solve, they’re still not going to be a good fit.
Asking the right questions is a foundational piece of the qualification process. These questions will elicit the information you need to know to decide if an opportunity is worth pursuing, or if you need to cut them out of your sales process.
Some qualifying questions include:
Questions like these will help you evaluate whether or not they fit your ideal customer profile. They’ll help you figure out if they have a need, budget and the timeframe they’re looking to implement a solution.
While every customer and client is different, the opportunities that lead to won deals will share various qualities. You can use the BANT framework to measure an opportunity against these qualities.
BANT stands for:
Using the questions laid out earlier, your reps can qualify a prospect based on these four criteria. For example, by asking them what results they’re aiming to achieve and how it would benefit them, you can quickly ascertain whether or not they have a need.
Finally, look out for signals that might make for a poor lead. If they provide short answers to your questions, then this might be a sign that they’re not truly invested in looking for a solution, and are simply “window shopping.”
A great sales strategy incorporates effective solutions that save valuable time. One of the easiest ways to reclaim time is to streamline your processes with automation tools.
Without a doubt, following up on leads and opportunities can take up the bulk of a salesperson’s day. From making calls to sending emails (“touching base”), there’s a lot to be done when nurturing a potential customer.
But this doesn’t always have to be the case. By using the right technology and processes, you can automate many steps of the follow-up process.
A study conducted by Drift found that, out of 433 companies, only 7% responded to new leads within the first five minutes. This presents a huge opportunity for organizations looking to improve their follow-up processes.
Let’s look at how to empower your reps to close more sales while saving time.
Your CRM is at the heart of any good sales strategy and acts as the foundational platform to your follow-up system. Without a good CRM that manages sales opportunities and conversations at scale, your reps will constantly be swimming in their inboxes trying to stay above water.
A good CRM platform should free you from common administrative tasks, not simply get you to perform them in different ways. If you’re evaluating different CRM vendors, make sure you find one that ticks these boxes:
Your chosen CRM platform should have the features to automatically follow-up with prospects. For example, in Pipedrive, you can create workflows that automate various follow-up tasks for you:
At the very least, your CRM should integrate with tools that can automate these tasks for you. Find out what tools integrate with Pipedrive in our Marketplace.
With the right technology in place, it’s time to automate! But not so fast. First, you must identify the tasks that don’t need you to execute them.
In fact, this practice should be used beyond the follow-up process. Any task that doesn’t need you should be automated, which will allow you and your reps to focus on the tasks that have a bigger impact.
Here’s a simple process to figure out what can be automated:
With a list of common follow-up tasks, you can begin working on automating them. In order to do this effectively, you must know what the trigger and action are for each task.
For example, when following up on a proposal, the trigger and action might look like this:
Sometimes, your emails might get lost during a time when the prospect has other priorities, or something has come up in their personal lives. Not getting a response doesn’t always mean rejection.
Therefore, your follow-up sequence should have multiple touch-points. Take all eventualities into consideration. Perhaps they are indeed busy, or they don’t trust you enough just yet and need more convincing.
Take these factors into account when crafting your follow-up emails. For example, a simple four-step sequence might look like this:
Spread this sequence over time, and you’re likely to dramatically increase your response rate.
Of course, you shouldn’t go too far. After five or so follow-up emails, it’s more likely that the lack of response means “no.” At this point, move on from them and focus on leads more likely to convert.
You can still keep the line of communication open with them, just limit your follow-up emails to once a month. Send something that the prospect will find of value. These are all activities that can be executed using automation.
Set reminders and use personalization
Your CRM should allow you to set reminders for tasks on specific dates. Sometimes, when personalization is key, you’ll need to use these reminders to set the right emails at the right time. Having a CRM to automate this process for you can simplify your process and improve your sales strategy as a whole.
For example, in Pipedrive, you can schedule various activities on specific days:
You’ll then be reminded to execute the relevant task on the date and time you scheduled it.
As you can see, automation is two-fold: it’s using technology to handle the execution of simple tasks, while also empowering you to simplify the activities that need your input. Know when to use which approach, and you’ll have a bulletproof follow-up process that runs on autopilot.
Email is the centerpiece of modern communication. But let’s not forget about the trusty telephone. Indeed, there’s no better way to build rapport and dig deep on prospect motivations than talking to them directly.
In every sales strategy template, calling scripts can help reps engage leads. Let’s look at some effective ways to apply cold calling to your sales strategy, and how your sales reps can connect with prospects on a deeper level.
Get an understanding of which segment your prospect falls into by conducting thorough research. This means getting your hands on the insights that will make an impact during your first conversation.
LinkedIn is a gold mine for this insight. Visit their profile and check out what their career journey has been like. For example, if they’ve just started in a new role, it’s likely they’re looking for new approaches and vendors to make a positive impression.
Here are a few ways you can research your prospects:
Having this insight will start your cold calls off on a strong note. It’s the difference between this:
“Hi Mark, my name is James and I'm calling from Pipedrive. We help sales managers like you optimize their sales processes by…”
“Hi Mark, I recently checked out your article on cold calling (which I loved by the way) and thought you might find this of interest. My name is James and…”
The second example has clearly been given more thought. Make your prospects feel like you already understand them before jumping into your pitch to make a strong first impression.
While we have plenty of cold calling scripts for you to take inspiration from, it’s good to use a proven structure to build your own. Here’s one we advocate here at Pipedrive:
By using proven outlines, you can fill in the gaps with your own messaging and use anecdotal evidence in the right way, at the right time.
Collect early stage objections
The objections you get during a cold call will differ to those later in the sales cycle. Therefore, make sure you’re well prepared.
For example, “I need to think about it” is a common pushback received during cold calls. Sujan Patel, partner at Ramp Ventures, has a great response to this objection:
“What’s holding you back from making the decision? During this time I usually send the customer 1-2 case studies or include a few testimonials from customers that are in the same industry as my prospect.”
Start collecting a library of responses to these common objections. Collect them in a knowledgebase to make objection handling easy as they arise.
Knowing when to call is as important as what you say when you’re connected. According to InsightSquared, the best time to call is between 10 AM and 4 PM.
However, each industry is different. Experiment with different times and see what your customer personas respond best to. For example, you might find it’s common in your industry for prospects to be active at 8 AM to get a head start on their workday. See what happens when you dial around this time.
As well as time of day, there may be certain “trigger events” that make cold calling appropriate. These trigger events might include a round of funding, new members added to their team or an acquisition.
Finally, learn to truly listen. Ask open-ended questions and dig deep into their responses. Listen to what they have to say and tie their problems and motivations to the specific details of your product or service.
To build an effective sales strategy, you must first truly understand your ideal customer.
What are their common challenges? What are they trying to achieve and how can you help them do it?
It’s a common theme we’ve addressed across the entire guide. When you collect insight and data on your customers, you can create a strategy that aligns their needs with your goals. Once you’ve nailed this, your activity will make a bigger impact.
For more guidance on creating a sales strategy, read our article on setting up your sales playbook.
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