Sales Strategy: Developing a Sales Strategy Plan That Works
Whom should you sell to, and how should you sell to them?
The answer to that simple question will decide your sales strategy. And your sales strategy determines your company’s profitability in going to market.
Having a sales strategy isn’t a nice-to-have - it’s a must. How you approach your sales strategy is dependent on your goals and the market. Good news though: the main components are always the same.
To be successful, you’ll need to know:
Your organizational and sales goals
Your perfect fit client
What you’ll say to them, and how you’ll reach them
Your sales process
The resources you need to make it all work
Your evaluation and improvement plan
Though it may seem daunting at first, creating your sales strategy shouldn’t take long. The goal is to make some informed decisions and assumptions that are subject to change. You might not get it exactly right the first time, but that’s okay. Build in flexibility by evaluating the strategy and the results you’re producing.
In this article, I’ll walk you through each of the components, and the decisions you should be making along the way. And I should emphasize: a sales strategy isn’t a luxury. It’s crucial to your success.
Goals of Your Sales Strategy
Everything starts with your goals. What are you trying to do? Let’s start with your organizational goals.
How you develop your sales strategy depends on the goals of your organization. Are you looking for logo clients, long term revenue, or short-term clientele?
Once you set your organizational strategy, you’ll need to determine your sales goals. Your business model influences your sales strategy, as do your revenue and profit goals.
Whom You’re Targeting: Your Perfect Fit Client
You know what you’re selling and have your sales goals documented. Who’s going to buy this?
Define your Perfect Fit Client with two parts: demographic factors and business problems. Your sales strategy should target issues that your clients are having. What are those fundamental problems? The more specific, the better.
When it comes to demography, I prefer to use factors that I can observe with a few good data sources. For example, if you’re selling Salesforce dev services, you can find companies currently using Salesforce. You can even find ones likely to adopt Salesforce soon. Demographic factors should also be easy to observe on LinkedIn. There you can find a company’s size, industry, and the people with the job titles you’re interested in targeting.
Any way you go about it, you’ll define the problems your clients are having and offer them solutions. Once you know whom you’re targeting, the next question is where. As in, where will you find these people? How will you reach them?
Your existing clients are an essential piece of this puzzle, too. They should help you identify who your Perfect Fit Client is. You’ll also know how to find them, and what problems are most likely to pique their interest. Set separate revenue goals with existing and new clients, since new business acquisition is expensive and slow.
Who: It’s More Than Clients
You can go straight to your clients to spark up conversations. You should. But there are other kinds of people you may want to target to speed up your sales conversations.
Strategic partners are important to identify and invest in early. Strategic partners may complement or be natural extensions of your offering. They’ll provide your clients with more value that you can’t or don’t want to provide. For example, an IT provider will need to recommend software platforms. Relationships with vendors benefit both parties. Both should invest in a strategic alliance and exchange information.
Referral sources can come in various forms. You may think of your competition as locked in a death struggle to put you out of business, but it’s not the case. Competitors often serve different clients - by problem, industry, or engagement size. Sometimes they’re too busy to handle a particular client that you’d take on. There could be a mutually-beneficial referral relationship. Besides, competitors usually serve to expand the size of a market. Referrals can also come from your strategic partners, friends in the industry, and through the network you’ve built. But referrals don’t often appear by accident.
Amplification partners can help you get the word out about what you’re doing to help clients. These partners already have an audience that they need to maintain, and you can help them. Amplification partners help you market your company, and provide an extra layer of value.
Messaging and What You’ll Say
You know whom to reach and why. Now, what are you going to say to them?
Your sales message is a critical first impression. And that first impression should be about your client. Your message has to capture attention and convey understanding. Your client should know you get them. And your client should know how you’re different from other options.
What’s something that’s on your clients’ minds right now? What’s dominating their thoughts, and making their lives more difficult? Whatever it is, translate it into a value proposition that’s easy to understand. A value proposition should follow the general format:
(thing clients want) + (what’s unique about you)
A classic example of this is Domino’s pizza’s value proposition: “Fresh, hot pizza delivered in 30 minutes or it’s free.” It may not be possible for you to be so succinct - I haven’t found anything that succinct! Still, precision is critical. Here’s the value proposition for Serve Don’t Sell (the business behind this article):
Sell more client services to big companies while giving your clients world-class service.
Here’s the value proposition from Bluewolf, a Salesforce consulting firm owned by IBM:
Only Bluewolf combines expertise across every Salesforce Cloud with the business design capabilities, industry approach, and technology portfolio of IBM.
You’ll need different messages for different parts of the sales cycle. The way you open a conversation will be much more straightforward, even grandiose. Your messaging will become more specific as you advance conversations.
In the beginning, most people will want to know who you are, how you can help them, and why they should trust you. Later, they’ll want specifics about how you fulfill the promises you make. Clients want to know your limitations. They’ll want examples and case studies of your previous work. Make sure you have your messaging ready.
Market timing, options, and alternatives are necessary considerations. That is, whomever you each will respond to your message in the context of the market. That’s why differentiation is so important. Reaching someone these days is the easy part. Most people send and receive 129 business emails per day. I could name at least five tools to help you find anyone’s email address in less than a minute. If you send them email #130, why should they read it, and why should they respond? You have to be different, and your message has to reflect that.
Your Sales Process
Your sales strategy should include an overview of your sales process. You’ll have a separate strategy and plan document, and your sales process needs to appear in both. The purpose of your strategy is to define your aim, and your plan spells out the tactical execution.
There are three major components or milestones you’ll have to address in your sales process:
How you’ll start conversations
How you’ll progress conversations
How you’ll conclude conversations
Starting conversations is the function of marketing and prospecting. Their goal is to bring awareness to new people and get them to respond to you.
Progressing conversations is the realm of sales, though marketing may have a role to play. As deals become get more complicated, advertising and content marketing have become critical. But defining the basic process is necessary before adding complexity.
Your sales strategy for progressing conversations should include your entire sales process. For example, the sales process I recommend is:
Whatever your process, it needs specific guidance for starting, progressing, and concluding your sales conversations. Feel free to steal ours :)
Tactics and Execution: Your Sales Plan
The last part of your sales strategy is how you’ll put everything into practice: your sales plan. Your sales plan will include a few main components, and I’ll cover each in the following sections:
Roles, Hiring, and Scaling
Indicators of Success
Resource You Need to Succeed
Sales keep getting more complicated, costly, and time-intensive. You’ll need to have some resources at your disposal to multiply your team’s efforts. Define the tools and materials you need to execute your sales strategy.
That includes your tech tools like your CRM, your website, fancy and specialized software, and more. I recommend you have a CRM system, email platform to track your outreach, a way to find contact information, and LinkedIn Sales Navigator. We can get much more complicated, but those are table stakes.
Your tools may also include training and skill development programs. Perhaps that’s an internal wiki for documentation and recall. Maybe you need regular sales meetings and internal skill development. Perhaps outside sales training will help your team ramp faster. Identify those training and skill development needs early and develop a plan to address them.
You can’t make money without spending money - at least spending some money. How much budget do you have?
“The right amount,” you might be thinking. So what’s the right amount? That’s the million-dollar question, perhaps the billion-dollar question.
Create your budget in the context of:
Your average client lifetime value
Cost to acquire a new client or contract
I can’t much help you with item #1, but items #2 and #3 are easy enough to answer.
For client lifetime value, a rough estimate is fine. Rather than asking what a contract is worth, you’ll want to estimate the total value of a client. So if you’re working on a recurring model and charge, $25k/mo and client stick around for ten months, then your client lifetime value is about $250k. That’s a start.
Now let’s look at the cost to acquire. You can get crazy complicated with this calculation, but I’ll make it easy on you. You’ll first look at your marketing budget, and add that to your sales budget. For example, the percentage of staff time dedicated to sales efforts times their salary, plus your other hard costs of sales. Then you’ll add up the new business you closed and divide it by your acquisition cost. Let’s look at an example:
(($2M in marketing costs) + ($4M in sales costs)) / $12M in new contracts
Given this equation, you’ll have to spend $0.50 to get another $1 of revenue. Not bad, especially if you can find ways to increase your client lifetime value.
Whatever your equation, set your budget and assign it for maximal impact.
I’m a bit biased on this one. You should invest in the ongoing development of your team.
Your sales strategy has to acknowledge any skill gaps you have on your team. If you plan to use a tactic that you execute now, then you have two options: figure it out yourself, or outsource it. Whatever you do, write it into your strategy. If you decided to begin outbound prospecting at scale, you could do it yourself or engage a vendor. Both impact your budget, staff requirements, and development of intellectual capital. Even outsourced programs need an internal owner.
It may be useful to think skill development as hard and soft skills. I prefer to divide the skill gaps into technical and people skills. From there, list out the ones that need the most attention and resources, then rank them. Here’s a simple solution for identifying skill gaps: find the weakest part of your sales process, and develop the skills that are most likely to improve it. If your team is having trouble going from the initial call to deep-dive discovery, investigate why that’s the case. Maybe they’re spending time with bad-fit clients, or perhaps they’re unsure of how to advance from one call to the next. Whatever it is, identify the skill gaps and come up with ways to address them. You can create training or bringing in a sales training vendor to address the need.
Roles, Hiring, and Scaling
Your team determines your success. Do you have everyone you need to execute your sales strategy, and are they all in the right roles?
The first question is one of scale. Do you plan to scale up your efforts? Then you’ll need to scale your team, too. That requires a budget, hiring, training, and management. None of that is in place with your current team, or you need to replicate it.
Once you decide on your desired scale, you’ll need to plan out the roles to make it happen. Different kinds of sales organizations require different personnel. Assigning roles and how they’ll interact will help you determine your hiring needs.
Hiring is a critical consideration here, especially at scale. You’ll need to manage the whole process, then have a plan once you bring on your new hires. Your onboarding process will help maintain and improve your culture, fill skill gaps, and show your new hires what you expect of them.
Indicators of Success
Implementing your sales strategy requires patience. Client services sales cycles take several months or more, so results will take some time. That’s why effort-based metrics - “leading indicators” - will help you see performance early on.
There are several leading indicators that you can track to make sure your team is doing the right things. Use the simplest of evaluation in the beginning: is your team executing the plan? Whatever plan you come up, rapid learning should be a primary goal. It reminds me of the famous Dwight Eisenhower quote:
“Planning is everything. The plan is nothing.”
That is, the vital part of the plan is what you’ll do and why. Then you execute and evaluate. Your strategy will evolve. So long as people perform the actions, you’ll be on a path to continuous improvement.
After you put your plan in place, you should also be looking at effort-based metrics like:
Number of prospects contacted
Your team’s response time (this is so easy to fix!)
Number of meetings obtained
I’d generally err on the side of simplicity because these are leading indicators. Beyond those indicators, you’ll also look for sales KPIs that will tell you how successful the strategy is. Those sales KPIs are:
Number of initial meetings
Number of proposals
Number of new clients or new contracts
Time to close
Revenue per seller
These five simple metrics reveal where your sales strategy shines and where it needs help.
Evaluating Your Sales Strategy
You have your indicators of success and a full plan. Check.
Now you’ll need a process to check the performance of your sales strategy regularly. The larger your sales program, the more often you’ll want to evaluate because of the cost of errors scale with the program. The possibilities for improvement also scale, especially in the beginning. From the outset, you don’t know what you don’t know, and you’ll see your biggest blind spots first.
Generally speaking, a monthly or quarterly evaluation should suffice. Once your team goes beyond 20 full- or part-time sellers, you’ll want to check your metrics every week. Your tools will play a significant role in your ability to evaluate quickly, so make sure your CRM can provide the metrics you need. Automated reports are best.
Speaking of metrics, numbers alone can’t tell the full story. Your evaluation should include one-to-one discussions with your team so you can understand what’s behind the numbers. What’s happened, what’s working, and what’s not working. This feedback loop will help you improve the program.
A Note About the Role of Marketing
Your marketing strategy is beyond the scope of this article, but it’s worth mentioning. Client services businesses are quite relationship-driven. That means you’ll be targeting and investing in a small amount of Perfect Fit Clients.
Marketing must play a role in that process. Work with marketing to coordinate your efforts once you decide on a strategy.
With account-based and content marketing driving the speed and success of your sales, there must be a role for them to play. Include marketing in the development of your sales strategy. Then coordinate your efforts and sync changes.
Key Takeaways: Creating or Improving Your Sales Strategy
Whether you’re putting together your first sales strategy or improving one that already exists, the process is the same.
Start with a few baseline assumptions and build upon them to create a strategy that works. Whatever you do, keep in mind that your plan will evolve as you try and learn.
Here are your key takeaways from this article:
Start with your organizational goals, then develop sales goals to support them
Identify Perfect Fit Clients, strategic and referral partners, and ways to amplify your efforts
Create a value proposition and messaging that supports each stage of the sales process
Define your sales process, so everyone knows how to start, progress, and conclude their sales
Identify the resources you need, a plan to fill skill gaps, bring in outside vendors, and hiring needs
Define your leading and lagging metrics, and gauge the health of your sales program
Build in monthly or quarterly evaluations of your strategy so you can make adjustments as you learn