How do you create the best and most effective sales strategy? A lot of advice out there tells you that as long as you have a documented plan, a solid process, and a bullpen full of reps who know your solution inside and out, you’re ready.
Well, not quite.
The problem is, most sales strategies are too internally focused. They succeed in documenting internal procedures but lose sight of the messages and skills your reps need to communicate value to your prospects and customers.
Consider the following insights:
- Research from SiriusDecisions shows that the number-one inhibitor to sales achieving quota is an “inability to communicate a value message.”
- In corresponding research in which SiriusDecisions asked executive customers about the quality of interactions with salespeople, only 10 percent said sales calls provide enough value to warrant the time they spent on them.
- A Forrester Research study revealed that only 15 percent of sales calls add enough value, according to executives surveyed.
- The Forrester study also showed that just seven percent of surveyed executives say they would probably schedule a follow-up.
In other words, if your sales force can’t communicate value—why your solution is different, better, and worth more—your sales strategy won’t help you get more sales.
So, what can you do?
In this article, you’ll learn 10 tips for building a sales strategy that actually works. Each one is backed by behavioral research and has been rigorously studied to be effective in B2B selling situations.
But first, it’s important to step back and clarify what it really means to create a successful sales strategy.
What is a Sales Strategy?
A sales strategy is defined as a documented plan for positioning and selling your product or service to qualified buyers in a way that differentiates your solution from your competitors.
Sales strategies are meant to provide clear objectives and guidance to your sales organization. They typically include key information like growth goals, KPIs, buyer personas, sales processes, team structure, competitive analysis, product positioning, and specific selling methodologies.
Most of these guidelines are helpful for communicating goals and keeping your sales reps on the same page. Where most sales strategies fall short, however, is that they’re too focused on the internal workings of your organization. The actual skills needed to have winning conversations with buyers—along with the messages reps need to be successful—are merely an afterthought.
When you boil it down, the goal of every sales strategy is to make sure your salespeople hit their quota, right? And it’s the messaging element—what salespeople say, do, and write in order to create perceived value—that wins or loses the deal.
To truly be effective, your organization’s sales strategy needs to focus on customer conversations. These skillfully delivered conversations are what creates a distinctive purchase experience, demonstrates value for your buyers, and separates your company from the competition.
With that in mind, here are 10 things to keep in mind when creating a sales strategy.
10 Keys to Developing a Successful Sales Strategy
1. Build a Powerful Value Proposition in Your Messaging
Most prospects either don’t recognize or can’t articulate the root challenges they struggle with on a daily basis. So, even if you sell a truly remarkable product, your buyers probably won’t recognize the real value you offer to their organization. That’s why you need to create a powerful and persuasive message.
In fact, Forrester’s research found that 74 percent of executive buyers will give their business to a company that illustrates a buying vision, compared to vendors among a group of commodity suppliers.
This isn’t just about touting your product’s features, hoping that your buyer chooses you over your competition. That approach only puts you at value parity with similar solutions, and it forces a competitive bake-off.
Instead of talking about what you do and why you think you can do it better, create a buying vision that defines a new set of challenges that align with your distinct strengths. This powerful value proposition will uncover previously Unconsidered Needs for your prospect, create contrast, and drive the urgency to change using stories and insights.
2. Create the Urgency to Change
Most companies unknowingly position themselves for a competitive bake-off of features and benefits. They answer the “why should I choose you?” question for their prospects. But in doing so, they miss a critical first step.
The truth is that the majority of buyers prefer to do nothing instead of change. In fact, 60 percent of deals in the pipeline are lost to “no decision” rather than to competitors.
Staying the same is safe and comfortable, while change is associated with threat and risk. To break through Status Quo Bias and get prospects to leave their current situation, you need to tell a story that makes a compelling case for why they should change, and why they should change now.
Successful sales strategy requires you to understand your real competitor—the status quo. Help your prospects make the decision to change before you try and convince them to choose you. Answering these questions is what differentiates your solution and sets the tone for your buyer’s entire Deciding Journey.
3. Tell a Compelling and Memorable Story
When salespeople prepare for conversations with prospects, they usually focus on getting all the facts straight about their offerings. But the most accurate information in the world won’t resonate if you can’t connect with your customers in a memorable way.
Telling personal stories and using metaphors and analogies helps bring your message alive in a more compelling way than simply reciting facts and data. Storytelling paints a vivid picture for your buyers, illustrating the contrast between their current situation versus what’s possible, and connecting what you offer directly to their unique situation.
Once you start sharing stories in your sales conversations, your customer relationships will become deeper and more rewarding.
4. Speak to the Deciding Journey, Not Your Sales Process
A sales process is a set of repeatable steps that a salesperson uses to lead a prospect to purchase. Typically, the sales process involves several steps like prospecting, qualifying, discovering needs, negotiating, and closing. This would be an ideal checklist to follow if all your buyers were robots being taken through an assembly line. But that’s just not the reality.
Selling today isn’t a predictable progression that you’ve decided is how your prospects and customers should buy. What you’re really up against today is a Customer Deciding Journey—a series of key questions your buyers are asking as they look to address specific business goals.
Instead of being “program-centric” with a one-size-fits-all sales strategy, you need to be problem-centric, addressing the specific needs of your buyers as they arise with situationally relevant messages, content, and the skills to deliver them.
5. Don’t Rely on Buyer Personas in Your Sales Strategy
Customer profiles and buyer personas sound good in theory. The idea is to collect common demographic attributes, attitudes, and behaviors of your target audience to help frame and target your messages. But when used as a superficial profiling approach, personas can lead your messaging astray.
Persona-based selling assumes that the behaviors or actions of your target buyer are motivated by their internal characteristics. In reality, buyers are motivated by outside influences that challenge their status quo and convince them to change. These outside influences might include rapid growth within the company, inefficient or unsustainable processes, or broader changes that affect their industry as a whole.
The real drivers behind behaviors and behavior change are the challenges within your buyer’s situation, not their professional disposition. So, instead of focusing your sales strategy on a lot of inconsequential attributes, speak to your buyer’s situation and why their current approach is putting their business at risk.
6. Avoid the “Commodity Trap” in Your Sales Strategy
Too often, salespeople base their messages on the needs that prospects tell them they have. Then, they connect those identified needs to corresponding capabilities, in standard “solution selling” fashion.
The problem with this approach? You fall into the trap of commodity messaging along with your competitors, who are likely constructing their value message in response to the same set of inputs. As a result, you sound just like everyone else, leaving your prospects indecisive and without any real urgency to change.
Instead, you need to introduce Unconsidered Needs that extend beyond the identified, known needs and solve for those. Introduce prospects to problems or missed opportunities they’ve underappreciated or don’t even know about. Then, connect the Unconsidered Needs you’ve identified to your differentiated strengths, which are uniquely suited to resolve those risks.
Research conducted by Corporate Visions found that a provocative messaging approach that begins by introducing an Unconsidered Need enhances your persuasive impact by 10 percent.
7. Lead with Insights, Not Discovery Questions
Many salespeople try to be a “trusted advisor”—asking their buyers discovery questions, diagnosing the customer’s needs, and then presenting a solution that fits the criteria. But this approach does you and your customer a disservice.
To be of real value to your buyers, it’s not enough to say, “Tell me what you want; I’ll get it for you.” Buyers want salespeople who will tell them what they should want. They want you to sift through all the information that’s out there and deliver insight into what they’re missing that will improve their performance.
This means more than just finding data and statistics online. A fact without a story is just a data point. To make it real for your buyer, wrap your insights in a story that connects the dots for them and provides context within their world.
8. Align Sales and Marketing
Too often, sales and marketing are siloed departments, each with individual goals that appear compatible. Marketing creates sales messaging and tools and generates leads for the sales team. Sales teams use the messaging and tools to transform those leads into revenue. But a lack of alignment and gaps in your process can sabotage your efforts.
You might hear the following complaint from both sides: “We’re doing our job, but they just don’t get it.” The problem with these goals is that they foster an us-versus-them attitude and miss the big picture. Sales is a design point for better marketing. If Sales is the storyteller of your organization, then Marketing is the story builder.
Ultimately, these two teams share—and must be aligned to achieve—one purpose: to persuade buyers to choose you.
Get our State of the Conversation Report, The B2B Content Disconnect, to learn how to drive action and conversions with insights-driven content, before and after a sales rep enters the picture.
9. Tailor Your Sales Strategy for Customer Expansion
Most sales and marketing teams spend the majority of their budgets and effort on customer acquisition and demand generation. Meanwhile, the majority of your annual revenue likely comes from your existing customers, through renewals and upsells.
Nearly half of the companies surveyed by Corporate Visions invest less than 10 percent of their marketing budgets in customer retention and expansion. Clearly, your customers are highly underrated yet powerful growth engines within your company. And you shouldn’t overlook the potential of this untapped revenue stream.
The challenge is, retention and expansion require a distinct messaging and customer conversation approach. Existing customers are in a different position than your prospects—one that carries a unique buying psychology.
While customer acquisition is all about challenging the status quo to highlight the benefits of switching to your solution, customer retention and expansion require you to reinforce your position as their status quo. In fact, research shows that using a provocative, challenging message when you’re trying to renew or expand business with your customers will increase the likelihood that they’ll shop around by at least 10-16 percent.
Check out our e-book, To Challenge or Not to Challenge, to discover research-backed insights into when you should (and shouldn’t) challenge your buyer’s status quo.
10. Enable Ongoing Situational Training
Most training and learning efforts are based on a collection of competencies, supported by a curriculum and catalog that gets scheduled on calendar-based interest and availability. But what does that have to do with helping the company’s business strategy, responding to shifting market demands, and intervening to fix emergent needs when they arise?
To be as effective and efficient as you need to be today, your sales training has to rise to a new level of flexibility, customization, and situational relevance. Using a flexible, on-demand training model enables you to deploy it at a moment’s notice to solve problems as they occur, and tackle initiatives as they arise. Training your sales team for situational agility equips them with the messaging and skills they need relative to the customer conversations they’re having.
Take Your Sales Strategy Beyond “Best Practices”
Most of the so-called “best practices” out there won’t help your sales team succeed. Instead of following a fill-in-the-blanks template, create a strategy that communicates more value in your sales conversations.
Get our sales e-book, Winning the Four Value Conversations, to get more research-backed sales messaging and skills for building a sales strategy that actually works.