“Always. Be. Closing.” This is actor Alec Baldwin’s famous line in his role as a sales manager in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. He’s talking about closing new deals—in other words, making sales. Initially, his new salespeople are baffled, wondering: “How do we even get to the point of closing?” If your business doesn’t have a sales strategy, you may be wondering the same thing.
Sales can feel like a mysterious art, or something only the supernaturally extroverted can do. In reality, sales is a process like any other part of a business. A clear sales strategy sets the process, approach, and targets for sales, and ultimately, gets a business and its salespeople closer to “always be closing.”
What is a sales strategy?
A sales strategy is the set of tactics, messages, and targets a sales team uses to generate new business. A winning sales strategy covers the full sales funnel, from how sales reps reach their prospects to how they move them closer to close. It is a unifying guide that informs a sales team’s actions.
Sales strategies are guides for sales teams, so they typically only apply to businesses that have sales teams or equivalent roles. If your business doesn’t have salespeople (for example, your customers purchase directly from your website), then you don’t need a sales strategy. Instead, you’ll need a marketing strategy. For businesses with marketing and sales, the marketing and sales strategies are separate but complementary to each other.
Sales strategies are important for any size of business. However, they are particularly important for businesses with more than one salesperson. Without a clear sales strategy, different salespeople are likely to take vastly different approaches to making new sales. This can potentially lead to a lack of focus, an increase in customers who aren’t a good fit, and varying customer experiences. However, businesses with a good sales strategy can more reliably bring in new sales reps and consistently grow revenue.
Types of sales strategies
When crafting a sales strategy, the first consideration is whether to pursue an inbound sales strategy, outbound sales strategy, or a combination of the two.
Inbound sales strategy
An inbound sales strategy focuses on serving prospects, or potential customers, that initiate contact with the business, typically through marketing channels. Marketing channels can include SEO, advertising, partner channels, or email marketing.
The advantage of this model is sales reps only spend time talking to prospects who have already indicated some level of interest in their product or service. This means sales reps’ calls are more likely to be productive, as their prospect already has some level of understanding of their product or service, and whether it’s a fit for them.
Typically, this allows sales teams to build a quicker rapport with prospects, because, to some extent, the initial hurdle of brand awareness and trust has already been cleared. This strategy typically has a relatively high close rate, which is the percentage of leads that turn into customers. An inbound sales rep focuses on qualifying the prospect—confirming they are actually the right fit to buy the product or service—understanding their needs and educating them on how the product matches their needs.
However, this strategy does have its disadvantages. An entirely inbound sales strategy means sales teams are reliant on the business’s marketing team and brand awareness to generate new leads. Inbound sales reps only service leads that come to them. Similarly, the quality of inbound leads can vary, as anyone can fill out an online form. So, sales reps can be at risk of spending more time speaking with unqualified prospects.
Outbound sales strategy
Alternatively, the sales team in an outbound sales strategy actively reaches out to potential customers that have not yet engaged with their business. This is typically done through cold outreach, such as email or calling. It can also be done through trade shows or social media.
The main advantage of outbound sales is the level of control by the sales team. Instead of relying on marketing or brand awareness for new prospects, the sales team is empowered to find their own prequalified prospects and deliver the initial sales pitch themselves. For sales managers, this helps forecasting, as well. Over time, managers can predict sales by seeing what percentage of their sales reps’ cold calling leads to qualified sales calls, how often those calls close, and how long they take to go from outreach to close (also known as the average sales cycle length).
Meanwhile, a disadvantage of this strategy is that prospects aren’t yet interested in buying when the sales reps reach out—making it potentially harder to close. As a result, outbound sales requires an extremely clear value proposition so customers understand the benefit of your product or service—and tenacious sales reps.
How to develop a successful sales strategy
Every successful sales strategy can be broken down into four types of decisions:
1. Lead generation
This is how a business generates leads, or prospects, for the sales reps to speak with. You can generate leads through inbound tactics like advertising, or outbound sales tactics such as cold outreach.
If a business focuses on an inbound strategy, it is particularly important to align sales and marketing strategies for a cohesive customer experience. For example, if your marketing generates leads by promising a “risk-free trial” but the sales reps are coached (or incentivized) to lock leads into one-year contracts, it can be disorienting for the prospect, add friction to the customer journey, and potentially result in lost sales.
A good sales strategy sets the messaging that sales reps share with prospects in their target market. Sometimes, this is in the form of a detailed call script. More often, it is an open-ended series of guidelines on what problems prospects have that your product or service solves, and how it solves them.
For example, a community bank might position itself as “a more friendly, personal alternative to big banks.” The messaging guide for sales reps would include pain points (sick of rotating staff who don’t know anything about you), a unifying value proposition (“We make speaking to your bank feel like speaking to a trusted friend”), and examples of features or benefits that bring that value proposition to life (for instance, “We never have more than a five-minute hold time,” “We provide a dedicated adviser to all account holders,” or “We have easy-to-understand guides online for personal finance decision-making”).
Once a lead—either inbound or outbound—has been generated, the sales strategy ensures there is a consistent, smooth, positive experience that motivates the customer to buy. The sales process has several key phases:
- Qualification. In the first conversation, the sales rep’s most important job is to make sure the lead is a good fit. This isn’t only to protect the sales team’s time, it’s also to better understand the lead’s needs and ensure that the lead will actually be happy with the product or service if they buy.
- Demonstrating value. Once it’s clear that a lead is qualified, the sales team’s job is to show the lead the value of the product. Part of this is often providing a presentation or a demonstration of the product—but it’s not just about the product itself. People want to buy from people that they trust, so in this phase, part of the sales rep’s job is showing that they understand their lead’s business and are crafting a solution that fits.
- Closing. Once the sales rep has demonstrated value through their product and relationship, they provide the lead with an official proposal and negotiate on price. Once the proposal and price are agreed upon, the deal is closed.
Often, the initial phase is done by a more junior sales rep (known as a sales development rep, or SDR) while a more senior sales rep (often titled account executive), completes the other phases. When multiple salespeople are involved, it is even more important for the sales strategy to have a clear, cohesive process.
4. Goal setting
Sales ultimately comes down to one thing: generating revenue. However, a great sales strategy extends beyond that. It sets targets for revenue that inform the business’s annual revenue and the sales reps’ commissions. Setting clear and ambitious-but-achievable sales goals is a crucial part of sales success.
There are multiple ways to set sales goals. The important part of goal setting is that the targets are grounded in real assumptions in the business’s sales forecast—and not solely based on what sales managers or sales leaders wish to be true.
Sales strategy FAQ
What are the 4 Ps of sales?
The 4 Ps of sales are the same as the 4 Ps of marketing. They are a set of decisions that a business can use to inform their sales strategy:
- Product. The goods or services that a business offers to target customers.
- Price. The amount of money that a customer must pay to purchase the product or service.
- Place. The location or channel through which the product or service is made available to customers. This can include physical stores, online marketplaces, or direct sales.
- Promotion. The marketing strategies and activities that a business uses to attract and retain customers, such as advertising, public relations, and personal selling.
What are the types of sales strategies?
The two main types of sales strategies are inbound sales and outbound sales. The main difference between the two is in the way they generate leads: Inbound sales relies on marketing, while with outbound sales, the sales team generates their own leads through cold outreach.
What is an example of a sales strategy?
An effective sales strategy includes a plan for lead generation, messaging, process, and goal setting. For example, a cereal company that wants to sell to grocery stores might have the following sales strategy:
- Lead generation. Buy a list of phone numbers of local grocery stores from a trade organization.
- Messaging. Prepare the message: “Customers buy our cereal twice as often as our competitors because both parents and kids love it.”
Process. Take steps for a seamless customer experience:
- The sales development rep calls the grocery store and offers samples to the managers.
- The account executive delivers samples and, if the managers like them, provides a proposal and sales brochure.
- The account executive provides pricing and an official agreement.
- Goal setting. Sets a goal that impacts revenue (i.e., The business targets adding 12 grocery stores per quarter).
How do you write a sales strategy?
The key to writing a sales strategy is splitting it into its parts. By documenting the four key parts of a sales strategy—lead generation, messaging, process, and goal setting—you can make your sales strategy easier to understand and complete. Once drafted, it’s important to align it with your marketing strategy as well.