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 sales methodologies.
Most of these guidelines are helpful for communicating goals and keeping your sales team 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 that are needed 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 target, 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 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
1. Build a powerful value proposition in your messaging
Most prospects either don’t recognize or can’t articulate the main challenges they struggle with on a daily basis. So, even if you sell a truly remarkable product or service, your buyers probably won’t recognize the real value you offer to their organisation. That’s why you need to create a powerful and persuasive message.
In fact, research found that 74 percent of senior buyers will give their business to a company that illustrates a buying vision, compared to vendors who merely go through the motions of pitching their products or services. 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 this barrier 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 decision
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. Address your customer’s decision process, 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 decision process which is 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 behaviours 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 behaviours 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 behaviours and behaviour 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 these unconsidered needs you’ve identified to
your differentiated strengths, which are uniquely suited to resolve those
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
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.
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.
Many companies invest less than 10 percent of their marketing budgets in customer retention and expansion. Existing customers can be a highly underrated yet powerful part of the growth engine within your company, and you shouldn’t overlook the potential of this untapped revenue stream.
The challenge is that 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.
10. Enable ongoing situational training
Most training and learning efforts are based on a collection of competencies, supported by a curriculum that gets scheduled based on 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.
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