Is my sales strategy clear?

It’s a vital question that all business owners, entrepreneurs, and marketers should be asking themselves on a regular basis.

Without a clear and documented plan to help your sales team position your products and services directly to buyers, the risk of misinterpretation, miscommunication, and costly errors increases dramatically.

A clear sales strategy ensures that your sales reps are operating on the same page and that they’re following the same priorities, measurable processes, and targets that lead to success.

Here’s a closer look at how to write a sales strategy that works.

What is a sales strategy?

Simply put, a sales strategy or sales plan does two basic things:

  • Provides reps with clear guidance on how to conduct sales
  • Assigns metrics, goals, and targets for the salesperson

This is very different from a marketing strategy, which is often about branding and messaging.

By comparison, a sales strategy is more focused and offers a more specific set of guidelines around how sales reps should interact with customers.

Typically, your sales strategy should include the following:

  • Growth and sales goals
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics
  • Buyer personas and demographics
  • Sales processes
  • Sales team structure
  • Messaging and positioning details
  • Analysis of the competition and the market
  • Selling methodologies

Despite these common elements, sales strategies are never a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Your audience, company size, team size, and business goals will impact which action points you need to focus on and the detail required for success.

As your company develops and your market position changes, your sales plan will need to evolve in order to serve the growing needs of the business.

This can be a painful but necessary process, which is why it’s critical to treat your sales strategy as a living document that is constantly examined and revised.

What you need to write an effective sales strategy

By design, a sales strategy provides guidelines that sales teams can use to discuss products and serve customers.

It also helps to calculate achievable sales goals while providing some measure of accountability for individual reps.

But in order to write an effective sales plan, you’ll first have to know a few things about your business, your operational goals, and your target market.

Here is what you’ll need to do.

Step 1. Define your current situation

To plan for future performance, you first need a clear understanding of your current situation. Analyze your position in the market.

Consider current sales metrics, team performance, and other relevant information that will give you valuable insights and help you put together an actionable, targeted sales plan.

This is critical. It’s completely impossible to plan and organize an accurate sales strategy if you haven’t looked at past performance.

These statistics are a clear indication of what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. Without referring to and analyzing this information, your sales strategy has no foundation on which to be built.

Note that if you’re a small business owner, you may have access to this information without knowing it.

If your current team uses a CRM or a sales platform with a defined pipeline, you may have a fair amount of trackable data regarding your current sales pipeline.

Regardless of whether you’re building a sales strategy for the first time or the hundredth time, gathering the appropriate information and defining your current situation is a critical first step.

These details allow you to set benchmarks and measure the effectiveness of your new sales strategy over time.

Step 2. Set realistic sales and business goals

This may seem like the most obvious component of a successful and clear sales strategy, but you might be surprised just how many businesses miss the idea of a crystal-clear sales target.

Sales and business goals are a critical part of your plan, but for this process to be effective, it’s essential that you get your teams together to set the targets and goals as a group.

Not only is this the ideal way to get everybody on the same page, but you can also set realistic goals that everybody can obtain together rather than outlandish targets that are comically out of reach.

At the same time, it’s vital to keep your goals both achievable and challenging. You can break down these goals into specific deliverables, performance targets, and key metrics that are achievable without burning out your team.

It’s even possible to include midpoint targets to keep morale high and reinforce success as reps work toward their goals.

But keep in mind that staying realistic is key. Before you set sales targets and revenue goals, evaluate the capabilities of your team, the average length of your sales cycle, common challenges, and available resources.

Step 3. Define KPIs and success metrics

How do you measure the success of your new sales strategy? Does it come down to new customer acquisition? Overall customer satisfaction? Call volume per rep? Churn rate? Free trials?

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are how you confirm that your plan is working as it should but, as you might guess, how you judge the success of your sales strategy will depend on the KPIs that you set.

KPIs need to be simple, realistic, and achievable.

You also need to determine exactly how important KPIs should be to your reps. Typically, sales is a highly competitive role, and reps are trained to pursue sales goals to the best of their ability.

That’s perfect if reps are measured against certain actionable and tangible KPIs that they can control.

For example, if one of your KPIs revolves around the number of outbound follow-ups that a rep makes month over month, a rep has complete control over that.

However, success metrics become less attractive if you’re trying to hold someone accountable for something that they simply don’t control.

For example, if you’re working with an inbound sales team, measuring them against the KPI of inbound calls wouldn’t make any sense. It’s not their job to get customers to call — it’s to pick up the phone when they do.

When you’re working on setting up KPIs, make sure that they accurately reflect the components of your sales strategy so that you accurately determine whether your plan is successful.

Step 4. Generate a target market analysis

While you don’t want to completely rely on buyer personas, a target market analysis can give you some idea of new leads and opportunities within a specific market segment.

This is an ideal part of the planning process if you’re a new business or if you’re trying to break into a new market, but it’s also standard practice when generating an effective sales strategy.

Usually, this section of a sales plan will consist of an ideal customer profile or buyer persona, demographics, and insights into buyer behavior.

This information becomes particularly important when determining outreach strategies and lead generation techniques for outbound sales teams.

It can also give you key insights into what sales pitches and value propositions resonate with your target market.

For startups and small businesses, these kinds of analyses are extremely important because sales data may be limited.

If you don’t have data for previous years because your sales team is brand new, a market analysis is a great starting point for developing an action plan that can help you reach your target audience.

Step 5. Conduct competitive research

A successful sales strategy isn’t just a sales tool; it’s also a vision document that provides a clear process for differentiating yourself in your market.

This is true even if you’re selling similar products to your competitors. While your sales strategy can (and should) provide revenue targets and year-over-year metric goals for reps and sales managers, you might also include guidance on building customer relationships and helping customers solve tier pain points.

Believe it or not, providing great service is a viable business model, and it’s one that potential customers react to when shopping for new brands and new products.

In order to see how to refine your sales strategy and what will be effective in your market, you need to look no farther than your competitors.

While you can condense these findings into multiple analytical charts and graphs (SWOT, SOAR, NOISE, etc.), true competitive research is more subtle than that.

Research your competition.

Ask yourself:

  • What incentive are your competitors offering?
  • How does your competitor’s marketing team and top-of-funnel messaging send referrals and target customers to the sales team?
  • What does the sales team do once they receive that inbound lead? How do they treat their prospects? What do they get wrong? How do they try to close deals?
  • How does their pricing compare?

All of these details (and more) will play a final role in crafting a successful sales strategy as you work to stand out among competitors.

When isolating these opportunities, don’t forget to provide appropriate sales training and information for team members so that they can understand what you want them to do.

Step 6. Create an action plan

Once you’ve reviewed the data and defined all of the opportunities that your sales plan should pursue, it’s time to consolidate that information into a plan that reps can use to get results.

To do this, outline your processes throughout the sales cycle and the actionable items within each step.

Start by mapping your existing process. Identify gaps and challenges based on your research, and build out an effective strategy to overcome those weaknesses.

Use the data and benchmarks available to optimize your process and give your team more opportunities to succeed.

Keep in mind that this process is very nuanced, and your mileage will vary based on what actually needs to be done in order to create success. Depending on your research, it may not be as simple as outlining a three-step process.

There may be training opportunities, or you may need to reinvent your marketing campaigns to better align with your sales forecasts and business plans.

As we mentioned earlier, there is no one-size-fits-all sales plan template for creating an effective sales strategy. It’s a hands-on process that requires personal time and effort from decision-makers with a clear vision for the business.

Step 7. Define team structure and roles

If you’re building a sales strategy from the ground up, creating a defined team structure and associated roles is just good business.

A clear and organized team structure provides clear guidance around responsibility and reporting.

However, if you’re updating your sales strategy, this may be something to change — especially for larger sales teams.

Individuals with special skill sets or unique roles may need to be shuffled out of the main organizational structure and assigned to different roles.

For example, if you’ve got reps who are purely focused on new lead acquisition and conversion rates, it probably won’t make sense to have them housed under teams working on converting inbound sales calls, as each team would have a different set of goals.

Based on your new sales strategy, you may need to create separate teams and reshuffle your organization to fit.

This is a natural process, but it’s one that you should clarify as your strategy evolves.

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Frequently asked questions

  • Depending on your strategy, it’s often difficult to hold people accountable for their actions.

    For example, if you’re using a team-based selling strategy where some members are high-performing and others are not, it’s unfair and unjust to group everybody together.

    To combat this, ensure that metrics and sales activities are trackable. Keep close tabs on each team member and leverage technology tools to improve performance.

    You can even automate some report generation and trackability to make data collection easier for sales managers. This information will help you determine whether or not KPIs and goals are being met.

    However, for newly deployed sales strategies, consider this information carefully. It may be that your sales plan is flawed in some way and that, while your KPIs aren’t being met, sales reps are succeeding in more important ways.

  • While they are fundamentally different, sales and marketing often work closely together to close deals and produce results.

    Marketing happens farther upstream, and the messaging that the marketing team creates needs to set proper expectations that generate successful leads and productive conversations with sales reps.

    If these two departments aren’t aligned, the customer journey becomes confused as buyers at the top of the funnel are forced to reset their expectations when talking to the sales team.

    To align your sales team, your sales reps should be ready to have conversations that expand on what customers saw on social media or through an advertisement. Take steps to ensure that the messaging is accurate, effortless, and seamless from the customer’s point of view.

  • No. While your business plan might need to change, it should be the other way around. As your business plans adjust, your sales strategy should follow the needs of your business plan.

    Think of your business plan as the vision document for your company. Your sales strategy is more focused on the revenue and profit center of your business.

    As a result, your business plan should dictate the overall needs of the business while the sales plan will focus on how to generate enough revenue to allow your business to continue operating.

  • Sales personas have become such a large part of many sales processes that it’s easy to become hyper-focused on these details while missing out on other valuable opportunities.

    While it’s essential to understand your target market and ideal audience, it’s just as critical to be open to new markets and potential customers.

    When you’re covering these aspects of your sales plan, consider bringing your marketing team into the conversation. They’ll be able to provide you with valuable insights about your existing market and help you identify new sources of revenue.

    While buyer personas can be effective, don’t let them get in the way of a compelling market opportunity.

  • Teams may ask for additional information and clarification regarding your sales strategy once you begin to share the document.

    This is completely normal.

    Even in the situation where you feel that you’ve been clear and transparent, it’s possible to overlook key operational details that will matter to individuals in different roles.

    Sales reps may have tactical questions while sales managers may have questions about KPIs, reporting, and results. You may also get questions from adjacent teams like marketing and customer service to better understand your sales plan.

    All teams need to come together around the sales strategy, so don’t be afraid to answer questions and refine your plan to better fit the needs of the business.

  • While creating an effective sales strategy isn’t an exact science, Hubspot has a great template to help you get started.

    Keep in mind that any template you use will only provide a broad outline for you to work with while creating your plan. You’ll still need to customize and personalize your strategy to suit your business needs.