There’s no doubt about it: as a new year dawns and the troubles of the past are put firmly behind us, building a strategy for the future feels incredibly exciting. In 2021, after a year that no one could have expected, everyone’s feeling it. Companies too.
Building a new sales strategy in the face of a recovering economy is even more exciting when you’ve got a new or revamped product or a slew of new features to give to your customers. You have the product in hand, but without a high-quality sales strategy, it won’t attain the success it was made for.
What’s exciting can often be daunting, too. There are, in theory, an unlimited number of angles from which you can attack a sales strategy. Whichever you choose, there’s no guarantee that your strategy will be a success.
We’ve broken down the essentials into five stages, both for when your sales strategy is in the works and for when it’s already out there and needs a little TLC.
What is a sales strategy?
A sales strategy is an actionable plan for the growth of existing accounts and the acquisition of new accounts for your business. It’s fundamental to driving revenue and giving sales reps information that’s key to targeting the right customers and closing deals.
There are two common types of sales strategies in SaaS. The old-fashioned model — outbound sales — is centered on the actions of a seller. It eschews automated data handling and keeps approaches to sales and marketing separate. With sales now oriented primarily around a company website, this kind of approach can be unwieldy and impractical.
The modern method — inbound sales — is centered on the actions of a buyer and takes advantage of automatic methods of data capture. This will be the approach we take.
Developing your sales strategy
Now that we’ve got our definition down solid, it’s time to tackle the most difficult part of this (or any) process: the first steps. Developing your sales strategy first requires that you diligently build up a concept of your target audience — otherwise known as your buyer personas — before setting goals and constructing your sales funnel.
Stage 1 — Building Your Buyer Personas
Before you can start building any functional sales strategy, you need to know exactly who you’ll be selling to. Buyer personas allow you to specifically target every aspect of your operations, from outreach to product development, based on the needs of those you’re trying to serve.
Your personas, taken together, form your target market. Good persona building will make prospecting and turning those prospects into qualified leads much easier.
Step 1: Find your data.
Capture as much key buyer information as you can during their interactions with your site; forms replete with information useful to a sales team are a good start (although, be careful not to overdo it — overlong forms can intimidate prospects).
A good set of basic data for your customers is not enough by itself. You need to base your personas on more than general demographic information. To do this, buff up your data bank by taking note of the search, content, sales, and behavioral data of your customers. What do they come to your site for most? How many customers are requesting demos but not purchasing?
Step 2: Pool your sales team’s experience.
Sales strategies can often involve battles between what works theoretically and what works practically. If you have an experienced sales team, take advantage of it during both the developmental and the postlaunch phases of your sales strategy. Are there any customer types who are particularly receptive to what you’re selling? Are there any with whom you’re having no luck whatsoever?
Step 3: Talk to your customers!
It seems so simple but is so easily neglected. Approach both satisfied customers and those who might not be having such a swell time with your product; find out what they want, and find out why. If you’re looking to shop a new product around with your new sales strategy, hold focus groups and put beta versions in front of your participants.
Balance your focus groupings with contributions from non-customers, including third parties (e.g., a consultant from outside your company who’s not a customer). All of this information will help you build customer profiles that are closer to your target audience’s actual needs and pain points.
When you’re approaching customers, don’t forget to incentivize them. Customer time is as valuable as their subscription payments. Reward loyal customers willing to answer a few questions with a sweetener on their upsell deal or an entry into a subscriber’s sweepstake. Seize any chance you get to strengthen your relationship with existing customers.
Step 4: Collate your info and define your buyer personas.
By the end of a successful persona build, you should have a very clear picture of your ideal customer(s): their ages, lifestyle attributes, territories, and pain points.
Your company's personas will be totally unique, but below are three examples of generic personas:
- The “newbie”: The newbie has never bought a product like yours, so a considerable part of a sales rep’s work when dealing with a newbie is to act as a consultant, introducing them to the field and letting them know what a product like yours can do for them. They’re not likely to know quite as much about your product’s area and are more likely to be won over by freemium business models that allow them to test the waters and by an approach from your sales team that stresses relationship building.
- The “buyer”: If your company is more of a hardware seller, one of your main buyer personas may, in fact, be the “buyer.” They work at a third-party seller and don’t handle the product itself; instead, they procure it for other people. Their in-field expertise is likely to be strong, and they’re likely to take a skeptical and analytical approach when deciding whether your product is for them.
- The “company connect”: The company connect fills your sales rep’s heart with dreams because the connect is the persona most likely to come down and ask you for enough subscriptions to trick out their entire department. However, they’re likely to have very strong in-depth knowledge of the field (they use reviews and third-party research) and be highly discerning. Many companies like to have a special pricing plan for supplying large corporate clients to make these kinds of high-value sales easier.
Your sales organization, with some help from your sales development squad, should then build out a process for identifying the important points of contact (POCs) for each buyer persona. Particularly when dealing with corporate clients, misidentifying your POC and not dealing with the person who’s in charge of decision-making can lead to heartbreaking deals where no agreement surfaces even if everything else is done right.
Stage 2 — Defining Success Through Clear Goals
Knowing who you’re selling to is one thing. Setting clear goals for your sales strategy is just as important, helping establish company-wide performance expectations and giving your salespeople the incentives they need to excel.
Step 1: Set clear goals.
Whatever key performance indicators (KPIs) and general objectives you decide to set for your new sales strategy, they should fulfill your company’s growth expectations while remaining realistic. Clarity is the key. Ensure that goal-setting is a company-wide discussion, with active input not only from all levels of sales (from executives to team leads) but also from marketing, product development, and finance. Your customer success team should also be aware of the kinds of customer needs they’ll need to satisfy. If you’re likely to need a lot of new hires to make your new sales plan work, HR should be in the loop as well.
An effective sales strategy has to serve goals that have been articulated in terms of key whole-company objectives, like:
- Overall revenue target: What is the revenue amount your company is aiming to pull in over the next quarter/year?
- New business revenue target: How much revenue are you hoping to bring in as a result of new business?
- Upsell revenue target: How much revenue are you hoping to bring in from upselling your existing customers?
- New business average contract value target: What’s the average contract size you want to bring in during the coming quarter/year?
- Churn rate target: Are you keeping your churn rate at or below 1%? Churn is any SaaS company’s nightmare, and in a recovering economy, it is less affordable than ever. Making a churn rate goal one of the pillars of your sales strategy will help ensure that a sufficient portion of your sales team’s focus goes towards keeping existing customers happy.
Without establishing clear goals, it’s impossible to synchronize your team’s motors and get our all-important later steps to work.
Step 2: Align your marketing team and sales team on performance targets.
Once goals are set, ensure that both teams are aligned with complementary performance targets and synchronized in the way they evaluate leads and approach quota fulfillment.
Essentially, both teams should be in sync on the type of leads you’re trying to approach and how your value proposition matches them. They can then work on sourcing those kinds of leads from their separate angles. Start off by making sure that both sales and marketing are tailoring their work to the same set of buyer personas. Your marketing department can then shuttle the correct type of prospect towards your sales funnel, where your reps are waiting to make a sale. Importantly, your reps will be aware of exactly the types of customers they’ll be coming up against and the kind of product messaging that has succeeded in bringing them into the first stage of your sales pipeline.
You can then brief your sales reps on their own performance goals, which are there to help your company as a whole meet the wider goals of your new sales strategy.
The kinds of metrics that can serve as performance targets include:
- Cold calling rate: How many cold calls are your reps executing per week? Per day? Per hour?
- Average cold call conversion rate: How many prospects are your reps qualifying per call? If you’re having to lodge a mountain of calls per-qualified-lead, you may need to assess your sales-enablement best practices or look at your qualifying method again.
- Average contract size: Are you targeting larger deals with SMB+ or enterprise-level companies? Those deals will prove more difficult and require more time and team-selling effort to close.
- Average time-to-close: How long are your reps taking to close deals? Chorus’s research shows that deals will take longer depending on their size.
- Number of upsells acquired per quarter: How successful are you at upgrading your existing clientele? Whether times are stable or chaotic, retention is a proven strategy for keeping your company in a secure place. Any and all sales strategies in 2021 should prioritize holding onto your current customers.
Whatever sales rep KPIs you choose, make them measurable by tapping the reserves of your historical data. Instead of having flat performance bars for all your reps, use last year’s performance data to create benchmarks for each individual salesperson.
Make your marketing team aware of the volume of business your sales team is likely to do. Your marketing team can then adjust the volume and type of marketing material they’ll need to produce in order to help bring that amount of business in.
Step 3: Motivate your team toward their goals.
However good your sales strategy as a whole is, your team members are the ones who’ll be braving its challenges to get you there. As with any challenge, cultivating the right motivation is a core ingredient of success. It’s something you must pursue actively when developing your new sales strategy.
Make clear to your teams how quotas will work and what type of commission scheme you plan to use. Be clear about any changes you’re making to the tech stack, offering how-to-use clinics if necessary, and demonstrate how your reps’ performance will be assessed.
There’s a battle within the war here to find out what motivates your individual sales reps. Some might only be motivated by meeting (and exceeding) their targets; others might be driven by the commission they individually stand to gain, the pure feeling of the win, or just the joy of being part of a successful team. However, the profile of your team breaks down, get together with each of your reps individually, and customize incentives within your sales strategy.
A wide variety of goal models are available for uniting your sales team. Embrace a mixture based on what will work for your sales strategy.
Step 4: Give your team the tools they need to succeed.
Remember, it helps you to help your sales reps meet their targets with a minimum of difficulty, and having the right sales tools is an indispensable facet of a successful sales strategy. The development and launch of a new strategy is a good opportunity to assess the foundations of your tool stack. Start with your customer relationship management (CRM) software.
- Is your CRM optimized for your team’s uses?
- Are there a variety of sales pitch templates in your CRM for your sales reps to consult before meeting with prospects of different kinds?
- Is your sales organization able to easily find the right sales contacts? Do you have tools that allow you to easily identify things like your deal momentum or the buyer-side decision-makers you’ve spoken to?
- Is your CRM set up to automate those pesky, menial sales tasks (like calculating commission) that eat away at salespeople’s all-important selling time?
Even if you’re a fledgling startup or a small business, a good CRM is indispensable. There are a number of affordable options for companies in their early days.
Your learning management system (LMS) should be used to help your sales team keep track of the wider objectives driving your new sales strategy, as well as help them come to grips with any new aspect of the process (particularly new tools in the tech stack, etc.). A good LMS is helpful if you took our earlier advice to heart and are running with the multiple goals your sales team needs to independently keep track of.
Asset management software is also key, especially when coming to grips with your content strategy (more on that in just a moment). Managing, personalizing, and analyzing your strategy’s performance is key to its success, so the right tool to help your team through those processes is hugely important.
Stage 3 — Building Your Sales Funnel
The way you build your sales funnel will determine the buyer’s journey for your product. A well-made sales funnel can bolster your selling at every juncture, from generating leads to closing them.
Step 1: Plan for buyer behavior at various points along the funnel.
Knowing how potential customers are likely to behave at various points along the funnel is fundamental to the rest of your sales strategy.
- Repeatedly leaving the product at point “a”?
- More likely to switch off at point “b” if they haven’t already fulfilled action “x”?
- Most likely to hit the “buy” button at point “e” if they’ve entered the solution at a certain time of day?
Your “newbie” persona is likely to spend more time consuming the content on your site (more on that word “content” later) in preparation for a demo request or a purchase call. If you’re dealing with an enterprise-prospect POC, they probably have already done their research and may well want to go straight into a call with a rep to discuss the details. If you’re talking to someone based on a referral from one of your existing customers, you already have a great platform to try and sell the prospect on a higher plan from the start.
Planning for user behavior is the surest way of being able to give your various customer types what they’re after. You might have four prospects who have been qualified exceptionally well, but if they’re from different personas, you won’t be able to sell to them in the same way.
Step 2: Bring traffic to your site.
Generating awareness of your products organically and bringing customers to you is key to keeping leads coming in.
Any of the following methods are excellent for building traffic to your site:
- SEO & content strategy: Great content always goes a long way! Building out your blog fills your site with content (helping you to be found by search engines), keeps prospective customers on-site, and helps establish your reputation as a thought leader in your area. With engaging blog posts, the occasional contribution from high-profile guests, and a video series, you can build an excellent content strategy.
- Social media marketing: A social marketing plan can be highly effective at giving you exposure to a wide, deep audience. Be creative with your social media game — be visual, be funny, go cross-channel. You can even use influencers if your field is amenable to them.
- PPC campaigns: The old pay-per-click warhorse can still be highly effective; in PPC, you pay a fee each time one of your ads is clicked. Creating relevant, intelligently targeted PPC campaigns is not easy. It involves selecting keywords and research astutely, organizing them into coherent campaigns, and setting up PPC landing pages that are optimized to drive conversions — but the results are undeniable.
- Email drip campaigns or SMS marketing: These can also be useful in bringing new traffic to your site. Almost everyone has some form of access to either an email account or a phone; getting in contact via either medium is particularly good for reestablishing waning engagement with your product and heading off that dastardly delinquent churn.
Step 3: Build a landing page with a persuasive call to action.
Sales managers will put a lot of work into getting various elements of the sales funnel right — from your team’s sales pitch template and time-between-calls to how to transition between contract signing and onboarding your new customers. Given all of that work, it can be sorely tempting to view your landing page as a formality. However, you shouldn’t presume that by the time your prospect gets to it, they’ve already decided to buy.
You should treat your landing page as the crown on top of your sales strategy and building one with a persuasive call to action is paramount. The first mistake you should avoid is using your home page as a landing page; even if your website is exquisitely easy to navigate, prospects will still have little idea of how to quickly find their way to the buy option they’re looking for.
When creating your CTA, remember that your objective is to inspire. Generate real excitement in the potential buyer for what your product can do while keeping the required steps to fulfill that CTA simple. We tried to do just that with our landing pages. You can see an example below.
On our landing page, alongside compelling button text (“Get Your Demo”), we included a bit of high-impact “elevator pitch” information (“Turn More Sales Conversations into Revenue...”) while keeping the effort required on the part of the customer to get their demo to a minimum (just a couple of form fields to fill out).
How to launch your sales strategy
We’ve developed a promising-looking sales strategy. But what’s the best way to launch it? And how can you continue to optimize its performance after launch?
Stage 4 — Testing Your Assumptions
You'll have diligently built out your data over the course of developing your new sales strategy — about the current state of the market, about the appeal of your product, about the target audience, and buyer personas. If you don't test those assumptions, however, you might as well not have made them. A successful sales strategy is one that can adapt.
Gather feedback and new data from your team regularly:
- Which sales techniques are working: Do we need more calls earlier in the process? More webinars outlining the utilities of the product? More content?
- Whether leads are converting at the expected rate: Is our sales funnel set up to bring customers through the stages at the right rate? Are we leaving too much time between sending demo materials and hosting a follow-up call?
- Whether or not buyer/prospect behavior in the sales funnel conforms to expectations: Are the endorsements of your product in your content clear enough to be sending prospects through to the landing page? Are customers registering initial interest by coming back after being sent a demo?
- Whether the sales team is able to meet the expectations: Are you targeting the right types of leads?
Stage 5 — Remaining agile in your approach
2020 taught us to expect the unexpected. There were untold numbers of companies riding high as the new year chimed in that were then down and out, or close to it, six months later. Don’t presume that your shiny new sales strategy is going to stand as-is forevermore. Tailoring your approach is vital to the success of your postlaunch. Based on the new information you acquire about the initial success (or otherwise) of your new sales strategy and developments in your market space, modify your approach to counteract any flaws in the original plan.
Step 1: Encourage the adoption of new approaches to sales.
Based on the results of your tested assumptions from stage 4, take a look at what works and what doesn’t in your sales funnel and be prepared to make necessary changes. Bring client calls further forward in the schedule. Consider the creation of different content types.
You should still be critical of your approach if sales are good. For instance, if your product is selling like hotcakes, it may be a testament to the high quality of the product and the low quality of its price point. If that’s the case, you aren’t getting the full value from each sale.
Step 2: Revisit your buyer personas and adapt them to the new information you’ve received.
Part of the fun of buyer personas is that they are your own creation — they’re supposed to stand in for your customers, but they’re not actually your customers. This means there’s a margin for error.
Adapt them to the customer data you pull during the sales cycle. Is one persona avoiding your product completely? Is another coming in with a different set of needs than the ones forecasted? Are individuals who are entirely unrelated to any of the personas you originally had coming in, dying to demo your product?
Step 3: Coach sales reps who may be falling behind.
The key to a successful sales strategy, in short, is to not be afraid to be wrong. Learning from mistakes or the misconceptions you had before can be of enormous value. You should take the same approach to your reps.
Not everyone adapts easily to a new sales strategy, especially if you’re coming in on a wave of new processes or approaches. That goes for the rock-star sales rep as much as for the recent grad finding their feet. Coaching should always be a part of a sales strategy — and its own art. Focused and meaningful coaching allows coaches to easily and fully assess how reps are responding during sales calls. Technologies like conversation intelligence can make all the difference when it comes to coaching sales reps into the right kinds of habits.
Sales never sleeps
Getting your sales strategy right is an ongoing process; like most of what’s effective when it comes to sales and sales enablement, the strategizing should never stop. Only a restless sales strategy can push your product to the very top.
Still, the right foundations for a sales strategy are fundamental to its success. No amount of postlaunch data-gathering and patchwork will compensate for a strategy with buyer personas who are poorly defined or that’s being driven by a scattered, undermotivated sales team. Develop and launch your sales strategy with the care it requires. Your revenue will thank you.