How to build a powerful sales strategy: Tips, types, and examples

Want to create an effective sales strategy? Start here with our five-step approach.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Published October 27, 2020
Last updated April 15, 2022

Give your sales team the best chance at success by equipping it with a strategic sales strategy plan.

What is a sales strategy?

The product or service you’re selling is the “what”—the strategy you use to sell it is the “how.”

Whatever you’re selling, whether it’s a cutting-edge software platform or the best cupcake in town, you need a streamlined plan for how you’re going to sell it.

Because as great as software and cupcakes are, they don’t sell themselves.

Strategizing is all about doing your planning on the front end, so you’re not constantly cleaning up messes after deciding to wing it and see what happens. It’s like drawing a detailed roadmap to your final destination before you leave, so you can eliminate the chances of winding up on a dead-end road with no gas station.

In this guide, we’ll offer a comprehensive sales strategy definition, identify some of the most effective sales strategies, and offer a five-step framework for developing a sales strategy for your business.

But first, let’s start with the basics.

Sales strategy definition

Your sales strategy is a detailed plan of action that lays out how you’re going to sell your product. It’s a blueprint built on research and competitive analysis, allowing you and your sales team to close more deals and grow your business faster.

If you want to start exceeding sales goals and driving higher revenue, you need a detailed and repeatable step-by-step sales strategy plan. But creating a strong sales and marketing strategy isn’t as simple as writing a to-do list and following it by the number. But it’s also not highly complicated. Like anything, it just requires careful thought, accurate data, and a sharp eye on the market.

Types of sales strategies

Just as there are different types of businesses, there are different types of sales strategies to suit them. Choosing the right approach for your company is key to making sure you’re not pulling more weight uphill than you need to.

Inbound sales strategy

Inbound sales is a process by which interested customers come to you. Their interest is built on their existing knowledge of your company and product, which they gained through online marketing materials like blogs, social media posts, and optimized web pages.

Because these leads are already well educated about your product or service, they don’t need a sales rep to dump a lot of information on them at first contact. Instead, it’s the sales rep’s job to nurture the lead to a successful close, serving as a go-to guide in case the prospect has questions that aren’t addressed in the available marketing materials.

With inbound sales, your sales and marketing strategies must be closely aligned to ensure the leads coming to you won't waste your time. A large part of developing a sales strategy for inbound sales is making sure your marketing efforts are attracting the best-qualified buyers. If they aren’t, your sales reps could end up wasting company resources trying to nurture leads who aren’t right for your product.

Outbound sales strategy

In outbound sales, the sales rep initiates first contact. The contact might know a lot about your company, or they may know next to nothing. That means an outbound sales strategy should include tactics for how your reps will address every level of awareness.

Outbound sales reps use cold calls and cold emails to reach out to prospects. Ultimately, it’s a numbers game—the more cold outreaches you send, the more chances you’ll have of initiating contact with a qualified buyer.

Your outbound sales strategy needs to include testing and optimizing of outreach efforts. By analyzing which outreaches had the best responses, you can incrementally adjust your approaches in order to ensure the highest possible conversion rates.

How to create a sales strategy plan in 5 steps

If you perform a search for strategic sales plan examples, you’re going to find a wide range of formats. This sales strategy example business plan can (and should) be tweaked to fit your business model, but the framework is a good starting point.

5 step sales strategy guide

Step 1: Identify sales goals

Your sales goals provide direction for your entire strategy and serve as targets for your team. But a goal that’s too ambitious can cause burnout and damage morale, while a goal that isn’t ambitious enough drags down progress.

The key to setting goals is finding a comfortable middle ground where goals are realistic and achievable. Here are some things you can do to ensure your goals land squarely in your comfort zone.

  • Assess your company resources
    Which resources does your sales department have, and how could they help or hinder your team from reaching their targets? Do you have enough salespeople? Do you have the selling tools, such as a CRM, to quickly move leads through the sales pipeline? Make sure your operations are positioned to succeed.
  • Review past customer data
    It's important to create reasonable goals for the upcoming year. Maybe a significant amount of customers churned last year, so your goal is to improve retention. Or perhaps you have a larger sales team that can handle a higher volume, so you want to focus on customer acquisition. Use this data to determine goals that are both realistic and useful for your sales team.
  • Use the S.M.A.R.T. model
    Actionable goals are S.M.A.R.T.—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Examples of S.M.A.R.T. goals could be “increase deal size by 35 percent through upsells” or “achieve $1 million in sales during 2020.”

Once your overall sales goals are set, work backward. Set realistic short-term deadlines for the steps your sales department and reps must take to ensure that final goals are reached.

Step 2: Nail down your market fit

Understanding how your brand fits in its market is essential in sales. If you can’t articulate your brand’s unique value, you’re unlikely to persuasively sell your product or service.

Conduct a SWOT analysis
One way to identify how you fit in your market is to create a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. This information will help you understand which opportunities you can leverage and which threats might hinder your sales team from effectively selling your product or service in your target market.

Here are a few questions you might answer when following this model:

  • What specific need does our product/service solve in our target market?
  • What is our value proposition?
  • Are there internal and external obstacles for our sales department that could stop us from achieving our goals?

Step 3: Build customer personas

Your buyer persona is a fictitious profile that describes your ideal customer and why they want your product or service.

A buyer persona should include the following information:

  • A fictitious name and title such as “Dana Matthews, CPA”
  • The person’s industry, age, salary, and education
  • Their goals and challenges
  • How your value proposition aligns with their wants/needs

To create buyer persona profiles, first divide your customers into segments based on shared characteristics—industry, location, demographic, etc. Then, create a single buyer persona profile for each of those segments.

Work closely with your marketing team on this project—after all, they’re also bringing in leads and need to be on the same page as to what constitutes qualified ones. Personas should be referred to regularly by sales reps and marketing team members to ensure they’re prospecting the right people.

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Step 4: Identify opportunities for improvement in the customer journey

Look closely at how customers are currently moving from being prospects to making a purchase. If you understand this journey, you’re able to determine efficient ways to convert customers in the coming year.

Here are a few ways to identify opportunities for improvements:

  • Reach out to your current customers
    Ask them about their interactions with your brand and what they appreciated or disliked. Are reps pushing a sale or focused on the customer relationship? Do customers feel neglected after the sale has been made? Find this information through informal conversations or surveys.
  • Determine what drives (or hampers) purchases
    Ask current or prospective customers about obstacles to purchase. Is budget a common factor? Or is your product difficult to understand? You might need to include more affordable package options or coach your reps in explaining how your product/service works.
  • Review your competitors’ customer journeys
    What methods are competitors using to capture the attention of their customers? What platforms do they use to nurture the customer relationship? Research their website content, social media platforms, and customer reviews. By knowing the specific journey that your customers are taking and what they like or dislike about the process, your sales team will be able to craft a customer journey that attracts and converts more prospects.

Step 5: Outline an action plan

sales strategy

You know what you want your reps to achieve—now help them get there. To build this plan, use the research you completed in steps 2 through 4 to define the tasks reps need to follow to meet the goals you set in step 1.

The tasks you outline for your reps are going to be unique to your team and stem from the research you did prior to this step. Here are a few examples of customer acquisition and retention tasks you might set for your team:

  • Generate leads through social selling

    Reach prospects by answering questions on Quora or participating in LinkedIn groups related to your industry. Provide value on these platforms and build relationships with those you meet.

  • Source leads from support ticket conversations.

    Source important leads that typically fall through the cracks by integrating support tickets within your CRM, so reps can see the questions customers are asking and determine who would benefit from your product/service.

  • Go for the upsell

    If your company is proving your value to customers, don’t be afraid to suggest an upgrade to the customer. Highlight the benefits that your product or service is already bringing to the table and how additional features could help.

  • Ask for referrals from current customers
    A strong relationship sales strategy can put you in a position to comfortably ask satisfied customers if they would be willing to provide a referral. Target the top 20 percent of your customers and ask for an introduction to similar companies.

By setting an action plan, you ensure that your entire team is on track to meet your company’s sales goals.

4 tips for developing a sales strategy

Here are some tips for developing a sales strategy statement that’s flexible enough to allow for course correction where needed but solid enough to be clear in its direction and next steps.

  1. Champion your USP
    Establish a unique selling proposition that everyone understands and can articulate clearly. Your USP is what makes your product or service stand out from the competition, even if your pricing and offerings are nearly identical on paper. Each salesperson can have their own opinions on what makes their product good, but there should also be a single value that everyone champions—and that no one outside of your organization can lay claim to.
  2. Create urgency
    If your product or service is something that people can do without for a while, they can easily make a decision to not purchase from you or anyone else. You need to come up with a defensible reason for why your qualified buyers shouldn’t wait to purchase down the road. But don’t use scare tactics. And always juxtapose any negative imagery with the positive image affiliated with using your product or service.
  3. Examine your past
    Speak to your best sales reps and find out where they’ve found the most success in the past. Not every sales rep’s behavior can be quantified, but your best sellers often have valuable insight into what works and what doesn’t. Keep in mind that these insights don’t have to be taken at face value. Plus, you can gain just as much insight from strategies that worked as strategies that didn’t work.
  4. Don’t ignore existing customers
    While it may feel more exciting to win a new client as opposed to working with an old one, the truth is that repeat customers spend 67 percent more than new ones. Your existing customers are a huge force for generating revenue, and you should have a strategy for selling to them, too. Don’t assume that just because they’ve purchased once, they’ll purchase again.

Good and bad strategic sales plan examples

A bad roadmap can be as disastrous as having no roadmap at all. You could even argue that it’s worse.

To give you an idea of what a good strategy looks like, we’ll dissect two weak excerpts from strategic sales plan examples. We’ll pinpoint their weaknesses, make suggestions for improvements, and then provide a revised sales strategy example for comparison.

Example 1: Goals

sales strategy

In this first strategic sales plan example, we’ll examine the first step of our 5-step plan: identify your sales goal.

The scenario

A business that sells educational materials to schools, libraries, and learning centers has been building up its offering of digital products. The company wants to push sales of its digital packages and move to more subscription-based offerings. So, the team is devising a sales and marketing strategy that includes creating more free online content.

Stated goal

The goal is to increase sales of digital products and shift revenue away from hard-copy materials in order to reduce supply costs and expand our target market.

What’s wrong with it?

This goal is far too vague in terms of measurement. Your plan should always include measurable metrics and time frames that are determined by a realistic analysis of past sales, current trends, and available resources. Your goal should be stated in terms of quantifiable targets, which you can track and trace to the specific activities that influenced them.

Revised goal

Our goal is to increase sales of digital products by 35 percent over the course of the first two quarters. In that same time frame, we also aim to convert 10 percent of existing customers currently purchasing hard-copy material to digital subscription-based packages.

Example 2: Action plan

sales strategy

Let’s imagine that our hypothetical company has done a proper SWOT analysis and has a strong grasp of customer personas. We’ll jump to the fifth step of developing a sales strategy and examine the company’s action plan.

The action plan

  • Establish a strong presence on LinkedIn to engage more educators and make them aware of our free online content.
  • Participate in more educational conferences and bring live demonstrations of new digital products.
  • Create more free downloadable content like digital worksheets, slides, and lesson plans to attract new prospects.

What’s wrong with it?

Who is deciding what a “strong presence” on LinkedIn looks like? How many more educators is “enough?” How many educational conferences can you attend, and how many attendees will you be able to reach? Also, none of these actions draw a clear line to the stated goals from earlier. If you have goals for new and existing customers, your action plan should lay out specific actions to serve both targets.

Revised goal

  • Publish at least two LinkedIn posts every week to drive engagement with our existing customer base.
  • Attend the three education conferences with the highest attendance rates from the past three years.
  • Add 15 new pieces of free content every quarter, addressing the full range of the five most common pain points expressed by our highest spending accounts.

Strategic sales strategy plans will vary in length depending on the complexity of your sales process. If you take away anything from these strategic sales strategy examples, it should be that specificity is key.

Numbers can be adjusted if need be. But the important thing is that you can track your progress and draw a direct correlation between your strategies and their outcomes. That ensures you can replicate the successful tactics and eliminate the others.

Sales and marketing strategy

A marketing sales strategy aligns the two departments, enabling you to build a more structured framework for how you’re going to divide duties. It also helps to unify your brand voice so there’s a seamless transition between a lead viewing your online content and speaking to an actual sales rep.

When it comes to developing a marketing sales strategy, collaboration is key. Information silos are deadly to collaborative strategies. If you have plans to unify your departments to increase lead volume and boost sales, your strategy should include a way to break down those silos so that everyone has access to the resources they need.

A good CRM like Zendesk Sell—which was recently named best CRM for collaboration by Business News Daily—can help break down communication barriers and keep your collaborative projects organized and accessible. It also comes with sales force automation to help boost your strategic efforts by giving you fast access to your most recent sales data.

Perfecting your sales strategy presentations

Once you’re done developing a sales plan, you’ll need to present it to the troops. You can’t push sales strategy changes without getting everyone on board. If some team members only give half of their potential to the plan, you’ll never know if the plan is flawed or if it just needed more dedication.

To help you present your strategy, make sure your sales strategy presentation covers all of the basics of your plan: the who, the what, the how, and the why. Back up your decisions with hard data, and draw a distinct line between your goals and how you plan to achieve them.

The greatest hindrance to your plan is ambiguity. If your team thinks you’ve chosen metrics or goals without a valid reason, they’re less likely to give their full effort in trying to make it happen. Specificity and accountability are critical for getting everyone on the same page and backing up your decisions.

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