Effective Sales Strategies
The ultimate collection of effective sales strategies and how to implement them in your organization
What is sales strategy?
Sun Tzu, the famed Chinese general and military strategist, once said: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
Not many of us are conquering nations or training warriors these days. But the quote still holds a lot of truth in the world of business, especially sales.
A sales strategy encompasses all the ways you engage your target market. And it should inform any action made by your team. It covers how you position your solution and your messaging choice. It even covers the allocation of resources, what marketing channels to focus on, your sales process, and much more.
Experienced sellers don’t just know their product, they know how that product can provide a prospect with a better version of their reality. They know precisely how their product satisfies the pain points of a prospect.
Because in truth, you’re not selling a product. You’re selling a better version of your prospect’s life. That may sound dramatic, but it’s 100 percent true. Whether you’re selling multi-million dollar medical equipment or you run a car wash.
The first step in being able to position your product as a solution to someone’s problems is to understand their pain better than they do.
Not only that, but you need to know how they spend their time, how they evaluate vendors, and precise details about how they think and work.
Here are some key things you and your sales team need to know about your ideal customers and some tactics for how to uncover these critical data points.
Discovering the true pain
Pain points are not often volunteered by prospects. Our work as sales and marketing professionals would be made if folks could articulate their precise pain and ideal solution. Connecting how the product we’re selling alleviates it would be cake.
The reality is that most pain points need to be excavated. Often that’s through intentional interviews with prospective buyers.
This is best illustrated with an example:
Let’s say you’re offering a software product that helps sales reps deal with processing their expense reports. Your initial understanding of your customer’s pain might be, “reps are irritated with the hassle of reporting expenses.” Okay, that’s a good start. But what if you went a layer deeper?
Why are sales reps irritated with reporting expenses? Maybe it’s because the existing method of reporting expenses is time-consuming or cumbersome. Or, perhaps it’s because expense reporting requires a level of attention-to-detail that many reps find a nuisance.
Even further, maybe the real pain is that expense reporting isn’t a revenue-generating activity. Reps aren’t seeing commissions on reporting their client lunches. They want to get back to doing what they do best: selling.
Any of these potential avenues could lead to some powerful insights. Insights that not only inform your messaging but clarify the core motivations of your customers.
When you can speak to these core motivations (as opposed to surface motivations), you can sell a transformation as opposed to a mere product.
Getting access to these core motivations can only happen through conversation. Maybe your reps are already in the habit of asking these probing questions, but if not, it’s essential to conduct customer interviews.
If you’ve got happy customers, this is definitely the best place to start. In my experience, most customers are more than happy to participate in market research interviews. This is especially true if they’ve had a positive experience with your product or service.
If you’ve got existing CRM data, use it to discern the best customer for an interview. Here are some attributes of someone that’d likely be great to talk to for market research:
- A high NPS (net promoter score)
- High activity rating (in the case of software)
- Several years of product adoption
- At least 2-3 support calls per year (indicating high usage)
If you’re in the business of sales, you likely know your superstar customers already. These attributes aren’t prescriptive; go with your gut.
When conducting your customer interviews, make sure to give them a clear timeframe. Outline the objective of the call and send them questions in advance if possible.
Let’s go back to our above example of a software platform that helps with expense reporting. If I were conducting the interview, I might ask questions like the following:
- “If you could wave a magic wand to change one thing about expense reporting, what would that be?”
- “What have you already tried to make expense reporting easier?”
- “How well did previous solutions solve your particular frustration?”
While these are great starter questions, the real gold comes when you start asking follow-up questions. Things like:
- “If you could eliminate (whatever pain point they mention), what would be possible for you?”
- “How does (pain point) make you feel?”
- “Tell me more about that.”
Conducting these interviews is tough work. However, every organization I’ve encountered that conducts this sort of research has a razor-sharp understanding of who they’re selling to.
And that’s something you can’t put a price on.
The best part of this approach is that it costs nothing but time and will reap endless rewards for your marketing efforts.
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The gatekeepers and decision-makers
As you’re conducting your customer interviews, you might think narrow your focus on the decision-makers. These are the administrators of your target accounts, or the ones actually stroking the check for your product.
This is valuable, but it’s a mistake to stop there. Most sales reps are familiar with the term “gatekeeper.” Gatekeepers are positions that, either officially or unofficially, guard the decision-maker’s time. Specifically against vendors or perceived distractions.
Every experienced seller knows that a solid understanding of the gatekeeper’s persona is essential for gaining access to the decision-maker.
I’ve worked with companies that actually seek out the gatekeepers. This is because most people in that position are the most trusted advocates of the decision-makers.
Furthermore, an effective strategy for many sales teams has been to convince and convert the gatekeeper to the value of their product. In other words, equip them to make an internal sale up to the decision-maker.
Whether you choose to implement this strategy or not, it’s essential to at least understand the psyche of the gatekeeper. Especially how they evaluate things that are worth their bosses’ time.
As you conduct your research, consider asking these questions to equip your sellers for future success with prospects:
- “What is the worst thing about vendors calling?”
- “What was it about our offering that made you think we were worth your bosses’ time?”
- “What’s one thing we could’ve done better as we communicated with you during the prospecting process?”
- “How does our solution improve your working life?”
However, if you want even more data on the most effective personnel in driving a deal forward, look no further than Accent’s CRM Supercharger. Its AI-driven guided selling offers visualization in ways no CRM can. It gives sales leaders at-a-glance insight into the communication history associated with any given account. It can also help identify the roles they’ve engaged, as well as identify critical personas they need to bring to the table.
The AI-driven technology can also prescribe next steps for the seller in terms of content, plays, other recommended actions.
Relevant attributes of prospect personas
As you build out your ideal persona, some organizations go as far as creating a fictional person (with a headshot and everything). The goal is to encapsulate their target buyer.
It’s not uncommon to see tongue-in-cheek names like “Gatekeeper Gary” or “Decision-maker Donna.
If this is helpful, by all means, avail yourself of this strategy.
But whatever you do, it’s essential to record all your customer interviews. If possible, transcribe them using a service like Rev and distill down the essential quotes, pain points, and attributes.
The following are going to be most helpful to capture throughout your customer conversations.
- Average income
Some companies, like Coca-Cola, go as far as capturing ethnicity and religion. This is to ensure their international marketing campaigns don’t offend local beliefs or practices.
- Interests outside of work
- Work values (what’s most important to them?)
- Success factors
- Perceived barriers to success
- Decision criteria when evaluating vendors
- Org chart
If you’re able to use customer interviews to capture even half of the above attributes, you’ll be in an incredible position to engage your target market intelligently.
Be flexible with personas
I’ll end this section on understanding your customers with a caveat: not every customer will fit into your persona. It’s important to be a perpetual “student” of your ideal customer. The more you sell and the more customers you talk to, the more surprises you’ll run across.
Things that you thought motivated a purchasing decision may not be true of everyone. And success from prospect-to-prospect may look a lot different than “Gatekeeper Gary.”
Just remember to be flexible and use your personas as guidelines, not strictures.
Effective strategies for crafting messaging that converts
What does messaging encompass?
Marketing and sales professionals throw around the term “messaging” a lot. “We need to tighten up our messaging on the website” or “We’re not really aligned on our messaging.”
Like a lot of terms in this brave new world of online business, definitions can get fuzzy. So what exactly is sales and marketing messaging? And what does it encompass?
In short, messaging is any public-facing language that originates from your organization, whether in video, audio, or text-based mediums.
This includes but isn’t limited to:
- All your website copy
- All prospect, customer service, and marketing emails
- Webinar or live demo language
- All language in your sales enablement content
- Phone call language
You can start to see just how wide-reaching messaging is, and how important it is for your sales and marketing employees to be aligned on this topic. But how do you settle on your messaging? How do you “decide” what you want your brand to sound like?
Well, to put it simply, if you want to sell to your target market, you need to learn to speak like them.
Building an encyclopedia from customer interviews
The value of customer interviews doesn’t just end in developing your buyer personas. Another benefit of interviewing customers is building an encyclopedia of customer language.
Not only do you better understand how your customers think through interviews, but you also better understand how they talk. This can often be just as important.
I remember working with an organization that was pivoting from one industry into another industry in the public sector. After a few conversations with experts in the new industry, we kept hearing this phrase mentioned over and over: “SOGs.”
None of us had any clue what SOGs meant, but we didn’t want to sound uninformed so we just kept the conversation moving. Eventually, we found out that SOG meant “standard operating guideline.” We had been saying “SOP” all along, which meant “standard operating procedure.”
What we didn’t know is that this language was exclusive to the first industry, and clearly made us look like amateurs to decision-makers in the new industry. Learning these industry-specific terms from interviews is much more favorable than going to market with out-of-date messaging.
Developing “Super Mario” messaging
There was a popular graphic going around a few years ago that perfectly summarized how marketers and sellers need to structure their messaging. It used the Super Mario video game as a metaphor.
When Mario picks up the Fire Flower, he levels up to be able to chuck fireballs at his enemies. What most organizations focus on is the flower. They tout all the features of the flower, they go on and on about the tech specs of the flower, and they make the flower the main feature.
But what really gets people excited is not the product, but how the product leads to a better version of their reality. In other words, your message should focus on the end result, the better working life, the felt benefits of your solution, the “Fireball Mario,” if you will.
This is what it means to have “customer-first” messaging. Lead with the solution to their problem, their pain points, and let them — not your product — play the hero of the story.
Use real customer stories
Another great benefit of having a repository of customer interviews is that you’ll likely have access to real customer stories.
There have been neurological studies done on how stories engage the brain and stick in people’s memories longer than normal prose.
Anytime you can actually tell a story of a customer who was helped by your product or offering, your prospects will intuitively imagine themselves in their shoes.
Stories can have a powerful emotional sway. They often go beyond facts, features, and specifications into the heart of the pain points your prospects feel. This is why it’s crucial to capture these stories and weave them into your web copy, emails, and product demos wherever possible.
Build a style and tone guide
Another thing to consider when crafting your messaging is your tone. How do you want to come across? Professional or conversational? Playful or serious?
I’ll echo what I’ve said many times already in this post: you can’t go wrong with mirroring the language and tone of your ideal customers. [Text Wrapping Break]
If your product is mostly aimed at male law enforcement professionals aged 35 to 50, it’s likely going to have a different tone than a product aimed at millennial event planners.
An effective strategy to keep things consistent is to build a style and tone guide. This internal document acts as a single source of truth for anyone writing or speaking anything in relation to your company.
MailChimp made their comprehensive style guide public, and it’s a great place to start if you’re looking for inspiration in creating your own.
Effective strategies for building a comprehensive sales process
The main objective of a sales process is to answer the simple question: “How does a prospective buyer go from a lead to a paying customer?”
Any given sales process is likely a combination of technology platforms, written (or unwritten) procedures, and interdepartmental hand-offs.
In my experience, organizations go through multiple sales processes per year, often needing to evolve how they handle sales when weathering the storm of rapid growth.
Whatever approach you choose, there are a few fundamentals you must account for in order to build a process that can scale.
They are the following:
- A CRM for capturing and storing customer data
- A sales funnel that offers context-relevant content and nurtures leads to buy
- A quote/deal process that aligns with your finance department’s workflow
- Clearly defined roles on your sales team
Granted, each of the above topics could warrant an entire blog post of their own. In fact, many of these topics have already been covered in-depth on our blog. But for the sake of time, let’s focus on that final bullet point: sales roles.
Companies at the startup or even growth-size stage can get away with the sales team all wearing different hats.
One day you might be filling out RFPs, the next day you’re doing product demos, and the day after that you’re getting a plane to man the booth at an industry conference.
But if you want your sales team to scale and work like a well-oiled machine, it’s important to establish sales roles early on.
Some common sales roles you may find in a given organization are the following:
LQS (Lead Qualification Specialist)
Also known as inside sales reps, these folks are responsible for making the first contact with warm or cold leads and getting them to commit to the next step. This is often a free trial or a live demo in the software space.
Once the lead has been qualified by the LQS, they’re often handed off to a sales rep. Reps often have territory assignments or are assigned leads in a round-robin fashion, after which it is their job to walk the prospect through the sales cycle to an eventual purchase.
Sales engineers are often responsible for conducting live demos or walkthroughs of whatever product you’re selling. In the software world, any given sales engineer may have four to eight one-hour demos per day.
Therefore, sales engineers must have the unique skill set of being incredibly well-versed in the product but also passionate about selling. Sales engineers often interface with prospects who are interested in the more technical aspects of your solution.
Sales leaders shoulder a heavy burden. Not only are they responsible for the performance of the sales team, but they’re often looked to for vision-casting, strategy, tactics, resource allotment, and hiring/termination of personnel.
To put it simply, sales leaders are there to make sure their team is motivated, morale is high, and everyone is firing on all cylinders. Leaders have minimal engagement with prospects and are more focused on meeting the needs of their “internal” customers: their team.
Ensuring customer success with an onboarding process
It’s a common temptation among sales teams to move on to the next prospect once the contract has been signed and the check has been stroked, but stopping there is a fatal mistake.
I spoke in a previous post on how “churned” customers (customers who do not renew their commitment to your product or service) can wreck your organization’s bottom line.
It goes without saying that happy customers have an increased lifetime value (LTV) to your organization. This is a win-win for every department and the customer. The best way to ensure this is for sales teams to work closely with customer service teams to create a smooth and efficient onboarding process.
Many organizations even have dedicated “customer success” agents that act as training wheels to help new customers get up and running. Ensuring early adoption and a positive experience with your product immediately after purchase is a surefire way to keep customer satisfaction high.
If you don’t have a robust onboarding process in place, spend some time in coordination with your support team to outline, step-by-step, the best way to get a customer from totally green to completely adopted.
Helpful questions to ask while building out the process are the following:
- “What has historically caused frustration or blocked customers from getting up-and-running?”
- “Where do customers usually give up?”
- “What can we automate so that our customer’s adoption is ‘self-guided’?”
- “What was our customer’s primary pain point throughout the sales process, and how can we lead them to achieve that ‘first value’?”
Next steps to developing an effective sales strategy
All of this may feel overwhelming. Again, I echo the sentiment I wrote at the beginning of this post: don’t think of these as prescriptive. Take them, test them, and if they work, integrate them into your own process.
Many of these are proven strategies that have worked for dozens of organizations in the past. I wanted to keep this post focused exclusively on strategy, but we truly could spend another 3,500 words talking about tactics.
The good news is that we at Accent have built tools specifically designed to execute on these strategies effectively and efficiently. We’ve harnessed AI technology to automate the tedium and predict the most likely path to success. This means your team can get back to revenue-generating tasks and you can get back to high-level strategy.
Accent’s software solutions culminate in the ultimate revenue enablement platform for your organization, optimizing your content strategy, sales process, and sales rep visibility. Accent Technologies is the first and only SaaS company to bring together Sales AI and Content Management in a true REVENUE ENABLEMENT PLATFORM. We provide both sales and marketing with better visibility into the performance of their teams. This drives revenue through intelligent recommendations for complex sales scenarios and provides the data for rich analytics that power better coaching, forecasting, and long-term customer support. Learn more about our solutions or request a LIVE DEMO to see it in action.