Sales Strategy: How to Make Yours More Effective and Modern

There are plenty of strategy templates and articles out there sharing how to build a sales strategy. They are usually fairly basic and cover important (but not differentiated) topics such as objectives, hiring, compensation, sales activities and the like. These sales strategy documents are incredibly helpful to align your organization. But, here’s the problem: your customer(s) don’t care about your organization’s processes. In fact, they are likely getting in the way of your ability to close deals.

The effects of standardized sales processes on buying decisions are evident. According to the Florida State University Sales Institute research:

  • 61% of buyers said sellers don’t understand their buying process.
  • 68% said they don’t adapt to their situation.
  • 90% of sales conversations were not important to the customer or differentiated.

Think about that – 90% of what they heard was either noise, boring or just flat out annoying.

According to Gartner, there are now 11 people involved in complex B2B buying decisions. (Remember when a few years ago they reported that there were 5 and we all freaked out? Ah, the good old days). Furthermore, they also reported that prior to COVID, only 4 of 10 reps were making quota – despite billions of dollars spent on sales strategies, best practices, training and technology. Below is a quick illustration of the endless cycle of investments vs. ROI. Look familiar?

Sales Training ROI

If you are heading out to the interwebs for guidance on how to build a traditional sales strategy, you can likely expect the above results. So, what can you do? We have created three must-have pillars for any modern sales strategy (based on extensive research from our books Cracking the Sales Management Code and Crushing Quota and research from Florida State University Sales Institute).

But first, let’s get grounded.

What is a Sales Strategy Anyway?

According to BusinessDictionary.com, the definition of a sales strategy is “a planned approach to account-management policy formation, prospect identification and qualification, sales presentation, and order generation aimed at achieving a firm’s sales quotas or targets.” Enthralling, right?

In a nutshell, sales strategies are meant to align your organization. While this is a very helpful thing to do—sales chaos is never a good thing—KPI’s, goals, positioning, and messaging are only as good as your salesperson’s ability to close a deal. Because at the end of the day, the true goal is for your organization to hit (and exceed) your numbers in the way that you want to grow (eg. net new business growth or selling x amount of a new product). You won’t do that by forcing buyers into your sales processes. This was true five years ago and it’s certainly even more important now.

What if You Built One from the Outside In?

Here’s a fun and revolutionary idea. Let’s start your sales strategy here: What do your buyers want from your salespeople, from your company? Do you know? We’ve all had terrible sales experiences and they usually stem from a salesperson’s inability to adapt to your issue.

In fact, LinkedIn recently released their 2020 State of Sales Report. It highlighted that “the #1 and #2 traits that BUYERS look for in salespeople are active listening and problem solving.” Yet most organizations are training their salespeople to follow a singular methodology and process that forces them into a robotic, company-defined interaction with no regard for your 11 buyers wants and needs.

This is particularly disappointing in this age of digital sales transformation because the data exists to do so much more. It can be interpreted and taught to your salespeople in order for them to orient around and execute to:

(1) what BUYING situation they’re in at the moment they’re in it

(2) what tactics, messages and insights are most likely to move the deal along (based on the situation)

(3) determine if the deal is even worth pursuing

Imagine if your sales strategy was centered around your buyer and you had the data to feel confident that:

  • Your salespeople know what factors are most important to your buyers and which play to call that has the best chance of winning (and which types of factors are most favorable for your organization winning the deal)
  • Your managers have the necessary tools to coach to the daily activities that will align to your organization’s goals and get more reps to quota
  • Your sales and marketing teams are centered around your common buying situations so that your buyer has a seamless experience

We would argue that buyer-centric sales strategies are non-optional and B2B organizations that don’t adapt will struggle to generate revenue. Sound good? If so, keep reading.

The Pillars of a Modern Sales (And a Bit of Marketing) Strategy

Sales Strategy Pillar #1. Ground Your Entire Pipeline Generating Engine (Sales and Marketing) in the data about YOUR BUYING SITUATIONS

For years, B2B organizations have been struggling to adapt to:

  • Their buyer’s ability to collect their own information before they talk to sales
  • Selling to large buying teams with different motivations
  • The huge volume of information out there

It’s basically chaos.

In order to combat that we’ve:

  • Created buyer personas
  • Mapped buyer journeys
  • Dumped money down the drain by adding tools and processes to sales – the idea being to create order for our salespeople out of the chaos

Here’s the problem: we’ve been focused on the wrong things. How can you create buyer personas for the 11 people that are making up your buying decision team? How can you map the buyer journey of 11 very different people who have the ability to go anywhere they choose to find information? You can’t.

But if you have the data on the common buying situations in your organization (there are 4-5 that make up a good percentage of your deals), what factors are most important to those types of companies and what type of sales plays (tactics) are most likely to win, wouldn’t that be useful to:

  • your marketing team who could then create industry insights, messaging and content for your sales team and content for their purposes of driving brand and demand – all centered around your known buying situations
  • your sales team to be able to orient, execute, win or walk away

Data, centered around the right thing—your buying situations—is the key to:

  • Not annoying your buyer
  • Cutting through the noise
  • Providing your sales managers with information around what activities to coach to
  • Finally connecting sales and marketing in a way that’s meaningful to your buyer

In this pillar, identify:

  • Your common patterns of buying situations (4-5)
  • The play that has the most chance of winning in each situation
  • The factors that have a statistical impact on your deals

Sales Strategy Pillar #2: Factor in Your Front-line Sales Managers

An oft forgotten and incredibly important lever for results, your front-line sales managers need help too. It’s common to assume, “My sales managers are the best of the best. They’ve been here for 5, 10, 15 years. They’re smart and motivated. They’re the least of my worries.” However, our published studies on front-line sales managers show there is a huge variation in the performance of sales managers. In fact, 75% of sales managers are struggling.

And the financial impact to your top line is massive. Our research also showed a 39% difference in revenue between the bottom sales managers compared to the top performers.

When you do the math, the average cost of one poor performing manager to an organization’s top line is about $3.5 million. However, when one of our clients did the math, they discovered the number was closer to $10 million!

You may be saying, “but I’ve trained my sales managers, they’re good!” Most organizations invest in leadership models, general coaching models and sales coaching modules aligned to the latest methodology training. There’s really no shortage of these types of things.

None of these investments integrate into a workable and effective approach for sales coaching – especially when you consider the day-to-day reality of a sales manager.

As a result of this, sales managers are not coaching in a way that drives impact. Which means…

  • there’s a lid on how many reps will hit their number (because mediocre doesn’t fix itself)
  • Reps don’t get the clarity that’s essential to fuel motivation and performance
  • The business can’t scale—because sales managers aren’t “force multiplying” – they’re either doing all the selling or they’re relying on the backs of too few sellers,
    • continuing the cycle of disappointing investments in tools, technologies
    • Not to mention the potential missed opportunity of untapped investments in your sales managers

With your front-line manager pillar, look to:

  • Establish a high-impact sales coaching culture
  • Have your managers know how to give sellers the clarity to fuel their success
  • Boost the ROI of all your investments

For a deep dive on the proven way to train coaching, visit https://www.vantagepointperformance.com/category/sales-coaching/

Sales Strategy Pillar #3: Move from Salesperson Rigidity to Agility

Gartner recently published research findings that tell a story about just how chaotic buying cycles have become:

  • The average size of buying team is now almost 11 people
  • The average number of channels that each person on the buying team consults is 4.5
  • And, of all the time spent over the course of a purchasing evaluation, only 17% of the buyer’s time is spent with salespeople

One-size-fits-all sales processes and messages fail in a number of ways:

  • They create friction with the buyer (expectations don’t meet what your salesperson delivers)
  • Poor differentiation
  • Buyer confusion leading to “no decision”

Sales agility solves for so many issues facing B2B organizations today. The data you’ve pulled from pillar #1 arms your team with real insight about the huge buying team they’re having conversations with. It also informs your salesperson how to execute the right tactic at the right time.

With your sales agility pillar, look to teach your sales team how to:

  • Match the most effective strategy with the situation
  • Give your buyers the fluent experience they want
  • Instill your sales team to have the confidence to engage the chaos

To learn more about the Florida State University research on agility and how to enable a sales agility framework, visit https://www.vantagepointperformance.com/category/agile-sales-code/