Imagine you’re a movie director yelling “… ACTION!” but your actors have no clue what the scene is about. If there’s no script, how can they deliver their lines or become their characters? A ”certified fresh” movie starts with a well-written script that tells a great story, addresses conflict, and has character development, structure, and originality. This is how the cast is able to understand their characters, get into the scenes, and bring your vision to life. Without a solid script, all you’ll be directing is a box office bomb.
An inside sales strategy is like the script for your company’s sales organization. Created in collaboration by sales, marketing, and customer service leaders, it’s a plan of action that outlines who your customers are, how you will sell your products or services, how you’ll increase profits, how you’ll develop your sales team, and what is your distinct approach to selling.
No matter which position you choose, you must become familiar with building a sales strategy. Why? Because you’re either going to be making strategic decisions (as a leader) or implementing tactics (as a sales rep). Follow along to learn the “light, camera, action!” method of running the show.
h2>An Example Sales Strategy that Works for Both Startups and Established Companies
Development: Conduct a SWOT analysis
The first step in building a strategy is evaluating where your team currently stands. A trusted planning technique of many successful business leaders is the SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. When you organize your research into these four categories, it’s easier to see what needs to be done and be sure you have all the information you need to create an ironclad strategy.
If your company is already up and running, get the managers or leaders from the sales, marketing, and customer service departments to contribute to this analysis. Assess the previous year together and ask questions such as: Which customer base has the shorter sales cycle? Where did we lose the most money? In what territories should we look for growth? What sales tactics are our competitors using? You can organize these questions and answers into quadrants to help you visualize the information.
SWOT Analysis Quadrants
If you’re a new startup, you won’t have the advantage of years of past revenue or internal data to guide your answers. You might not even have a large enough team to get different perspectives, but don’t let this stop you! Instead, research your industry’s data and your competitors to see what’s working and not working for them.
With a killer SWOT analysis in hand, you’ll have a better understanding of the direction to move the team. An inside sales strategy is not set in stone; it grows with your organization and changes whenever new internal or external data comes in. Next, we’ll lay out some best practices for each section of your sales strategy.
Pre-production: Establish your company’s vision and revenue goals
Your company’s sales vision should be clear, specific, and time-bound. For example, Our company wants to grow in revenue by 10% and reach $5 million in revenue by the end of the fourth quarter. Now your tactics, hiring choices, and initiatives should reflect and support that goal.
But $5 million in revenue sounds daunting. And trust us, if 9 months into the year you’re sitting at $2.5 million, you’re not going to make it. To make sure you get there, break down the goal into chunks. You can start with $1,250,000 per quarter, but the further you break it down, the easier it will be for your team to plan:
- $416,666 per month
- $104,166 per week
- $14,880 per day
Now your sales and marketing teams can set concrete goals. If marketing is bringing in 10 leads per day but needs at least 30 to generate $14,880, then they can step up their marketing game to bring in more leads, which sales will then work on closing. Prospecting, appointments, and presentations will now all be scheduled with these goals in mind.
Finally, keep things realistic for your company’s situation. Aiming for $5 million in annual revenue may be exciting, but if you haven’t figured out how to consistently earn $500,000 in a year, don’t set yourself up for an embarrassing failure that’ll exhaust your resources and discourage your team. You know what your team can push itself to do this year, so make it achievable.
Character development: Define who your customers are
Every company starts and ends with its customers. Before you start selling, you need to know who you’re selling to, their problems, the solutions they want, and how they want to be contacted. This section involves you creating an ideal customer profile (ICP) and buyer persona.
What is an ideal customer profile?
Here you describe the ideal company for your business(i.e. a law firm, with 50 or more employees, with a budget of at least $50,000 to spend on marketing, located in California). Other characteristics an ICP has is employee headcount, technology they use, size of their customer base and market share. Having an ideal customer profile is important when marketing and selling to similar accounts, and you can use your ICP as a measuring stick to see if a lead matches what you’re looking for and decide if you want to send them further down the pipeline.
What is a buyer persona?
A buyer persona is a more detailed description of an individual. It breaks down your average customer’s information like job position, biggest challenges, buying motivators, budget, location, income level, and more. An example of a buyer persona could be:
- Sales Manager Sally (female)
- Biggest challenge: developing her sales leaders
- Solution: she needs a skillful sales trainer to come in and train her leaders 2x per week for the next 6 months
- Budget: $25,000
You can have several buyer personas to match the different decision makers you target inside a company.
Ideal customer profile vs. buyer persona?
Think of your ideal customer profile as a completed puzzle, the full picture of your accounts; the buyer personas are the individual pieces of the puzzle, taking a more detailed look at the decision-makers that make up those accounts you want to reach out to. ICPs help your account managers target the right companies and your buyer personas help sales development reps target the right people when prospecting.
Outline the plot: Create a go-to-market strategy
This is where sales and marketing work side by side to get in front of customers. Now that you’ve identified your ideal buyer, marketing will find the right channel (time and territory) to bring the product or service to the market. This could be through social media, TV, online ads, podcasts, or content marketing. Just like Batman and Robin working together to defend Gotham City, marketing and sales have the best chance of getting sales when they work together to bring in and qualify leads.
Thus a go-to-market strategy begins with the marketing team; if they don’t do their jobs correctly by producing the right collateral and advertisements for your audience and bringing in marketing qualified leads, the sales team will waste time on leads who never intended to buy. Afterward, the team creates a message and communicates your unique selling and value proposition. The entire process is surprisingly similar to getting ready for a first date: you put on your best clothes, think of your least awkward conversation starters, and find out if you’re compatible. If you are, you decide to move forward with another date!
Rehearsal: Hire, train, and develop your team
Hiring is such a complicated process. You hope the perfect salesperson will fall into your lap; yet that rarely happens and you have to spend a significant amount of time training and developing them to iron out the kinks.
The six key personality traits to look for in new hires are:
- Work ethic
- History of success
When hiring, it’s important to not be too idealistic about your candidates; for one thing, you can be sure the ‘superstar’ salespeople are being headhunted by bigger companies, and your chances of finding someone who knows your audience and can close huge deals right off the bat with minimal training are next to none. Every organization needs a reliable system to train and develop their team.
The biggest challenge is getting your reps up to speed quickly; thus, you must have training material and resources ready to show them—as well as managers that are competent in supporting them as they move beyond it. Once they’re trained, they can begin selling and take on larger clients. Developing your talent doesn’t end there, though; it should continue as long as they’re at the company, for example, through mentorship programs where they can practice sales exercises to build their confidence and get honest feedback from peers. Also, you should outline your budget for employee salaries, commissions, bonuses, and prizes.
Filming: Decide on your daily activities
This section of the strategy will include the best tactics for your industry and organization to get sales. The core activities for any inside sales strategy are:
- Cold or warm calling
- Cold or warm emailing
- Following up with customers
- Give your pipeline a checkup
- Building relationships on social media
Post-production: Review and edit the strategy periodically
Finally, your inside sales strategy should include a section for initiatives to keep the vision healthy, updated, and impactful. What good is a document sitting on your desktop collecting virtual dust that no one looks at? A sales strategy should be so thorough and inspiring to read, the team continuously references it just to make sure they’re on track to reach its vision. One way to keep your strategy healthy is to continually measure the effectiveness of your tactics. Are your chosen activities bringing in and closing enough prospects? What are individual sales rep performance numbers? Are the buyer personas still right for your type of business? If not, then it’s best to go back through each section after testing out your strategy and update it based on new information.
There should also be an ongoing push to find innovative ways to teach, train, and create a more productive team. This could mean finding new management, scheduling, or prospecting software to make your reps’ and leaders’ jobs easier, or it could mean discovering cool conferences and workshops to attend on the weekend. Most importantly, productivity is one quality you need to nurture in your team—without it, your vision will lose steam and eventually drift away.
The #1 Strategy to Increase Sales (From a Billion-Dollar Team)
In an interview on the podcast Seeking Wisdom, VP of the billion dollar company Shopify, Loren Padelford shared his secret for increasing sales 10x in 15 years, taking reps straight out of college with no experience and now overseeing a 300+ team. He describes he chooses reps who are curious about the science behind why they’re successful:
“We did an interview with one of the first reps that we had into the organization. I was giving him information and he’s like, ‘I don’t understand this. Can you get up on the whiteboard and explain it to me.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I kind of love you already.’ Because his brain was working in this way that was like, ‘Explain this to me with math. I want to see the process.’ So when I interview people, I’m looking for people who will break down performance into its piece parts and I always say, ‘Performance is not random. Performance is built.’”
In other words, Padelford says that what makes someone worthy of being on his high-growth team is a drive to build their performance and learn the mechanics behind the actions. So if performance is the key to increasing sales, then improving productivity to boost your performance should be the #1 key strategy to increase sales.
Let’s take a look at some data.
An inside sales metrics study conducted by The Bridge Group from 2012 to 2017 asked sales managers to identify their top challenges in managing reps. The answers reveal that improving sales productivity and performance has remained their #1 challenge for 5 years in a row. Another study conducted by Pace Productivity asked managers about their expectations for salespeople, they wanted them to spend at least 50% of their time selling. However, they’re usually loaded up with administrative work most of the day.
The issue of spending too much time on the wrong things and productivity seems to be a recurring issue. It’s time to separate the wheat from the chaff, the important tasks from the trivial, so sales reps can spend more time increasing sales.
Start playing offense to become a star player
1) Practice the batching method
Batching refers to working on several similar tasks at once. As countless studies have shown, sales reps spend a large percentage of their day on entering data, updating their CRM, and writing and answering emails. When you batch assignments, your mind slips into the groove of that task and you’re more concentrated and can perform better. Consider it’s cold outside and you need to go get some groceries; you haven’t driven your car today, so you need to warm it up before you drive. Experts say to warm up your car at least 30-60 seconds for the right blend of air and fuel to be delivered to the engine. Without the correct blend, your car can stall, sputter, and leave you stranded. Knowing this information, would you just hop in without warming up your car? Of course not!
Be patient and spend time warming yourself up before you reach optimal performance. Need to send 20 emails? Do them all at once in a one-hour block. It may feel tempting to switch to other tasks, but once you’re in the flow of things, you’ll start to think of responses quicker and write high quality pitches faster. Don’t believe us? Try it. Switching back and forth between tasks will cause you to lose your spark before you become a flame.
2) Tighten up the nuts and bolts of your emotions
Consistency is linked to behavior, and sometimes reps simply don’t feel like knocking out 30-50 calls per day. So in order to become more consistent with your schedule, you need to manage your emotions. Managing your emotions is about practicing self-restraint and remembering the bigger goal. For some reps, this isn’t necessarily the goal you set for them (i.e. hit $20,000 in sales this month), but one they set for themselves. Each rep is driven by their own personal motives, which could be anything from earning enough money to buy their first home, to building the skills to move into a higher position, to gaining confidence when speaking to people. When reps have an end goal in mind, they can overcome their desire to slack off and will take action regardless of how they feel.
3) Don’t have the attention span of a goldfish
Do you jump when you hear the chime of an email notification? Are your hands reaching to open Gmail or your phone before you even know what’s happening? Wanting to be responsive to our customers or coworkers, many of us answer every email as it comes in. Others check their email on the hour, every hour. But just like your car on a winter day, in the two or three minutes it takes to answer that singular email, we’re not even giving our brain the chance to warm up to email mode. Instead, try carving out 2-3 designated time blocks each day to answer messages. Another office distraction is a messy computer. No, we don’t mean dust on your keyboard, but unorganized folders, working with more than two programs at a time or a million tabs opened in your browser. For many, this can be psychologically overwhelming and draining, introducing delay between tasks that otherwise should go by quickly. Clean up your office space, both physical and virtual, at the end of each day, and try to worry about one task at a time. Playing offense is about tackling your problems first before it becomes a major hindrance.
The Cold Calling Strategy to Help You Beat the Odds Against 5-Second Hangups
Cold calling is when you call someone, without their prior knowledge to sell them something. As cold calling does not boast a high success rate, the aim is to attempt as many connections as possible without taking too much time. With some practice, your cold call should come naturally and you should know your lines at each step of the way. We’ll go in-depth on different cold calling methods and techniques later, but first, you need to understand how to build a cold call strategy in 6 steps.
Six-step cold calling strategy
1) Establish the goal of the call
Why would anyone pick up their phone and buy from someone they don’t know? Some experts say cold calling is dead, that it’s best to contact leads who have already shown an interest in your products or services (warm calling). But if cold calling were dead, it would be obsolete. The truth is, cold calling does work; it simply has a low conversion rate and you’ll need to bang out 100+ to get three or four good results. The advantage of cold calling is that it lets you tap into untouched leads. There’s an entire world of leads who have not heard of your company, who need your products, so ask yourself when is cold calling right for you? This option is best for when you have exhausted your inbound leads and need to hit the ground running in order to fill the pipeline. It isn’t meant to close a sale immediately, just to give leads a taste of what you have to offer. Focus on one goal, like setting up an appointment or presentation or sending out an info package.
2) Prepare and research
Next, look at the leads from your prospecting efforts. This allows you to review your potential contacts for the day and organize them by how likely they are to convert into customers. Again, cold calls notoriously have a painfully low conversion rate at just 1-2%… and it takes a sales representative 18 attempts to reach someone willing to talk—see why 100+ calls are necessary for a sale.
The high call volume and low conversion rate mean you shouldn’t spend too much time researching each lead—5 to 10 minutes at most. Verify if they match your ideal customer profile and grab just enough info to create a great opening hook that draws them in and keeps them interested. You have less than 5 seconds to make a good first impression, so write your opening wisely. Make the hook about them. Perhaps you found online that they need their website updated; if your company specializes in web design, bring to their attention how customers won’t feel comfortable putting their credit card information into an outdated website.
Other hooks to get leads interested:
- Mention their company by name
- Reference a post they made on social media
- Name a mutual online connection
- Talk about a local event in their community
3) Find contact number
Finding a lead’s contact information has to be one of the most tedious tasks you can do in preparation for a cold call.That’s why it’s crucial to use a prospecting tool that provides a person’s current (and verified) phone number. But a prospecting tool gives you more than just your lead’s number. For example, let’s say you’re hunting for prospects on LinkedIn with an extension connected to your web browser. This extension should give their full name, a list of phone numbers—work and personal, past and present—and more. The tool should also have some type of ranking system that orders the results from most likely accurate to least accurate. Many people go through several companies and phone numbers; thus, you’ll need a few options when calling. Beware, though; there are unreliable prospecting tools that don’t give you honest results. These don’t verify phone numbers, meaning that instead of calling Jack the operations manager you might get Sarah the stay-at-home mom who’s busy fixing lunch for her children. Poor prospecting tools hurt your process; if there’s 18 calls in the chamber until you make a conversion, you don’t want to waste time calling outdated numbers.
4) Pre-call ritual
If you’re a sales rep who suffers from some pre-call anxiety, your strategy should include a way to warm up and prepare. Like we mentioned before, you don’t just hop into your car without warming it up first. Back in high school, your PE teacher taught you to stretch before playing football—how come? To prepare your body for the game. To get ready for the game of sales, grab a cup of coffee or a warm ginger tea to loosen up the vocal cords, walk around and get your blood pumping, or listen to a motivating pep talk to get hyped. Whatever works for you, getting in the zone and mentally preparing yourself is time well spent.
5) Sales script
A sales script is a list of all the talking points that need to be addressed in your cold call. Now, since cold calls have a low conversion rate and most leads will want to rush off the phone as quickly as possible, it will be rare to even make it through your opening pitch.
For the times you do make it past the opening pitch, a cold call script that’s 30 seconds to 1 minute in length and covers everything you need to say helps the conversation go smoothly. Leads can be hostile or aloof with unexpected sales pitches; if you can’t keep your composure, they can throw you off course and you’ll find yourself stammering to handle objections just as they’re about to hang up. A sales script is meant to keep and get you back on track. It’s like Google Maps for cold calls.
One rep was able to increase their cold calling rate from 2% to 11% just by:
- Leading the conversation with a bold statement
- Preparing for the top 6 “get off the phone” responses
- Offering to hang up before asking one last question
- Telling a brief story
- Asking for an appointment
6) Get your technology ready
The world of cold calling abounds with software and technology for you to use before, during, and after the call. Part of your cold calling strategy is having all your tools ready to go.
Cold calling tools
- LinkedIn sales navigator
- B2B Lead enrichment tool
- Email and phone verification tool
- Phone calling and recording software
- CRM software
Websites to research company demographics, firmographics, psychographics and funding
7) Post-call process
As the call wraps up, it will have gone one of two ways. You either got a solid no from the prospect (sorry, we feel for you) and you’re moving on to the next, or you got an “yes, let’s book an appointment” (woohoo!) and you need to place their information in the CRM platform. If you want to practice some batching and stay in your cold calling rhythm, you might save your follow-up for the end of the session or the end of the day. This is also when you sit back and analyze what you’ve accomplished, pat yourself on the back and try to evaluate how you did on your daily goal.
In the next section, we’ll go deeper into how to find and qualify leads. We’ll give advice from sales superstars and examples of pitfalls you need to avoid. Saddle up; we’re going to get to the heart of every business, AKA prospecting.