Clear and compelling messaging, consistent practices and tailored interactions, practised by well-prepared and engaged individuals, are all key elements of a great sales strategy. So how do you achieve these elements successfully?
For these are actions that should not be attributed to a few individuals or one team within a business. No matter how big or small your business, everyone working within it should play their part in ensuring that customers choose you. Every employee should be a brand ambassador, empowered to sell your business to the right people with the right enticements, even if the ultimate execution of the sale and ongoing relationship management lies with a particular team or individual.
In this guide, we look at how you take the first steps to building a great sales strategy, and how to deliver on it. We collaborated on the guide with Passle’s SVP of sales, David Kirk, an expert on sales by small businesses and no stranger to the challenges of selling a brand new product to a market that had never seen something like it before.
What is your sales strategy?
Your sales strategy should feed through from your overarching business plan as they should not be conceived or evolved independently of each other. (Our checklist for what to include in your business plan will help you to identify and flesh out the detail of your business plan, whether you’re just starting out, or refreshing what you already have. We also love Strategyzer’s straightforward, one page, Business Model Canvas as a great first step.)
Knowing your audience is essential to your prospects of success.
And this must be your starting point; with both as business plan and, subsequently, a sales plan.
The characteristics, preferences and size of your target customer group are factors that should always be at the core of what you develop, as well as how you subsequently package, communicate and sell it. Never lose focus on your audience.
In fact, you should be looking at this factual evidence from the very start of designing and building your business. What you identify here must then feed into what you set out in your business plan and that, in turn, will influence your sales strategy.
Too many businesses start out by making assumptions about what their customers want and how they will behave when faced with their business’ proposition. Others don’t consider the ultimate sale or target customer at all, and simply build the product and hope that customers will come. Both these approaches are fundamentally flawed and rarely result in growth businesses.
From the outset, for both a business and sales plan, you need to have answers to the following questions:
1. Who are your customers?
A generic or high-level answer is rarely sufficient here. So don’t answer this question glibly, e.g. people who like yoghurt. Look at this in a much more granular way and segment your customers, e.g. mothers wanting to feed calcium-rich food to their children, health-conscious individuals wanting a non-dairy dessert, etc… You could end up with a number of possible customer types.
2. What do they really want from this kind of purchase?
3. Where do these customers shop for their yoghurt – and why do they shop in this way?
4. What do they currently buy, from whom, and why?
5. What else do they consider as an alternative?
6. How often do they buy?
7. What influences their purchase decision? What else could influence this decision?
8. Why would they switch to you? And how can you assure this?
9. How big is this target group? Is it likely to grow?
10. How will you capture their attention successfully?
Sometimes you can achieve the answers to these questions from surveys – just make sure that you achieve a sufficiently representative number of responses and that the questions you ask are as impartial, neutral and open as feasible.
User test groups are also instructive.
You may find that there is already existing published research that can help you pull the picture together increasingly accurately.
Read the reviews and ratings of rival products or similar ones on websites too – this can often provide you with really helpful data.
Where possible, don’t just rely on your customer’s word for it either. Getting a supplier’s, distributor’s, reseller’s perspective on customer behaviour can also be highly insightful. Some of these perspectives can be found in published annual reports by larger businesses or by the think-tanks and management consultancy businesses that often work with them. Industry and analyst reports are often produced using insights and feedback from those already in market, and already experiencing customer behavioural trends while forecasting the likely next ones.
Use this data to create customer personas
It’s helpful to turn this information into one or more ‘personas’. And while this might sound a bit like a fancy or unnecessary exercise, it’s actually one of the more valuable analyses to which you can commit your time in the early stages of developing your sales and business plans.
Personas are descriptions of a stereotypical customer who is representative of (one of) your target customer segments.
There’s no set formula for creating a customer persona, but typically, you’ll want to weave your findings from the above exercise into a profile or bio for this stereotypical customer, including:
1. Their background (which might include their career to date, life-style habits, family situation, hobbies, qualifications, ambitions, age, location, sex)
2. Their current motivations and buying habits (e.g. is trust important, word of mouth or recommendation and if so, from whom, are they looking for speed, simplicity, human interaction, additional after service, etc?)
3. Their frustrations/pain points (most especially those relevant to the solution you’re offering)
4. Their technical abilities, devices used, frequency of usage and usage habits
5. Other brands, products, services and even web-sites that they like, trust
You don’t need to write an essay, but you do need to have a very clear view of this particular representative customer type. And don’t worry so much about political correctness or diversity when you conduct this analysis. What you want to develop is a bio of your target or likely customer that depicts them honestly and accurately. Allow what you can discover of their biases, fears, preferences and priorities to come to the surface.
Many businesses find that they have more than one typical customer. A great advantage of undertaking this exercise is that it can help you to decide how you might approach each customer type (which could well be quite differently), and importantly, whom you might first want to prioritise.
Here’s a visually satisfying example of what your personas could look like. You can find plenty of other examples, just like this, on the internet. But the exercise doesn’t need to be a work of art. It’s the detail and its accuracy that matters.
Start devising your sales plan only when you’ve completed the steps above
Your sales plan is the road map designed to identify the specific sales goals, tactics and techniques, budget and timeline for your sales staff, and indeed, for anyone else in your business, who, while they may not be selling themselves, still needs to know how their role fits within the overarching business priority of ensuring that what your business does sells well. Revenue does not come without this.
Most sales plans span a one-year horizon, typically broken down into quarterly or monthly milestones, with allocated budget targets. The most effective sales plans are clear, concise, accessible (at least at a high level) to everyone in the business and continually communicated, including reports on progress and success. They define the strategic and tactical details for acquiring new customers and retaining existing ones, including who is responsible for all activities contributing to the targets set and what budgets and time-frames are relevant to those individuals (or teams).
How to do this
There is no magic to this and although you can get sales software to help you with some of this, you don’t need to start paying for these resources in the early stages. What’s far more important is that you have a record that you’re comfortable with and that it’s in a format that you can easily update.
So to keep things simple, you could create a spreadsheet for each target customer group you’ve identified. Here you can set out your goals and the key business initiatives that you’ll undertake to target them successfully, together with budget projections, time-frames and the identities of those responsible for ensuring the success of those initiatives. The best plans highlight how the high-level objectives cascade down into specific functions or roles within your business, so that everyone is clear on the part that they’re required to play. All goals should be specific and easily measurable, e.g. ‘to sell [x] number of units to this customer segment at £[x] or more each quarter’. Don’t forget to add columns after each target, so you can measure progress against them.
Add to your spreadsheet for each target customer type, the size of the opportunity for the business, (i.e. is this is a large or priority customer group, or a lesser one), the challenges/risks and mitigation initiatives that you’ll take (and who will be responsible for them), and how often you’ll review progress, together with details of what might happen if targets are not achieved.
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