The Sales Strategy is a collection of guiding principles and processes that sales leadership uses to organize a sales team, competitively position the company in the marketplace, make best use of company resources, and project / deliver on sales team goals. The Sales Strategy provides a foundation from which individual Sales Plans for each sales rep can be created and executed, and therefore needs to be clearly communicated to the Sales Team.
Key parts of the Sales Strategy (detailed below) include:
- Target Market
- Positioning Strategy
- Territory Distribution
- Quota Setting
- Sales Team Structure
- Sales Pipeline Tracking
- Sales Materials & Knowledge Base
- Sales Team Metrics & Forecasting
- Sales Forecasting
- % inbound vs. Outbound
- new bus vs. land and expand
- Pipeline (3x / 4x)
A Target Market is a segment of potential customers (people or organizations) in the marketplace that a company focuses its marketing (inbound lead generation) and prospecting (outbound lead generation) efforts. A well-defined Target Market does not necessarily include any customer that can potentially buy the product or service, as some kinds of customers (for a variety of reasons) will cost more than they are worth to have as customers over the long term. The benefit of a well-defined target market is better concentration of resources on the most profitable customers.
A typical B2B Target Market will include a definition of ideal industries, regions, company size, unique characteristics and key titles of likely buyers / influencers within those organizations. For example, a B2B company selling engineering software may define their target market the following way:
- Region: US and Canada
- Industries: Manufacturing, Automotive, Aero /Defense, AEC, Medical Devices, Telecom, Energy / Utilities
- Company Size: 1,000+ employees and/or $100M+ revenue
- Characteristics: High concentration of engineers; “Internet of things” business initiatives
- Key Titles: CIO, Director of Engineering, Systems Engineer
Positioning Strategy is the art of creating an image or identity in the minds of the target market, with the goal of optimizing market penetration and dominating a defined market. It is a branding exercise that is always defined in relationship to direct competitors, and involves a coordinated adjustment to a variety of product, marketing and sales strategies / tactics (e.g. product features, messaging, sales materials, pricing, packaging, design, promotion techniques, distribution, etc.)
Common Positioning Strategies:
- Low cost (minimum required features, lowest cost)
- Premium (most features, highest cost)
- Niche Leader (specific feature set aimed at winning over a specific group of customers)
- Offensive (compete directly in relation to a specific competitor to take market share)
- Defensive (strategies aimed at keeping existing customers from leaving to competitors)
Territory distribution among a sales team is one of the most common sources of lost productivity across sales organizations. Far too often sales leaders are under pressure to deliver short term sales results, so they end up giving their historically high sales producers disproportionalely large territories. This is a mistake for several reasons:
- Creates an un-level playing field
- Under-utilizes sales team resources
- Coverage of market suffers
- Impossible to know true talent level of each rep
- Overdependence on a few reps (who may leave at any time)
- Bad for sales team morale
The best system for B2B territory distribution will always be specific to the each organization because of a variety unique factors, however there are two tools that will help:
- Market Intelligence: Invest in a subscription service (e.g. Hoovers, InsideView, Jigsaw, data.com. etc.) so you have comprehensive data on every company that meets your Target Market profile.
- Use Metrics to create a level playing field: Find a defining metric for your target market (e.g. companies with 1,000+ employees or $100+M revenue) and divide up territories to have an roughly equivalent number of prospect companies meeting that criteria.
The goal should be equal allocation of qualified inbound leads across the sales team. Over time, if some reps are consistently getting more leads than others then you can adjust the territory size. This system provides a perception of fairness across the sales team (which helps avoid morale issues) and helps fairly identify weak sales people that need to be replaced.
Quota setting is a notoriously inexact science that typically involves a custom formula with some combination of historical sales data, a rough estimate of expected incremental growth, CRM derived sales funnel data, some market trend information, and (to be honest) some flat out guessing.
However, the most common mistake in quota setting is too much reliance on historical performance as the primary basis for future expectations because it fails to take into account the inherent inequities in territory distribution. The sales rep in the biggest territory may have the highest historical sales production, but is actually under-performing given their territory potential. Conversely, a rep in a small territory maybe over-performing based on available opportunities, but have so few total opportunities that their production is underappreciated, and meeting ambitious growth targets is impossible.
As stated above, the ideal situation is to have equally sized territories across the sales team. However, in cases where this is not possible you can rely on a defining metric for your target market (e.g. companies with 1,000+ employees or $100+M revenue) as the “equalizer”. Using a market intelligence service (e.g. Hoovers, InsideView, Jigsaw, data.com. etc.) you can research the exact number of prospect companies meeting that defining metric in each given territory. If there are twice as many companies matching the criteria from one territory to the next, the quota should reflect this.
Then, quotas should be comprised of multiple contributing components, where there are minimum expectations and where performance is tracked:
- Sales closed from inbound leads (Demand gen from Marketing)
- Sales closed from outbound leads (Sales rep prospecting)
- Sales closed from expansion on existing accounts.
Bring in sales from each of three sources requires entirely different skill sets. Tracking this information provides a basis from which the sales rep can focus efforts on improvement from one quarter to the next, and it provides management with a better picture of where each reps strengths and weaknesses are.
Finally, it is important that the system for calculating the quota be transparent and communicated to the sales staff. This is often a source of unnecessary consternation among a sales team who often will assume management is playing favorites (creating bad morale) if there is not transparency into the process.
Sales Team Structure
A Sales Team should be structured around the two primary lead flow currents: Inbound Generated Lead Flow and Outbound Generated Lead Flow.
Inbound Generated Lead Flow
Inbound generated Lead flow refers to all sales derived from prospects that originally connected with the company as a result of Marketing Department activities (e.g. Webinars, Email Marketing Campaigns, White Paper / Case Study downloads, Event lead capture, Lead Purchases, etc.). In these cases, the prospect is responding to the company’s marketing activities, providing contact info, the marketing team is capturing that info and passing the lead to the sales team where some percentage of those leads will “indirectly” enter the sales cycle.
Inbound Team Structure
The sales team structure supporting inbound generated leads (pictured below) actually begins with the VP of Marketing, who dictates the overall Marketing Strategy and Marketing Plan, and builds the marketing team that will execute on it. The most critical marketing team role in the inbound lead flow is the Dir. / Mgr. of Demand Generation, who designs and implements the specific demand generation programs, and is ultimately accountable to the number of qualified inbound leads given to the sales team from quarter to quarter. When inbound generated leads come in they must first be vetted for quality by the Lead Qualifying Reps (LQR’s). The leads that are “qualified” by the LQR’s are then passed on to the Sales Reps.
Outbound Generated Lead Flow
Outbound Generated Lead Flow refers to all sales derived from prospects that originally connected with the company as a result of direct contact from the sales team (e.g. cold call, direct email, personal network leveraging, cold introduction at events, etc.). In these cases, the prospect has not yet responded to the company’s marketing activities (by providing contact info) — they are responding to sales team prospecting activities, and “directly” entering the sales cycle.
Outbound Team Structure
The sales team structure supporting outbound generated leads (pictured above) begins with the VP of Sales, who dictates the overall Sales Strategy and Sales Plan, and builds the sales team that will execute on it. The most critical sales team role in the outbound lead flow is actually a partnership between a Sales Development Rep (SDR) and the Sales Rep. These two roles work together in teams, and should both be held accountable to the number of outbound leads and number of sales derived from outbound leads from quarter to quarter. The Sales Rep designs the outbound prospecting strategy and plan, and the SDR executes it (e.g. cold calls, email/ social media campaigns, researching leads) with support from the Sales Rep.
Sales Pipeline Tracking
Sales Pipeline Tracking refers to refers to the common language and practices a sales team uses to track each prospect through each stage of the sales cycle to booking, which helps to make sales forecasting more accurate.
As a lead works its way through each stage of the sales cycle, the “lead status” in the CRM should change to reflect the accurate position in the pipeline. The following provides an example standard “lead status” terminology:
- Attempting to Contact
- Attempting to Qualify
The lead record type in the CRM should also change as the lead passes certain milestones. These designations help management create metrics for analyzing the pipeline health and the performance of the team. It also provides insight into each Sales Rep’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities by revealing where their sales successes are coming from. The following provides an example standard “lead type” terminology. Note the sales team acronym references (LQR = Lead Qualifying Rep, SDR = Sales Development Rep, Sales Rep = Inside Sales Reps and Field Sales Reps).
- MCL – Marketing Created Lead. Lead captured or purchased by the marketing department.
- MQL – Marketing Qualified Lead. Inbound generated lead that Marketing team (LQR’s) has reviewed, or the marketing automation system (e.g. Marketo) has scored high. LQR has contacted lead and attempted to verify quality.
- SGL – Sales Generated Lead. Outbound generated lead prospected by the SDR / Sales Rep.
- SAL – Sales Accepted Lead. Meets lead criteria of Sales Rep and is “accepted” as a lead he will pursue. This number is tracked for each Sales Rep for performance review (e.g. % moved to SQL, % moved to closed)
- SQL – Sales Qualified Lead. Sales Rep has held successful meeting, and lead is advancing through the sales cycle.
The following chart can be used as a general guide for sales funnel stages of the pipeline, and the corresponding lead status and closing probability, although every sales environment will likely have unique variations. Stages should coincide with designations in the CRM of record (e.g. SalesForce.com):
Sales Materials & Knowledge Base
Sales Materials and other critical information for the sales team needs to be updated, organized and easily accessible via secure, cloud based file sharing system (e.g. Box.com). While Marketing materials (White Papers, Case Studies, Website Content, etc.) can and should be used by the sales team, there should be a resource available to the Sales Team for creating custom sales materials.
The sales team should have access to relevant real-time (or near real-time) data on a daily and weekly basis to provide insight into how the organization is running. Everyone should have at least one key daily or weekly metric (“Critical Number” ) and a set of supporting metrics (“Smart Numbers”) driving performance. See next section on Sales Team Metrics for more detail.
Common sales team materials include:
- Standard Sales Docs (Company / product overview, price sheet, etc.)
- Case studies for each industry vertical
- Contracts + all legal info
- Presentation Decks
- Links to video content