The DEC’s 4 Step Guide To Developing a Sales Strategy

One of the greatest challenges facing any startup is developing, implementing and actually getting results from your sales strategy. So much of your talent, time and energy — not to mention your budget — go into making your vision a reality. Consequently, marketing and sales are often afterthoughts, becoming important only when customers prove scarce, or you learn the hard way that when you’re not selling, your competitors are.

It’s not enough to simply build something elegant or grand; your venture’s architecture needs to incorporate some awareness of how to transform your great idea into a successful brand. Because let’s face it, if you can’t sell what you’ve created, then you’re dead in the water. But you’re not sunk yet. We’ve developed a four-point strategy to help entrepreneurs NOT SUCK at sales.

1. Prepare

The great news for startups is that you already have several of the tools you need to prepare a sales strategy at your disposal. Remember that feasibility study you had authored? Mine that document for information on the threats and opportunities in your chosen market. Moreover, the study’s analysis of your business’ strengths and weaknesses is loaded with keywords that can help you appeal to known customers and pinpoint potential customers. But remember that research will only take you so far when it comes to customer identification. Make sure you’ve done your customer development work. It’s not enough to know who you “think” your customer is or even do research around whether they would buy your product. You need to make sure you get out of the office and start interacting with potential customers, test hypotheses and constantly refine your plan based upon these key interactions. Ultimately, you need to put your spreadsheets aside, get out of the office and work your connections to drive customer awareness within your target market.

2. Plan

OK, so you’ve figured out who your target market is. Now how do you reach them? At the planning stage, you need to begin transforming your data (hard information) and intuitive sense of what sells (soft information) into actual solutions. Your marketing strategy needs to focus on what your business does and how your business does what it does. Your salespeople will rely upon one set of approaches in getting leads into your pipeline and closing deals, while your social media director and Web development team will adopt a different game plan for shaping your business’ profile. But these approaches must still be coordinated. Reviewing the CRM software already available to you — Zoho,Sugar, Salesforce — via free trials can help you gain a better understanding of all the factors you need to consider. And don’t worry about over-investing in this stage of the process; the payoff may not be immediate, but it will materialize later. Begin to put together your strategy, your pipeline, and create a system for how you’re going to contact, follow up and take the potential customer through the sales process. I was always taught that “proper preparation prevents poor performance,” so make sure you develop a comprehensive plan to ensure you’re putting yourself in a position to be successful.

3. Practice

Malcolm Gladwell’s basic principle applies here: In order to master a skill, you have to “do your reps.” Approach each opportunity to talk about your business as a rehearsal of your basic pitch. But remember that being consistent is not synonymous with repeating the same spiel every time. Each set of circumstances is different and can provide new insights into how you might hone and improve your marketing strategy. Seize opportunities for you and your staff to role-play and workshop your pitches with each other. Encourage them to give and take feedback, and collaborate on developing best practices as opposed to strict boilerplate. Remember that it’s not just practice that makes a difference in outcomes, but perfect practice. You need to constantly be refining your process to ensure you’re fully embracing lessons learned and improving on how you do things to create the desired results from your sales process.

4. Perfect

One of the virtues of the workshop model is it helps you to continually glean constructive responses. With each customer interaction, it’s worth asking: What worked? What didn’t work? What might I do better in my next interaction? In addition to the story of your company, can your team tell stories that illuminate successful and unsuccessful customer interactions? It’s also important to think past the transaction or exchange. Customer appreciation is essential to strong sales, but it involves follow-up. Follow-up is where your business solidifies its reputation, and a good reputation is as valuable as any currency. Even something as simple as an actual thank-you note can be incredibly effective in terms of cementing the kind of lasting customer loyalty that can significantly boost the growth of your business.

Really talk to your customers and get to know them. Ask them questions — not just for the purpose of figuring out what problem they’re looking to solve, but as a means of building rapport. The key, of course, is to ask the right kinds of questions, anticipating the questions you know the customer already has, as well as the questions they may not yet have asked but to which you can already supply answers. With each customer interaction, you need to gather basic information about the interaction itself (“Am I actually talking to someone who can make a decision about the product or service we are offering?”), the customer’s explicit need (“What challenges are you facing?”), contingencies the customer may or may not be aware of (“What challenges are you anticipating? What do you think about this trend?”) and what the customer’s idea of a desirable solution might be (“If I understand that your issues are A, B and C, and I could provide something that would drive more revenue or save you cost, would that be helpful to you?”). Treating each customer interaction as an interview can also help you avoid two common pitfalls: continuing to sell after you’ve made the sale, and, worse, selling to someone who isn’t really your customer. A sales strategy that doesn’t consider when not to sell is no strategy at all.

In the end, a thorough sales strategy is a great way to develop and grow your business. You can constantly refine and learn from the process you’re developing, but the worst thing you can do is to neglect your sales strategy. There’s one thing for certain: Without sales, there’s no way you can have a successful business. So commit the necessary time to the process, and develop a sales strategy where you prepare, plan, practice and perfect to set your company on the trajectory for success.

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