Sales Engagement: What, Why, and How + 7 Tools That Can Help
How often does your team interact with prospects before the deal is closed?
In most cases, sales professionals have multiple conversations with prospects before they decide to purchase. In fact, only two percent of sales happen in the first meeting.
So what happens after that first meeting? That’s where sales engagement comes in. The methods, channels, strategies, messaging, and software your team uses to interact with prospects as they move through the sales pipeline is known collectively as sales engagement. It might include sending emails, making phone calls, or even giving product demos.
So what exactly does sales engagement involve, and how can you optimize the process to close more deals? Here’s what yo need to know to make the most of the engagement process.
What Is Sales Engagement?
The goal of sales engagement is for your salespeople to get a positive response from their prospect at each touchpoint and keep the deal moving forward.
In other words, everything that affects customer interactions throughout the sales cycle—which ends only when your sales team passes the customer off for onboarding—can be referred to as “sales engagement.”
But good sales engagement strategies don’t just include sales teams; they also involve comprehensive integration with marketing teams. A 2023 HubSpot survey backs up this claim: 25 percent of sales professionals report improved lead quality when marketing and sales teams are able to work together seamlessly.
So whether your team is making cold calls to outbound leads, following up on inbound leads, creating content with the marketing team, working with customer stakeholders during negotiations, or sending over contracts, they’re taking part in sales engagement—and the success of a sales engagement program depends on decisions made by the sales leaders.
With a great sales engagement strategy in place, you have the potential to shorten the sales cycle, close more sales, and keep your sales reps more organized.
Teams without an effective sales engagement process risk prematurely ending conversations with leads that could have led to sales, and not having the strategies and tools to get the most out of each interaction with prospects.
Here are some examples to make things clearer:
Examples of sales engagement include:
- Sending emails
- Creating scripts and templates for common messaging, like form follow-up emails or cold text messages
- Booking and hosting meetings
- Running a product demo
- Leaving voicemails
- Responding to comments on social media
Sales engagement also includes the automated interactions leads have with your company, including:
- Filling out a form on your website
- Interacting with a chatbot
- Being added to an email sequence
- Using a sales scheduling tool to book a meeting with you
Looking for innovative sales strategies? Check out our guide to challenger selling.
Sales Engagement Vs. Sales Enablement: What’s the Difference?
The difference between sales engagement and sales enablement is that sales engagement refers to any sales activities that affect interactions between sales reps and leads, while sales enablement refers to the internal processes that support your salesforce. In other words, a solid sales enablement program makes sales engagement processes more effective.
While sales engagement includes things like cold email templates (by the way, the easiest way to write cold email templates is with our AI tool), sharing customer success and education content, call scripts, and sales communication tools, sales enablement includes things like:
- Maintaining a sales team that is adequately staffed and trained
- Equipping teams with the sales development tools they need to function productively
- Providing ongoing analysis of your sales team’s KPIs so you can continually optimize the sales engagement processes tied to those KPIs
Without a strong sales enablement foundation, your sales engagement strategies are much less likely to be effective.
Building a Strategic Sales Engagement Strategy: 6 Essential Steps
An effective sales engagement program combines sales strategy, good timing, and the right communication channels. The process should be well-monitored and adjusted over time.
The way you set up your B2B sales engagement strategy can build better customer relationships and break down barriers to a closed deal.
Before we go into the six essential steps to beef up your engagement strategy, I’ll give you one pro tip first: before you create or make changes to your sales engagement strategy, check reputable resources (and continue to do so periodically) for studies and trends that impact the strategies you use.
A quick example: a recent massive study of cold calls by Gong Labs found sales reps have the first five seconds of a cold call to earn five minutes of time with the lead. The study also showed successful cold calls are twice as long as unsuccessful ones. You can use this knowledge to your advantage when you write cold call scripts.
Once you’ve gotten your research out of the way, you’re ready to follow the six steps below to create a lucrative and efficient sales engagement strategy.
1. Optimize Both Inbound and Outbound Interactions
If you’re doing things right, the early stages of your sales process are different for inbound and outbound leads. You should adapt your engagement strategy accordingly.
For example, the first engagement your team has with inbound leads is probably through something on your website, such as a form, scheduling tool, or chatbot. Later, your team will interact with them directly through a phone call or email.
Engagement in the early stages of the inbound sales cycle could be things like writing a script for a follow-up email or call for your sales reps to use when they contact new inbound leads, or working with content management and marketing teams to develop a library of customer education content like blog posts or downloadables that sales reps can send in the beginning of the buyer’s journey.
Unlike inbound leads who initiate the first contact with a business, outbound leads usually hear about businesses when sales reps contact them for the first time. This means open rates for your first direct interactions will be low. So, with that in mind, the goal of your early engagement strategy for outbound leads is to spark their interest in your business. Once they’re interested, you can keep the conversion flowing and move the lead down the sales funnel until (hopefully) onboarding.
For outbound, more engagement happens at these early stages of the process—according to a study by the RAIN Group, it takes an average of eight touches to get that initial meeting with an outbound lead.
Early outbound engagement can be things like writing scripts and email templates for initial outreach conversations, working with content or marketing teams to create thought-leadership blog content (thereby proving your authority in the field!), or compiling customer reviews your sales reps can share with new prospects (it’s always good to build trust early!)
Make sure your sales engagement is optimized for both inbound and outbound, and you’ll see much smoother interactions.
2. Pick the Right Channels for Communication
As I already said, the term “sales engagement” can apply to many different methods, channels, tools, and employees.
Since the number of sales engagement strategies is endless, it can be tempting to try as many different strategies as possible. It’s particularly tempting to throw your efforts across as many communication channels as possible.
Don’t do this—it’s not the most productive use of your team’s time and won’t improve their sales cadence.
Instead, pick the communication channels that work best for your prospects. Where do they prefer to be contacted? Are they social (media) butterflies who love to connect on LinkedIn? Do they want snappy phone calls where they can get the information they need quickly?
To choose the right communication channels, you need to know your customers. If you’re feeling a bit distanced from your prospects, download our toolkit to develop your own Ideal Customer Profiles.
3. Set a Cadence for Communication
Timing is also a key sales engagement factor.
Here’s an example that illustrates why:
Let’s say a new lead fills out a form on your website. From your customer profiles, you know that this type of lead prefers to get a phone call from your sales team—but your reps take five days to call the new lead back. By that time, the lead has already found another option.
The channel is right, but the timing is all wrong.
To optimize your strategy, find ways to speed up your team’s reaction times. Pay attention to the times of day (or days of the week, or weeks in the month) that your prospects are more likely to be available and interested in talking to you. Know your prospects, understand their schedule, and adapt your sales engagement to meet their timing.
Tip: Close’s Smart Views help salespeople hone in on hot leads fast by allowing you to create a customized list of prospects that have taken specific actions – like watching a demo.
4. Use Sales Engagement Software to Save Your Team Time
Sales engagement should be a combination of manual and automated outreach from your sales team.
So, as a sales manager, you need to choose the software that allows your team to send the most effective outreach in the least amount of time.
We’ll talk more about some of this software below, but just remember that it’s easy to make things complicated for your team—the hard part is making sales engagement simple. So, narrow down your sales stack to include just the engagement tools that really help your team be more productive and cater to the channels your prospects prefer—and have affordable pricing, of course, so you don’t blow your budget.
5. Track and Exploit Real-time Analytics to Improve Sales Engagement Processes
Your sales engagement strategy would be incomplete without sales analytics.
Monitoring engagement metrics such as email response rate, average call length, pipeline stage conversion rates, and others helps you determine how well your sales engagement strategy is working, as well as areas you need to improve.
6. For Ongoing Success, Set a Process for Making Adjustments
After analyzing your sales engagement strategy, you’ll probably find weak spots where your team can improve or streamline.
To make sure your team is reaching its full potential, put a regular system in place to organize and test new ideas, or make adjustments based on the data you’re collecting.
For example, why not set up a meeting with your team once every quarter to analyze the sales engagement data you’ve collected over the past three months and discuss what’s working and what’s not?
With a structured process for making improvements, you’ll make sure your team is always engaging productively with prospects.
How to Choose the Right Sales Engagement Software for Your Team
Teams with successful sales engagement programs always have one thing in common: they make use of the right tools.
But with so many options on the market, how can you decide on the best sales engagement software for your team?
Let’s talk about some factors you should consider when choosing a sales engagement platform:
Use an Omnichannel Communication Tool to Grow Reach and Improve Efficiency
While your prospects may have a preference for communication channels, it’s hardly realistic to expect your sales engagement software to only give you one option.
In reality, your sales team has multiple conversations with their prospects on various channels–from email to social media–over the course of the sales process.
So, find an omnichannel tool that gives you the ability to engage with prospects on different channels, or that integrates well with other communication tools you use, to give you the combined power of different engagement strategies across multiple channels.
Track Only the Most Impactful KPI Metrics to Help Sales Reps Meet Business Goals
We already talked about how important analytics are to a successful sales engagement strategy. The right software won’t overwhelm you with tons of unnecessary data—it will point you in the right direction with the KPIs that matter most to your team.
Ideally, you’ll be able to customize the sales metrics you see, how it’s delivered to you, or even have the ability to export it to another program for further analysis.
For Best Results, Pick a Tool That Meets Your Team’s Unique Needs
Your team is unique, so you need a tool that will sharpen their strengths while supporting their weak points.
What does this mean?
Let’s say your sales team is remote. In that case, you want to make sure your sales engagement software has clear and intuitive transparency features, with an easy way for everyone to view the last interactions their teammates had with prospects. Also, you’ll want to make sure your software works with remote-first communication tools like Zoom.
Or, if your team consists of SDRs who pass off qualified leads to AEs, you’ll want to make sure you have a system that logs each of those interactions so hand-offs can be seamless.
Also, the ideal sales engagement software will integrate directly with other tools your team is already using—that way, your systems and workflows stay in place, and your overall process for engagement improves.
Find and Automate Interactions at High Touchpoint Stages of the Sales Cycle to Move Leads Through the Funnel
Some stages of the sales cycle are more high-maintenance than others. What do I mean by that? I mean some stages of the cycle require more frequent communication and quicker response times with leads to move them down the funnel.
And that’s not the only potential source of delays at high touchpoint stages; for some stages, like prospecting, your sales reps may need to communicate with leads on multiple platforms.
So you need to ask: which touchpoints fit into which stages of your sales funnel? Are you using different communication channels depending on where your leads are in the pipeline?
For example, when prospecting or setting up the initial sales call, reps might work more through email or social media. Inbound leads in these stages would also be engaged through online forms and other sales tools on your website.
Later in the sales process, though, reps will probably communicate more by phone or video conference.
So, what should you do?
First, look at the “high maintenance” areas of your sales funnel, and identify the key interactions prospects have at each stage.
In stages with more touchpoints, such as the early stages of prospecting and qualifying, there will probably be more touches in less time. Wherever there are more touches, make sure your sales engagement software allows for easy automation within those channels.
Balance Automation and Personalization Strategies to Get and Keep Your Leads’ Attention
In years past, the typical "spray-and-pray" method still got some responses. Now, sales teams have to really up their game if they want to capture the attention of their leads.
This is why personalizing your engagement is an absolute must. This goes beyond adding [first-name] at the beginning of the email—it means creating a message that tells the prospect, “This is for you!”
Of course, manually building each email (or text, or voicemail, or LinkedIn message) from scratch is way too time-consuming for modern sales teams. That’s why you need a sales engagement platform that uses the best of automation alongside the ability to customize your message to each individual prospect.
Top 7 Sales Engagement Platforms You Should Try
Now that you’ve thought about the type of platform that would work best for your team, let’s discuss some of the top options when it comes to sales engagement platforms and sales engagement tools:
Close is a CRM that’s built for SMB sales teams looking to get the most out of their sales engagement technology.
Main sales engagement channels: Phone, email, SMS, Zoom
- Sales engagement channels are accessed within the CRM (so calls, emails, and even zoom meetings happen within the tool)
- All interactions with leads are logged automatically with full transparency for teammates
- Can be used for automated multi-channel sequences
Wondering what a fully equipped sales engagement and CRM platform could do for your team? Try it for yourself with a free 14-day trial, no strings attached. Start building better sales engagement here.
Outreach is a sales engagement software that helps you get in touch with your prospects and improve those interactions.
Main sales engagement channels: Phone, email
- In-app reporting shows you the best times, channels, and sequences to reach prospects
- Integrated calling and email functionality
- Can be used for automated email sequences
- Integrated scheduling tool
Keep in mind that you get what you pay for with Outreach, so it’s pricey. It also needs to be integrated with your CRM.
You can use Drift’s chatbot capabilities to “talk” with website visitors. Drift can help businesses trying to drive leads from their website.
Main engagement channel: Website chat
- 24/7 engagement
- Highly customizable chatbot
- Automatically qualifies leads using simple questions
- Customer-facing in-app booking capabilities to schedule meetings with your team
With Customer.io, you can set up highly customized workflows for your emails based on data the tool receives in real-time.
Main sales engagement channels: Email, SMS, in-app messaging
- Automated email sequence segmentation based on real-time prospect activity
- Easy sales and marketing workflow integration:
- Based on actions they take, leads are automatically segmented and sent specific email segments based on their segment’s typical behavior
- Powerful automation capabilities let you have more touchpoints and opportunities for sales engagement
Note: Customer.io must be integrated with a CRM for best results. But check out how the sales and marketing teams at Customer.io use their own tool alongside Close to set up a high-performing sales process that brings a constant flow of qualified leads.
Intercom is mainly known as a chat tool, but it comes with other features for sales teams.
Main engagement channel: Email, website chat, in-app messaging
- Integrated split testing for messaging
- In-app messaging
- Push notifications can be set for mobile devices
- Advanced customizations capabilities for easy automation of inbound sequences
This form builder is extremely user-friendly, sparing you from having to hire a dedicated developer. It works best for inbound sales teams who have high traffic on their website and are looking to pull more of that traffic into the sales process as qualified leads.
Main engagement channel: Online forms
- Easy drag-and-drop form builder
- Integrates easily with other tools, such as Close and Slack
If your team engages prospects across many channels, Reply might be the sales engagement software for you.
Main engagement channels: Phone, email, SMS, WhatsApp, LinkedIn
- Integrated multi-channel engagement
- Allows you to connect with prospects wherever you might find them, even on LinkedIn and WhatsApp
- Can use it to discover new online leads
- Productivity tools for tasks and workflows to keep everyone on task
- Smart reporting helps make sense of your engagement metrics
Better Sales Engagement = More Sales
It can be easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the quantity of sales engagement, rather than quality. Don’t let this happen to you! You should never sacrifice quality simply to get more emails or social media messaging out. That said, don’t go too far the other way and spent too much time personalizing your messaging at touchpoints that should be automated.
Beware of other common sales engagement pitfalls, like not analyzing data to make sales engagement decisions (or not analyzing the right data!), or using tools that don’t have the features your team needs to succeed.
Instead, remember these tips:
- A good sales engagement strategy includes high-quality touchpoints that encourage prospects to move down the sales pipeline until the deal is closed. Plan strategies under the assumption that it may take eight or even more interactions to close some deals–and don’t start putting in less effort after the 5th or 6th interaction.
- Automation is imperative, but take your time to only automate where it makes sense and spend time crafting your messaging.
- Don’t stop iterating your process.
When you improve the overall strategy of sales engagement for your team members, you’ll be able to build trust with new leads, show them you care, and encourage them to purchase.
Ready to start improving your sales engagement? Why not begin with the tool that does it all: Calls, emails, SMS, and sales playbooks alongside a flexible CRM.
Start your free trial of Close today (we won’t even ask for your credit card).