16 Best Sales Strategies: Free Template & Examples for Startups and SMBs in 2023
The right sales strategy can make or break your startup or small business, regardless of the growth stage you're currently in.
From doubling down on perfecting your cold email outreach to identifying profitable niche markets, leveraging storytelling, knowing how to follow up the right way, and more—we’re about to break down how the best companies create winning sales strategies, by highlighting real examples and plans the top sales teams use today.
First, it's important to know that an effective sales strategy is more than just a single activity. It’s the culmination of these individual tactics, and using them to achieve a specific set of sales goals (as informed by your overall sales plan.)
Let’s talk about what a sales strategy really is, and how you can build your own sales strategy plan right here today. Then to top it all off, we have a free strategy template you can use right now to hit the ground running:
GET YOUR FREE SALES STRATEGY TEMPLATE →
What is a Sales Strategy?
A sales strategy is a combination of the methods and tactics your sales reps use to strategically close deals. It includes planning out who you'll sell to, how your team members will engage with them, and what the buying process will look like.
A sales strategy includes things like:
- Having clear buyer personas
- Knowing which sales pitch and value proposition to use
- Developing a plan to identify qualified leads
- Planning out the steps in your sales pipeline
- Setting realistic sales goals
In short, sales managers can create a strategy for their team by implementing different sales tactics and showing their team how to use each tactic throughout the sales process to get the best results.
In retail, your sales strategy is also a core component of a successful retail marketing strategy, as your marketing team and sales must be closely aligned to be effective.
Benefits of a Clear Sales Strategy
Why should you be interested in creating a sales strategy? Here are five benefits:
- Higher conversion rates ✅
- A clearer understanding of your target customers ✅
- Actionable tasks for each team member ✅
- Easier reporting on team performance within the sales strategy ✅
- Focuses your sales training and hiring initiatives ✅
Types of Sales Strategies: Inbound vs Outbound
Wondering which type of sales strategy would work best for you? For B2B sales, it’s important to consider both an inbound and outbound sales plan.
An inbound sales strategy is needed when new leads come organically into your pipeline via a form on your website, email, or free trial signup. The tactics your team uses when a new inbound lead arrives should align with the marketing strategy. That way, new potential customers can flow easily through the sales funnel and become qualified leads.
An outbound sales strategy involves actively searching for and engaging with potential customers in your target market. Sales leaders identify the right tactics to engage with prospective customers through cold email, cold calls, social selling, and more.
A great sales strategy includes a bit of both, but the best option will depend on the demographic you sell to and your team’s capabilities.
Create professional and effective cold emails, even if you're not sure how, with our cold email generator. Automate the process and streamline your outreach today!
Sales Strategy Template [Free Download]
Ready to create your own sales strategy? Give your sales organization a head start with this free sales strategy template. Use it to:
- Develop an ideal customer profile
- Create a clear value proposition
- Establish sales benchmarks with clear KPIs
- Set up a process for qualification and closing
16 Best Sales Strategies From Top Sales Leaders & Entrepreneurs
Some sales strategies come and go with the bestselling book of the week or the advent of new tools & technologies. Yet others are firmly here to stay—rooted in hard psychological principles that explain what really motivates people to buy.
Today, we’re sharing 25 proven sales strategies that real entrepreneurs and successful startups are employing to grow their brands, plus sales strategy examples for you to see these ideas in action.
1. Start With Small Niche Markets
Rather than reaching out to businesses of all different sizes, industries, and offerings, target specific niche markets with customers that share a common pain point you can uniquely address. With this strategy, your sales team can develop a niche-specific pitch and dramatically increase the effectiveness of their cold outreach.
Worried niching down at an early stage could limit your options? Entrepreneur and marketer, Pat Flynn shares, “It’s great to think big and shoot for the stars, but when it comes to niche selection, you can get more results, faster, by thinking specialized.”
By forging creative partnerships with big-name bloggers and brands that reach an audience of bloggers, ConvertKit has gained invaluable brand advocates and affiliates to spread their message as a major component of their sales strategy.
2. Use Lead Scoring to Prioritize Your Prospects
After fully qualifying your sales prospects, lead scoring will help you prioritize your prospects based on the strongest possibility for closing the sale quickly—before beginning your outreach efforts.
Lead scoring is a process of ranking inbound leads on a scale of 1 to 100 based on their characteristics and behavior. Ranking factors might include:
- Job title or role
- Specific actions that indicate intent
- Company size
Work your prospect list from top to bottom to prioritize time on the highest-scoring leads with the greatest potential for conversion. These people should be in your target audience and (hopefully) giving some indication they'll make a purchase.
Grab our free list of 42 B2B qualifying questions and make sure you understand your buyers—before reaching out.
3. Develop Effective Sales Sequences for Follow-Ups
Following up is the backbone of any good sales strategy. Having a couple of good sales calls with your prospect only to let them silently drop off the face of the planet signifies a death spiral for your sales strategy.
Here’s what Close CEO, Steli Efti, says:
“I follow up as many times as necessary until I get a response. I don’t care what the response is as long as I get one. If someone tells me they are not interested, I leave them alone. But here is the kicker—if they don’t respond at all, I will keep pinging them until they do. And trust me, they always do.”
To build a follow-up strategy that’s measurable and effective, use templated sales sequences. Inside your CRM, like Close, you’ll be able to build out a series of emails and SMS messages that are sent to your prospect at a regular frequency. You can even include phone calls in your sequences, and the assigned rep will be prompted to make the call when the time comes.
Dan Gower, Owner at Buddy Gardner Advertising, has created over 950 sales cadences. He says,
“Instead of individual touchpoints, top sales teams think in terms of multi-channel, multi-touch cadences.
Cadences allow you to build value over time instead of trying to persuade someone all at once. As a result, sellers can build relationships and be less pushy. Open rates go up, response rates go up, and you'll ultimately close more deals.”
4. Build a Consultative Selling Strategy
By thinking of yourself as a proactive problem-solver for each prospect you engage with, you can shift your own perception of the role you’re playing in the sales process from seller to consultant. If you set out with the primary objective of helping your prospects, you’ll naturally be leading them to the best solution for their business.
Gauri Manglik, CEO & Co-founder of Instrumentl, says:
“Focusing on the customer experience is so important—it’s not just about what your product does, it’s about how your customers feel when they're using your product or services.
The best way to do this? Make sure every member of your team knows who their customer is and what they want from them. Then create a process that allows all team members to consistently deliver what those customers want at every touchpoint along the way.”
SaaS founder and co-host of The Startup Chat podcast Hiten Shah adds,
“The best salespeople have always been helpful. When you're selling a product or service, it's hard to go wrong if you're genuinely looking to help the other person. That's really when selling becomes more than just sales.
It becomes all about building a genuine, meaningful relationship instead of about just selling what you have to someone.”
This also includes adding value at each step in the sales process. As Luke Genoyer, Sales Manager at Global Call Forwarding, says:
“With the amount of noise in prospects' inboxes, you need to "train" prospects to prioritize your emails above all the others by providing something worthy of their time each time you message them, rather than just "checking in.”
A good sales strategy is long-term; there’s no substitute for making a positive lasting impression. Don’t miss out on a future potential sale because you weren’t helpful.
5. Reach Out to SQLs Within 24 Hours of Signup
Assume your prospects are comparing your product with competitors, deciding whether you’re the right solution for their needs based on what they can see. That’s why it’s vital to qualify new leads and get in touch with them as quickly as possible.
Then, you can:
- Answer questions
- Overcome objections
- Walk them through how your product can help them achieve their goals
Keep your initial outreach short. Ask them if they have time to speak about ways you could be helpful to them, and make it easy to accept by giving a few options for specific times you’re available to connect.
Pro tip: Automate a “hot list” for fresh leads that are shared with your team. Our team uses Smart Views in Close to make sure that inbound leads get contacted quickly. Try it yourself with a free 14-day trial.
6. Use the PAS Framework
P-A-S stands for Problem-Agitate-Solution. In this sales strategy, your goal is to identify the prospect’s biggest problems and position your product as the best possible solution to them—if indeed that’s true. Here are the three stages of the PAS framework in action:
- Problem: Identify and clearly state the #1 problem your product solves for prospects.
- Agitate: Highlight how dangerous the problem is and remind prospects about all the negative implications it can have.
- Solution: Position your product as the solution to their specific problem.
Remember: the PAS framework isn’t about generating false problems or convincing people to buy into your business idea out of misplaced fear. Instead, the goal is to identify business problems, show what could happen if those problems aren’t solved, and explain how your product can genuinely help them.
7. Build Community Among Your Prospects and Customers
A sense of community can bring your customers together, and add a human element to your sales process that makes your brand stand out among the crowd.
Here’s how Anton Geier, a multiple startup CEO, explains it:
“In a rapidly evolving business landscape dominated by AI, machine learning, and big data, the importance of cultivating genuine human relationships with customers has become increasingly apparent. At BCS Bus, we host events, establish online communities, and actively foster relationships with customers and industry leaders to build a sense of community around our brand and products.
Community building as a sales strategy is rooted in authenticity and our genuine desire to connect with customers. As a result, we have cultivated a loyal customer base that remains committed to our brand and drives long-term sales success by prioritizing these relationships.”
Developing an active community takes effort and time, but it is a great way to build stronger customer relationships. And for some, it may even happen by accident:
“We interview target clients on our podcast,” explains Alex Birkett, Co-founder at Omniscient Digital.
“The primary focus is for marketing, but it became an accidental sales strategy because we end up working with 5-10% of the people we interview. This is an accidental "sales strategy," as the primary focus is for marketing, but we interview target clients on our podcast and end up working with 5-10% of them."
At the end of the day, you're spending 1-2 hours learning about passions, pain points, and processes of someone you'd like to work with. It's the perfect warm introduction and almost forms the basis
GET YOUR FREE SALES STRATEGY TEMPLATE →
8. Create Real Urgency
Most people don’t buy until the last possible moment—until they absolutely need your product. After all, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
As James Wilkinson, CEO of Balance One Supplements, says:
“At least 32% of the prospects in our pipeline have a status quo bias, which means they are comfortable with their status and aren’t looking to switch things up.
To convert these leads, we focus on helping them see why they need to change their current situation—disrupting the status quo. Creating a sense of urgency is critical to the success of this strategy.”
If your prospects aren’t convinced to take action immediately, they’ll push it off until the next quarter. Creating a real sense of urgency means helping your prospect realize why they need your solution right now, and helping them take action now that can have a positive impact on their business.
Of course, urgency must be authentic to work. Small business coach Tara McMullin says,
“Urgency is about need. If you want people to feel a sense of urgency for buying your product, you need to know why they need it now.”
Here are three foundational strategies for creating even more urgency with SaaS sales:
- Limited enrollment: Offer to get them into your limited program of 10 clients who are testing out the new product.
- Upcoming price increases: An improved product brings higher value to customers, and you should increase the price. Announce price increases in advance to encourage quick buying decisions.
- Custom offers: Consider offering a special service, consultation, training sessions, or plan upgrades in exchange for making a decision today.
Another way to create real urgency is to specifically target decision-makers who are closer to a purchase point.
Says Naman Bansal, CEO of Duelance,
“We provide a freelance recruitment platform, so we're going to be selling to people who just posted a job on a job board or competitor platform, and try to convince them to come over.
Since they're looking to hire RIGHT NOW, and our value proposition is better than our competitors, we are predicting a high rate of success. We've tried this strategy in the past as well and it has worked wonders.”
9. Sell More to Your Existing Customers
Studies show that on average, it’s about five times more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to retain and continue providing value to your existing ones.
Of course, gaining new customers is an essential part of growing your business, but when you’re considering piloting new features, feature requests or expanding into new related markets, it’s easy to overlook the value of selling first to your existing customers and prioritizing retention.
Beyond just new feature testing, you can also look for ways your existing customers can get more value from your product, such as through a plan upgrade or additional training.
10. Intelligently Use Free Trials
Incorporating a free trial into your company’s sales strategy can lead to massive gains in paid signups—if you do it right.
Here are two keys to a smart trial:
- Keep it short: The goal of a free trial is to help the right customers commit quickly to a paid plan. Keep your plan short—no more than 14 days—and you’ll increase the likelihood of prospects taking it seriously and truly evaluating your product. Plus, you’ll help tighten that sales cycle.
- Invest in onboarding: Don’t just leave your customers to poke around on their own. Create an onboarding flow with a clear, simple goal that will help your prospects get their first small win with your product.
When you limit the timeframe and help your prospects experience real results with your product, your likelihood of conversion will go up, and you can earn more from your free trial.
11. Develop Consumable Product Demos Based on Your Customer’s Journey
Today’s sales conversations happen much later in the buyer journey than they used to. As your B2B sales force focuses more on selling to Millennials, they’ll see that these buyers are extremely informed, and less likely to sit through a drawn-out product demo.
“B2C understands that Millennials just don’t have the attention span for marketing and sales. B2B is trailing behind here,” says Noam Horenczyk of Walnut.io.
“The problem is that we’re still selling to Baby Boomers when our buyers are Millennials and soon-to-be Gen Z’ers. You tell them they have to schedule 60 to 90 minutes with a sales rep, do 20 minutes of introductions, etc… And you’ve lost them.”
The solution? Create short, actionable product demos that meet customers where they are in the buyer’s journey. Weave your discovery questions into your demo, and ramp up your sales process to the speed your customers want to travel.
Or, take it one step further—create an on-demand product demo that prospects can consume at their own pace, like the one we built here.
12. Build Relationships With Key Partners
Partnerships can make a huge impact in your revenue, and building those relationships is well worth the investment of time and effort.
A partner program can be relatively simple to set up—all you need is people who love your product, and a reasonable incentive to motivate them to promote it.
Here are two types of partners you can find pretty easily:
- Brand evangelists inside your current customer base: Do you already have raving fans who love your product and regularly recommend it to their network? Take the time to hop on a call with these people and develop a more structured relationship with them.
- Complementary businesses who would benefit from recommending your product to their customers: Here at Close, these include sales consultants and business coaches who recommend Close as a CRM for their clients. They benefit by getting compensation from every new customer they refer, but also because they can help their clients succeed with a CRM that fits their needs.
JOIN THE CLOSE PARTNER PROGRAM→
These partnerships are long-term relationships that will continue to evolve over time. Be a resource to these partners, and give them extra support on a product level. When you help resolve their issues time and again, you’ll solidify that relationship and help them to their job better while building more revenue for your business.
13. Get a Sales Operations Team in Place
Your sales reps are focused on making calls, setting up product demos, and closing deals. Your sales operations team handles the processes and tasks that keep that workflow going smoothly. This might include setting up lead generation and distribution, analyzing sales data, assigning territories, and setting up a sales tech stack.
Why is this a vital sales strategy? Because these tasks always need to be done, and if you don’t have a specialized team in charge of getting your processes and tech stack up and running, the rest of the team will have to pitch in and get it done, taking away precious time they could spend actually selling.
If you want your sales process, team structure, and sales tools to run smoothly on a continuous basis, you should get a sales operations team in place.
14. Invest Time in Social Selling
We all know that our B2B prospects live on social media (just as much as you, your grandma, and her cat also do).
So, helping your team develop an intelligent social selling strategy can impact your sales. That might include:
- Setting up social listening tools so sales reps can join relevant conversations at the right moment
- Enabling your reps to become thought leaders in the industry
- Helping your team plan specific time and strategies to do cold outreach on social media networks like LinkedIn
Here’s what Anup Kayastha, Founder of Height Comparison, says:
“Implementing a robust social selling strategy this past year has allowed me to double the sales revenue I made in 2021. I'm also closing an average of five more deals per month than I used to before.”
15. Segment Customers for Personalized Outreach
While segmentation is always a good idea, there must be a clear strategy and goal for this. Using clear segments to create personalized outreach is a strategy many startups use today to close higher-quality deals.
“At girokonto.io, our go-to for sales success is customer segmentation and personalization,” says Lisa Dietrich, Partner at girokonto.io.
“Not everyone who visits our website has the same needs, so we use customer segmentation to tailor our messaging and offers, so everyone gets a personalized experience.”
“We doubled our conversion rate, and increased our average order value by 15%,” says Lisa. “This sales strategy also helped us increase customer loyalty by 20%, as customers felt valued when they received custom offers that catered specifically to their needs.”
Personalizing your outreach can also work with individual touchpoints. Sharon Heather, Business Development Director of EasyMerchant Limited, shares an experience from her early days of selling:
“When I was starting out, I was selling plumbing supplies to a small contractor. I took the time to understand his business operations, what types of products he was looking for, and the specific needs of his projects.
Based on that information, I provided him with a tailored product package that saved him time and money. He was so impressed with my attention to detail and customer service that he continued to do business with me and even recommended me to his colleagues.”
When your segmentation has a clear, actionable goal, you’ll see much better results.
16. Blend Inbound and Outbound Strategies
Inbound and outbound sales strategies don’t need to live in separate silos. Both can work together to become an even more powerful sales strategy for your business.
Says Robert Hoffman, Sales Manager at CashbackHero: “We've found that a blended approach to sales works best for us. We focus on both outbound and inbound sales and use our data to inform our strategies.
“One strategy that has been particularly successful for us is leveraging personalization within our content marketing efforts. This allows us to create highly targeted campaigns for different segments of our target audience based on their interests, habits, and purchase behaviors.
For example, we segmented our audience according to their preferences regarding online shopping experiences, then created tailored content for each segment. This resulted in an increase of 40% in the number of people signing up on the website over a period of three months!"
Overall, having multiple components working together helps maximize the effectiveness of each individual strategy since different channels complement each other better.
How to Build Your Own Successful Sales Strategy in 6 Steps (Framework)
Ready to build your sales strategy? Don’t forget to grab the free sales strategy template, and dig in!
1. Develop S.M.A.R.T. Sales Goals
Developing coherent sales goals (and sticking to them) is easier said than done. Your sales strategy should include both long-term goals that are aligned with the company’s mission, as well as short-term goals that focus on getting enough deals closed this month or quarter.
But above all, your sales goals should be SMART:
Sit down with your sales team to discuss goals. Set business goals, not only for the sales organization in general but also for each step in your strategy. As you plan new initiatives, create goals that will tell you whether or not these are successful. Plan time to review your results and compare them with the original goals that you set.
2. Create Your Ideal Customer Profile
Having a clear view of who you’re selling to is an essential part of your sales strategy. Take time to understand which customers are most successful with your product, and which traits they have in common.
Your ideal customer profile will help your team focus on the deals that can bring the most value to your business.
3. Evaluate the Different Types of Sales Strategies
The type of sales strategy you choose to pursue will depend on how your team is built, how customers typically find out about you, and where you can best engage new customers in the buying process.
For example, if you already have a high number of new leads that come organically through word-of-mouth or your website, you may want to focus more time on inbound sales strategies.
On the other hand, if your business is new and has a very limited web presence, you may want to adjust your team and tactics to focus on developing new business through outbound sales.
4. Develop a Clear Sales Process to Follow (and Execute on Your Sales Strategy)
Your sales process is a guideline that takes your team through the steps that lead from first contact to a closed deal.
Normally, a B2B sales process would include:
- Initial outreach
- Qualification and discovery
- Sales meeting or product demo
You may also choose to include upsell opportunities or new customer onboarding as part of your sales process.
Through each of these stages, choose the specific sales strategies that your sales reps should use at each step. For example, is their initial outreach through cold emails, or calls? Will they invite new leads to jump on a Zoom call, or will they try to schedule a product demo right away? Where do referrals happen?
Develop a plan based on which strategies you’ve seen work in the real world, but be flexible as things change over time.
5. Build Your Sales Stack and Documentation
You can only execute the right strategies if they are clearly documented, and your team has the right resources to complete them.
First, create your minimum viable sales documentation, including a clear value proposition, your sales pitch, and anything else you consider absolutely essential to your sales team.
Next, plan out your sales stack. Which tools will your team use for prospecting? How will they communicate with prospects and with each other? Link each strategy to the right tool, and you’ll have a great plan in place.
6. Track and Analyze Sales Data to Adjust Your Sales Strategy
Keeping track of key sales metrics like conversion rates, team activity, customer lifetime value, profit margin, and sales velocity will help you see how your sales strategy is working, and whether you need to adjust. Ongoing sales analysis is how you'll monitor your team's overall performance and the effectiveness of the strategies you're implementing.
Pro tip: Use the Opportunity Funnel Report in Close to get all your essential sales KPIs at a glance. Quickly identify low conversion points in your sales funnel, and adjust your strategy to get better results.
What’s Your Most Effective Sales Strategy?
Whether you’re running a startup of your own or trying to increase your organization’s sales effectiveness, a sales strategy can help you increase conversion rates and close more deals.
Now it’s up to you—think about which sales strategies in the list above will work best for your business, and use our free template to start setting up your first sales strategy.
Ready to scale your sales? Our free Sales Success Kit features templates, checklists, worksheets, and step-by-step guides to make your life easier.