25 Best Sales Strategies (Free Template): Guide, Plans & Examples for Startups and SMBs in 2022

25 Best Sales Strategies (Free Template): Guide, Plans & Examples for Startups and SMBs in 2022

Having the right sales strategy will 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 are creating winning sales strategies, by highlighting real examples & plans that are in-use by top sales teams 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 that your sales reps use strategically to close deals. It includes planning out who you’re going to 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 marketing and sales must be closely aligned to be most effective.

Benefits of Having a Clear Sales Strategy

Why should you be interested in creating a sales strategy? Here are 5 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. 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.

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

25 Winning Sales Strategies & Examples from Top Entrepreneurs, Startups and SMBs

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. Lead With What's in it for Your Prospect

Too many salespeople ignore what they’re really selling their prospects: Solutions to problems.

Your sales strategy needs to lead with a clear articulation of the challenge you can help your prospect solve. During the beginning of a sales conversation, your prospect doesn’t understand the benefits of what you’re selling. By doing research about their needs up front, you can position your product as a valuable solution to a pain point they’re facing.

When you lead your sales pitch with what’s in it for them, you’ll provide meaningful solutions that’ll turn them into happy, loyal customers.

2. Clearly Articulate End Results

People buy results, not just products or services.

For example, if you’re selling a premium CRM system to SMBs that have never used one before, you’ll need to educate them about how the platform will work, how much of a time investment they should expect to make in managing it, and the types of ongoing support they’ll have access to.

Sales Strategies that Articulate End Results

This sales strategy is particularly relevant if you’re selling a product or service that has an upfront fee, complex rollout, time-intensive integrations, or requires ongoing collaboration with your customers after closing the deal.

Your prospect needs to know what deliverables they’ll get, when those milestones will be met, and the downstream impact they’re expected to have on their business.

3. 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.”

Example: ConvertKit identifies as a marketing platform for creators. In the highly competitive landscape of well-established email marketing providers like MailChimp and Active Campaign, this small company has carved out a curated niche market of customers to go after—online creators.

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.

4. Be Flexible in Your Sales Conversations

During your sales conversations, you’ll naturally come across new obstacles and unique demands from your prospects. Saying "You can’t”, "That’s impossible", and other variations of “No” to your prospect is a death sentence—so, your sales strategy needs to be flexible enough to adapt in the face of new challenges.

Sales strategy coach Grant Cardone says, “In selling, you are seeking an agreement. Your customer is almost always distrustful and uncertain, not about you, but about themselves. Most salespeople think selling is about gaining trust, but in reality, selling is about getting the customer to trust themselves enough to take action and close—which often takes flexibility."

Instead of responding with “No”, use a response like, “I’d love to make that happen for you.” This gives you the opportunity to check with the rest of your team and see if there’s any possibility to accommodate their request.

5. 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 even beginning your outreach efforts.

Qualify Your Leads as Part of Your Sales Strategy

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
  • Department
  • Company size

Work your prospect list from top to bottom to prioritize time on the highest-scoring leads with the greatest potential for conversion.

Grab our free list of 42 B2B qualifying questions and make sure you understand your buyers—before reaching out.

6. Connect With the Decision-Maker

The best prospect relationships aren’t strictly transactional—they’re built on providing upfront value without expecting anything immediately in return. So, before engaging with a decision-making prospect, think about how you can provide value.

  • Can you get them featured in a story you’re writing for a major publication?
  • What about a positive mention on your corporate blog?
  • How about sharing their latest thought leadership piece on social media?

Avoid the typical “recommendation” that conveniently includes purchasing your solution—people who’ve been in business long enough to become a decision-maker will see straight through that tactic.

You probably won’t close a sale right away, but if your product or service has a long sales cycle with a hefty price tag, building meaningful relationships and listening to the unique needs of your prospect will ultimately lead to your best long-term results.

7. Make Your Sales Pitch Exciting

Once you’re confident that you’ve connected with the right point of contact, you need to have a sales pitch that captures the attention of your prospect and guides the conversation in the right direction.

Entrepreneur, investor, and co-star of ABC’s Shark Tank, Robert Herjavec has heard an elevator pitch (or two) in his day. When it comes to delivering an effective pitch, he says it’s more about showing your expertise—not just rattling off the highlight reel of numbers and clients you’ve worked with.

Herjavec shares, "You have 90 seconds, if you’re lucky. If you can’t make your point persuasively in that time, you’ve lost the chance for impact. Facts and figures are important, but you must present them in a manner that generates expertise and confidence."

How do you demonstrate your expertise within your elevator pitch? Do research up-front and show your prospect that you get the challenges they’re facing.

GET YOUR FREE SALES STRATEGY TEMPLATE →

8. Use Storytelling

Incorporating storytelling into your sales strategy can help captivate your prospects on a deeper level, thus netting you more customers over time.

Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Jennifer Aaker explains the power of storytelling, “Research shows our brains are not hard-wired to understand logic or retain facts for very long. Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories. A story is a journey that moves the listener, and when the listener goes on that journey they feel different. The result is persuasion and sometimes action.”

In sales, the most powerful stories are ones that show how real-life customer problems can be solved with your product. Find relatable customer stories that mirror your prospect’s pain points or business situation, and you’ll have a powerful means of persuasion.

Storytelling Sales Strategies

9. Listen to What Your Prospects Are Telling You

Listen carefully to (and record) the most common objections, feature requests, and competitor software in use. Then, use this to perfect your approach and gradually increase close rates.

Behavioral investigator and author Vanessa Van Edwards agrees: "One of the most important aspects of selling or even going into business for yourself is being flexible. Listening to feedback from your prospects, watching the data, and making changes as needed."

After listening, share your learnings. You could:

  • Create an internal Trello board
  • Keep a series of ongoing Google Docs
  • Host a public feature request page with voting options like Asana does
  • Schedule a recurring review meeting with stakeholders to share feedback in a productive way

Of course, your team will need to filter these requests and prioritize only those coming from ideal customers. If you're using one of the best CRMs for small businesses to track these, it can be tempting to make decisions based on the sheer number of feature requests—instead, determine whether or not it's the best strategic move for your business.

10. Give Your Undivided Attention to Sales Calls

Whether you’re making a cold call or following back up with one of your sales leads, it’s important to treat the call at hand as the most important thing you could possibly be doing at the moment. If you’re not engaging with your prospect, expressing interest while they’re talking, or asking them questions that show your breadth of understanding, they’ll be able to see through your lack of attention.

Free yourself up to listen to your prospect. Remove yourself from distracting environments. If you typically make sales calls from a loud office space, try moving into an open conference room. If you get sleepy at your desk, try standing up, walking around, or making your next sales call from a quiet outdoor location.

11. Negotiate For a Win-Win

The real purpose of negotiating for a win-win with your prospects is to demonstrate respect and the intention to work with them again in the future. It’s valuing long-term relationships over insignificant details.

When you’re about to close a deal, refusing to budget on a minor detail could turn the prospect away for good. On the other hand, you should know your walk-away number—the bottom line price you’re able to accept in a negotiation—before you walk into the meeting. If your prospect is still trying to negotiate a lower price, work to provide additional value rather than budge that number. Keep a list of additional features, bonus add-ons, and special offers you can potentially throw in to sweeten the negotiation if necessary.

12. Follow Up Until You Get a Definitive Answer

Following up is the necessary 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.”

The point of following up until you get a definitive answer is that you’re never leaving a maybe on the table. In the world of startups, maybe can kill your business and you need to strive for extremely clear outcomes with every prospect you speak to.

Pro tip: Whenever a prospect gives you a follow-up date, make sure you set yourself a reminder to reach back out on their timeline. In Close, you can do this directly from the lead view so you never miss a follow-up. Try Close free for 14 days to test it for yourself.

13. Highlight Risks and Opportunities

Rather than presenting your solution as the sole solution to your prospect’s “problem,” be honest with them about any risks associated with making the switch to your platform or venturing into this new strategy.

The reality is that there’s no opportunity without some measure of risk in business, so why try and paint a reality that isn’t true for your prospects? Instead, focus your sales strategy around proactively identifying the potential risks associated with using your solution—and present even more support that’ll show your prospect you’re already familiar with those risks.

Example: If you’re selling a CMS platform for blogging and your prospect hasn't started a blog yet, they need to be educated about how blogging is a long-term investment that typically doesn’t impact revenue overnight. In order to use your software, they’ll need to make a calculated risk of investing resources into people who can manage this new responsibility.

Also, take the time to use research, share your own experiences, or develop case studies with other customers in order to meet those risks head-on.

GET YOUR FREE SALES STRATEGY TEMPLATE →

14. Sell Yourself

If your sales strategy focuses solely on the product, you’ll have trouble turning doubt into trust.

Your prospects are buying more than just a product—they’re expressing trust in you and investing in that relationship. They’re also voting with their wallets and expecting your company to be around long enough for them to benefit from your solution.

Your sales strategy needs to get them to trust you—and your company. Build that trust by being completely honest, sharing both the good and the bad, sticking to your commitments, and showing that you’ll be an advocate for them long after closing the sale.

Have an Exciting Pitch as Part of Your Sales Strategy

15. Develop the Right Mindset

No matter the methods you use to reach out to prospects, you’re going to experience rejection multiple times a day. That’s the reality of sales.

What you’re selling isn’t going to be perfect for everyone—and sales strategies in the world won’t turn some skeptics into paying customers.

Therefore, you need to develop a mindset of resilience. Don’t take dismissals personally. Keep hitting the phones with a positive attitude, even after a hard no.

As the best-selling author and business strategist Tony Robbins explains, "The most painful mistake I see in entrepreneurs is thinking that just having a good plan or a great product is enough to guarantee success. It’s not. Business success is 80% psychology and 20% mechanics. And, frankly, most people’s psychology is not meant for building a business." He adds, “The biggest thing that will hold you back is your own nature. Few people are emotionally ready for the challenges of building a business.”

16. Be Helpful at the Core of Your Sales Strategy

The best way to win trust is by being genuine and helpful throughout the sales process.

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.”

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.

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.

17. Ask for Specific Referrals

We’ve all gotten the casual ask for referrals. How often does that translate into new accounts? Not very.

You can get more high-quality referrals by taking the time to identify prospects in advance. Check out their list of connections on LinkedIn and look through previous companies they’ve worked with to create a shortlist of strong potential referrals you can ask for.

Eliminate even more friction by giving your connection a quick and easy referral email template, like the one below that they can use to make the introduction right away.

Example:

Hey [first name],

I wanted to connect you with Steli, their company does XYZ. I think this could be really interesting for you, and a conversation would be mutually beneficial.

I’ll let you guys take it from here,

[your name]

This direct approach of giving your connection a specific referral candidate and arming them with the tools they need to send that email right away makes it easier for them to take immediate action. You’ll be well on your way to getting more referrals with this sales strategy.

18. Give Focused Product Demos

Giving a product demo that sells isn’t just about knowing your product inside and out.

Startup founder and author Robert Falcone of Monetate explains the purpose of giving product demos based on his own experience, mentioning: “As quickly as possible, get to 'here's what you told me your goal is, here's the challenge you told me is in the way, here's what it will look like when our product takes down that challenge.”

By showcasing upfront how your product will specifically address your prospect's challenges, you’re leaving no room for ambiguity. Focus on showing the solution your prospect is most interested in rather than running through a laundry list of product features.

Personalization is what matters most and Steli agrees. He adds, “When you’re demoing a product, you always want to demonstrate value, not features or functionalities. Nobody cares about the features of your software—the only thing they care about is what it’ll do for them.”

GET YOUR FREE SALES STRATEGY TEMPLATE →

19. 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 does this using Smart Views in Close to make sure that inbound leads get contacted quickly. Try it yourself with a free 14-day trial.

20. Address Uncertainty When You See It

Imagine you’re in a product demo, and you’re starting to feel some uncertainty from your prospect. Instead of pushing through your sales script, pause and address the uncertainty you’re feeling in the room. The deal isn’t lost yet and demonstrating how your product does what they need can help you recover in this situation.

Acknowledge their reactions by saying something like, “I feel that might not have come across 100% clear. Would you like me to explain that more?”

If your prospects sound relieved to hear a better explanation of how a feature will help them achieve a specific goal, take note and consider these potential changes to your sales strategy moving forward.

Addressing Uncertainty

21. 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.

22. Create 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.”

So, 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 Gentile 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.

23. Sell More to Your Existing Customers

Studies have shown that on average, it’s about 5x 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 or expanding into new related markets, it’s easy to overlook the value of selling first to your existing customers.

Beyond just new feature testing, you can also look for ways that your existing customers can get more value from your product, such as through a plan upgrade or additional training.

Sell More to Your Existing Customers

24. 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.
  • 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.

25. Employ Email Automation

Manual outreach can only get you so far—automation becomes more essential as your business grows. The goal is to create (or reinforce) the right behavior to encourage conversion.

To start, think about your customer journey. Interview existing, successful customers to see what convinced them to sign up, then construct a series of automated emails that are designed to get your newest readers and subscribers to experience that same positive effect or result.

You might try:

  • A timed sequence of educational content (like our free sales course)
  • A series of emails that introduces your product to new email subscribers
  • Activity-based emails that are triggered when a prospect takes a certain action
Pro tip: Ready to get started with email automation? Try Sequences in Close to set up automated sales email cadences, or use our native integrations to connect your favorite email automation provider to your favorite sales CRM.
Sequences in Close for Your Sales Strategy

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!

GET YOUR FREE SALES STRATEGY TEMPLATE →

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:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Sit down with your sales team to discuss goals. Set 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
  • Proposal
  • Negotiation
  • Close

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 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.
Opportunity Funnel Report in Close

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 Sale Success Kit features templates, checklists, worksheets, and step-by-step guides to make your life easier.

DOWNLOAD THE SALES SUCCESS KIT →