What is Sales? The Definitive Guide to Closing Deals Faster
The idea of putting yourself out there to sell your company’s products or services may excite you. Or terrify you. Or both, plus all the feelings in between.
Here’s the thing: the more you know about sales, the more the pendulum swings towards excitement. It’s only scary if you aren’t really sure where to start.
And to that, we say: start here, with our complete guide on sales and the best ways to make the most out of it.
What is Sales? A Quick Definition
As the saying goes, without sales, you don’t have a business—you have an expensive hobby. So if you’re more into the former than the latter, sales isn’t optional. It’s essential.
If you’re one of many who thinks sales is intimidating, stressful, and a road to burnout, here’s the good news:
First, anyone can become great at sales, it just takes time and practice. Consistency over time leads to success in sales, and continuous improvement—even if it’s slow—is how you master it.
And second, there’s science and a process to successful sales. There is a way of getting it right and bringing a constant stream of quality leads and new customers through the door, and once you nail it, you’ll love it.
Where Sales Fits in Your Buyer Journey: Sales vs Marketing, Support, and Success
Think of the purchase decisions you had to make in recent months—like a software subscription, a new pillow, wireless headphones, or a gym membership.
For almost everything we buy in everyday life, that decision didn’t happen because a random sales rep walked up to us on the street and offered a great deal. That’s not how sales works (if only it were that easy!). Instead, we realized we had a pain point, researched our options, read reviews and forums, talked to friends, and checked out product FAQs.
That process is called a buyer journey, and your sales activities can influence and steer parts of it.
Here’s what the buyer journey typically looks like:
A person notices a problem, a challenge, a pain point. During the awareness stage, they’re learning about this challenge, but they don’t yet know what they need, who to trust, or the end result of solving that challenge.
You can’t quite sell in the awareness stage, but your company can build its authority and credibility through marketing strategies that showcase your knowledge, experience, case studies, and advice.
At this stage, your prospect understands their problem well. They’re on the hunt for solutions. They’re comparing options and wondering which one will give them the best shot at solving their pain point.
Your role as a seller at this stage is to help them compare options, visualize what the result would look like with each, and advise them from your own experience on the topic.
They’ve chosen the solution that will fix their problem—they now need a concrete option, a specific brand, and a product they’ll purchase. They crave case studies, product demos, pricing comparisons, and customer reviews.
As a seller, it’s your job to provide that to them and answer any questions they may have.
4. Post-purchase experience
The buying journey itself ends with the purchase, but the customer journey continues—hence the post-purchase experience. It’s easy to think your job’s done and your customer no longer needs you, but for many products and industries, that may not be the case.
After the purchase, the customer might need product support, an extra add-on, or an upgraded version of the product. Sales reps learn so much about customers during the selling process, which is what makes them (you!) invaluable to the customer success team.
What are the Different Types of Sales?
Convinced sales is the way to go? Next up is understanding the types of sales you can do and the activities that come with each.
Whether you’re considering a career in sales or adding a sales process to your business, you’re bound to do a combo of at least two of these types of sales:
What is inbound sales: A strategy that brings potential leads to you through content you’ve created and shared online.
Main inbound sales activities include:
- Defining your ideal customer profile (ICP)
- Publishing content that matches your ICP’s needs and pain points
- Targeted, timely emails and phone calls that connect you to your ICP once they find your content
The core of inbound sales is building trust with a potential customer before you even get a chance to speak with them.
What is outbound sales: A strategy in which the salesperson makes the first contact with a potential customer.
Main outbound sales activities include:
- Sales prospecting, searching for and building a list of prospective leads that match your ideal customer profile
- Outreach, including cold calling, cold emailing, and/or cold SMS messaging
- Follow-ups to maximize each opportunity
Unlike inbound sales, outbound sales puts you in the driver’s seat of making that first contact, which means you can get super specific about the type of customer you target.
What is B2C sales: Short for business-to-consumer, it’s a sales model that targets individual consumers with products for personal use, from Netflix and fashion items to cars and home appliances.
Main B2C sales activities include:
- A high-touch sales process for higher-priced items
- Using social media presence as a lead generation channel
- Upselling and cross-selling to increase customer lifetime value
Unlike B2B sales, B2C sales usually requires fewer sales rep interactions per lead, and aims for a greater number of leads overall.
What is B2B sales: Short for business-to-business, it involves a transaction between two businesses selling products or services to each other.
Main B2B sales activities include:
- In-depth market research
- Prospecting and cold outreach to generate leads
- Setting up appointments and follow-ups over a longer sales cycle
Wholesalers and distributors selling to retailers, manufacturers selling to brands, and software for teams are some examples of B2B sales.
What is inside sales: A sales model in which you close deals from “inside” your office—not in person. This could mean selling remotely from your office or home, over the phone, via email, or with video conferencing.
Main inside sales activities include:
- Using a CRM to track all leads and interactions with them
- Using tools like templates, automations, and workflows for easy, timely communication with leads
- Presenting virtual demos, sending proposals, and signing contracts online
Inside sales is also known as virtual sales, and it heavily leans into the remote work setup.
What is outside sales: A sales approach based on meetings and face-to-face interactions, which is why it’s also called field sales.
Main outside sales activities include:
- Managing a dedicated sales territory
- Traveling to the prospect’s location for in-person meetings and demos
- Deep relationship building
With inside sales, multiple people are often involved in closing one deal. With outside sales, that’s usually the job of just one sales associate (no more than two).
What is SaaS sales: Selling a cloud-based software solution in the form of a recurring subscription rather than a one-time purchase or license.
Main SaaS sales activities include:
- Lead generation through educational content like webinars and guides
- Presenting product demos via video conferencing to showcase unique features and benefits
- Closing deals through incentives, a sense of urgency, and more
SaaS sales requires you to sell a long-term solution, one that a customer will be happy to commit to month after month, year after year.
What is enterprise sales: A sales process in which you sell to large companies, which involves large contracts, long sales cycles, and multiple decision makers.
Main enterprise sales activities include:
- Meeting and building relationships with multiple stakeholders and internal champions
- Lots of negotiations
- Collaboration with the customer’s legal and technical teams
Going the enterprise way isn’t for the faint of heart—but because it brings larger deals than other types of sales, it can be well worth it for the right type of sales rep.
Small Business Sales
What is small business sales: Selling to small and medium businesses, also known as SMBs, which most businesses are—from family-run shops to startups with under 500 employees.
Main small business sales activities include:
- Connecting with a small number of internal decision-makers, and acting as a consultant to help them make a good purchase decision (even if that’s not your product)
- Developing and mastering a simple, clear sales pitch
- Managing the relationship beyond the purchase
SMB sales are known for shorter sales cycles, less red tape, and a huge pool of prospective customers.
What is eCommerce sales: Any combination of online sales channels, like your website, marketplace platforms, and social media platforms.
Main eCommerce sales activities include:
- Managing product pages, descriptions, and details on your platforms of choice
- Supporting potential and existing customers over email, chat, or phone to help them make the best purchase decision
- Tracking sales and other customer interactions in one place
With eCommerce, sales professionals are there to steer the customer towards a purchase, rather than guide the entire process themselves.
What is direct sales: A sales model in which you sell your company’s products or services directly to customers through an internal sales team or by hiring independent agents.
Main direct sales activities include:
- Creating and/or following a sales playbook
- Collecting new leads from marketing or prospecting your own leads
- Pivoting to different target audiences or sales goals as needed
Direct sales = direct access to customers, which gives you immediate feedback and the power to adapt sales strategies quickly.
Sales Methodologies: The Formulas You Can Use to Hack Success
By now, you know how sales fits into the buyer journey. You also know the different approaches you can take to selling.
But how the heck am I going to actually sell anything?, you ask.
The answer: by using one or more of these ten powerful sales methodologies:
- Account-based selling: Also called target account selling, this methodology is based on finding prospects that meet your predetermined criteria. From there, you deliver a personalized buying process from start to finish.
- MEDDIC sales methodology: In this acronym, each letter represents a question to lead your prospect through. The MEDDIC methodology has you examine the prospect’s goals, decision-makers, internal processes, and problems.
- SPIN selling: Short for Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-payoff from Neil Rackham’s book, SPIN selling. Each represents a relationship-building question to get to know prospects, identify their pain points, and find them a perfect solution.
- Sandler selling: The goal of Sandler selling is to meet the customer’s needs, not make sales at any cost. It follows a seven-step process and leads to superb sales results.
- Consultative selling: A methodology in which sales representatives assume the role of a consultant to build a partnership with the prospect. Consultative sales can be a tougher methodology for new reps compared to seasoned pros.
- SNAP selling: Based on Jill Konrath’s book SNAP selling and focused on shortening the sales cycle and getting to the point ASAP. The acronym stands for Simple, iNvaluable, Align, and Priority. This approach drives brevity, focus, and trust.
- Value selling: The approach to selling that puts a dollar value to the prospect’s problems, like "saving $10,000 a year" vs. just "saving money."
- The Challenger sale: Delivering valuable information to prospects that challenges their status quo. It encourages them to think outside the boxes they’ve already built by researching possible solutions.
- Solution selling: By selling a solution, reps focus on the benefits of the solution rather than features and the solution itself. This can build long-term relationships, but also extend the sales cycle—something to be conscious of.
- Customer-centric selling: Instead of pushing specific products or following a strict sales process, sales representatives modify their approach to put the customer in the middle of the process. This makes customers feel valued and often leads to multiple transactions.
This isn’t every sales methodology in the book, but it’s a great start. If you want to nail this from the get-go, you’ll love our full guide to sales methodologies.
What is a Sales Process?
A sales process is a pre-planned strategy that moves your prospects through their buyer journey and turns them into a paying customer.
In other words, sales don't happen at random. It’s not a “let’s try everything and cross our fingers it works” activity. Your sales process lets you approach and lead each prospect through structured steps to win a new customer.
Here’s an overview of the steps in your sales process:
- Lead generation and prospecting. You’ll start by finding new leads that match your ideal customer profile through LinkedIn, cold emails and calls, social media, and industry events.
- Lead qualification. Confirm a lead is a good match for your product or service based on their needs, budget, and timeline. You set the criteria and decide who is “qualified” to be a customer.
- Connection. Establish direct communication with the prospect to understand their needs and work them into your sales pitch.
- Present, pitch, and demo. Use in-person meetings, webinars, sales presentations, and product demos to present and pitch your offer to the prospect.
- Sales objections. Prospects often share concerns and hesitations around your solution, so building a strategy for objection handling is crucial.
- Closing. In this step, you ask for the prospect’s business, confirm the terms, and get their signature on a contract.
- Deliver. Post-purchase, you’ll want to check in and make sure the customer is onboarded and happy with the product.
- Referrals. Happy customers are the best marketing channel! Set a reminder to follow up with new customers and ask for a qualified referral.
Don’t have your own sales process yet? Follow these easy steps to build a sales process that gets results (or swipe our template!).
First, define your ideal customer profiles. These are fictional personas that represent the type of individuals or companies that will benefit from your product or service. Start by defining their demographics, pain points, goals, price sensitivity, and common objections.
Second, map your sales process to the customer journey. What are the steps your prospect goes through when buying a solution like yours? What channels do they use to research their pain points? Who do they talk to internally about it? What are the different touchpoints your sales process needs to cover to fully adapt to the customer journey?
Third, set goals. Instead of only setting a revenue goal, set activity goals like the number of sales calls to make each day or weekly product demos to schedule. This will keep the momentum going.
And fourth, lean on tools and automation. Use a CRM to track (and improve) everything you’re doing, and the automations within it to move through manual tasks quicker. Think lead distribution and scoring, email follow-ups, reminders, call transcripts, and more.
Sales Terms You Gotta Know to Get Ahead
Once you dive deep into sales, you may find yourself needing a sales dictionary. We don’t blame you—there are so many terms and acronyms to keep track of.
Your daily life will get easier with this short(ish) list of sales terms and their simple explanations:
- Business development: The process of identifying new markets, nurturing partnerships, and setting up meetings. It introduces you to new territories and sets the stage for the sales process.
- Customer: The person on the other end of your sales conversations that ends up buying from you. You might call them a client or a customer, depending on your industry and what you sell.
- CRM: Short for customer relationship management, a software tool for managing interactions with potential and current customers. It’s the single source of truth for sales notes, purchase records, communication preferences, and more.
- KPIs: Stands for key performance indicators, the go-to metrics to track how your sales department is progressing towards sales goals. You can track metrics like revenue, sales volume, lead volume, conversion rates, and many more.
- Objections: Responses from hesitant prospects about your product or service, like its price, functionality, or the timing of the purchase. They’re a signal to the rep to address concerns and doubts to increase the prospect’s confidence about the offer.
- Pain points: The problems your prospects experience that their current solution hasn’t solved. In B2B, pain points usually relate to finances, productivity, processes, or support.
- Quota: Sales goals within a specific period, like a month, quarter, or year. Goals can be based on cold calls, qualified leads, closed deals, or any other relevant metric, and even broken down further by sales territories, sales departments, and reps. Meeting your quota is always great news, as it leads to extra commissions.
- Sales cycle: A defined set of steps you take to turn a lead into a customer, from lead generation and qualifying to your sales pitch and closing the sale.
- Sales management: The core process of building a sales force, empowering it with sales training, coordinating sales operations, and implementing a sales plan. It’s the foundation of a thriving sales team that hits goals without burning out.
- Sales metrics: Data points that track your company’s overall sales in a given period or territory.
- Sales pipeline: A visual representation of your current leads and prospects in relation to your sales process, usually set up in Kanban board style where each column is a different sales stage.
- Sales strategy: A clear plan of action for the sales team, including a clear buyer persona, value proposition, a plan to identify qualified leads, a defined sales pipeline, and a set of sales goals to work towards.
Want an actual (but fun) sales dictionary? Jump into our comprehensive sales glossary whenever you need to.
Ready to Learn More About Sales?
You’re right on track to an exceptional sales journey. If you’re a problem solver, a relationship builder, and a storyteller, you’ll love it and have plenty of fun closing deals, celebrating goals, and working with a team.
Get started by downloading our sales pitch guide, and learn exactly how to craft and deliver a pitch that wins more deals, consistently.