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Every B2B business needs a solid sales strategy at its heart, if it’s to succeed. That’s because - for a majority of entrepreneurs - it will take more than just luck and hard work to grow a successful business.
The thought of putting together your first sales strategy may seem a little daunting, but it is how you will ensure you are focused, targeted and investing your time and effort where it is most needed. Basically, it’s your route to revenue.
There are some core issues that you need to consider and you’ll find lots of useful advice and some essential reading for every stage of the sales process, here: B2B Sales: All You Need To Know
There are also some common traps that you can fall into when creating a sales strategy. So, to help you get it right first time, we’ve pulled together a list of some of the most common mistakes people make and how to avoid them.
Failing to define the target audience
You need to understand who your potential customers are.
‘We want to target digital agencies’ / ‘We want to target HR managers’.
That is not defining a target audience! Both of those statements apply to a large and diverse range of people, who will all have very different priorities, budgets and challenges they are trying to overcome.
Even if your product or service has a broad range of applications and an equally broad range of potential customers, you need to break it down. Understanding your target audience/s is a vital part of the sales process and it is about far more than just a job title or industry sector.
Yes, if you target hundreds of people you may get lucky and land a few positive hits. But it’s not a great use of your time. A far better strategy is to target those who are most likely to have a need, interest and the budget for your product.
To create a winning sales strategy that generates the best returns, you not only need to understand who you are targeting, but how to approach them and what information they are most likely to respond positively to.
So, how do you do it? Start by pulling together a set of buyer personas for your top customer types. Use these to guide your sales strategy, tactics, content plans and sales pitches. They should guide and inform everything you do.
Not having a clear USP
Why should a buyer choose to work with you and not one of your competitors? If you don’t know, then how will they! You need to be clear about what it is that makes you different.
It’s a tough world out there and even if you spot a niche in the market, you are unlikely to be alone in it for long. Know who you are and what you’re about as a company, and what customers can expect if they work with you.
Keep your key messages simple and understandable. The ‘elevator pitch’ scenario is a great place to start – can you sell your business and what you’re offering in a clear and succinct way, in just a few minutes? You may start off feeling like there’s loads to say, but this exercise will force you to drill down to the most important messages.
If you overload a prospect with way too much information, it just won’t go in. Instead, find the statements that will spark their interest and open the door to further discussions.
From a product perspective, you also need to recognize that there is a huge difference between benefits and features. The way to sell your product is to highlight the benefits – answering the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question. Your product may have tons of awesome features, but so what? The target customer will be interested in how they can help make their life easier.
You need to demonstrate to prospects what the future could look like, were they to use your product. Having a range of great features is nice, but it’s what they mean for a prospect and the problems they face, that really matters.
Being too late to the party
Modern buyers are a different breed and that means traditional sales tactics are on the way out. Buyers today will research their own problems and find potential solutions, long before contacting any companies directly.
You need to ensure you are being found early on in this process. If you’re not being seen in the research stage, you’re unlikely to be in the running later on, when buyers are ready to purchase.
In short - if your sales strategy focuses on landing sales from those individuals who have a problem and are shopping around for a supplier, then you’ll be too late.
The secret is to target the right people, with the right message, at the right time. When buyers are researching a problem they are facing and then look at potential solutions, they need to find you. Make sure you’re providing the information that they want to see at this stage.
For example, make a video, produce whitepapers and advice pieces, create a SlideShare or hold an event – any format of content that centers around the problems your target buyer may be having.
The journey to landing a sale needs to run like a well-oiled machine from start to finish. If you’re too late to the party, you won’t get a look in. Start by mapping out your entire buyer journey, before considering what information and action you need to take at each stage of the process; from generating leads, to nurturing them along and finally securing the sale.
Neglecting to think about measurement and reporting early on
What is success going to look like? And what data will you need, to know how well you’re doing?
When thinking about your sales strategy, you need to think how you will measure success and keep track of your progress.
Now you may just be thinking that the total number of sales is all you need. And yes, that’s important and will ultimately be what keeps the business afloat. But how can you spot what’s working and what’s not, or where improvements need to be made, if you’re not tracking and measuring each component in your strategy?
It’s far easier to have these plans and mechanisms in place from the beginning.
Measuring ROI has long been an issue for sales and marketing teams, but it’s not the only important metric to consider. You need to get into the habit of monitoring, analyzing and evaluating what you’re doing.
Make sure you have the right tools in place from the start, which will gather and provide the data you need, then make sure you use it.
Having unrealistic expectations
Goals, targets, KPIs, sales figures – they are all an important part of the sales process. You need to decide where you are going and how best to get there.
Where goal setting can fall down is when it becomes unrealistic and in that instance, they are basically worthless. Yes, be ambitious. Yes, dream big. But there is no point having a goal that is unachievable. It is demotivating and a waste of time.
Here’s a simple example - take a goal and break it down into the time and resources needed to achieve it. There is only so much that one person can do. Have you accounted for things such as vacations and training and development time, for example?
Your sales strategy needs to account for the budget and resources you have available.
Formally documenting your targets can help to cement them in the minds of everyone involved. It can help ‘make them real’ to an extent. Remember to refer back to them regularly and to track the progress you are making. Then, as your company and team grow, make sure that your sales goals remain aligned with the broader company goals.
Other common mistakes:
- Having different teams working in isolation - The strongest and most successful teams work together. View the sales process as a whole and have marketing, sales and any other customer-facing team members work together to share ideas, insights and learnings that will make your sale strategy as strong as it can be.
- Not giving tactics enough time to generate results - Different tactics work in different ways and will produce results at different rates. Think what will be the best combination of activity for your individual sales process. A mix of tactics is usually wise, some that will work in the longer term (like content marketing) and some quicker drivers (such as SEO/PPC). Just don’t stretch yourself too thin. Pick a few and do them really well.
- Not managing the pipeline - The more complex and expensive your product is, the longer your sales cycle is likely to be and the more people that may need to be involved in the purchasing decision. You need to recognize this within your sales strategy and what it may mean for your timelines, goals, planning and priorities.
- Forgetting about training – Don’t overlook training. Aim for a culture of continual learning and development. You can’t afford to sit still.
- Focusing too much on the competition – Yes, it’s good to keep an eye on competitors, but the way to beat them is to be better than them in every way. Be wary of lurching from activity to activity just because your competitors are. Make strategic decisions based on data and your best guess (if it’s early days), not just as a knee-jerk reaction.