“No pain, no sale.”
That’s what David Sandler, the father of the Sandler sales methodology, said. If your prospects don’t have an issue that they need to solve (a pain), then you won’t be able to sell them anything.
This is one of many sales best practices you can find to boost your sales process. The digital era has brought a shift in the ways salespeople sell – especially B2B where there are multiple stakeholders and years-long deals. Sales teams today deal with multiple communication channels, diverse customer backgrounds, changing business needs, and prospects who are increasingly well-informed – for example, customers are already 57 percent down the purchasing path before they contact a sales rep.
So, if you dwell in the sales space – as a salesperson or sales leader – what can you do to keep that sales line chart trending up? How do you build your sales strategy and ultimately get that sale? Here are 10 sales best practices that just might help:
Top sales best practices for sales teams and leaders1. Determine your sales methodology
2. Take advantage of data
3. Set an omnichannel strategy
4. Be realistic
5. Use the right (amount of) techTop sales best practices for salespeople6. Prepare thoroughly before sales calls
7. Customize presentations
8. Understand your customers’ “why”
9. Master the follow up
10. Keep your pipeline rolling
Top sales best practices for sales teams and leaders
1. Determine your sales methodology
Channeling your and your team’s sales talent and natural persuasion skills is great at the beginning of a business’ life. However, as your customer and prospect base gets larger and more diverse, you’ll need a methodical approach to selling.
Enter sales methodologies.
You may have heard, or even used, some of these methodologies:
- Sandler. This approach is a seven-step consultative sale system based on establishing rapport and finding the prospect’s pain. The Sandler submarine visual indicates you need to be done with each step before moving on to the next to avoid losing the sale.
- Challenger. This methodology is based on the idea that top performing salespeople are “Challengers” – meaning they take control of the sales process explaining risks and opportunities for the customer’s business, and actively teach their prospect.
- MEDDIC. This approach is described in the acronym that stands for six factors: Metrics, Economic buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, Identify pain, and Champion. MEDDIC is based on the idea that you should qualify the customer and pitch to the most qualified among them.
- SNAP. This methodology is based on four components comprising the acronym: Keep it Simple, Be iNvaluable, Always Align, and Raise Priorities. SNAP is a method to build simple communications, add value to your prospect, and match their priorities and objectives to your selling points.
And there are many others. Each one of them is developed to meet particular needs for the sales process. When you have a methodology you want to work with, find or create a manual for the entire team to study and practice from.
Review and adapt
None of the sales methodologies is a one-stop-shop solution. On the contrary, review and refine your preferred methodology according to your particular business model (and possibly over time). But, make sure you always take the time to learn each methodology properly. SAP spent many a day retraining their staff in the Challenger model back in 2012.
“To get to the top of the sales profession, you’ve got to practice. Find a system and learn it. Spend enough time getting to know it, and soon you will own it. And then, even under pressure, you will deliver.”
2. Take advantage of data
Anyone looking to succeed in sales without touching data may be in for a surprise. Data governs a great part of a business – it’s inescapable. So, if you want to apply sales best practices, dig into the numbers.
Data provides insight into a variety of factors: from practical issues, like what’s the best time of day to connect with prospects (by the way, research suggests the answer is between 4 PM and 5 PM for the US) or how to build an email cadence, to more complex ones like customer purchasing patterns.
It’s also important to use data to track your and your team’s performance. Metrics like meetings booked, leads converted, calls accepted, deals closed, etc. are used to identify bottlenecks or training needs.
So, here are some sales best practices in analyzing sales data:
- Segment your data. Whether by location, demographic, communication channel, product, or other factors, segment your data based on the insights that are most useful to your business.
- Use reliable software. It’s important your CRM tracks data properly and is set up correctly. Ask the CRM’s account managers to help you configure the platform to get the data you need and make sure it’s integrated with other useful platforms (e.g. marketing automation).
- Choose a set of metrics. Tracking everything is often impossible – not to mention counterproductive. Pick a few sales KPIs (e.g. ARR, deals won, deals lost) that matter most to your business and monitor them consistently. Sometimes, this requires a lot of thinking and overhauling established reporting practices in your company.
- Remember the voice of the customer. What your customers actually want and think will tell you how to better meet their needs. Use surveys to capture customer opinion. If you also segment and combine this data with quantitative data, you’ll be able to create unique propositions for each type of customer.
- Act on data. Reporting on data is good, acting on reports is even better. The most obvious use is to forecast sales and revenue to inform sales planning. But, every other insight you get from data is hiding at least one action that can boost growth in your business.
- Evaluate the process. Periodically, review the process of data collection and analysis to make sure it’s current, effective, and produces accurate results. Also, evaluate how much the use of data has resulted in actual sales improvement.
Look at both sides of the data
The main reason you should look at data is that it allows you to see how you can use what’s working to boost sales and avoid what’s not working. This means you need to take a holistic view on the trends you’re looking at. As Rachel Stolar, Acquire’s Senior Sales Manager, puts it:
“Driving repeatability is essential for the success of any sales organization. In order to be effective in replicating what’s working you need to be looking at trends from both high performers and low performers. If you can’t replicate what’s working or proactively avoid what’s not working, it makes scaling revenue impossible.”
3. Set an omnichannel strategy
Today, customers engage with brands over a variety of mediums. They may tweet about a purchase on social media, call in support via live chat, and ask about pricing via your site’s chatbot. All of those touchpoints are important to understand your customers and help them discover your products or services.
This means your sales strategy should take into account the diverse and multi-step customer journey. That’s because the impressions of your brand customers discover via research and other touchpoints will affect your sales calls later in the process. So, here are a few things to consider:
- Map and understand the customer journey. There are ways to figure out the steps that customers go through in order to make a purchase or engage with your brand. Understand each step, discover any bottlenecks and negative experiences, and grasp opportunities to guide your customer.
- Make sure there’s no loss of information. Both the tech you use and your internal process should make sure every interaction of your customer with your brand is recorded and easily accessible. At the very least, this will help you coordinate marketing and sales email cadences or ensure that each prospect will not be bombarded by sales emails from multiple salespeople.
- Have a consistent voice. Outbound and inbound sales teams, marketing teams, content teams – everyone should speak to customers in the same voice. Make sure that sales teams are well-versed in the brand’s characteristics and know what tone to use or what company policies apply to their interactions with customers.
Remember social media
Social selling is becoming one of the most important sales best practices. Research shows that top-performing sales reps consider social networking platforms "very important" to their success. Use social media like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to listen to customer needs and cultivate one-on-one relationships (e.g. by sharing relevant content).
Make sure, though, that social selling is part of your omnichannel strategy; this means that every interaction needs to be available in one place. All salespeople need to be able to see whether a prospect has been engaged on social media, when, and whether they had other interactions with the brand that need to be accounted for.
4. Be realistic
Unmanageable targets are the death of sales talent. Imagine you have a team of effective salespeople who keep your revenue going, and you decide to suddenly quadruple their targets in the next quarter to meet management and/or executive board expectations. This may be fine if the targets were low compared to what the team could do. But if the targets are too high, that can kill productivity and morale.
Some companies think that high targets will make salespeople work better and faster. That’s true only to an extent – if a salesperson starts the quarter realizing that the numbers don’t make sense for the team, then disappointment might hamper their skills and sales could drop. Instead, use psychology to motivate your employees more effectively.
Find the balance
Try to be rational when it comes to setting targets. Find that balance between challenging and unrealistic. If you yourself have been given unrealistic targets, it may be good to have a discussion about this, having prepared data on what is actually realistic. It all depends on the relationship you have with your manager or the business’ executives.
5. Use the right (amount of) tech
B2B sales are predominantly digital nowadays, and B2C is also following with a good amount of tech ingrained (e.g. in retail or ecommerce). This means that no matter what you do, you’ll be using multiple tools to organize, facilitate, and monitor your sales process.
The question is: which tools are the best for your company? And a follow up question: how many tools are too much? Today’s sales teams are often drowning in tools and this may reduce productivity in the end.
So, here are some sales best practices to evaluate and curate your sales tech stack:
- Choose robust. It’s easy to get lost in different tools if you buy them separately. For example, you may have a live chat tool, an email management tool, a CRM, and a video chat tool completely separate. This may prove counterproductive since your team will spend time switching between tools and your company may also experience loss of data or confusion. Instead, choose an all-in-one platform to streamline your processes.
- Automate. Your tech stack needs to automate at least the most repetitive tasks, and even enable the most complex sales processes by automating data collection, scheduling, and more. Lead qualification, for example, can be possible via AI chatbots. Consider the degree of automation you want while selecting your software.
- Integrate. Smooth integrations are a must when it comes to platforms or apps that perform specific functions. You want your customer support platform to integrate with your sales CRM. You want your live chat to integrate with your social media to support your omnichannel strategy. Pay attention to how easy and feasible integrations are between tools.
- Prioritize. Each tool has various features but there are some that are always important. A tool that meets the following criteria is a front-runner compared to competitors:
- Ease of use/ Intuitiveness
- Cloud deployment
- Ability to produce accurate analytics
- High data security
- Quick implementation
- Monitor. The purchase of a tool isn’t set in stone. A tool that doesn’t deliver should be given up. Monitor adoption for each tool in your team – if people don’t use it, there might be something wrong. Maybe they just need more training, but sometimes the issues run deeper, such as difficulty of use, poor fit with the team’s goals, etc.
Do your research
To make sure you choose the right tools, you also need to know what kind of tools are out there.
Examples of sales tools are:
- Acquire.io (robust platform, incl. chatbots, live chat, unified view, video chat)
- Allego (facilitates sales training)
- Gong (records calls and uses AI to produce useful insight)
- Outreach (sales enablement platform)
- Salesforce (full CRM)
And many more.
Top sales best practices for salespeople
6. Prepare thoroughly before sales calls
One thing that most sales methodologies agree on is that the discovery call is the most important part of the sale. This call is when your business and a prospect explore whether you’re the right fit for one another. Discovery calls can make or break your sales deals.
That’s why one of the most important sales best practices is to research and prepare. Going into the discovery call without the proper information or preparation is a big no-no.
Here are some things that will help salespeople and prospects prepare for the call:
- Send a useful invite, so the customer knows how the call will take place (e.g. on what tool) and what the agenda of the conversation will be. You can also include a link to your sales presentation (more on that later).
- Study all the notes you have available from other sources, like your sales development representative (SDR) colleagues or live chat transcripts.
- Look into LinkedIn profiles of both the company and the people you’ll be speaking with.
- Go to Crunchbase or similar sites to see whether the prospect company has raised any funding and other details.
- Look for news about this company, like what have they been doing lately or are they hiring?
- Find out what products or services similar to yours the prospect currently uses (or has used in the past).
- Research your prospects on social platforms (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn, Medium) to see if they’ve posted about topics you can touch on.
Make sure you’ve prepared
Use the list above as a checklist to make sure you’ve covered a lot of ground before the call. If you haven’t found information about a specific topic, think about how much you need it to engage your customer and whether it’d be good to ask them directly. For example, some salespeople may ask what other similar tools the prospect is evaluating at the moment.
7. Customize presentations
Salespeople using the best sales techniques create presentations to make the business case for their product or services to prospects. These presentations or slide decks shouldn’t be generic: the more personalized the better.
That’s because these decks aren’t just your sales pitch to prospects, they have other uses, too, such as showing prospects you’ve done your research and giving them a ready-made presentation to use internally (for example, if they want to make a decision or get management approval).
So, here are a few sales best practices that can help you and your team to personalize your slide decks:
- Have a section explaining what you know about the customer. Based on your research and preparation, start with saying “This is what I know about you, have I missed anything or would you like to add something?” That’s how you’ll also get even more useful information.
- Answer questions you’ve received from them. Perhaps the prospects reached out with a few questions they wanted answered or had expressed concerns to your SDR. If you know they have specific questions, answer them in your deck.
- Facilitate comparisons with competitors. If you know that they’re looking at competitor tools, or that they’ve used similar tools in the past, add meaningful comparisons with these tools to spearhead the conversation. Mention a few strengths of your competitors and how your own company compares to those (even if sometimes it lags behind). This will help you cultivate trust with your prospects.
- Adjust your own pitch. Often, salespeople use the same decks about value propositions for every customer with generic features-benefits tables and generic company details. Instead, put in interesting info and talk about the value you offer to each customer separately.
Provide opportunity for corrections
Your presentation works best as a living document. Share the document with prospects even before your initial call with them, so they can know what to expect. Then, work together during the call (sharing your screen comes in handy) and ask them to make notes or corrections with you. This helps you drive the conversation and get deeper insight into what the customer is thinking.
8. Understand your customers’ “why”
The key when talking to customers is about understanding what exactly it is they need. No why, no sale. As Acquire’s Sales Development Manager, Jill Button, says:
“The analogy I like to use is snorkeling vs. scuba diving. Snorkeling means that our team only scratches the surface of customer needs in the initial calls. Instead, we need to go scuba diving, go deep, and understand why the customer wants something. You want live chat on your site? Why do you want it? What do you want to achieve?”
Your strategy starts with asking meaningful questions or exploring topics like:
- What’s your company’s situation now? (In terms of the need for your product or service)
- What prompted you to have this conversation with us?
- What would you like to achieve?
- What are the challenges you’re facing?
- How would you like to change what you have already in place?
- What costs are involved in your situation now?
- How much will it cost if you did nothing?
- What is your timeline for this project?
If you’re a sales team leader, it’d be good to give your team these questions as a checklist.
Throughout your conversation, ask “why”. Why is that, what do you think this will help, what would this approach offer to your company? You need to understand the ‘why’ and how important it is to them to change their current situation.
Also, ask about their process. Try to understand what their purchasing process is, where they are in that process, who the decision maker is and what they’re going to base their decision on. This will help you address their needs and also be useful for your follow up, too.
Brace yourself to say no
The key here is to pay more attention to your customer’s needs than the sale. Granted, you have targets to meet and limited time. But making a sale that ends up not benefiting the customer won’t end well – possibly tanking customer experience and your reputation, and leading to completely losing a customer.
So, if you realize your prospect isn’t ready to purchase, or that your own service isn’t a good fit, just say no. Tell the prospect you don’t think you can meet their needs right now. Refer them to partner or sister companies if you can. This attitude will also help break the stereotype that salespeople will do or say anything for the sale.
9. Master the follow up
So the calls have gone well and you believe you’re at a good place with the prospect. Should you stop there and let them make a decision on their own? Probably not. You don’t want to appear pushy, but you also want to keep your company top of mind and speed up the process as much as possible. Deals die when salespeople don’t follow up.
So, here are a few sales best practices to keep in mind about the art of the follow up:
- Involve the customer. Proactively ask the customer about next steps, including when you can follow up with them or what their preferred method of communication is (for example, research shows that texting a prospect after you’ve already spoken to them leads to a 112.6 percent higher than average conversion). Use information you’ve gathered during the meeting to define the road ahead – if there’s another decision maker who needs to be pitched to down the line, clearly define when that should happen.
- Keep the timeline you’ve decided on. Set reminders in your system relevant to the steps you agreed with the prospect. If they told you that they will have a meeting next week with their director to discuss the purchase, set an alert to send them an email asking them how it went.
- Share valuable resources. After the call with a customer, you can send a brief email expressing gratitude for their time and share useful resources. For example, you may have referenced a case study, or you may believe a video can help them make their decision. Send these when you can to engage your prospect.
- Ask questions. Your follow up emails should be short, but they need to be targeted and useful. Don’t just check in – ask the customer whether they need help with something specific, how their purchasing process is going, or even about something interesting that happened in their business.
It’s a well-known fact in the sales world that one contact doesn’t usually make the sale. Five is the number of cold emails you need to send a prospect. Hopefully, you won’t need to send as many emails after your sales call before you get an answer (positive or negative). But, you’ll probably need to follow up more than once, for sure.
Don’t give up. Just try to be approachable, add value and avoid using canned, impersonal emails you’d send to all your prospects. Every single one of your follow ups should move the process along in some way, either by asking the right questions, or by offering valuable insight, or by creating a sense of urgency by reiterating the solutions to the customer’s pains.
10. Keep your pipeline rolling
Being great at selling once customers are through the door is critical. But, every salesperson needs, first and foremost, a healthy and steady flow of prospects. Applying effective sales prospecting techniques can help you maintain momentum and hit your targets in the long term.
Here are some prospecting techniques to use:
- Ask for referrals. Forty-seven percent of top sales performers ask their customers for referrals consistently.
- Persist with cold-calling. Despite the awkwardness of this practice, 69 percent of buyers still accepted one or more cold calls during 2019.
- Personalize your email outreach. Don’t send the same cold email to all prospects – take some time to research the business and make a brief value proposition in your email.
- Regularly check and follow up with content leads. If you have content on your site, like ebooks and blog posts, make sure you have a way to check leads (email addresses collected from downloadable content or via live chat) and follow up quickly.
- Use chatbots to capture email addresses. 24/7 chatbots get email addresses from visitors, so you can follow up as soon as you’re able.
- Respond to customer interest fast. If you receive pricing or product requests or demo sign ups, try to respond within an hour (according to HubSpot, you’ll then be seven times more likely to have meaningful conversations with key decision makers).
Keep it organized
It’s also important to keep your pipeline clean and organized. Don’t settle for overdue follow ups or winnable leads that you haven’t approached with next steps. Letting prospects slip or not following up with them at all can kill your sales process.
Sales is a science
Sales is a tough, competitive sport. But, few professions are considered more lucrative than that of a successful salesperson or sales leader, because sales is the livelihood of any business. It pays to discover more and more sales techniques that may work. Something simple like writing a sales email that stands out from your competition can add a lot of value.
So, do follow sales best practices, but – more importantly – think outside the box and listen carefully to what your customers are telling you. Remember that the best salespeople are first-and-foremost customer consultants.
Above all, be authentic and make the effort to discover and cater to the challenges prospects are facing. After all, no pain, no sale.