How to Choose the Best Sales Strategy to Win More Deals
- The best sales strategies are grounded in buyer insights and solve for the customer. They engineer the outcome and then pursue the most direct route by focusing on the actions that directly contribute to the outcome and not wasting time with activities that don't.
- The sale strategy is a precursor to everything that comes after. Great execution won't get you very far if your strategy is wrong. But a solid strategy allows the sales cycle to be tackled with clarity of focus, prescriptive guidance, measured execution and the realization of targeted objectives.
- There is no one best sales strategy for all sale opportunities, but there is a short list to choose from.
A sale strategy defines how to win a sale opportunity. It is essentially a goal-focused masterplan that defines the overarching theme, most influential tactics and shortest route to a win.
The best sales strategies are built on differentiation and your competitive advantages. They include relevant and personalized positioning of your unique value proposition and position the brand relative to competitors.
Don't confuse sales strategy with the sales plan, or the sale opportunity win plan. Sales strategies and sales plans are symbiotic but separate.
Strategies focus on doing the right things to win the deal. Execution then focuses on doing those things right. And that sequence is critically important. Because if you don't start by doing the right things, you may end up doing mediocre or low value things well, but it doesn't matter, because they are moderate or low value.
Selling plans that don't start by doing the right things, forever confuse activity with progress, and are unable to separate the urgent from the important.
Without the right strategy, your execution becomes aimless and inefficient and will most certainly deteriorate your performance and slow sales velocity.
No amount of execution, no matter how well done, can compensate for a poor or missing strategy.
The Best Sales Strategy
There is no one-size-fits-all sales strategy. Every opportunity is unique so applying the same approach to all opportunities is certain to fall short with many. Fortunately, there is a short list of varying types of sale strategies to choose from and maximize the likelihood of winning each opportunity.
This is a head-to-head assault based on clear superiority of brand, solution or value.
Many times, a seller will attack a competitor's strengths, match and marginalize them, and offer additional value or an alternative solution.
The direct approach is the most used selling strategy, and while it can be effective if correctly applied, when incorrectly applied it is easy to defeat.
Use this method when:
- You are an incumbent or market share leader that has developed deep products over an extended period and enjoys barriers to entry.
- You have explicit and measurable brand leadership and product dominance.
- You understand your customers buying criteria, competitors value proposition and can accurately project unequivocable strength.
- While not ideal, this approach is commonly adopted by sellers that arrive late to a deal or have little customer intelligence.
- As with many sales strategies, this one originated in the military. It's been a while since I've served but back then the U.S. military would generally not pursue a frontal attack without at least 3 to 1 superiority. This lesson applies equally to competitive opportunities.
I recommend caution with this approach. Too many times it's adopted by default or based on wishful thinking. Many times, its unsuccessfully promoted by product-centric entrepreneurs or used by presumptuous and overconfident salespeople.
This strategy shifts the customer's purchase selection criteria to favor the salesperson's solution.
The seller raises additional objectives or issues that the customer has not considered. If agreed to by the customer, the customer's buy criteria changes to accommodate these new goals.
Many times, the buyer criteria expand to include additional items that are satisfied with broader solutions. In this case, the seller may be proposing bundled solutions, possibly with third parties, to create something that competitors cannot match.
When correctly done, the seller has convinced the customer to reengineer the decision-making process and thereby altered the competitive landscape. That often leaves competitors proposing on the original but outdated buying criteria.
Delivering insights that speak to different or expanded customer benefits is a common technique to convince customers of new decision-making criteria. The Challenger Sale methodology is an insights driven approach that is especially well suited for a flanking strategy.
Use this approach when:
- You are not going to win the deal pursuant to the original customer buy criteria.
- You are not the market leader, do not have the most mature solution, and need to realign the customer's selection toward your unique benefits.
- You understand the customer's business goals, political powerbase and have direct access to stakeholders. This method is a top down approach that works by educating senior stakeholders of goals or risks beyond the immediate purchase decision.
A caution with this approach is that it often fails without an inside coach and access to an executive stakeholder. Lower level buying committee members may be intrigued and embrace the seller's insights only to have the revised decision-making criteria later vetoed by a stakeholder who reverts to the original specifications.
The incremental strategy focuses on a limited piece of the customer opportunity. The seller goes deep on a subset of requirements or customer objectives. The seller then uses the smaller win as a beachhead for a land and expand execution.
Use this approach when:
- Your solution is not as full featured as competitors or will not accommodate all of the customer's requirements.
- You seek an opportunity to get your foot in the door and establish a foothold from which you can grow.
- You seek to penetrate the account at a departmental or divisional level.
- You want to displace an incumbent while staying under the radar and starting small. This may be part of a divide and conquer approach.
- You seek to coexist with a competitor by enhancing or complimenting the incumbent with advanced capabilities they do not support.
The real point of this method is that 25 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing.
This approach is designed to get the customer's purchase postponed or cancelled. The seller's position is weak and the goal is to live to fight another day.
Use this method when:
- You cannot win the opportunity at this time but securing additional time will improve your position.
- You are the incumbent but cannot win the opportunity and want to defend your position by keeping competitors out of the account.
Like the flanking strategy this approach requires access to executive stakeholders. Simply casting doubts, playing devil's advocate or spreading FUD (Fear Uncertainly Doubt) is insufficient. The seller must be able to explain why deferring the purchase is in the customer's interest. Using independent third parties to deliver the message is the most effective method.
One big caution with this approach. The seller will lose credibility if the customer perceives he or she is interfering or adversely impacting their ability to solve a problem.