Sales Strategy Guide for 2023: What CSOs Need to Know

A sales strategy is a plan to align sales resources with buyer and seller needs to enable revenue growth.

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Build a sales strategy that actually works

Effective sales strategic planning connects your enterprise strategy to specific initiatives for your function. Done well, your sales strategic plan should provide a clear roadmap to deliver on revenue targets.

Use this sales strategic planning guide to:

  1. Build a clear, measurable sales strategic plan aligned to your organizational goals

  2. Combat 7 costly planning mistakes to develop a robust and agile strategy for your sales department

  3. Capture and communicate your sales strategy to stakeholders with a simple and visually impactful one‑page template

The core components of a sales strategy

Sales leaders must consider changing buyer preferences, the emergence of digital buying, virtual selling, sales technologies and more, as they build a viable sales strategy.

Connect your enterprise strategy to specific initiatives for your function

Strategy creates a common understanding of what an organization wants to achieve and what it needs to do to meet its goals. It defines the long-term direction of the enterprise and articulates what the enterprise will do to compete and succeed in its chosen markets or, for the public sector, what the agency will do to achieve its mission. For sales specifically, the distraction that constant change creates poses two challenges for chief sales officers (CSOs) with regard to sales strategy:

  1. Keeping the sales team focused on hitting goals

  2. Responding faster to threats and opportunities with proper forecasting and scenario planning

Change is no doubt challenging, but sales leaders can use it to their advantage. With a strategy designed for flexibility, today’s change-heavy environment can present a number of opportunities for growth.

According to Gartner research, executives spend an average of 25% of their time on planning. However, 56% of those executives see their current planning process as a waste of time, and only 31% feel their strategies position them to hit long-term goals. There are common pitfalls to success:

  1. Overlooked sales function maturity gaps (see the Capabilities tab)

  2. Failure to develop clear and actionable goals 

  3. Failure to effectively communicate the plan internally

Clear and actionable goals

Sales leaders must develop high-quality goals. Many times, however, effective goals are absent from strategies. This occurs when organizations fail to create clear outcome-oriented goals that are challenging but also realistic. Goals that are too broad, poorly defined or appear to be in conflict with the organization’s values are an all-too-common cause of strategic failure.

Ensure a goal-development process that incorporates external trends, an assessment of the function and broader organizational priorities. These three inputs may not always be actionable on their own, but they can yield high-quality goals aligned with both business realities and higher-level priorities.

Another critical component to a sales strategy are the KPIs that measure your progress toward your goals, budget resources, collaborate with other functions and ultimately drive change. When measured and communicated correctly, strategic KPIs provide actionable business insights and organizational intelligence. 

However, organizations are awash in data and can easily lose sight of the right questions to ask and the best ways to act on the answers. By simply “reporting the news” — providing descriptive data that quantifies past events — sales fails in its mandate to provide the actionable intelligence that the organization requires. This is amplified by the need to react quickly in a volatile economic landscape. According to Gartner research, 40% of CSOs identify accurate and actionable forecasting as a top 3 internal challenge.

Internal plan communication

According to Gartner research, 61% of executives feel their organization struggles to bridge the gap between strategy formulation and day-to-day implementation. This is because key stakeholders often struggle to understand and build a connection to strategies when they are not communicated effectively. In fact, employees are 77% more likely to be high performers when their level of understanding of goals and their connection to work is higher than when their understanding is low.

An effective way to communicate a strategy is through a strategic plan — for example, a succinct, one-page document that communicates high-level themes and lists the most important goals, initiatives and urgency drivers. This method ensures everyone agrees on how to communicate the plan as concisely as possible and can also be shared with all stakeholders to bring them up-to-speed.

Ensure a customer-centric buying experience while improving productivity

A sales strategic plan documents the choices and actions needed for the function to move from the current state to the desired end state and contribute effectively to the enterprise business model and goals.

Successful organizations are moving to a strategic model that spans functions and silos, employing a hybrid approach that leverages virtual and digital interaction. To succeed, sales leaders must cultivate a buyer engagement experience that helps buyers feel confident in their purchase decisions. This requires orchestration across key players — such as marketing, customer service, customer success, product and even IT — through the effective use of technology.

End-to-end revenue growth requires three revisions to today’s sales strategic plans:

  1. A buyer-centric operating model

  2. Digital buying and hybrid selling

  3. An adaptable sales force that can deliver value to today’s customers

Buyer-centric operating model

A buyer-centric operating model requires visibility, collaboration and coordination across all customer-facing functions. CSOs should start by improving collaboration with marketing in six areas: customer profiles, messaging, measurement, enablement, process design, and customer data and systems. Create consistency in messaging and communication across customer engagement touchpoints so it’s less likely that sellers inadvertently create inconsistencies with what buyers independently find online.

Digital buying and hybrid selling

As the usability and customization of digital commerce platforms continue to improve, buyers will be more comfortable making large, complex, online purchases. By 2025, Gartner predicts 80% of B2B sales interactions between suppliers and buyers will occur in digital channels. The trade-off between digital and human-led channels is a false one. Both channels are necessary and complementary. CSOs must create a sales strategic plan where sellers and digital channels work together to deepen customer learning.

CSOs should invest in a combination of dynamic personalization merged with new seller skills and behaviors that span traditional channels. This is necessary because the multichannel paths that buyers take are likely to include a mix of digital channels, human-led interactions and even hybrid experiences. By creating a system where sellers and digital channels work together to help customers learn, CSOs and their teams can create a customer experience that buyers value.

Customer-centric Sales Strategy

Deliver value to customers

Buying groups change rapidly and sellers need to be armed with the resources to adapt on the fly. Make buyer enablement resources available that enable sellers to work collaboratively with the buying group. Equip sellers with:

  • Dynamic customer verifiers

  • Buyer enablement resources

  • Sense-making training

Combined with digital tools like:

  • Real-time conversational analytics

  • AI-guided next-best actions

  • Intelligent coordination

Identify maturity gaps to evaluate strengths and shortcomings

Sales strategies and sales strategic plans must be built on a realistic understanding of your team’s capabilities. A challenge for many sales leaders is gaining an objective view into the function’s capabilities to evaluate strengths and shortcomings to prioritize next year’s investments.

A thorough diagnostic exercise is often the most effective way to build an objective picture of organizational maturity. Collecting data from key sales leaders on the capabilities most critical to their ability to hit goals can focus planning discussions, accelerate the process and increase accuracy.

We recommend a diagnostic examination spanning the entire sales organization, including account management and growth, new customer acquisition, sales operations, sales enablement, sales strategy and design, and talent management. The findings from this type of comprehensive review will pay dividends, both in defining plan goals and in designing actions to take against these goals.

Key resource:

  • Sales Score — a customizable, comprehensive maturity assessment and prioritization tool for sales leaders

Sales Capabilities

Embrace the rise of digital buying and virtual selling

Sales organizations have to accept that buying behaviors have permanently changed and, as a result, so too will selling, and they must adjust their sales strategies because of it. 

According to Gartner, 74% of CSOs report they have recently or are currently updating their seller competency profiles for virtual selling, and 61% of CSOs are already investing in new technology to enable virtual selling. This shift means sellers not only need to build their ability to engage customers virtually but must also be able to leverage sales technologies and adopt new ones. 

To help sellers meet the demands of a modern selling environment, sales enablement leaders should require three key seller competencies:

  1. Digital dexterity

  2. Data literacy

  3. Virtual customer engagement

Virtual selling

Equipping sellers with the right technology to provide collaborative and visual experiences (other than presentations) better enables them to win in virtual selling environments. A seller’s effective use of technology is the top factor in improving buyer confidence, and buyers are most likely to experience a seller’s use of technology via how buyers engage. Collaboration extends to both live and asynchronous interactions and can help a seller “be everywhere” in a deal.

Virtual selling also provides an opportunity for data-literate sellers to extract value from the data these technologies provide, whether to develop competitive selling strategies or share relevant insights with customers. For instance, tools that capture customers’ digital body language and turn the findings into insights can help create a more tailored and high-value sales experience.

Sales (revenue) technology

Organizations must look at available and emerging technology and find the appropriate mix that best addresses customer buying journeys and needs. This mix should provide an approach that includes digital commerce; a singular view of the buyer; and a seamless, easy-to-navigate customer experience across channels. Faced with this reality, we suggest the following actions regarding sales technology and the sales tech process:

Sales technology:

  • Consider new advancements in technology, such as digital sales rooms to engage with the buyer throughout their entire customer life cycle.

  • Layer in machine learning, predictions and prescriptive recommendations based on buyer activities.

  • Assess the current state of your technology journey and level of risk tolerance.

  • Take stock of useful technology that provides good ROI, and determine which technologies can be removed without a significant negative business impact.

  • Introduce new technology with proven short-term ROI that aligns with helping buyers buy.


  • Upgrade the new work hub of a seller so they can deliver an insightful, engaging, consistent and data-driven buying experience with sales technology.

  • Enable sellers to provide the necessary information and messages to help buyers make sense of their own research, and make it easy for them to do business with the organization.

  • Gain buyers’ trust through helpful and consistent interactions that provide a good experience.

  • Look to the future for innovative technology, such as digital twins of a customer, to monitor for later inclusion in the tech stack.

Achieve sales goals faster with a multidisciplinary hire

Compared to their C-suite peers, CSOs are in a unique position. Like their peers, they must make big bets for the future in the form of long-term growth — but CSOs are uniquely accountable for near-term performance in the form of sales goals.

On the one hand, many CSOs feel the nearer-term sales results are more significant to job security. As a result, longer-term strategies may lose priority. On the other hand, external risks and challenges such as talent shortages, supply chain disruptions and economic uncertainty put a strain on resources and distract CSOs from focusing on long-term growth strategies.

Nearly all CSOs want to dedicate time and resources to planning for the future, but when asked about their priorities, they often cite things like improving pipeline creation or maximizing key accounts. These are all worthy investments, but have a nearer-term bias. 

Long-term growth requires an investment that spans long-term initiatives. CSOs need a delegate who has the skills, capacity and freedom to focus on the success of the next year and next decade. To prioritize sustained growth and avoid conflicts with near-term priorities, create a role dedicated to the growth acceleration mandate: the head of growth acceleration.

The head of growth acceleration moves beyond sales strategy to fit into the enterprise’s unified commercial strategy — an enterprisewide approach led by closely aligned go-to-market (GTM) executives who collectively orchestrate optimized customer experiences and maximize revenue potential. The head of growth acceleration leverages a mix of quantitative and qualitative assessments to set sales strategy, inform product roadmaps and prioritize commercial investments.

Although the head of growth acceleration does not necessarily require expertise across all aspects of commercial execution, the role does require a strong appreciation for the common mandates across:

  • Commercial and GTM strategy

  • Corporate strategy

  • Product development

  • Competitive intelligence

  • Enterprise analytics

Each organization will require a unique blend of this individual’s skills based on its GTM strategies, company profile and skills gap within the commercial functions. Ultimately, the role is accountable for enabling growth-accelerating initiatives. Additional responsibilities include:

  • Resolving cross-functional gridlock

  • Aligning commercial stakeholders

  • Harmonizing sales channels and the various routes to market

  • Allocating or mobilizing resources

  • Unlocking hidden insights

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Frequently asked questions

An effective sales strategy is built on a series of activities across three phases. The first phase involves a reviewing and refinement of the pipeline strategy. In this phase, sales assesses and prioritizes deals, aligns the product with specific account and customer needs, and develops a strategy for how to meet revenue goals within a territory. The second phase involves setting a tactical plan — i.e., establishing the specific techniques, actions, campaigns and tools that sales will leverage to execute the strategy across the buyer journey. The third phase involves pathing — i.e., mapping the internal and external cycles and processes required to move customers successfully through the sales cycle.

Changing talent needs in sales require leaders to work with HR to co-create a robust plan that will secure critical skills. Typically this involves performing a capability gap analysis to identify the skills needed. From there, create a talent acquisition strategy that aligns to specific objectives and can be tracked for progress. Finally, reform the employee value proposition (EVP) to attract the right talent and promote a culture of continuous learning to help ensure that top talent can be developed and retained.

AI has enormous transformative potential for the future of sales as organizations shift from highly analog decision making to automated, algorithm-based decision making. AI capabilities can align and improve sales processes, identify selling opportunities, resolve sales challenges and boost overall sales performance — all of which have led sales organizations to take an active interest in AI. But reaching this potential requires a firm understanding of AI’s capabilities and limitations, as well as how AI fits into the overall sales strategy.

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