It’s easy to confuse the terms “strategy” and “tactics.” Simply put, a strategy is a plan to achieve a goal or an aim, while a tactic is a carefully planned technique to reach a specific outcome. Because a tactic that is perfect for one strategy can be ineffective in another, it can be difficult to create and win new deals when your sales tactics clash with your overall strategy.
To better align your sales tactics with your strategy, it helps to categorize your sales strategy. Let’s start by splitting B2B sales into two categories: transactional sales and complex sales. A transactional sale is one where the decision-maker doesn't need a great deal of information, insight, or advice before deciding to buy. It is also one with no real or lasting negative consequences for making a poor buying decision.
A complex sale, by contrast, is one where your client makes the decision rarely enough that they can't choose the best option without significant help from a salesperson or a sales team. A complex sale also comes with a greater risk of negative outcomes from a bad decision.
Matching Your Sales Tactics to Your Transactional Strategy
If a sales organization competes using a transactional approach, they’ll execute that strategy by trying to remove friction from the process. They generally compete with a lower price and a smooth buying experience. Because the client doesn't want or need complexity from the product or service, this sales strategy allows for speed. To avoid unnecessary friction, your sales tactics in a transactional strategy need to support the overall strategy of making buying fast and easy. Here are two useful options.
Enabling Speed. Salespeople often have difficulty going from complex sales to transactional sales because they are accustomed to having more time for the sales conversation. When you slow down the process by taking a more consultative approach and creating unnecessary friction in a transactional sale, your tactic is at odds with your strategy. Instead, you want to enable faster and more efficient decisions.
Lower Price. Because the transactional strategy is designed to provide a lower price, any haggling over prices will damage the strategy. When a tactic conflicts with the strategy, it makes selling more difficult for the salesperson and buying more difficult for the customer or client. In one call I heard recently, a salesperson tried to negotiate a higher price on an inbound call. In his attempt to capture a higher price, he missed his chance to capture greater revenue by asking the client to buy a number of other items they were certain to need.
Matching Your Sales Tactics to the Complex Sale
In a complex sale, your sales tactics need to address a longer sales conversation and more difficult decisions. The general strategy for a complex sale is to be consultative and enabling the decisions that help your clients improve some result. Friction is both helpful and necessary here, both because the client lacks the decision-making experience to improve their results without your help and because there is a price to pay for bad decisions. Here are a couple tactics to execute a strategy focused on consultation and insight.
Facilitated Buyer's Journey. When a client is pursuing a better result in a complex sale, they will come with a set of problems and challenges, distinct from the presenting problems that most salespeople recognize and attempt to solve by providing a product or service. But if you simply sell the client whatever you believe they need, without addressing the surrounding problems, you are executing an approach that is too transactional. The right tactic here is to facilitate your buyer's journey by helping them address the problems and concerns and creating certainty. All tactics under this strategy seek to create value in the sales conversation.
Investment Conversations. Every strategy eventually requires a conversation about price. However, in a complex sale, you are not often trying to win by having the lowest price. Instead, you are trying to match the client’s investment to the results they need. You’ll likely face competitors with significantly lower (or higher) prices than yours. Even in that case, your job is to help your client by ensuring they make the investment that will secure the better results they are pursuing.
Recognizing Your Sales Tactics
There are dozens of other tactics that fall under each of these strategies, and matching them to the type of sale is critical. You’ll need matching tactics for scheduling meetings with your prospective clients, managing accounts, creating new opportunities, presenting ideas, providing proposals, and negotiations. As a general rule, in a complex sale you can expect to spend more time and provide greater help enabling decisions by solving problems outside of the presenting problem.
I happen to have worked in an industry that often treats complex decisions as transactional. Because all buying decisions are eventually treated as transactional and commoditized, you are always better off competing with tactics designed to create greater value for your contacts and decision-makers, especially when doing so differentiates you in your market and helps you create a preference for your prospective client to buy from you.