What is Sales?

Sales refers to the activities and processes involved in promoting and selling goods or services. It encompasses a broad range of activities, from identifying potential customers (leads) to negotiating and closing a deal. Within a company, the sales department’s ultimate goal is to win new business by uncovering customer needs and fulfilling them with a product or service.

Sales strategies and methodologies vary wildly depending on the industry, market, and the nature of the product or service you’re selling. Some sales processes are direct and straightforward, while others involve complex, consultative selling that requires a deep understanding of the customer’s business and challenges.

The roles in your sales team can also differ, ranging from retail sales where transactions are typically quick and based on immediate customer needs, to B2B (business-to-business) sales which often involve longer sales cycles and larger deals.


  • Sales process
  • B2B sales
  • B2C sales

Key Sales Concepts

Sales Process

Your sales process is the step-by-step approach your company uses to win new business. It defines how you move prospects from Awareness through Interest, Desire, and Action — the main stages of the sales funnel. Each organization’s workflows and strategies will vary, but the process always follows close to the same structure.

1. Prospecting

Prospecting is the first step in the selling process. Broadly speaking, there are two types of sales prospecting:

  • Inbound prospecting (e.g., MQLs, content downloads)
  • Outbound prospecting (e.g., online research, purchasing a lead list)

In the prospecting phase, your sales team will research potential customers and reach out to them, usually via email, DM, or a cold call. If it’s an outbound prospecting effort, the first goal is to initiate a conversation. From there, it’s all about engaging them in a way that keeps them talking about their challenges (while you listen for opportunities to help).

2. Lead Qualification

Once you get to this stage, you’ve already successfully gotten them interested in your product. There are plenty of sales qualification frameworks out there, but their ultimate goals are all the same:

  • Uncover a lead’s buying potential (based on timeline, budget, etc.)
  • Understand their level of interest in your product or service
  • Find out who the decision-makers are and their criteria
  • Identify potential roadblocks to a deal
  • Evaluate if the potential customer is a good fit for your company

Whether it’s an inbound lead from marketing or an outbound prospect a sales rep got on the phone, a qualification call is usually the first vocal conversation someone will have with your company.

3. Sales Demo

Once someone moves past the qualification, you’ve successfully built trust and interest. They have a better understanding of your product. Your sales rep is reasonably sure they’re a good fit for your product. Now, it’s time to see the product in action.

Normally, the sales rep will pass off the lead to an Account Executive, who will run the sales demo. In smaller orgs, the same person may handle both sales qualification and selling.

At the end of the demo, the seller closes the call with a CTA and next steps, which provide an outline for the rest of their sales engagement.

4. Making the Pitch

A pitch is different from a close. A pitch lays out the ways you can help a prospect while explaining your product. Sellers generally make the pitch while they’re on a demo call.

You’ll cover lots of ground when you pitch your product to a lead:

  • Competitors
  • Differentiators
  • Benefits
  • Use cases
  • Pricing
  • Case studies

Depending on the complexity of your offering, this may not be an outright pitch. For B2B sales, the pitch may involve multiple meetings, product trials and demos.

5. Handling Objections

99% of the time you pitch a buyer, they’re going to have some reservations about making the purchase. Even if they love the product and think it’s something they need ASAP.

Objections are usually about:

  • Pricing (most common)
  • Challenges and risks of switching
  • Product fit and capabilities
  • Onboarding process
  • Long contracts (and getting locked in)

A lot of the time, objections are passive (think: “I’ll have to talk this over with my team.”).

Objections aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Smart (and interested) buyers will always have them. It’s the seller’s job to handle specific objections throughout the process while driving urgency and coming up with on-the-spot solutions.

6. Closing the Sale

To close a sale means to get the buyer to agree to the deal. Signing the contract is the ultimate goal of any sales team. At this point, the deal moves to the Closed Won pipeline stage.

Closing a B2B sale usually involves negotiations, which may last weeks or months, depending on your product and industry. You’ll work out pricing, terms, and conditions before you finalize the deal.

If you’re selling a high-ticket item, like software that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, you will have to deal with procurement and legal departments before making the sale. And you’ll have to work out the logistics with the technical buyer.

7. Follow-Up

You need to continue providing value after the sale. Following up with your customers after onboarding means you continue to build rapport with your customer and solidify your relationship. It’s also important to address any post-sales challenges the customer might experience, such as technical issues, billing questions, and product inquiries.

You can also use your follow-up communications to gather feedback for future sales. Further down the line, you can also use it to pinpoint upsell, cross-sell, and expansion opportunities.

Sales Methodology

Your sales methodology is the overarching strategy and philosophy behind your sales process. While a sales process outlines the steps you take to close deals, a methodology defines how you approach those steps with a structured, repeatable framework.

Common sales methodologies include:

Together, your sales process and sales methodology make up your sales motion, which represents your entire approach to generating revenue through your sales department.

Sales Techniques

Sales techniques are the overarching methods, practices, and strategies that sales reps use to move prospects through the sales process. While your methodology outlines the high-level approach wth a structure (usually simplified to an acronym), techniques represent how you develop the human-to-human connection with your customers.

There’s some overlap between sales techniques and methodologies (solution selling, for example, is technically a methodology). The differentiator here is anyone can learn and memorize your methodology. Effectively applying it to your technique is where nuances like domain expertise, communication skills, empathy, and creativity come into play.

Here’s a look at some modern-day sales techniques:

1. Consultative Selling

89% of buyers consider the sales reps they ultimately wind up doing business with as “trusted advisors,” and that’s precisely what consultative selling is all about. It’s a discovery-based sales technique where the sales professional leverages their domain expertise to find the right solution to fix their customer’s pain points.

The seller’s role is to identify the prospect’s needs, challenges, and goals before they suggest how their product can help. By ditching the pitch and spending more time in discovery, you establish yourself as a partner your customer can rely on for advice. As an added bonus, you’ll spend more of your time with high-quality leads and build longer-lasting relationships.

2. Relationship Selling

Relationship selling is a sales technique where the goal is to build relationships with your prospects (and customers) that extend beyond any single deal. In other words, it’s both a mindset and practice for nurturing trust-based relationships.

Relationship selling requires you to do three things really well:

  • Maintain an open line of communication with your contacts
  • Continuously identify opportunities to help them succeed
  • Always follow through on your promises

When done right, relationship selling is a powerful technique that builds off a consultative approach. It helps strengthen the customer’s trust in you, making it easier to upsell and expand over time.

3. Solution Selling

Solution selling is quite similar to consultative selling. The two share the same premise: figure out what the prospect needs and why they need it, then craft a solution that fits them perfectly.

This type of selling is a structured approach to identifying and solving for customer needs, with a focus on targeting the decision-makers in the organization. It requires you to ask lots of questions, play an active role in shaping the solution, and successfully connect your product’s value proposition to the prospect’s specific challenges.

If you’re selling complex products (e.g., an enterprise SaaS product or customized financial services package), solution selling is the technique most likely to yield success.

4. Social Selling

Social selling is a data-driven approach to selling that leverages social media platforms, such as LinkedIn or Twitter, for outreach and relationship-building.

Activities involved in social selling include:

  • Engaging others’ content
  • Sharing your own content
  • Building a network of relevant connections
  • Monitoring your prospects’ online activities
  • Selling in DMs, as opposed to email or cold calls

Social selling is a great way to build relationships with potential buyers and generate warm leads. It also allows you to research and understand your prospects, engage with them on the platforms they’re already using, and initiate a conversation in a non-intrusive way.

According to LinkedIn research, 78% of social sellers outperform sales professionals who don’t use social media as a sales tool.

Sales Metrics

When it comes to measuring every aspect of sales — productivity, efficiency, performance, growth, pipeline, and customer health — there are countless ways to cut, dice, and analyze data. Too many to count.

Here’s a look at the most important sales metrics:

  • Lead conversion rate The number of people who take a desired action (agree to the sale) divided by the total number of people who could take that action (deals in your pipeline).
  • Average deal sizeThe average value of a single sale, based on either total sales or sales per segment.
  • Sales velocity The rate at which deals move through your pipeline, on average (closely related to sales cycle length).
  • Customer acquisition cost (CAC) — Total sales and marketing costs divided by the number of new customers added during a specific time period.
  • Customer lifetime value (CLV) Total expected revenue from a customer over the entirety of their relationship with your company, based on total customer base or per segment.
  • LTV:CAC ratioThe relationship between how much it costs to acquire a new customer versus how much revenue that customer will generate over their lifetime (ideal LTV:CAC ratio is 3:1).

Sales Channels

Sales channels are the different ways in which your company sells its products or services to customers. Thanks to the internet and technology, there are more sales channels available than ever before, and companies need to decide which channels best fit their business model and target audience.

1. Direct Sales

Direct sales is a B2C sales model where products or services are sold directly to consumers, bypassing traditional retail stores or intermediaries. It emphasizes personal interaction and 1:1 relationships between sales representatives and their customers.

A few defining characteristics of direct sales:

  • Face-to-face selling
  • Independent sales reps (through the parent company or an MLM)
  • In-home demonstrations
  • Direct-to-consumer marketing
  • No middlemen (retailers, wholesalers, or distributors)

If they represent the parent company, direct sellers might earn an hourly wage. But they’re usually independent contractors who all (or nearly all) of their income from commissions. Common examples of the direct sales model include solar, energy, and home security companies.

2. Indirect Sales

Indirect sales is a B2B sales model where your company sells products or services are sold to the end-user through intermediaries or third-party channels, rather than directly by the company itself. This is the most common type of sales channel for consumer goods and services.

Indirect sellers include:

This approach allows companies to expand their market reach and leverage the expertise and existing customer relationships of these intermediaries.

The trade-off? Less control over the sales process and customer experience.

Examples of companies that use indirect sales include consumer brands like Nike or Apple, as well as B2B software companies like Microsoft and Salesforce.

3. Ecommerce

Ecommerce, is a type of sales that takes place entirely online. It’s the process of selling products or services through an online platform or marketplace.

Practically every company uses ecommerce in some way, shape, or form:

  • DTC brands always have a website.
  • Major retailers (e.g., Nordstrom, Walmart) also have smartphone apps.
  • Plenty also sell on third-party sites like Amazon and Etsy.
  • Wholesalers have bulk order options you can configure online.
  • Contract manufacturers have configuration and ordering capabilities on their site.
  • SaaS vendors sell tiered subscription packages users can sign up for right away.

4. Retail Sales

In retail sales, the customer heads into a brick-and-mortar store and buys something over the counter. It’s usually a one-time transaction, but it can lead to repeat business if the customer has a great experience.

When customers shop in-store, it’s because (a) they want to see the item in-person, (b) they’re looking for a specific product, or (c) they need help from a professional salesperson to make a decision. So, customer service is and consultative selling are crucial here.

Sometimes, there’s sometimes an ecommerce element to retail as well (think: in-store pickup).

5. Partner Sales

Partner sales (also called channel sales) are a type of indirect sales model where your company works with third parties to sell products or services. Partner sellers, like those in an affiliate program or VARs, earn commissions for selling your product. Some partners, like a white label reseller, are responsible for building your product into their service and selling it as a bundle.

You can use partners to tap into new markets, build awareness, expand your reach, and grow sales. You simply need to find the right partners and build mutually beneficial relationships with them.

6. B2C Sales

B2C (business-to-consumer) sales is the process of selling products or services directly to one consumer. There’s no intermediary involved, except maybe a chatbot or AI assistant. A B2C sale can take place through any medium mentioned above, like direct sales or ecommerce.

7. B2B Sales

B2B sales involves selling products or services to other businesses. The B2B sales process is typically longer and more complex than B2C — on average, it involves six to 10 decision-makers and takes ~102 days to close.

Sales Strategies

At the highest level, we can break down all sales strategies into two categories: inbound and outbound.

Inbound Sales

Inbound sales is all about generating leads through marketing, content creation, and branding efforts. The idea here is that, by creating valuable content and making compelling offers, customers will call themselves to action and reach out to you.

Since buyers are anywhere from 50% to 90% of the way through the decision-making process by the time they reach out to you, inbound sales and marketing will play a massive role in drawing in, engaging, and closing the vast majority of your customers.

1. Content Marketing

Content marketing is the process of creating content that engages, educates, and entertains your audience — without directly pitching them anything.

  • Blog posts
  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • Social media posts
  • White papers
  • Case studies
  • Podcasts

The content marketing umbrella is vast, and you’ll probably use at least a few of these formats to reach your audience and build relationships with them.

2. SEO Optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) goes hand-in-hand with content marketing, but it encompasses all the technical and non-technical tactics you can use to help your content rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).

A piece of content you publish on its own probably won’t rank well if you do nothing else to it. But, if you align that content with the info your customers are searching for, optimize it for keywords, perfect your website’s performance, and earn backlinks from other reputable sites, it will.

3. Social Media Engagement

Whether you’re a B2B or B2C brand, social media is a goldmine for inbound sales. You can use it to find and respond to conversations about your brand. For example, a customer may express a concern on TikTok or Twitter. In the comments or in a response, you can respond to their public comment with a solution or helpful information.

You can also connect with your target customers, industry influencers, and other companies. It’s also the #1 channel for shaping your brand image and influencing how others perceive you.

4. Referrals

A referral happens when one of your current customers recommends your product or service to someone else. Every happy customer is an opportunity to generate referrals, and most organizations do this through a referral program — they refer someone to your company, then they get a cut of the deal.

Outbound Sales

Outbound sales is the exact opposite of inbound sales. In outbound sales, you reach out to potential customers, introduce your brand and product or service, and try to lead them to the next phase of the process.

1. Cold Calling

Cold calling is the oldest sales strategy in the book. It works like this:

  • You find a potential customer’s phone number.
  • You call them out of the blue.
  • If they answer, you start the conversation.
  • After successfully getting them talking, you lead them to the next step (e.g., a demo).

Although the average success rate of cold calling is ~2%, it’s a tried and true approach that most sales orgs still use today. As more and more of the buying journey happens online, though, it can’t be your only outbound strategy. And you need inbound to make it work.

2. Email Campaigns

Cold email campaigns are similar to cold calling, but they’re based on email touchpoints instead. Like cold calling, it’s a high-volume, low-yield tactic (success rate is 8.5%).

The benefits of cold email over cold calling are:

  • It’s less intrusive.
  • You don’t need to catch the recipient at their desk.
  • It costs less.
  • It takes less time.

It’s also great for continuing conversations from social media or in-person networking events. The right cold email campaign can warm up a colder lead and help you move them into your pipeline.

3. Networking Events

Large-scale networking events like INBOUND and Dreamforce are common in enterprise B2B sales. They give your brand exposure, help you connect with potential partners and customers, and allow you to demonstrate your product or service.

You can also participate in local events that put you in touch with like-minded professionals, startups, or businesses. These are great for smaller B2B companies who want to get their name out there.

4. Account-Based Sales

Account-based selling is the practice of targeting only a select few high-value accounts. Instead of casting a wide net, your reps focus on personalizing their entire approach and building tight relationships with stakeholders at each target company.

It’s not an easy approach to scale, but it’s ideal for long sales cycles and complex products or services, which end up taking months anyway. With account-based selling, you can also use content and inbound tactics to draw influencers and decision-makers within your key accounts.

Sales Team Structure

1. Chief Sales Officer (CSO)

The Chief Sales Officer is the executive in charge of sales performance. They set goals, build strategies to hit them, and align the sales team with the overall business objectives.

2. Chief Revenue Officer (CRO)

Sometimes, the highest-ranking sales professional is the Chief Revenue Officer, and it’s usually sales leaders who assume the CRO role. This role includes all revenue-related responsibilities (sales, marketing, customer success), not just sales.

3. VP Sales

A VP of Sales is responsible for building and managing the company’s entire sales organization. They oversee everything from hiring and onboarding to setting sales targets. They also conduct research and prepare forecasts, which they’ll use to make high-level decisions.

4. Sales Director

A director is more involved in the day-to-day sales activities. They work closely with individual reps and team managers, and they’re responsible for designing plans to meet the targets the sales executives have set.

5. Sales Manager

Managers are the people who handle the lower-level administration tasks. They build and lead a team of individual contributors, conduct training sessions, and measure performance. They’re the ones who are responsible for implementing the plans to meet sales targets.

6. Account Executives

Account Executives (AEs) are the ones who deliver sales demos, handle negotiations, and close deals. When a sales rep qualifies an MQL or lands a meeting from a prospect call, they’ll pass them off (along with relevant information) to an AE.

7. Sales Representatives

Usually, sales reps are called sales development representatives (SDRs) or business development representatives (BDRs). They’re the front line, responsible for all prospecting and qualification. SDR/BDRs are usually entry-level positions or one that require limited experience to start.

Common Sales Terminology

  • Upselling Finding opportunities to sell a higher-value item to a customer.
  • Cross-selling Finding opportunities to add more items to a customer’s current purchase or subscription plan.
  • Sales funnel — The top-to-bottom visual representation of a customer’s journey from initial contact through to closing a deal.
  • Pipeline management — The process of organizing, tracking, and managing all the deals you’re currently working.
  • Sales quotaThe $$$ amoun a sales rep is expected to sell within a given period of time (usually monthly, quarterly, or annually).
  • Sales enablement The strategies, processes, and tools that help reps be more effective at their job, including software, content, playbooks, and training.
  • Enterprise sales The most complex type of B2B sales, characterized by months-long sales cycles, custom solutions, complex, quote-based pricing models, and a large buying committee.
  • SaaS sales Specific structures and methodologies for selling subscription software to other businesses.
  • Sales operations (Sales Ops) The behind-the-scenes admin and analytical functions of a sales organization, responsible for ensuring that the sales team can operate efficiently.

Impact of Sales Software on the Sales Process

Modern sales organizations couldn’t accomplish even a fraction of what they do today without software.

Every software is different — you have CRM, CPQ, contract management, sales enablement, engagement, analytics, automation, and AI platforms. Plus, you have all the third-party tools, integrations, and web plugins. Most sales orgs use dozens of sales tools.

As a blanket statement, though, sales software helps sellers:

  • Manage dozens of deals at once without losing track
  • Keep every contact and potential lead in a database on the cloud
  • Research and qualify leads
  • Score leads, so they can prioritize those with the highest value and conversion potential
  • Build personalized presentations and proposals in real time
  • Respond to objections and concerns with on-call suggestions
  • Automatically remind them to reach out when they’re most likely to get a response or book a meeting

Every step of the way, sales teams enjoy fewer errors, less friction, and greater insights into their activities. On the buyer’s side, a faster process with fewer hoops to jump through is definitely not something to complain about, either.

People Also Ask

What is the difference between sales and marketing?

Sales is more focused on closing deals and generating revenue, while marketing is about creating interest and demand for a product or service. Both sales and marketing are essential components of business growth, but marketing generally comes before sales in the customer journey.

What is the difference between business development and sales?

Business development is the strategic process of identifying and creating new business opportunities, which may or may not have immediate revenue-generating potential. Sales development specifically focuses on generating immediate revenue through selling products or services.

What has been the impact of revenue operations (RevOps) on sales?

RevOps has become a widely adopted strategy for aligning marketing, sales, and customer success teams to drive revenue growth. By breaking down silos and streamlining processes, RevOps helps organizations improve efficiency, reduce costs, and increase revenue by providing a holistic view of the customer journey.

What is sales in accounting?

In accounting, sales refer to revenue generated from the sale of goods and services. It’s usually recorded on a company’s income statement and can be further analyzed by product, region, or customer segment to gain insights into the business’s profitability.