Intro to Sales

Does a Small Business Need a Sales Plan?

Don’t be silly now, of course you need a sales plan, and it needs to be more than just, “I want to sell more.” How much more do you want to sell? A few more or a few million more? How much can you afford to spend to get all those new customers? How are you going to find them? How are you going to decide what’s working and what’s not? Do you want anyone willing to fork over the money or are you picky about the company you keep?

It’s rare to find a small business that has a formal sales process that they follow. This is just for large corporations, right? Maybe it’s because of the way these big guys do sales that small businesses find the whole thing overwhelming. While there are important lessons to be learned and metrics to be followed from the traditional pipeline approach to sales, there’s definitely a way to tailor a formal sales process to your small business. We’re here to help you find that perfect fit.

Our guide is intended to help you understand the thinking behind sales strategies, zero in on a method that can work for you, and think through some of the technical things that should go into your method, like a sales process and CRM workflow your whole team can use.


Just about every survey on the concerns of small business owners ranks finding, catching and keeping good customers as the top challenges such business owners face.


The Differences Between Marketing, Sales, and Service

Large organizations spend tons of resources clearly delineating the roles and responsibilities of each team. But for small businesses that line is blurry at best, so we want to clearly lay it out for you. Still, keep in mind that a lot of the marketing, sales, and post-sales efforts will be handled by the same person or team of people. You’ll likely see some crossover in these areas of your business. You may have a marketing team that’s responsible for sending out price quotes and following up on customer interest. Or a customer service team that answers questions from folks interested in purchasing the product. Or one person, inexplicably clad in a purple power suit, doing all three. That’s okay. In fact, it’s pretty normal in small business. Even so, it pays to think of these three things as separate entities in your business. Once you do, you can build out specific processes for each category.



Marketing involves all of the external factors that make a person consider purchasing a product or service. This can include product offerings, package design, price, ads, press releases, blog posts, etc. Anything that catches someone’s attention and makes them think, “hey, that looks interesting” is part of the marketing effort.


Once that person has expressed some sort of interest they move over into the “sales” stage. And they go from being simply a person to being a “prospect.” The sales stage involves efforts to turn that prospect into a customer. This can include answering questions about the product, following up with more details, sending out estimates, formalizing a contract, or negotiating the price.


Once money has transferred hands from the prospect to the business, they turn into your “customer.” Good businesses exalt customers and devote mighty resources to the service effort. This includes teaching the customer how to use their new purchase, providing the services they’ve contracted you for, answering their questions about it, and fixing it if something breaks.

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Two Main Ways to Sell

Customer Hunting, AKA the Sales Funnel

Don’t worry, we‘re not recommending that you shoot prospective customers; they’re less likely to be repeat purchasers if you do.

The sales funnel, or sales pipeline, is a classic sales methodology. Basically, it’s a step-by-step sales process (which you do need) that takes into account all the sales you won’t close. The idea is that you need to find a bunch of leads to send through your sales process, because at each stage more people will drop off, so only a percentage of the original leads will turn into customers. Mindtools has a good description of the sales funnel. It’s sometimes referred to as the “hunting” method of sales, because you’re actively going out and looking for new opportunities with new people.

For example, if you typically convert 10% of your leads, and you need ten new customers a week, then you’ll need to make sure 100 new leads are entering your sales funnel each week. You could think of this as sales by attrition.



I hate funnels.

– Ben Chestnut, MailChimp
       Ben Chestnut Hates Sales Funnels



Customer Farming, AKA the Upside-Down Sales Funnel

Another approach is to flip the funnel upside-down. Rather than watching these harmless targets of your sales pitch drop off, start with happy customers and get their help adding new ones. This falls more in the “farming” method of sales because you’re working with existing customers, cultivating good relationships, and nurturing their experiences so they flourish and grow and sprout new baby customers.

MailChimp’s founder, Ben Chestnut, is a fan of this approach. MailChimp does a lot of things differently, so you might not be surprised to hear him say “I hate funnels.” Ben suggests focusing on customer service first, which makes existing customers happier, which in turn tends to bring more leads into your business through positive buzz. His explanation on why he hates funnels is worth a read.

In terms of sales, farming is the opposite of hunting. Instead of foraging for new sources of leads, farmers cultivate their existing relationships. This means the majority of their sales come from repeat purchases, upsells, and —importantly— referrals. A farmer looks at existing customers and sees loads of opportunities.

Mix It Up

To do sales right you’ll likely need to both hunt and farm. If you have ten customers and you want to get to 2000, then that’s a boatload of word-of-mouthing you need to make happen. At the same time, if you spend all of your time chasing new customers, then you’ll miss the opportunity to get help from the customers you already have & love.