What are the best steps to take when developing a sales strategy? Jennifer Willey has over twenty years' experience in sales at companies like Yahoo and AOL and is currently Chief Business Officer of Independa, a technology company that creates remote solutions for caregiving. Willey shares her insight into creating an effective sales strategy. 

1. Build your roadmap.

Willey believes the first step to creating an effective sales strategy is knowing where you want your company to go. "Where exactly do you want your business to be this year or in three years? Who are your customers that you need to get?

Come up with a very specific plan, like you do when you put in where you're going in Google Maps, that tells you exactly where you're going, and then pinpoint every single step that you need to take to get there."

According to Willey, building out your roadmap for your business, including creating a list of target customers and developing a plan for how you're going to connect with them, is crucial if you want to reach your sales goals. "If you don't know exactly where you need to go, and have a plan to get there, you won't get there. You'll maybe get somewhere close, but [you won't] get exactly where you need to be."

2. Approach target customers in an authentic way.

Once you have a roadmap and a list of target customers, Willey says the next step is to start reaching out to your targets directly. One of Willey's tactics for approaching key customers is authentically engaging them on LinkedIn or over email.

Her favorite LinkedIn strategy is to take advantage of LinkedIn groups: become a member of the same groups as your target customers, which will give you the ability to connect with them without needing to have their email addresses. Then send short, personal notes to those people mentioning your shared interests and showing that you've spent some time getting to know more about them and their businesses.

Willey also has some advice for writing emails that your target customer will actually read. "Try and keep it as brief as possible. You're never gonna sell anything in an email; you're going to sell to your customers in a conversation, so keep [the initial email] short and tight as you possibly can with a formula that's something like, 'We help companies like yours that are trying to do things like X, Y or Z to be successful. I'd love to schedule some time to time to talk about how we've made your competitors successful or could help drive [your] sales [or] growth."

According to Willey, the key is keeping an email succinct--just a few sentences long--and focused on how you can add value to your customer. "All the detail, how you 'make the sausage,' nobody cares. All they care about is your sausage is delicious, and they're gonna love it."

3. Captivate your target audience like a rockstar.

It is important to remember that your target customers are busy and have several things vying for their attention. In order to captivate your target audience, Willey says there are five basic "ingredients" you'll need: confidence, a genuine connection with your audience, clarity on what you want from them (and what they need from you), command of your data and what sets you apart, and most importantly, closing the deal.

"Before you get to that big meeting, you need to begin with the end in mind," says Willey. "Think of the two things: (1) how should [your customer] feel at the end of the meeting, and (2) what should [your customer] do that will make you successful."

Willey also stresses the importance of building rapport with your ideal customer or potential client. "Building that rapport is really critical and it's hard to do sometimes if you don't prepare for it."

Willey suggests before heading into an important meeting with your ideal customer, to look them up on social media and see what interests you have in common. Be sure to also check them out on LinkedIn: perhaps you went to the same school or know mutual people.

Conduct a Google search to find out if they've been featured in any recent news articles. "See who they're talking to, what they're talking about. It becomes so simple to immediately have a conversation with somebody when you know everything about them in advance," says Willey.  

4. Nail the big meeting.  

"I am a firm believer that you should never have that in-person meeting, certainly if it's anything longer than half an hour, if you haven't done a discovery call first." Willey suggests that when requesting the discovery call, frame it as an opportunity to become as knowledgeable as possible about your customer's company before you have your longer meeting.

Willey also suggests keeping this call short--"Most people will never say no to five minutes or ten minutes if they're then having you come in for an hour-long meeting."

Once you're in the meeting, resist the urge to inundate your customer with information. According to Willey, people will only remember three things, and those should be the three ways your business can change your target customer's life. "What I like to do is start every meeting [by] saying, 'We're going to cover a lot, but [after] you walk out of this room, the three things you need to walk away with are A, B and C." Willey suggests closing the meeting the same way you opened, to reinforce the importance of your three takeaways.

Of course, preparation is key for nailing any big meeting. "If you have that meeting that will make or break your business, take the time in your house, in the privacy of a bathroom [to] literally walk through what you're presenting.

Say it out loud, and think about how you're going to vary your tone and your body language, and [where] you're going to speed up, and [where] you're going to slow down, and [where] you're going to pause. You have to practice all those things," says Willey. 

5. Always follow up.

It may take more than one meeting with a potential customer before you close the deal, so effective follow-up is key. At the end of each meeting, Willey takes some time to make sure everyone is on the same page about next steps.

She also uses that time as an opportunity to schedule a follow-up meeting, if necessary. Willey also believes it's important to give everyone involved in the meeting "homework assignments." Let your potential customer know what you plan to do and when you plan to have it completed.

Then spell out what you need from your potential customer and give them a deadline. According to Willey doing this at the end of the meeting will make additional follow-up that much easier. "When you send the follow-up, you literally send a very specific email: here are the five things we talked about, here are the agreed-upon next steps and who is responsible for what, here's when we're meeting next, and here's what we're going to do in that next meeting."

This article originally appeared on the Project Entrepreneur  website and has been condensed for clarity.