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Sales follows Strategy

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by Mike on December 21, 2010

There are a lot of under-performing sales teams today. For good reason, senior executives are concerned about sales results and I’m hearing many good questions about appropriate sales talent, sales deployment, sales compensation, sales activity, sales skills. All fair game and stuff that we sales improvement guys love to take on.

But as I’ve pulled back the covers and recently dug deeper into sales performance in a variety of organizations, I see an alarming trend developing. The painful macro-economic climate and the rapid changes over the past few years in the IT and marketing world have left a lot of companies in a fog. There has been an almost seismic shift in the marketplace where many businesses compete.  So, yes, individuals and sales teams are struggling to make quota. And, yes, some folks who succeeded in sales during better times are severely down now because they’ve been exposed for what they are – reactive order takers, not true new business development hunters. But that’s not what’s disturbing me because I’ve dealt successfully with that in the past.

The alarming trend I’m seeing is C-level management not ensuring that their companies have clear, well-defined and easily understood strategies.

The sales team’s job is not to create strategy. Sales job is to execute and explode the strategy that’s been given to them.

Our job as sales leaders is to make sure we have the right talent on our sales teams calling on the right target prospects. We are to equip our salespeople with the appropriate sales weapons and coach them to proficiency at using those weapons. We build sales plans that articulate our commitments to revenue, margin, pipeline and activity goals and we hold our people accountable to execute those plans.  That’s our job.

By the time a company’s strategy is handed off to Sales it needs to be crystal clear:  Markets are selected, offerings defined, differentiators and competitive advantages understood.

Lack of clarity is one of the greatest enemies to new business sales success. As I’ve been visiting with CEOs who are frustrated with sales results, what’s become apparent is that there are a lot of businesses in transition and playing catch-up to rapidly changing markets. Strategies are in flux and many sales teams aren’t super sure of what they’re selling or to whom their selling. And one thing I know for sure:

lack of focus + lack of clarity = NewSales failure

Let’s make sure we’re equipping the sales team to execute and win.  I’m all for maximum accountability of the sales organization. But accountability runs both ways.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

S. Anthony Iannarino December 21, 2010 at 10:07 pm

I humbly submit this quote:

“Middle managers—especially those that who deal with the outside world, like people in sales—are often the first to realize that what worked before doesn’t quite work anymore; that the rules are changing. They usually don’t have an easy time explaining it to senior management, so senior management in a company is sometimes late to realize the world is changing on them—and the leader is often the last to know. ”

Andrew Grove (Intel) Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points that Challenge Every Company and Every Career. (Page 6)

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Dan Waldschmidt December 21, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Mike,

Great way to add some proper perspective to this dialog.

You can’t be something other than what you expect your sales force to be doing…

Let me repeat that. You can’t “be” something different from the message that you expect your sales people to be sending. You can’t hire empathy and discernment. You have to “be” those things…

Dan Waldschmidt
http://www.edgyconversations.com

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Reece Hale December 21, 2010 at 10:18 pm

It’s the senior management’s job to build a track so sales people can run at top speed. It’s the sales person’s job run hard and win.

Mike, I couldn’t agree more with your assessment.

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Keenan December 22, 2010 at 5:29 am

Great post Mike. I couldn’t agree more. It’s easy to blame sales. We’re the tip of the spear. When a CEO’s strategy is failing he or she will be quick to blame sales before they blame themselves. Cognitive dissonance is alive in well in the executive suite.

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Mike December 22, 2010 at 6:02 am

Thanks for all the comments and feedback! I’ve been pondering this post for quite a while, but had no idea that it would hit a nerve quite like this. I’m the first one to declare that “in sales, we get paid for results” and it’s our job to execute. But I am seeing too many situations where the sales team isn’t given a clear strategy and accountability has to run both ways. Glad we could stir it up a bit.
Mike

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Mark Peterman December 22, 2010 at 11:38 am

Mike, you’ve written a corollary to the old saying ‘structure follows strategy’. In this case, sales follows strategy (but make sure sales speaks into strategy with a dose of reality and voice of the customer as the strategy is developed). Thanks for posting some great points. If my sales team does not understand the business strategy, either because it is not clearly defined or because it’s not clearly communicated, they can’t execute well.

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Dave Brock December 22, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Thoughtful post. I would extend the argument beyond just senior management to the whole organization. We seem to be in an era of finger pointing, with too many not accepting accountabilty.

Because nothing happens until a sale is made, too often the fingers are pointing to sales. It’s about time that everyone in organizations started to understand their interdependence in being successful–none of us operates in a vacuum.

The conversation needs to shift from us and them (within the organization) to us- as a team.

Thanks for a great post Mike. Regards, Dave

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Kelley Robertson December 22, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Nicely done, Mike.

Your comment “Our job as sales leaders is to make sure we have the right talent on our sales teams…” is one of the key reasons organizations fail to achieve their targets. Too many companies do not hire the right sales people for their specific sales environment and too few sales leaders are effective interviewers.

You also mentioned that sales leaders are responsible for coaching their team to proficiency. Although I suspect most sales managers would agree with you, my experience has taught me that coaching is seldom properly executed simply because the leaders have never been taught how to conduct an effective coaching session.

Very thought-provoking post!

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Mike December 22, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Great insight Mark and Dave! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Appreciate Mark’s reminder about including the “voice of the customer” as strategy is developed and Mr. Brock’s point about the perspective of “interdependence” — We need each other. It’s easy to forget that when we’re pointing fingers, assigning blame and covering our backs.

Someone has to draw up the offensive scheme and design the plays. Then others need to take the field and execute the game plan.

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Liz Wiseman December 22, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Great insight Mike. I’ve seen the same in the best senior execs and sales execs…they hand off clear strategy and then leave room for the sales team to enlarge it. I like your term “explode” it.

Thanks!

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