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“Sales Is The Tip Of The Arrow In Executing Corporate Strategy”

by David Brock on April 9th, 2015

The other evening I was in one of those reflective moods.  I started thinking about the integration and alignment of sales with the other functions of the organization.  Not just sales and marketing alignment, but alignment with the corporate business strategy, product management, customer service, finance, and so forth.

I started thinking about things I’ve said in the past as well as lots of pundits, writers, speakers, and others.  I’ve often use the metaphor of an Arrowhead or Speartip to represent sales, saying things like:

“Sales is the tip of the arrow in representing the company to customers”

“Sales is at the ‘pointy end’ of executing the business strategy in working with customers.”

And there were a lot more “pithy” sayings along the same idea.

I got to thinking, does that really mean anything or is it just a cool sound bite to make me sound much more insightful than I really am.

So the physicist in me started thinking, “What makes an arrow fly?”  “What makes an arrow hit a target?”  “What increases the ability to consistently hit the bullseye?”

I thought, “It can’t just be that pointy thing at the tip of an arrow.  There has to be a lot more to hitting the bullseye all the time.”  Google came to my rescue, I started searching on terms like, “What makes an arrow fly?” and other things.

It was hugely informative!  I learned a lot of cool stuff, and saw some awesome videos about how an arrow in flight actually behaves .   It turns out it isn’t flying straight at all, but flexing, bending, oscillating and doing everything it can to go off target.

It turns out there are huge numbers of parallels between an archer getting an arrow to hit a bullseye consistently and sales alignment with the rest of the organization.  It’s not as simple as pointing the arrowhead in the right direction and letting it rip.

So let’s examine it a little.

arrowheadsIt’s really not the arrowhead at all.  Don’t get me wrong, you need the arrowhead to hit and penetrate the target.  But imagine taking just an arrowhead and tossing it at a target.  It’s about as effective as tossing a handful of stones.  They may or may not reach the target area, they may or may not hit the target itself, and the likelihood of hitting the bullseye and sticking is virtually zero.

It’s exactly like that with sales, turn sales people loose, pointing them at a customer, saying, “Go forth and make quota,”   is highly likely to result in a huge failure.  So why do we keep doing it?

It turns out to hit the bullseye, there’s a lot of stuff required to make that happen:

There’s the arrow shaft.  It can’t just be any arrow shaft, but you have to look at factors like the balance, flex, strength, weight–all in combination with the arrowhead.  Get any of it wrong, and the arrow will fly, but chances of hitting the bullseye may be very low.

Then, it’s the feathers or the fletchings (I learned a new word).  These actually do a huge amount in keeping the arrow on target and spinning the arrow to stabilize it.

Forgive me for diving into the physics of this, it is meaningful from a sales point of view, but shooting an arrow is absolutely fascinating.  There’s something called the “Archer’s Paradox.”  What it means, is that when you initially release an arrow, it oscillates wildly–actually sending the arrow in completely the wrong direction.  But the dynamics of the arrowhead, shaft (with it’s flex, weight, balance, stiffness) and the fletchings all act together to reduce the oscillation, getting the arrow on target.

As the arrow flies, the oscillations are initially quite violent, but as it reaches the target, they get very small enabling the arrow to hit the bullseye and stick.  So the arrowhead, shaft and fletchings have to work very closely together through the entire flight of the arrow.  It would be impossible to conceive of losing the fletching early in flight, or the arrow head separating from the shaft mid flight and still hitting and sticking the bullseye.  You need the whole thing to be tightly integrated, working together for the entire flight.

Long time readers can start to see where I’m going with this.

When we start examining the same process with sales and marketing, we can start to see what drives real effectiveness and impact with the customer.  We can also start to see where it falls apart.  Without marketing and sales working closely together through the entire buying cycle, it’s almost impossible to hit and penetrate the bullseye.  You might hit the target–but in archery terms, your score is much lower.  You need to hit the bullseye and you need to stick to win.

We see this working in organizations where marketing and sales are well integrated and aligned.  Marketing doesn’t just develop content and programs to start the process and send the sales person flying.  Marketing provides content, programs, and tools relevant to the specific customer, where they are in their buying cycle.  Marketing provides things increasingly targeted, that help more focus the customer and sales person as they reach the end of the buying process (equivalent to the stabilization of the arrow flight closer to the target.)

Yet, in too many organizations, we don’t see this alignment through the entire buying cycle.  The traditional marketing/sales pipelines focus on a distinct hand-off and disengagement very early in the buying cycle.  Often, marketing and sales are even less aligned, with contradicting priorities, messages, goals, and metrics.  It’s no wonder, too often, we (collectively) are ineffective in hitting the bullseye.

But hitting the bullseye consistently is not just having a well tuned “arrow system.”  It’s also the bow and the archer.  There’s a lot of stuff about bow mechanics, long bows, compound bows, strings, balancing mechanism, mechanical releases that drive power, speed, and accuracy to the arrow flight.  Things that also help to counteract the “Archer’s Paradox,” reducing oscillations through the entire flight.  All of these work together to improve the archer’s ability to hit the bullseye every time.

Pair a great arrow with a weak bow, or vice versa, and you decrease the ability to be consistently accurate and sustain high performance.

Then there’s the archer.  The archer, pulls all this together, takes into account all the surrounding and environmental factors that could divert the arrow.  Wind, light, humidity, distance, competition, match strategy, and other things all come into play in developing and executing a winning performance.

Without belaboring the point (so to speak), you can see where I’m going.  Winning in archery isn’t about the arrowhead, the arrow, the bow, string, or archer.  It’s all those elements, working together, through the whole shot/match that drive top performance–hitting the bullseye, maximizing performance.

It’s no different in business, sales, marketing, customer service.  The less aligned we are, through the whole process, the less effective we are in working together to achieve shared goals, the less effective we are.

Yes, sales is the tip of the arrow, executing the corporate strategy with customers.  But our success, our ability to engage and win declines precipitously without the other parts of the organization aligned, integrated, and collaborating with each other.

Postscript:  There are some pretty cool articles and videos below that make the point (so to speak) very vividly.  Be sure to watch videos to see how arrows actually fly.  Enjoy them!

The Physics Of Archery

Real Or Not Real, Arrow Flight

How To Tune Your Bow:  15 Steps To Perfect Arrow Flight

Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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  1. Dave,

    I just tweeted that this is the best thing I’ve read this week. I love the analogy and the way you unpack the entire process, and I think it applies to so much more in life than just sales. I think there’s a book in this…

    • Thanks Jack, that’s such high praise! It really does apply to so much more! But part of the fun in writing it was the videos were just too cool 😉

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