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Surrendering Your Business Strategy To Your Sales People

by David Brock on May 16th, 2016
dilbert strategy

Do you want your sales people defining your business strategy? As good as they are, do you really want your brand new SDR’s, or your account managers, or even your very top performers defining your business customer and growth strategy? Do you want your bottom performers doing the same?

I don’t think any top business executive or sales executive wants the sales people to be setting the strategic direction and growth priorities for the organization, yet too often, by lack of attention, poor direction, or simple omission, that’s what happens.

Sales people want to be successful. They are hungry to find a customer willing to buy. They’ll do whatever is necessary to satisfy a customer’s needs and get them to buy.

Absent direction, they may be doing things that don’t fit your business strategies and priorities.

They may chase the wrong customers. They may position your solutions and your company in ways that don’t fit your strategy. They may be presenting your value incorrectly or ineffectively. They will struggle to produce results.

Alternatively, they sell the products they are most comfortable and experienced with. Ignoring other product lines that may be critical to your growth strategy. Similarly, they may focus on the customers and markets where they have had the most success, ignoring new strategic markets critical to your growth.

The results–or lack of results they produce impact your business strategies. That new product line fails, you have to shut down development, write off inventory, lay off everyone associated with the product line. Or that new market fails to materialize, the growth committed to the board and investors isn’t achieved.

The interesting thing is sales people are not doing any of this maliciously. They are doing what they do because they don’t know and aren’t getting the direction they need.

Sales is responsible for executing the company strategy in front of the customers. To do this, they have to understand it. They have to know:

  • Who are our ideal customers?  This has to be well defined and characterized by industry, market, enterprise type, buyer persona, and other characteristics.
  • What problems do they have that we solve better than anyone else?
  • How do we want them to perceive our solutions and our company?
  • What buying and customer experience do we want to create, how is it differentiated from others?
  • What value do we create through the entire life cycle of their buying process and implementation?
  • How do we differentiate our offerings from the alternatives, including doing nothing?
  • What do we, as an organization, stand for and why is it important to our ideal customers?

Without understanding these critical elements of the company strategy and priorities, sales people have to figure these things out themselves.  Not only are they less effective and efficient when they have to do this, it may not be in alignment with what top management thinks the strategies and priorities are.

In addition to making sure they understand these things, they are trained and equipped to be successful, we have to put in place metrics and goals that reinforce the strategies and priorities.  For example, great sales performance has to be about selling the entire product line, not just letting sales people make their numbers by selling their favorite products.  Or they have to generate revenues in different markets, not just sell the their favorite customers.  Or they have to acquire new customers, not just making their numbers by going back to the same customers time and time again.

Let’s look at a simple example of why that’s so important.  Imagine you are CEO of a company that has two key product lines.  Both are important to your growth and to your future.  Let’s imagine your two top sales people sell $5M each, making their numbers.  But one has sold that $5M in one product line only.  The other had balanced performance, selling both product lines to make $5M.

Which sales person is doing a better job?  Hopefully, your answer is the second, because that sales person is executing your company strategy.  While the first is making the number, if all your sales people were doing the same thing, one of the product lines would fail and that carefully crafted company strategy fails.

It’s not sales responsibility to develop your company strategy and priorities.  But if they aren’t told, trained, coached, reinforced and measured on their execution of the company strategy, they’ll do what they must to achieve their numbers.

It’s not their job, so don’t surrender your strategy to sales!

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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One Comment
  1. Brian MacIver permalink

    Since adopting Mintzberg’s ‘Emergent Strategy’ for my Major Accounts Strategic Selling Courses, and having ‘installed’ it in a variety of SME’s, I am just not sure of the Validity of following Deliberate Strategy.

    Corporate/Company strategy may have been set in the past, years out of date. However the Emergent Strategy, starts with the Deliberate, then adapts to the Market Reality.

    In your scenario, the multi-product salesperson may be anchoring the Company to the past, with descending margins. The One product Salesperson *MAY* be telling us where the high margin market is moving.

    British Aerospace, started out as The Bristol Tram Company.

    A few words on Emergent/Deliberate:
    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140630061420-296333353-deliberate-vs-emergent-business-strategy

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