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Do you REALLY have a sales strategy?

Great sales teams excel at selling: building relationships and doing whatever it takes to hit target.  But many sales teams fail to consistently deliver their number, year after year.  One reason may be the lack of a clear, simple strategy that the whole team buys into.

The SVP of Sales is responsible for hitting the sales number.  However, in order to achieve it their whole team, and the rest of the organization must be clear of the destination and priorities required for delivery, and fully bought in. 

A clear strategy for your sales team is a must.  But experience working in and with many large sales teams suggests that it’s easier said than done.

Speaking with business leaders, many say that their teams struggle to understand what a sales strategy truly is.  I’ve even had leaders say that they aren’t interested in strategy, only immediate plans.  Great for the short term, not so good if you want to build consistent growth.

Perhaps sales people have been given too many over complicated strategies that are not helpful in the ‘heat of battle’ when they have to sell, sell, sell.  Maybe they are more honest than most: what they are really asking for is a pragmatic strategy to guide them in their work.  The trouble is that getting to a simple, focused strategy takes some time and effort: honing, discussing and taking uncomfortable decisions.  Getting buy in will require opening up to input from the whole team too.  Do you really do this?

A sales strategy should provide a vision of where you are headed and prioritize the areas you will focus resources on.  As importantly, it will be clear where you are not going to focus. 

(How many times have we seen a 4 box model of where each customer sits against 2 dimensions - size and potential growth? - and then everyone clamors to get in the top right box?  And it all falls apart.)

Your sales strategy should look at least 3 years into the future, consider what will influence and change the market from the customer point of view, and be clear how you want your business to look then.  This will be in your team’s minds so that they can judge each decision they make against how it moves them towards this vision.

You then need to decide which customers you will back to what level.  And things change, so the team needs to understand that you can be flexible; but only with a real, justified reason. 

Then decide what initiatives you will focus on. Is it Category Management, Promotional Effectiveness, New Channels, Customer Service, Supply Chain, Co-Marketing, Online Sales, Innovation, etc.?  And of course, which customers will lead on which aspect.

What help will you need from other departments, how will it affect them, are you aligned with their vision and priorities?  Have you engaged them early?

To deliver on your strategy it is imperative to involve the customer teams throughout the process.  They understand their customers and their place in the market.  Ensure that their views are heard.  Objectivity is vital though, as you want to minimize the negotiation aspect of this exercise, focusing first on what is best for the company to achieve their goals in the market.  Here the SVP of Sales and their team will have to be strong and up front in sticking to the strategy.

Finally, it is important to communicate the vision and strategy widely so that everyone understands their role, and others’ roles in achieving success.  This includes the other functions in the organization as, after all, you are all responsible for hitting that number consistently, year after year.

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