Think about it. If a sound strategy consists of the profile of your ideal client in terms of demographic and psychographic, in addition to how you are uniquely positioned to help, then it’s unequivocally true. Your salespeople are setting your company’s strategy.
I’ve led plenty of strategy sessions with executives, and the strategy created at the boardroom table is always excellent. It never fails! The predictable failure points are in the field, when decisions and actions aren’t in sync with the strategy.
Sales professionals make decisions every day about what prospects and customers they will call on, what products, services, or advantages they will emphasize, and even how they highlight components of your value proposition. More often than not, those decisions are made based on what it is going to hit a quota for the month/quarter/year.
Sometimes it works out just fine when a sales representative achieves their target selling entirely to clients that make up your ideal profile, and selling precisely the mix of products and services you intend. But that is frequently the exception that proves the rule. So if you want your strategy to work, in the field where it comes to life everyday as your sellers interact with your prospects and clients, consider these guidelines for execution.
When I started my career in sales, the prospects and customers I called on had more to do with their receptivity than whether or not they were in the sweet spot of our market. Why? I had a number to make and like many other sales professionals, when you have a quota to hit, any business can look good. There is a caveat here though. It’s great to be opportunistic, especially when you find the proverbial “bluebird” and it is easy. But when you consider the effort put forth pursuing new opportunities, all of your efforts need to be directed toward acquiring accounts on the bulls-eye of your target market. If not, you become like one of those companies that says they work with Fortune 1000 companies, yet 85% of their clients are comprised of organizations that aren’t’ on that list.
Its one thing to identify the right clients—those most likely to benefit from your products and services, recognize that value, and be able to pay the fees you command. Leaders need to carefully translate that to specific accounts or geographies and make sure that if opportunities are being pursued that aren’t in line with the strategy, that salespeople can explain the rationale. Marketing campaigns and leads that are poured in to CRM’s need to be filtered to ensure quality and fit are prioritized over volume.
Of course, there are exceptions to be made in pursuing short-term revenue needs, but when these are more the norm than an exception, your objectives for product mix and client base suffer. Clarity and focused attention to the early stages of the pipeline is the key to ensuring that time, effort, energy, and resources are directed to strategic opportunities.
In a lot of industries, today’s buyers differ from those of last year. As companies roll out additional services to complement products, people from different parts of the company may need to be involved. A technology distribution company I’ve worked with has added services to provide greater value to clients. They are offering installation, hardware management, and a variety of data center services as part of their strategy to provide “solutions” to customers. You’ve probably experienced a similar kind of situation in your own business or as a customer of another. The buyer for this company is different though, so its no longer sufficient to call on IT managers or purchasing staff where they had comfortable, even cozy relationships. The grants of authority of these expenditures now require talking with senior managers all the way up to the CIO. When you are offering more complex solutions to clients, it is vital to make sure that you are engaged with those buyers who are in a position that has the authority and resources to make a decision. If not, your sales team will waste unbelievable amounts of money and time trying to work buyers who can’t say yes to your value proposition, as they only have the ability to say no.
You don’t want your sale professionals to be a talking brochure. They need to not just communicate your competitive advantage, but be part of that competitive advantage. I’ve written in Harvard Business Review about how a sales force creates value, not just in the products they sell but in how they sell.
While the concept of consultative selling is over three decades old, I’m often shocked at how few sales professionals (even top performers) adhere to the practice. I’ve observed over 1,000 sales calls, and I still hear more “old-school” style pitching and closing, than in-depth discussions about the client’s needs. One of my clients, Centene, a Fortune 500 Insurance company added more than $50 million dollars in new sales last year, and will drive over a billion dollars in new revenue due in large part to the sales team’s ability identify multiple client circumstances that are ripe for them to address, and construct an integrated offering. While that is a textbook definition of the solution sale, that approach still remains elusive to many sales professionals.
Help the sales team to understand what kinds of growth opportunities will they help prospects to surface? Where can they identify unintended consequences and implications of decisions to help customers achieve a new perspective? How do sellers understand client circumstances and configure your products or services in a way that makes the client say, “Oh, I didn’t realize we could do it that way”? It’s consultative selling, sure. But don’t assume that a training program or two has gone beyond developing an understanding of these approaches and created the proficiency and mastery you need to execute on them.
At the end of the day, it’s what a company does—not what its strategy says—that leads to success. The way your prospects and many of your clients experience this is through the interaction with your sales force. When you carefully connect how the business strategy drives action, your sales force become true team players.