Sales as a strategic weapon — what’s it all about?
My experience is that most organizations underutilize sales because they treat it as a traditional tactical tool rather than as a strategic asset.
Today the focus tends to be on how traditional sales can be more efficient – providing the appropriate sales tools for enabling the sales process to work more in accordance with accepted (best) sales practices.
Sales efficiency tools…
- push products
- follow sales process
- bonus plan based on the number of units sold
- takes guidance from the marketing plan
- think short term — achieve quota fast
- hone your craft — be more efficient at the discipline of selling
- focus client needs from a product application perspective
There is a HUGE opportunity cost to the organization by treating sales as a tactic where efficiency is the prime concern.
As a customer-facing function, sales has the power to make or break the client loyalty relationship and materially affect the financials of the organization.
The focus needs to change to focus on how sales can be more effective — redefine sales as a strategic asset where their role is to create long term value for the organization.
Sales strategic tools…
- develop relationships
- bonus plan based on measures of strategic value creation set by executive leadership — share of wallet, life of sale, customer perception of relationship building — shared objectives with senior team
- takes direction from the strategic game plan of the organization as opposed to marketing
- think long term — build long term value for the organization deep relationships and reap sales accordingly
- hone your craft — achieve master relationship builder status fast
- dig for client “secrets” without the constraint of their products; examine the client holistically for what they want, desire and “lust for” as a person (for example, red wine) or organization (for example, better asset management capability)
What specific actions should be taken to make sales the ultimate strategic weapon?
- first redefine the sales role to add the strategic function to its role; communicate the change to the organization.
- begin with introducing the strategic value element to the annual bonus plan and increase its weight over time.
- THEN look for ways to make the sales team more efficient in playing the new strategic role; address effectiveness before efficiency.
- revise value statement of the sales organization to include adding strategic value.
- shift the recruitment strategy to acquire individuals who have the competencies required to add strategic value.
- develop an internal training program to teach the new skills required to the existing sales force.
- exit those sales people who either don’t have the required strategic competencies needed, or refuse to shift from the selling products regime.
- personally take action to begin the shift from tactician to strategist. Take personal ownership of the need to add more of the strategic emphasis to your role.
- go to boot camp with the strategic game plan of your organization. Get to know it at a VERY detailed level. You can’t translate it to what it specifically means for sales if your knowledge of the plan is skin deep.
- go “undercover” with clients to learn what they want and desire — the source of delivering strategic value. Knowledge represents strategic power; sales is in the best position to secure it; competitive advantage follows.
- build a draft sales plan that translates the strategic game plan of the organization into what it means specifically for you as a salesperson. Your draft should be what you think would be a perfect expression of corporate goals. And do it in sufficient granularity — avoid being general with aspirational words — so as to define what specific new behaviours and actions are required and which current ones need to be stopped.
- share your draft plan with others to show them how to shift sales from tactics to strategy. Start building interest and excitement around the idea; be an agent of change.
What are the biggest challenges salespeople face when trying to put their sales game to a higher strategic level?
- personally being willing to accept the role change and to commit to lead in implementing it among peers and colleagues
- “getting permission” to make the shift away from tactical sales
- putting their quota at risk
- attracting leadership attention by your actions — and being shut down
- demanding and pushing for a more strategic role in the organization when efficiency product pushing forces are at play and deeply engrained in the organization — fighting an uphill battle —maintaining your eyes on the prize in the face of pushback
- developing new skill sets associated with creating strategic value through building relationships — human psychology, business acumen, financial analysis, conflict resolution, problem solving and team building
Effective sales isn’t about how many products or services you sell; it’s about how effectively you advance the long term strategy of the organization.
Some will say that unit selling IS consistent with executing strategy, but that’s just a convenient excuse for sales to not change in any meaningful way.
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