One of the biggest issues in any sales organization is the lack of congruency between what the overall sales strategy says and what salespeople do every day. Indeed the same issue is similarly at play between the sales plan and the plan for the entire organization.
The strategy says one thing and not only do people do something else, they do slightly different things that are out of sync with the strategy.
Massive inconsistency and dysfunction results; everyone in the herd goes off in different directions.
This is a failure of sales leadership.
Leadership tends to place more focus on direction-setting rather than on determining he details of how the strategy will be executed and the roles that people have to play in executing it.
Precision is applied to “getting the strategy right” — let’s exploit the retail sector — and not how it will be implemented in the trenches where the real work gets done — we will target the men’s clothing segment and focus on our CRM solution application.
The gap between strategic intent and actual results is due to this skewed attention. If only 20% of leadership’s attention is placed on the details of how the strategy will be implemented, the strategy will likely be hit and miss as salespeople find it necessary to interpret the plan and execute it the way they understand it should.
Effective strategy execution occurs only when there is clarity between the specific roles that salespeople play in the organization and the overall sales strategy. If direct line of sight is defined for every sales team flawless execution occurs. This is achieved when every salesperson clearly understands what their implementation role is.
Indirect line of sight, on the other hand, occurs when the implementation role of each person is vaguely described. It results in people having a clouded understanding of what specific action the strategy demands and dysfunction results.
Many sales leaders don’t pay enough attention to ensuring sales activity and overall strategy are aligned. It generally gets delegated to sales managers who formulate the tactics THEY contend are homeomorphic with overall strategic imperatives.
The problem with this process is that subjectivity is introduced below the sales leadership level and is magnified several times over as each sales team is asked to do the same thing. Any inconsistencies between activity and strategy at the highest level in an organization are multiplied by an order of magnitude factor before it reaches individual salespeople. Imagine the potential for inconsistency if the organization has 10 or more sales teams!
The real problem is that the sales leader doesn’t ask for a detailed implementation plan from each sales team that would at least show whether they were bordering on out-of-alignment or not.
Under these conditions, it’s not difficult to see why strategy and organizational activity diverge and not converge.
What can sales leadership do about this problem?
Spend more time on execution
In my experience I find that leaders spend about 25% of their time developing implementation plans to support their overall sales plan; three-quarters of their time is consumed by plotting the sales direction required to support the company’s overall strategic game plan. To improve the fit between sales strategy and implementation more time must be spent on what tactics must be performed in the field by sales teams and individual salespeople — target at least 50% for this activity.
Align sales tactics to sales strategy
Institutionalize “Sales Alignment Plans” with every sales manager; ask for sufficient granularity to determine whether or not a sales team has direct line of sight to the sales strategy or not. Each sales team must translate the sales strategy into what it means specifically to them and what they must do to execute it. Make them work at it until they get it right; have the sales leader give final approval.
Define the key elements of the strategy to align with
There are many dimensions to any strategy but it is critical to prioritize and focus on the critical ones. Greater alignment success will occur by focusing on a handful of the critical strategic imperatives rather than trying to “herd the cats” around a dozen or more.
Better to get perfect alignment around 3 high priorities than weak alignment around 15 items that are nice to do but are less important.
Define what needs to change in every sales team
If the sales organization is pursuing a new or revised strategic direction, there will most certainly be projects, sales values, skills and perhaps technology that will have to be re-vectored to enable the execution of the new plan. Details of everything that needs to change must be defined in detail with an action plan to achieve the desired results.
Identify what has to be dropped
Successful execution of “the new” requires that you stop doing stuff; there is simply not enough resource available to take on new work and keep doing what you were doing yesterday.
If old out-of-alignment activity is not stopped, additional unnecessary resources will be most certainly requested. All non-strategic activity must be isolated and resources removed and redeployed to new challenges that must be undertaken.
Aligning sales to march together is critical to ensure strategic objectives are achieved and higher levels of performance delivered.
Sales leadership’s active engagement in the process is THE vital ingredient to make it happen.