How to Get Your Salespeople to Execute Your Strategy

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salesweBy: Scott Edinger

Sales professionals make decisions every day about what prospects and customers they will be meeting with, what products or services they will highlight in their pitches, and even what elements of your value proposition they will emphasize. McKinsey & Co. research on B2B purchases indicates that 25% of the buying decision depends on the interaction with the sales professional. That puts your strategy in the hands of inexperienced company strategists who are focused, often solely, on how to reach a quota.

Are you comfortable with that? If not, there are three things you should do to make sure that your salespeople understand and implement your strategy as you intended it, and that their actions are in line with your goals, not just the target they want to make.

Make sure your salespeople pursue the right leads. A global consulting firm I work with has an explicit strategy to target Fortune 1000 companies, yet less than 15% of their business comes from those companies. Many companies in my experience have a similar disconnect between their intended market or customer type and their actual client base. That’s because when your sales people are trying to make a number, any business looks like good business. Sometimes it makes sense for your sales team to be opportunistic and acquire business outside of your ideal client profile, especially low-hanging fruit. But if a majority of your clients are not within that profile, you’re simply not pursuing your strategy.

There’s a reason you chose those target markets or customer types. Likely you’ve learned that those are the clients who’ll place the highest value on your offering, and be willing to pay a premium. If you want to realize the growth that strategy promises, you need to direct most pursuit efforts at acquiring the right clients. Define territories carefully (by geography, industry or simply named accounts) and be sure your sales team is focusing there. Be vigilant about which organizations you are marketing to, and ensure that lead distribution reflects the space in the market where you expect to win. Make sure that CRM data on prospects isn’t populated with companies that are outside of your target market. And require a clear rationale from any salesperson pursuing leads that don’t match your ideal client profile; don’t let your salespeople chase just any easy deal.

It’s a balancing act. But remember, every hour spent developing an opportunity that’s outside your sweet spot is a non-strategic use of time, energy, and resources.

When strategy shifts, make sure that sales shifts with it. An Inc. 500 technology distribution company I’m working with has expanded its offerings to include services like installation and hardware management. It’s a smart move for the business but if that strategy is going to get traction, the sales team has to make a significant shift. Instead of calling on IT managers or purchasing staff to buy equipment, they’ll need to start talking with senior managers all the way up to the CIO. Sales teams must identify those buyers, understand what’s important to them, and be comfortable in conversations with these executives. Changing customer targets represents a massive shift for many sales professionals, and often they try to stick with old approaches—calling on familiar contacts who don’t have the authority to make the new purchasing decisions or who can only agree to smaller, transactional purchases. By spending their efforts on buyers who can’t say yes to your new value proposition, the sales force can undermine your strategy.

Focus the team on creating value beyond the products and services it sells. While the concept of consultative or “solution” selling is decades old, it’s surprising how few salespeople (even very sophisticated high-level sellers) do it. I’ve observed over 1,000 sales calls, and I still hear more old-school pitching than in-depth discussions about the client’s needs. Unless your strategy is to be the lowest cost provider, your sellers need to do more than communicate the advantages of your products and services; they need to be part of the advantage. That requires having deep conversations about the client’s objectives, and providing insights about problems and opportunities they may not have recognized — and how the seller’s solution can help. This isn’t a new idea but it is still not the default setting for most sales professionals, and it needs to be. (For more detail, see my article, “How a sales force creates value.”)

Bottom line: Don’t assume that just because you’ve shared your company’s strategy with the sales team and done some training that the team is going to effectively translate that into their sales approach. If you want your team to bring your strategy to life, work closely with sales leaders and their teams to help them see how their decisions, focus, and specific behaviors make the strategy succeed or fail.

Source: Harvard Business Review


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