Sales strategy – it starts at the top

Sales strategy

In sales a fair amount of time is spent on crafting, executing, and modifying sales strategy.  Some topics, like how sales reps should go about planning their account strategies, receive a lot of attention while others not so much.  One that falls into the latter category is overall business unit sales strategy.

It’s difficult for individual sales reps to do a superior job thinking and acting strategically at the account level without guidance from the top.  After all, a hallmark of successful sales teams is a top management team that’s serious about sales. Building on this idea, recently we came across an interesting article by Samantha Howland that focused on strategic planning at the executive level.

Although the article addresses strategy from a company-wide perspective, the points seemed particularly relevant to top-level sales planning.  Let’s take look at the implications for top level strategic sales planning and then translate it all to sales reps.

The article argues that top level strategic planning “needs to be an ongoing process, rather than a dull, drab annual exercise. Now, if we were to assemble a group of senior level sales executives, what would they say about that?  How many would raise their hands that an ongoing process is in place to review and update the sales strategy for their business unit?  If you are not one of them, then it is a fair question to ask why not?

The second major point in the article was not about whether top level strategic planning was taking place but how.  Effective strategic planning requires – “insight from diverse sources, alternative points of view, healthy debate, and maverick voices.”  This recommendation indeed seems relevant to sales.  Today in many markets the customer base is undergoing transformational shifts – that requires an innovative approach to sales planning and the avoidance of one-dimensional thinking.

Let’s translate this need for innovation to the sales person level.

To craft and execute an effective sales strategy, sales reps should move beyond the facts they traditionally know and expand the information base to obtain a broader view.  Let’s take a look at some specifics:

  • Don’t rely on the past – Since the future doesn’t replicate the past, sales strategy should be based on a combination of past, present and future issues and goals that are important to the customer.
  • Expand internal sources providing input into sales strategy – Insights about an account can come from multiple sources inside a company – such as technical support, customer service, sales ops, and marketing. Yet, when planning a sales strategy these insights often are not sought.
  • Keep your eye on the competition – Sales strategies often fail to incorporate a realistic picture of the competition.  Sometimes the competition is viewed as being static – the assumption is made that what they’ve done in the past, they will continue to do in the future in the future.
  • Be open to the unexpected – No one has a crystal ball, but we can be on the look out for unforeseen events like: changes in the buying process, a new product introduction, a product recall from one of your competitors, or changes in the national or global economic situation.  Successful sales people look for these opportunities and leverage them.

Finally, we’ve often said – crafting sales strategy is not a one-time activity, nor is it a form or CRM screen to fill out periodically. Rather, sales strategy is an ongoing process that responds to changing realities.

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©2012 Sales Horizons™, LLC

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About Janet Spirer

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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