Implementing Strategy in Sales
When you ask salespeople if they know their company´s strategy, you often get mixed results: Some will cite objectives, such as ´growth´ or ´profit´ (instead of describing a strategy). Others often don´t know their company´s strategy at all.
In many cases, there is a lack of clarity about what strategy is. Therefore, here is a pragmatic definition: A strategy is a plan. It includes clear decisions about what a company does (e.g. exclusively serving a luxury segment) and does not do (e.g. not serving a low-price segment.) Based on these decisions, strategic initiatives (actions) are initiated to build competitive advantage and reach growth goals (turnover, profit, market share). The sum of all decisions and strategic initiatives constitutes the strategy.
Why should a salesperson know his or her company´s strategy? Answer: At the end of the day, it is the salesforce which implements the strategy in the market and at the individual customer level. It is the salesforce which translates strategy into success on the ground. To make this happen, it is essential that sales managers and salespeople are closely involved in the strategy´s development and that they fully identify with the result. Then, it will be ´their´ strategy – not a strategy imposed from ´above´ in which they don´t believe. Salespeople only implement strategies they really believe in!
Which strategy-related information do salespeople need? What do they have to know, so that they can successfully act in their markets, reach their goals and make a measurable contribution to the company´s success? They should be able to answer the following 3 questions:
- Which target groups (potential) customers should I focus on? Which ones can I neglect?
- Shall I sell the maximum quantity possible and – if required – make substantial price concessions to reach that goal? Or do profit margins also play an important role? Can I refuse an order for price reasons and fully count on management´s support?
- What pricing and negotiation leeway do I have? How will I be rewarded (financially and careerwise) if I act in conformance with the strategy and reach my goals?
Conflicting targets – e.g. simultaneously achieving price and volume increases in stagnating markets - produce frustration and confusion. If, by contrast, salespeople have clear and consistent goals and the full backing of management when it comes to critical decisions, then they will enthusiastically translate ´their´ strategy into on-the-ground success!