In my recent webinar, Sales Strategy or Train Wreck, I dug into what happens when sales teams of all sizes forge ahead without a clear plan. (It happens, and it happens a lot.) When Alice and I were talking about the webinar and the great feedback I got from it, she suggested I write a blog post on the topic. Good idea!
We have all been in meetings when someone says, “We can sit around planning forever, or we can just get going and do something.” And, rightly so. Strategy without execution is a waste of time. But, execution without strategy is like saying “Ready, Fire, Aim” or more accurately “Fire, Look—OMG!”
I believe in strategy. I have seen what happens when sales teams of all sizes forge ahead without a clear plan. In short, it’s chaos.
A business strategy, market strategy or sales strategy should deliver these critical results:
- Clear priorities everyone understands
- Clear outcomes everyone can measure
- Clear guidelines everyone can follow
- Clear goals everyone can work toward
Without a strategy, sales teams and leaders make decisions based on what is best at the moment. Not because they are selfish or short-sighted, but because they don’t know the big picture.
The best analogy I can think of is a ship. Imagine if the captain yelled “Cast off,” but the crew didn’t know the plan. How would they know which way to steer? How to trim the sails? Or even how to stay out of the way? A strong crew works most effectively when they are well trained, have clear instructions, and know where they are going. If any of those elements are missing, then that’s a recipe for a shipwreck.
Your sales team may not need to know how to trim the sails, but they do need to know the following:
- A clear Ideal Customer Profile
- A SWOT analysis
- A clear market strategy
- Clear revenue goals
- Clear positioning
- Clear action plan
Too often, sales strategies start with someone at the top coming up with an arbitrary growth number based on investor demands, new product development, operational capacity, or some other factor that has absolutely nothing to do with sales. That growth expectation gets divided among regions and reps in ways that are equal, arbitrary or based on some often-unsubstantiated belief about which markets or reps can support the most growth. Unfortunately, these poorly-planned strategies often result in declining morale, increased attrition and ultimately poor business results.
Whatever orders come from above, they must become a strategy that can support the desired growth.
The secret to sustained growth is creating a powerful sales strategy to support it. Here are the seven steps I recommend to create this type of strategy.
1. Assess Where You’ve Been and Where You Are Now
Before you can begin to plan the future, first look toward the past. Do an assessment of the previous year of business and ask questions such as:
- What did you do last year? Dig into your sales numbers as well and look at key indicators such as:
- How much did your team sell?
- Who sold it?
- To whom did they sell it?
- How much will result in repeat business?
- Which clients brought in the least and most profit? Make sure to add in support time!
- Which clients had the shortest sales cycles?
- Which clients had the highest revenue?
- What has changed?
- How are you positioned to achieve the revenue targets you have identified?
- Where is the most logical place to look for growth?
- What exists to support the desired growth?
- What additional support will your team need to achieve the desired increases?
By understanding where you have been, you can begin to determine where you should go.
2. Create A Clear Ideal Customer Profile
For most companies, 80% of revenue comes from 20% of clients. By reviewing your previous year, you can figure out which clients spend the most money, buy more than one product, are the easiest to work with and have the shortest sales cycle. Figure out what your top clients do and make a list of those criteria. This will become your Ideal Customer Criteria. Dig into the demographics and psychographics of your ideal customer to create a complete profile for your reps.
An ideal customer profile provides guidelines for your sales reps that help them spend their time efficiently on prospects who are most likely to convert and deliver repeat business quickly.
3. Time For A SWOT Analysis
How well is your company positioned to grow existing accounts, find new accounts like the ones you have, and land new ideal customers? Pull your sales, marketing, and product teams together to do the SWOT.
A SWOT is not an exercise in imagination. It should be as rooted in reality as possible. Your job is to figure out how to leverage your strengths to capitalize on opportunities. Consider your weaknesses and threats, the internal and external obstacles that will hinder your ability to achieve those goals. Ask yourself and your team what needs to be done to minimize these threats and weaknesses. Be specific in your efforts. Look for the reasons you are not selling more to existing clients, and the reasons reps are having a hard time closing business. Understand which products sell well and why. You will need this information to build your plan.
4. Set A Clear Market Strategy
Now that you have assessed where you have been and what has worked start thinking about where you are going.
This is the time to think about a market strategy. Consider the following questions based on your work so far:
- How much can you grow existing accounts?
- How can you leverage existing accounts to get referrals?
- How much can you increase revenue inside existing territories with existing products?
- How much can you increase revenue inside existing territories with new products?
- How much can you increase revenue outside existing territories with existing products?
- How much can you increase revenue outside existing territories with new products?
It is likely that the cheapest, fastest revenue will be from existing accounts, then referrals, and on down the line. The slowest and most expensive new revenue will result from cultivating sales for new products in new territories. I would start this process with large account plans for your top 10 clients.
5. Create Clear Revenue Goals
When you combine your given revenue targets with the market strategy you’ve created based on an assessment of the past and current situation, you can generate realistic revenue goals for territories and individuals.
Now is time to think about what support your sales team needs to reach these goals. Get your marketing team, sales team, and product team together to work on a plan.
Handing your sales team new quotas with no basis, in reality, will leave all parties disappointed and frustrated.
6. Develop And Communicate Clear Positioning
The market strategy you created will help determine how you need to position your company and products to achieve the growth. Remember, you have different market segments that each need a clear positioning plan.
- Large Accounts
- Opportunities inside existing accounts with different product lines
- Opportunities inside existing territories and markets
- Companies that meet your ideal customer profile
- How will you identify them?
- How will you make them aware of your product?
- How will sales and marketing work together to prospect and sell
- New Markets, New Products.
It is not sufficient to ask salespeople to figure out the positioning. The sales, marketing, and product teams need to work together to create buyer personas or positioning statements and value propositions that meet each different need.
7. Clear Action Plan
We tend to send sales reps out to prioritize their work alone. If you want your sales reps to be successful, it is time to implement a well-functioning funnel and opportunity planning process.
Now that you know how much revenue you need to get, and where it should come from, each sales rep will need to create a funnel that shows how they intend to generate that revenue. They may be more successful working with marketing and including existing leads that support specific goals.
When your sales reps create their funnel, coach them to ask themselves the following questions:
- How much of each type of revenue do I need to make?
- How many sales does that represent?
- How many calls does that represent?
- How much time does that represent?
- If I am calling on existing clients, how many calls do I need to make to close 10 existing clients on new products?
- How many new ideal customers will I need to call on to close?
Capture the answers to these questions on each rep’s funnel, along with next actions and timelines. But, worry less about close dates and more about next actions and next action dates.
These seven steps are the basis of an executable sales strategy. At the end of this process, your sales team will have clear priorities everyone understands, clear outcomes everyone can measure, clear guidelines everyone can follow and clear goals toward which everyone can work.
You will have righted the ship, and be ready to embark on a successful journey. Shipwreck avoided!
For a deeper understanding of sales leadership strategy, watch my webinar Sales Strategy or Train Wreck.
For help creating a sales strategy specialized for your company, register for our live online 8-week program, Start-Up Sales, where we help you build your sales organization from scratch. Learn more here.
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