Too often sales is driven by short-term tactics and knee jerk reactions to the latest poor results or other problem. While it is important that a business maintains its ability to react, it is even more important that there is a solid foundation on which long term plans can be built. Sales strategy must be linked to business strategy and this helps to provide a more reliable and predictable future for the business.
This is a large topic and it is difficult to do justice to it within the constraints of a newsletter. I hope the following provides enough interest for you to consider your own position and whether your approach to long-term planning for sales and selling activities is fit for your purpose.
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What is a sales strategy and why should you have one?
A sales strategy is the mechanism for turning theory into practice; it helps you to exploit your good ideas. It is used to take your business plan and strategy and convert them into something that puts money on the bottom line in a planned and predictable way. It helps you to realise your dreams, goals and long term objectives. It is a crucial part of the business road map that tells you; where you are going, when you will get there and what you expect to see along the way.
Without such a strategy in place, you are really taking individual steps rather than following a well planned and executed journey. Those individual steps are often driven by the need to react to some external force whereas the strategy helps you to stay focused on the long term goal resisting the distractions of the unexpected; helping you to assess their relevance and potential more impartially.
When should you have a sales strategy?
It is not uncommon that companies develop a sales strategy when they are going to do something new or the same thing in a different way. For example; you may have some market or competitor intelligence which indicates there is potentially a lot of new business for you outside your existing geographic footprint. It is reasonable to assume that your current go-to-market resources are working to capacity so you need to consider; how will you explore and exploit the new potential opportunity? To answer this question thoroughly you need to create a sales strategy which should then be documented as a plan of action for everyone and every function required to make the plan happen.
In the above example, the trigger to create the strategy was change. However, this is not just something to consider during times of growth or other change. Even if you consider yourself to be in a “steady as she goes” period, you still need a sales strategy to ensure you are the driver and not a passenger on your journey.
What does a sales strategy look like?
The documented strategy provides a complete plan of action for everyone and every function (internal and external to the business) that will be involved in creating and executing the strategy. This is by no means an exhaustive list but the strategy should, as a minimum, cover the following:
- Detailed research to further test the original assumption. A key output from this is a valuation of the new market and how much of it you might reasonably expect to gain. This also clarifies the sales objectives in terms of volume and value of the targets.
- Routes to market – how will you access your new market? Will it all be direct to market or will you use partners or some other indirect channels such as collaborations?
- Research to identify a long-list of potential target customers both by type and individual companies.
- What sales and marketing effort do you need to put in place? Is this more of the same or will you need some new and different skills as well? This looks at; budget, headcount, recruitment, induction, training and management.
- What can technology bring to the new initiative?
- What else is required to support the sales and selling effort?
- Systems for monitoring progress providing feedback to modify activities and improve the effectiveness of the strategy.
What are the benefits of a sales strategy?
It provides certainty and control. Any decision involving what, how and where you approach your existing or a new market should be embodied within a sales strategy that you implement, execute and manage.
It helps you run your established business providing a consistent means to monitor performance. Through the use of a management dashboard you will have early warnings of issues which could affect the business in the future giving you the opportunity to deal with the issue before it really causes a problem.
It helps you exploit new opportunities by identifying what must be done and what resources are required to do it. If the perceived opportunity is less valuable than anticipated you will find out quickly so that you can take a remedial action or abandon the new initiative altogether.
The published and documented strategy is a statement of intent of the actions you will take to deliver on your business strategy. It creates a unifying force for all the people involved in delivery and it sends a message to potential customers that you mean business.