It is a widely agreed upon fact that companies will not win without a clear, compelling strategy. Despite this tenet of business, there is typically a gap between sales initiatives and strategy. In a market as raw as the one we’re in, precise alignment of go-to-market execution and strategic goals is critical. Without alignment, leaders will press for better execution when you need better strategy, or change strategic direction when the execution doesn’t work. All this change is disruptive, time consuming, and costly.
Leaders often ask why this disconnect happens. Seemingly, once a plan is in place, it should be clear where you are going and how you should get there. But the market is changing rapidly, customers have more choices than ever, and the leadership team turns over. These factors can create ambiguity at the time you need the most clarity for your people and your customers.
Here are three things you can do today to put your sales team in a better position to win:
1) Get back to basics
Circle the wagons with existing customers: The current economic environment may be unfamiliar, but the basics haven’t changed: Listen to your customers and adapt to meet their needs. As your strategies evolve to address new realities, you can add value by providing your sales team with tools to work better, smarter, and faster for your customers.
Be smart about prospects: The investor Peter Lynch said, “If you’re going to pick a stock, pick a good one.” The same applies to prospects. Pressure to deliver results can lead salespeople to chase any and all prospects, but marginal prospects don’t transform into good customers. Stay disciplined in your screening protocols before investing in new business leads, and stick to placing smart bets on potential business. Holding on to liquid assets is a smarter move, and if you’re going to spend, make strategic investments in people and processes that lead to steady, sustainable returns.
Align with market leaders: Focus on developing relationships with the market leaders in your industry. In a consolidating world, the leaders will move aggressively to reduce the number of suppliers. It’s like musical chairs; you want a seat when the music stops. The winners will produce the most organic and acquired growth. It’s important to understand the cost to do business with the market leaders will only get higher as they expand their market share.
2) Develop or strengthen a strategic sales team
Now is the time to invest in your “A” players to develop and manage your “A” customers. These are people you recruit, coach, and compensate differently for the purpose of aggressive, specialized profit production. A Maine salesman once told me, “If you feed a plow horse and a racehorse from the same bucket, you’ll have a fast plow horse and a slow racehorse. Neither one will do you much good.” One size does not fit all in today’s market, and your A Team should tailor their approach to meet customer-specific needs and drive profits. You treat all members of your sales team fairly, but you don’t treat them all the same.
3) Tap into available expertise
It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Although weathering a pandemic is not something even the most seasoned business leaders have faced, there are those who have navigated similar challenges. Find a network of partners and learn from their successes and mistakes. You probably already have valuable, untapped contacts in the industry, and there are books, podcasts, and articles from thought leads available to you day and night. Don’t be afraid to reach out. With the right attitude, this can be an exciting time from a business perspective; you learn more in tough times than you do when business is good.
This crisis feels worse than the last one for many reasons. It’s normal and appropriate to react initially with fear and anxiety. Remember there is always a path to success, regardless of economic conditions, if you employ foresight, have a bias for action, and the courage to stay ahead of the market. With one eye on growth and the other on safety, it is time to adjust strategies and expectations to meet the changing needs of our customers and employees. Keep the faith in your people, your suppliers, and your customers. The big picture tells us we’ll work our way through this and there are better days ahead.
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The author is founder of Portland, Maine-based Frawley Sales and Strategy, specializing in high value sales strategies to achieve aggressive revenue targets. Contact Steve at [email protected].