For Board members or for non-commercial executives thinking about the commercial area of their business branding, marketing and advertising occupies most focus and sales is left pretty much to fend for itself.
This mindset is to be regretted, as sales must offer the business many opportunities to add value in building and retaining a strong customer network. I have seen too many great brands with fantastic advertising flounder because no one could buy their product, or retailers or wholesalers were constantly out of stock or pricing did not reflect brand values. So as a board member or even a manager in the middle you must understand and interrogate the businesses sales strategy and ensure its aligns with the rest of the business.
Here are some pointers of the questions a Board should ask of their Sales professionals to better understand managements understanding of the sales process.
1. Creating Strategic Sales
There are three essential elements for Creating Strategic Sales within your organisation.
a. The Value Proposition
Does your commercial team understand what their value proposition is, and can they explain this to you simply and convincingly.
The Value proposition, should represent the entire scope of the organisation’s total product and service offering and how this forms the basis of the organisation’s unique proposition to add value to their customers business and to be better than the competition. Within my previous company our value proposition was to offer highly branded and in-demand alcoholic beverages that delivered a superior margin to our customers and which we were able to produce at a cheaper cost than our competition, enabling heavy brand investment.
b. Customer Strategy
Is your commercial team able to simply articulate a coherent strategy of winning over and retaining the right customers (why are they right) and dropping the wrong customers (and why are they wrong). Do they display knowledge that reflects an understanding of customers motivations and potentially different customer segments, the customers differing service and credit requirements and expectations, relative importance of the differing customer segments (why some are better than others and the value you can expect to earn from each) and how customers make buying decisions. When you ask for their strategy, does it make logical sense?
c. Sales Process
The Sales Process is the logical result of applying the value proposition to the customer strategy. The process should be simple and understandable and reflects how the sales organisation engages with customers. Depending on the differentiation within your customer segments you may have a few different types of processes from a simple call-centre based order taking and fulfilment process, to a detailed account management process for more complicated decision making customer. But in the end there must be a specific insight into how and why a specific process works for your business with this customer segment. It should not be “we have always done it this way”. The process does not need to be automated nor computerised unless this adds value (saves costs) and helps the customer rather than hindering them.
2. Managing Strategic Sales
Once you have a clear and logical Strategic Sales strategy, the team must then explain what elements are needed to consistently and sustainably implement their plan and to create the best possible environment in which your business can succeed.
a. Vision & Mission
You don’t need to buy into the whole “vision thing”, to understand the need for a simple statement of intent and a set of guiding principles to help the entire commercial team make appropriate decisions. These elements recognise the key sales management role in providing the leadership and direction for the sales organisation as a whole, and from there to enable the whole organisation recognise the importance of the customer so there is alignment within the organisation to deliver your value proposition.
b. People & Performance
Does management know they type of people it needs in particular roles to make the plan succeed. Have they put in place effective measures of performance to enable appropriate decisions to be made. Is the measurement timely and actionable? Does the measurement reinforce both your value proposition and your customer strategy. Is there alignment throughout the organisation on what the critical measures are, and do these follow through into sales?
c. Motivation & Development
What motivates particular types of people within your sales organisation? Does the motivation support the company vision and building long term customer value? Can your team members develop within their roles and therefore see a career with your business> This final element ensures that sales management provides the necessary support to create a high performance sales organisation with highly motivated individuals and teams.
Implications for your Organisation
In such a scenario as this, creating a strategic sales environment implies that your sales team are not just an afterthought, but an essential part of creating the company wide strategy. There will be a need to relate to customers in a more strategic way appropriate to each customer to enable them to deliver their numbers this month, this quarter, this year AND next year. The implication is that the sales team will develop specific value propositions for individual customer segments and need the necessary internal influence to ensure their own organisations deliver on customer requirements and expectations- delivery times, quality, cost etc.
Within the world of sales there is a change in paradigm. In the far past a simple army style command and control systems failed miserably to inspire and motivate people. Yet the enlightened approach to empower sales failed to deliver results. And so the thinking now is to have a loose-tight approach. To inspire sales team members with plans on how to deliver value to better service customers and at the same time, hold them clearly responsible for detailed implementation plans to ensure the strategy is implemented effectively and on time. Sales has never been so tough and so a tough yet clear sighted management approach is needed.
Finally, there will need to be more emphasis on appropriate recruitment, motivation, coaching, training and team development. Appropriate to your business plan, your customer segments, your strategy. All of this is in order to foster the necessary supporting environment for strategic sales professionals to flourish and to deliver what customers really want.
I’ll expand on these topics in subsequent posts, but invite you to share your views int he comments below. Whats your sales strategy?