Is your sales effort built on a house of cards?

Is your sales strategy and projected sales growth built on a house of cards?

For many start ups this is the case. Their initial sales growth often comes off the back of an entrepreneur’s ideas and the hard work of a dedicated few who pitch in, take on multiple roles and tasks all the while promoting and selling the idea to more and more people. This works well in the early days where the team is small, communication channels are direct, everyone knows what is going on and is committed to the fledgling business’ success.

There’s lots of activity, lots of fun, lots of sleepless nights and a growing sales pipeline. The business has a life of its own until one day the owners/directors realise that if they are to grow further they need more people, except no one in the business was charged with keeping track of, introducing or mapping the business’ processes, systems and frameworks so that they can be transferred and taught to others. There comes a point in time when the fun of running a business turns into frustration.

In our haste to ‘make it’ the early pioneers of many new businesses often do not know they need to introduce articulated processes, frameworks and systems to leverage their future growth on stable foundations. These processes, systems and frameworks, including clearly articulated job roles, like the foundations of a house, are necessary if you want to build and grow sustainable business. If businesses try to grow beyond this point without the foundations in place, one of two things will happen: 1) the business will remain static at its current level of turnover or 2) come crashing down like a house of cards.

Recognising when you arrive at this crossroad is critical and doing the work yourself is not always easy. More often than not you are likely to need the services of an independent person(s) who can help you see the wood for the trees. Selecting the right person(s) to help you replace your house of cards for a more robust structure is key. Following is a case study which outlines one such situation and how this company was able to get the right kind of support to move forward in a planned and purposeful manner.

Case study

Over the last eight months I have had the opportunity to work with an emerging and highly successful business to review and develop its sales capability. The business is profitable, wants to continue to grow and expand, and really make its mark in this evolving marketplace. The parent company is made up of four separate businesses. It has so much potential and is led by a very clever entrepreneur and talented young general manager.

As I entered the business I soon came to realise that despite its sales and financial success there was no clear strategy for any of the businesses moving forward, no clear delineation between roles, everyone was busy with lots of duplication of effort. Everything seemed to merge into each other, creating confusion and stifling future growth. In its current format it was like a knotty ball of wool that needed unraveling and was not offering a stable platform on which to grow and expand sales.

This is when I introduced a colleague of mine who specialises in strategic alignment. Achieving strategic alignment means that all the correct frameworks, systems and processes support the vision, mission, values and strategic direction of the business. My client’s business was lacking strategic alignment.

What are the signs of strategic misalignment?

No company is perfect, but as misalignment increases, motivation, productivity and employee satisfaction “gaps” begin to appear. Customer response and experience is varied. Pronounced symptoms could be lack of team focus, unresponsiveness to management direction, “them and us” attitudes, diversions, frustration, complaints about salaries, high staff turnover, empire building, higher than acceptable absenteeism and turnover, and management not receiving the feedback it needs. From top management’s perspective, as misalignment increases, the company can become harder to run and it becomes more of a struggle to achieve sustained results.

Not all of these issues were relevant to my client’s business, however a few were. These were fleshed out in a methodical, evidenced based manner culminating in stepping out a plan that identified key areas which need to be addressed. It shows them what they need to do and how to do it. It has given my client a stable platform on which to operate and a clear pathway to the future to grow sales.

Replacing your house of cards for a more robust structure is key. Recognising when you arrive at this crossroad is critical, however being able to articulate what you need may not be easy. More often than not you are likely to need the services of an independent person(s) who can help you see the wood for the trees. Selecting the right person(s) to help you can also be a challenge.

Word of caution when relying on ‘experts’

Make sure you use people who are truly experts in their field and know how their expertise fits in with and supports all the key components of running a business. Make sure they can back up their expertise with relevant research, data and facts, including reliable processes, systems and frameworks. You may be surprised at how many ‘expert’ consultants do not know how their piece integrates with the whole and how many try to pretend they can do things they can’t do just to hold onto you as a client. This usually leads to disaster for all concerned. Instead find those experts who are connected to other specialist, ie. strategy, PR, branding, marketing, procurement, finance, production, HR, sales, etc.

In short, each of us should bring in the processes, frameworks and systems needed for future success in our area of expertise and we should know how they link together to make a better whole. Like building a house, you do not rely on one person to have all the skills needed to run a business. As expert consultants we should all know where we fit and how we support our clients in concert with their needs. As stated, my colleague specialises in strategic alignment and I specialise in sales culture and performance, we can’t work without the other.

In summary, high performing organisations, small or large, anchor all tactical activity, decision-making and effort to carefully considered and clearly understood strategic objectives which include clearly articulated processes, frameworks, systems and job roles. Whether done in-house or with the support of consultants, achieving strategic alignment is the aim and this occurs when management, staff and customers are all operating in resonance supported by a stable foundation and not a house of cards.

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett practices as a coach, advisor, speaker, facilitator, consultant and writer and works across all market segments with her skilful team at BARRETT. Sue and her team take the guess work out of selling and help people from many different careers become aware of their sales capabilities and enable them to take the steps to becoming effective and productive when it comes to selling, sales coaching or sales leadership.To hone your sales skills or learn how to sell go to


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