One of the biggest sales trends for 2014 has been the legitimisation of sales strategy.
Having a sales strategy is now of vital importance to the survival, growth and profitability of any organisation. Yet sales strategy, as a business discipline, has been poorly understood by sales managers and executive leadership teams alike and rarely, if ever, executed well by many businesses. However, times are indeed changing.
Sales strategy is how the business organises its sales efforts across the value chain to go to market, who it is going to sell to and how it is going to create real value within the given market place with its customers. It focuses on a time frame of no longer than 18-24 months.
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Today, you cannot create a viable business strategy without input from sales and you cannot run an effective sales operation without an effective sales strategy.
As Frank Cespedes, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and faculty chair, said in his HBR blog article ‘You can’t do strategy without input from sales’ ( 25/8/2014):
One big problem is that in business schools, daily practice, and strategic planning, sales and strategy are treated as separate worlds. In academia, there is remarkably little written about how to link strategy with the nitty-gritty of field execution. Few of the many, many books and articles on strategy formulation have much, if anything, to say about the role(s) of a company’s sales channels in executing strategy. In fact, sales advice, if it’s even discussed, usually revolves around a combination of ‘reorganizing’ and ‘incentives’.
This sales trend will see sales strategy becoming the hot discipline of business as businesses leaders work out how to move their sales operations out from under the shadow of marketing, and being a purely tactical function, to being a strategic operation that works across the entire business value chain delivering real value and real growth. Sales strategy will begin to be studied by those charged with managing a sales team as well as other management disciplines to ensure sales and organisational success. Along with business and marketing strategies, sales strategy will take a lead position at the C suite.
Consciously introducing sales strategy that is created, owned and supported by the senior executive team and led by the sales team will see businesses moving to being truly customer-centric with a central plumb line that guides all decisions and actions across the entire value chain.
Those companies and executive leadership teams that are proactive and use their sales strategy as the guiding force to direct all of their operations will find that they come out stronger, smarter and better prepared. They will find markets where they can get an edge and are uncontested or work more effectively in contested markets and position their entire value chain to work with customers and suppliers in partnerships that work.
A new era in strategic selling and the marketing-sales partnership
What is happening now is that sales, rather than being driven on a tactical (day-to-day) basis, is rightfully being viewed as an independent, primary activity of the value chain, with its own, unique support structure.
For sales strategy to really work, we will see marketing change as well. It will provide the right kind of support and play a more meaningful role in sustaining profitable growth. The first challenge for most businesses will be getting sales and marketing aligned in order to face the challenges of the new market – together. And then include everyone else across the value chain.
This will see new partnerships forged so long as marketing and sales can put their differences aside. In the past, the failure on the part of sales management to develop their own strategies has been rooted in both the one dimensional view of selling, as part of the marketing mix, and myopia in understanding the true role of sales in the organisation’s value chain today.
To be truly effective, marketing will be supporting the sales effort rather than the other way around.
Sales strategy is here to stay – it’s now time to take it seriously.
Remember, everybody lives by selling something.