“Why aren’t we just doing what our biggest competitor is doing?”
That’s what the Sales VP of a product manufacturing company kept hearing from the firm’s owner, who was frustrated by the lackluster sales numbers being reported.
The owner insisted the solution to their sales problem was tactical. But it wasn’t. They hadn’t even begun to define WHY they had a sales problem in the first place!
This story illustrates an all-too-common mistake I see in businesses today: people try to solve a problem without understanding why that problem exists in the first place.
Here’s why that happens. They’re lured by the tantalizing promise of a quick-fix solution: a belief that by simply copying what someone else in the marketplace is doing, it will work for them, too. It seems appealing because doing the opposite—identifying the cause of the problem and creating and executing a plan to fix it—seems hard. But that’s what works for sales leaders.
They define a sales problem that needs solving and come up with tactics to fix it, but only after that first step has been carried out. And that order of activities tends to turn off people like the owner I’ve cited in this story.
Once you’ve identified the root cause of your sales problem, developing a plan to solve it can often seem difficult, but it’s not.
Don’t isolate tactics from strategy.
Tactics are an outcome of planning: not a substitute. Take the time to ask difficult questions and do your market research first so you have a clear picture of what the sales landscape looks like around you right now. Then—and only then—you can talk about the activities you can undertake to manage your sales problems skillfully. Do it backwards and you’ll get backwards outcomes.
Understand what changes and what doesn’t.
The formula for creating your sales plan never changes. The process is repeatable no matter when or where you engage it. What does change is the what and the how of the equation. What is the state of your market currently? What do your customers look like? What do they want? How do you meet what they want? What are the obstacles to growth? How do you propose to tackle those obstacles?
Don’t overcomplicate things.
The mistake business leaders make when developing a sales plan is that they are lured into believing that a complicated plan is a better plan. The opposite is true.
A good plan defines simple, achievable goals. It lays out the basics of what you need to meet those goals. That includes identifying how many sales reps do you need, who is going to lead the team, how the marketing is going to work. And then it tells you what you are going do next when all those elements are in place, as well as the measurements you’re going to use, so you know whether your efforts have been successful.
Everything has to align with growth, including compensation.
Your sales tactics must align with your growth strategy. Always. That includes the way you look at how you compensate your sales team. Remember: your salespeople do what you pay them to do. If you don’t reward them for what you need them to do, you will fall short. If your compensation package is built around a reward that isn’t meaningful to them, they will get frustrated and leave. That means your compensation plan has to be consistent with the tactics you consider in service to the growth you are looking to achieve.
Take time to draw a distinction between tactics and strategy in your business. Be ready to ask a lot more questions you might be accustomed to about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Talk about the results you are achieving, and what you seek to achieve from all efforts.
The more deliberate you are, the more you will learn and the more effective your tactics will be in support of the growth you want.