Aligning Your Company Strategy and Sales Strategy To Maximize The Selling Effort

I distinctly remember sitting in my MBA class 22 years ago, listening to a world-renowned professor lecture us about corporate strategy. You have to be very careful with terms like this, as people tend to define them in their own way, making you think you’re on the same page—but you’re not.

A classmate, wisely seeking some clarity, asked, “What is strategy”? The professor immediately started talking about reaching ideal customers, clarifying value propositions, setting and tracking the right KPIs, and other (what I thought were common) sales practices. When he was done I said “This is what I do every day running my sales organization”. He asked the class, “Are sales and strategy the same thing”?

Unfortunately, for many companies (and the majority of my classmates that day), the answer is no. Most sales organizations are not sophisticated; they’re simply released into the market and expected to bring in clients. I have spent my career developing the right strategies and aligning them to sales, as sales organizations must continue to evolve to maximize their selling effort.

4 Questions To Align Strategy

Your corporate strategy, and the way your sales team presents itself in the marketplace must be aligned. And a lot of companies don’t do that.

Having a corporate strategy that doesn’t flow through your sales organization is like driving a car stuck in low gear—there’s a lot of strain and wasted effort that ultimately produces suboptimal results.

Sales strategy is often overlooked (and treated as an afterthought) when executing the corporate strategy. What your salespeople do and how they do it effectively creates value in the marketplace.

Here are the four conversations I have with clients to ensure their salespeople inspire buyers to take action.

1. Who is your end user?

Strategy begins by identifying your end user. What types of customers are attracted to your company, and what type is your company attracted to? Now to clarify, your distributors or resellers are not your end users. You may sell to distributors and resellers to get your product to your end users, but I’m talking about the people who use your product or service.
If your marketing team has had their say, you may have various customer segments or avatars. But I want you to focus on your top 20% of customers. You may have to dissect your revenue by customer, market, or industry to see who they are. You’ll know you’re on track when you’ve found the 20% of customers responsible for 80% of your revenue.

I can’t tell you how much time is wasted strategizing how to reach the 80% of customers in order to capture a meager 20% of sales.

2. Do you understand your value proposition?

There is a reason that customers choose to do business with you instead of your competition. Your value proposition is your competitive advantage. Warren Buffet put it this way in Fortune Magazine:

The key to investing is […] determining the competitive advantage of any given company and, above all, the durability of that advantage. The products or services that have wide, sustainable moats around them are the ones that deliver rewards to investors.

I love the imagery of a moat protecting a castle. A wider moat—or a strong competitive advantage—protects your company when the competition tries to storm your castle.

It is imperative that you clearly understand what this competitive advantage is, so you can communicate it to your sales team. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves quite yet.

3. What activities must your sales team do to bring in high-value revenue?

Not all revenue is created equal.

I once consulted with a company in Wisconsin that was exceptional at manufacturing high-end hydraulic cylinders. They had just done $36M in sales with 102 customers. After identifying their end users, and their value proposition, they realized they were neglecting the most valuable parts of their business. We redefined the activities their sales people needed to do in order to generate more of the business they wanted. After two years they delivered $55M in sales with 38 customers, and $1.2M in EBITDA.

They grew 52% with about 1/3 as many customers!!!

This happened because they understood their customers, their value proposition, and focused sales activities around what they did best.

Before you write that off as impossible for your company, ask yourself, how much time is your sales team wasting on activities that generate unprofitable sales? What could happen if they got hyper-focused on your high-value customers instead?

4. Do you have the right sales people to execute the sales strategy?

Now it’s time to assess your sales team to make sure you have the right people in the right seats on the bus.

The sales team you currently have might not be the sales team you need. Some of your sales team may need additional training. Others might need new positions within your company, or to be let go. This sounds harsh, but in the long run everyone will be better off working in positions that fit their selling style. Don’t ask the proverbial hunter to be a farmer, and don’t ask the farmer to hunt.

Now that you have everyone marching to the same beat, make sure you’re measuring your sales team against the right activities and KPIs.

If you have these four conversations with your executive team, and align the new corporate strategy with your sales department, you will be absolutely amazed by the results.

Put John’s CXO expertise to work in your organization!

John Chapman is the co-founder of the North Carolina Sales Institute, and adjunct professor and Director at The Twilley Academy of Sales Leadership at ECU. He is the co-author of Sales Leadership, a new textbook that demystifies sales strategy and underscores its critical role in corporate success. Please reach out if you’d like to put John’s CXO expertise to work in your organization.