Do Your Company’s Sales Calls Reflect Your Strategy?
When talking to a Fortune 25 company EVP about a new market segment expansion, he became irate with the kind of companies the sales team had been pursuing. “I have no idea why we’re calling on many of these companies,” he emphasized. Despite the go-to-market strategy, significant time, energy and money was being wasted on businesses which didn’t fit the outlined goals.
Senior executives build strategies for growth, but it’s easy to forget about those strategic targets during an individual sales call. Every sales call represents the one moment where the core elements of a strategy are executed in real time. For many organizations, it happens hundreds, even thousands of times each day. This can become either a massive accumulation of wins, or death by a thousand cuts for the business.
Consider the basic elements of most strategy frameworks, typically centered on the following areas of focus:
You can see how these factors fit together to determine the success or failure of the company strategy in each sales call. Meeting with a C-suite leader who is the decision-maker at a large OEM is great, but if the seller can only deliver a capabilities presentation and fails to engage in any depth of conversation about the business outcomes being pursued, the sales call devolves to a simple pitch and close event. When you recognize that sales is about the alignment of a clear strategy and execution, executives can shift their attention further upstream where strategy is formulated and execution plans are built. Done well, every sales call should reflect the successful implementation of the company strategy. And making that happen is up to the executives in the C-suite.
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|Setting Realistic Expectations: Often There Are No Shortcuts to Doing Things Well
There is this idea perpetuated by Internet culture that difficult things can be accomplished easily with minimal time and effort on our part. We see it in the endless flurry of programs touting “six-minute abs” and “3x your financial portfolio in three months,” which make difficult things seem too easy. The truth is, often there are no shortcuts to doing things well, and we need to acknowledge how hard something is going to be from the beginning.
Jeff Bezos is no stranger to the concept of communicating the challenge of accomplishing difficult things. He shared his thoughts on this subject in his 2018 Letter to Shareholders:
“A close friend recently decided to learn to do a perfect free-standing handstand. No leaning against a wall. Not for just a few seconds. Instagram good. She decided to start her journey by taking a handstand workshop at her yoga studio. She then practiced for a while but wasn’t getting the results she wanted. So, she hired a handstand coach. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but evidently this is an actual thing that exists. In the very first lesson, the coach gave her some wonderful advice. ‘Most people,’ he said, ‘think that if they work hard, they should be able to master a handstand in about two weeks. The reality is that it takes about six months of daily practice. If you think you should be able to do it in two weeks, you’re just going to end up quitting.’ Unrealistic beliefs on scope—often hidden and undiscussed—kill high standards. To achieve high standards yourself or as part of a team, you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be—something this coach understood really well.”
We can apply the same concept when company executives set out to design and deliver a sales experience. Frequently, senior leaders underestimate the time and effort that goes into the essential components of a company’s sales experience: strategy, process, training, management systems, coaching, and support. Just like a handstand that looks easy but is actually very difficult to master, developing a winning sales experience is hard and often takes a lot of time and effort.
The reality is difficult things are just that—difficult. The more you set realistic expectations from the outset and communicate those expectations to your team, the more likely you are to achieve success as an organization.
How to Lead in the Stakeholder Era
The events of 2020 that reshaped the world as we know it accelerated a realization that had gained momentum over the last several years: businesses are not independent from the world around them. Even prior to COVID-19, a number of leaders were rejecting Milton Friedman’s idea that the sole purpose of business is to maximize shareholder returns, and began thinking about the importance of serving all stakeholders. The article’s author, Hubert Joly, asserts that leaders cannot view companies as “soulless moneymaking entities, but as ‘human organizations’’ made of individuals working together to support a shared goal.” He goes on to talk about what my friend and colleague, Lisa Earle McLeod, calls a “noble purpose,” meaning the shared goal must contribute to the common good by making a positive difference in the lives of all stakeholders.