Juggling the priority list is a constant struggle for sales leaders. What comes first – help teams sell more to existing customers, find and sell to new customers, improve team performance and productivity, build long term relationships or outpace customer expectations? Short term priorities might change during a day, a week or a quarter and it can be a challenge to scale the right strategy and vision. We have put together the top four high-level priorities. Ones that have been tried and tested by the many sales leaders we work with, backed by industry research into the behaviours of the most successful sales managers.
Asking this question first is paramount for every sales leader. There may not be a one size fits all approach to growth but defining an overarching strategy is at the top of the agenda for all company executives. Whether you are planning a more diversified approach or a single strategy, is the business being steered towards acquisitions or is the focus on organic growth? If organic growth is key to the company’s future success, the emphasis needs to be on developing the capabilities to support it.
All good sales leaders ask themselves three key questions in order to formulate a strategy for organic growth. 1) What do I want to sell more of? 2) Who do I want to sell to? 3) Through Whom?
What do I want to sell more of?
This can be a challenging one for sales leaders as it may be outside of the scope of their role. The probability is ‘what to sell’ would have been decided by the product/R&D pipeline in advance. Any input or influence from sales teams would only impact the longer term development of the organisation’s products or services.
Who do I want to sell to?
A major focus in modern, complex B2B sales. Identifying the ‘who’ is the area where sales leaders can have the biggest impact – helping their teams to pick the right customers at the right time. According to VPP’s 2018 Crushing Quota Research Study, the best sales managers have the highest level of forecast accuracy. The strongest performers spend more time analysing the answer to this question, identifying which customers to target and developing a formal segmentation strategy.
The most successful organisations use a combination of demographic segmentation (eg size, vertical market, geography, existing spend) and also psychographic segmentation (less tangible, based on behaviours and relationships such as loyalty). A useful strategic planning tool is the Ansoff ‘Z’ Matrix which provides a framework for leaders to devise their strategies for the sales force.
Regardless of the sector, the vast majority of today’s businesses have multiple routes to market and take a multichannel approach to selling. This is another area where any changes would need to be made in the longer term. Setting up a new and effective direct sales force in a short time frame would be difficult, as would changing the channel strategy to bring in lots of new partners to deliver that year’s growth. ‘Through whom’ should be a longer term priority for sales leaders.
An integral part of effective coaching is to focus on the future rather than the past. The best leaders actually spend less time managing and inspecting their team. Instead, they adopt a proactive approach, with planned and structured forward-looking sessions. Reacting to past results and carrying out ad hoc, spontaneous coaching will not deliver the most positive outcome. This was highlighted in VPP’s research, revealing that high-performing sales leaders conduct scheduled coaching less frequently and for longer than their lower-performing peers. Timing is also critical – coaching at the early stages of a deal has the highest impact on forecast accuracy and target achievement (78% higher according to VPP).
Organisations today are operating in the age of the customer, not the age of the seller.The traditional independent and siloed operations of sales and marketing teams simply won’t cut it with the modern multichannel buyer. The shift from product-centric to customer-centric demands a joined up dynamic between the departments. To be successful, strategies and actions need to be aligned with the customers’ problems and opportunities. Instead of focusing sales conversations and marketing content on product features and company branding, it needs to be buyer-centric. The mind-set is now about helping rather than selling and the organisational culture between these two key departments has to evolve to reflect that.