In principle, carrying out the sales strategy process should be a straightforward task: once your revenue and margin targets are set, you define the sales strategy (i.e. how you’re going to attain your goals) and take care of effective sales strategy execution.
But this is easier said than done.
There are several barriers to strategy execution that companies need to take into account. To name a few: if strategy is designed in the board room but not communicated down to the sales organization, or if there’s a substantial lack of execution-focused sales leaders in the ranks, execution will stifle. People (engaged and capable) and operations link strategy design to strategy execution.
For most companies, sales strategy reviews are a way to put execution to the test and make sure that the three key processes - strategy, people, and operations - are consistently lined up. As L. Bossidy and R. Charan put it, a strategy review is a key social operating mechanism of the strategy process.
In a company that we know very well, sales strategy reviews are conducted quarterly. The company’s VP of Sales and the country’s Business Unit Director, Marketing Team, Sales Operations Manager, Financial Controller, and First-Line Sales Managers all attend these meetings.
In a full-day discussion, the participants assess how well the Business Unit’s sales strategy is carried out for the achievement of its revenue, margin, and organizational objectives. People’s critical behaviors and capabilities are scrutinized to determine whether or not the Business Unit has the right people that, individually and collectively, focus on the right details at the right time. These reviews also provide a framework for the company to identify and develop its sales leadership talent.
The format has been designed to ensure that people leave with clear accountability for their parts in the overall sales plans. The sales leadership team commits to follow through between subsequent reviews to make sure that agreed-upon decisions are actually implemented.
Regularly over time, companies should have formal and structured check-in moments like this where the ability to execute the strategy is stress-tested. To do that, the following questions may come handy:
- Are strategy execution plans grounded in economic realities?
- Have organizational limitations been considered in relation to sales strategy execution?
- How knowledgeable is each business unit about the competion?
- Do the salespeople understand the execution strategy?
- Do the salespeople understand their role in executing the strategy?
- Do the salespeople’s actions relate to the organizational objectives, or are they are only doing what’s in the job description?
- What can be done to change that attitude in salespeople?
- Do strategy execution plans address the skills and capabilities of the sales organization?
- Are the linkages with people and commercial operations clear?
The questions listed above address matters that are the foundation for the discipline of sales strategy execution. Mastering this discipline can make the difference between success and decline in today’s world of sales.