Not long ago, Mike Weinberg wrote a brilliant article about this, identifying 8 Sins that destroy sales cultures and results. Be sure to read his article.

The issues Mike has identified are critical, not only for sales success, but also for the success of their companies. I wanted to continue to weigh in on my views of these issues. Last week, I talked about Anti-Sales Attitudes within companies. In this article, I want to talk about the Sales Need For Clarity and Direction. It’s actually closely linked to Anti-Sales attitudes, usually I find those organizations that have these bad attitudes about sales also fail to give sales the clarity and direction needed to execute the company strategies with customers.

Let’s not gloss over this issue lightly. Sales is responsible for executing the company strategies with it’s customers and prospects. More than any statements from execs, PR, websites or other communications programs, customers learn and understand the company priorities, values, strategies, and points of view through their interactions with sales people.

Unfortunately, too many top leaders fail to recognize this. Their feelings are “sales just needs to produce revenue.”

Sales people, properly trained, coached, and supported will do just that—that’s the good news and bad news. They may not be producing the “right revenue,” they may not be doing it as effectively or as efficiently as they should. They may not be doing it with the “right customers.”

However, as a result, sales starts setting the company strategy. The product lines they focus on, the customers and markets they pursue, how they position and present the company to prospects and customers, the structure of the deals they close (e.g. pricing) end up becoming what the customers and market perceive as the company strategy.

It’s not sales people’s fault. Without direction, they will do what they think they should do to achieve their goals. It may be focusing on the product line or customers they are most comfortable with. Rather than growing strategic new product lines, pursuing new customers in new markets, sales people will always opt to do what has enabled them to be successful in the past. It’s common sense and human nature.

Recently, I’ve been involved working with a company that’s facing tremendous transformation in it’s markets. Their traditional markets are in decline. Sales people are struggling to hit their goals with the product lines they have traditionally sold to these customers. At the same time, this organization has invested tremendously in new products—some to go after its traditional markets and some to expand into new, higher growth markets.

The sales people aren’t selling those products to the new markets. They aren’t selling, not because they don’t want to, but because no one has taken the time to describe the strategic repositioning the company is going through. Executive management and sales management hasn’t provided the direction, training, tools, or metrics needed to drive the shift in sales focus to the newer markets. As a consequence, the new product lines are struggling, they aren’t achieving their goals. Success in the new markets is far too slow. As a result, the company performance is abysmal.

Sales people are doing the best they can with what they know. The problem is, no one has told them what they should be doing, with what customers, and why. No one has described the importance of this to the sales people. No one has backed this up with support and programs to help them be successful. Finally, they have no clear direction in their metrics and performance expectations.

Sales does not and should not have the responsibility for setting the company strategy and priorities. They are responsible for executing these.

But they need direction. We have to be very clear about:

  1. What are the problems we are the best in the world at solving? (Note, I didn’t say what are the products/services we develop and hope to sell).
  2. Who are the customers that have these problems? This defines the sweet spot in which sales people should focus prospecting and sales efforts. (Markets, enterprises, personas within those enterprises)
  3. Why are these important to these customers? (What are the consequences of doing nothing? What are the impacts of these issues to the customer?)
  4. How do we help them solve these problems ? (This is our value proposition and positioning. This is how our products and services help customers achieve their goals in these areas).
  5. Why us, what are our differentiators?

Beyond this, we must provide training, coaching, programs, tools, and support to help sales people be effective and efficient in executing these strategies with these customers.

Finally, we have to set goals for performance in executing these strategies. These drive the day to day priorities for the sales team.

Point a sales team in the right direction, equip them to sell, and they will always do the best they can to produce results. But you have to make sure you are pointing them in the direction your company wants to go.

Postscript: For a much deeper discussion, make sure you read his book, Sales Management Simplified. (It’s a perfect complement to Sales Manager Survival Guide.)

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