When your sales strategy is not aligned with your corporate strategy, your organization can become its own worst enemy. While the sales force may be heading in one direction (e.g., applying their own processes, emphasizing certain product lines, addressing their own objectives) the corporate direction and priorities could be completely different. Of course it’s the customer who suffers the most when these strategies are not aligned. Hence, it is critical that sales and corporate strategies be in sync to avoid conflicts with processes, priorities, resources, and especially customers.
A business’ corporate strategy defines “what” the business wants to do, such as grow market share, increase revenue, reduce costs, improve customer retention, or prevent customer defection. A sales strategy defines “how” the business will achieve those goals. And the sales methodology defines the skills the sales people need to “execute” those strategies. All these strategies need to be aligned and consistent in order for a company to reach success and maintain a positive customer retention rate.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for a business’ corporate strategy to be misaligned with its sales strategy. The symptoms of misaligned strategies are varied and often times quite obvious. One particular symptom, for instance, is clouded and inconsistent leadership, as opposed to leadership with a clear vision and direction. Likewise, communication suffers with poor alignment. Problems, concerns and even creativity are not shared across the organization. Management also seems cumbersome and lacks verification. This is often recognized by people asking, “Why are we doing this?” Another symptom of poor alignment is when risk-taking is reduced and there exists a lack of courage throughout the organization, when instead instinct and gut-feelings are needed to make tough decisions. Finally, timeliness suffers causing decisions and actions to become unnecessarily long and drawn out.
The effects these symptoms have on our business and customers are destructive, to say the least. Management is perplexed. Sales resources are dispersed and conflicting. Forecasts are unpredictable and revenue is inconsistent. Marketing messages are conflicting and ineffective. And of course, customers are confused, which has a negative effect on customer retention. Customers experience poor support, service failures, confusion, and at last, unmet expectations. These effects lead to increased customer exposure to your competitors which causes reduced customer spend, at least on your product.
A good corporate strategy should define the sales process. In other words, the sales process is a function of the corporate strategy (“What we want to do”) since it helps define “how” the corporate strategy will be carried out. Hence, a sales process defines the process in which a customer moves throughout your entire company. It identifies who does what, how they do it, to whom and how it gets handed off to the next person/department, how follow-ups are handled, where information gets recorded and logged, and all aspects of who interfaces with the customer and how they handle them. All parties must be knowledgeable and trained on the process so they understand their role and the roles of others.
In order for your sales organization to succeed, they need a sales process, which we just discussed, and sales training. The sales training is two-fold. First, they need to be trained on the process so they know the steps, the players, etc. They also need training on sales techniques, or a sales methodology.
As mentioned previously, the sales methodology defines the skills the sales people need to “execute” the strategies. Sales training is therefore the methodology within the sales process. The methodology identifies specific stages in the sales process, such as the Initial Contact stage, Qualification stage, Presentation stage, Negotiating stage, etc. These stages identify where the prospect is within the selling process. Each company will have it’s own set of stages which can vary from 3 or 4 steps to 9 or 10 steps. As long as they have this defined somehow, it matters little because these steps are what the sales people will use to perform their selling actions.
Selling actions include activities such as cold calling, asking questions, qualifying, understanding requirements, presenting solutions, negotiating, closing, and the like. These actions will then align themselves with each stage in the sales methodology. If they are not aligned, then sales reps will end up trying to close when they should be qualifying, or listening to requirements when they should be negotiating. Thus, sales training is required to enable sales reps to learn the skills for performing these actions and to understand the order in which these actions should be performed.
So what is technology’s role in this whole scheme of things? Technology is used to deploy these strategies and processes, not to drive them. Like building a house, you can have the best tools money can buy, but if you don’t have architectural plans, it doesn’t matter what tools you have. Thus, you must have clearly defined strategies and processes before you can proceed with using technology. The particular technology we are referring to, of course, is Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software.
A CRM product will be a huge help in deploying your processes. As you define your processes and the steps everyone is to follow, your CRM tool will replicate and automate those steps for everyone to use and from which to benefit. It will also contain current information about your customers that will be available and accessible from any department, organization or individual that has contact with your customers.
Consider your weaker and new sales reps. If you give them a process and say, “This is what works 80% of the time in these situations and here is a tool to help you execute these steps and which contains all the information we have about our customers,” then you will most assuredly improve the success and reduce the ramp-up time for your new and struggling sales reps.
When you bring in technology to automate your processes, it has to benefit your customers just as much as your internal organization. For a customer, a CRM product will help you do a better job of following up on their needs. It will get them faster answers from sales, customer service, support, and other customer-facing departments. A CRM product will provide a “corporate view” of your customer to everyone in your company for faster, more efficient and consistent service. This will improve customer loyalty, thus encourage customer retention.
By aligning your corporate strategy with your sales strategy, you will ensure your company will control costs, prevent wasted overhead, avoid internal conflicts, conserve valuable resources, and protect your most valuable asset, your customers.