The word strategy has become a word that often evokes fear, confusion, and in most cases stress. The reason for it, is a strategy has often not been thought through, and the outcome has not been outlined. What I mean by that is, we often have a vague picture of what we want but it hasn’t been properly defined. The second problem is that a good strategy may have been defined but the problem lies in how it was executed.
I have dealt with many organisations that are frustrated because they have not achieved profitable growth, yet there was a comprehensive strategy and plan in place to achieve those desired numbers. They really sat down and developed a robust plan however it failed, why you may ask? The answer in many cases is remarkably simple.
I often ask the question, who developed the strategy? And the answer 9/10 times is the Management team is it not? The problem with the Management team developing the strategy is that it is their ideas at the end of the day. How much harder is it to get a person to buy into an idea you created when you could’ve had the person that was to execute it as part of the idea? The starting point here is getting the team involved. The other factor to consider is that possibly the ideas being suggest had been tried and were not as successful due a variety of factors. One thing to keep at the back of your mind is that if a strategy didn’t work in the past it may work now. Either there were facets that were not thought through or the timing was off. Never throw the baby out with the bath water as they say.
As Sales Managers we want to think that we have the finger on the pulse, and we know everything but in reality, this isn’t true. Buy in is the area that most organisations want help in. They know it’s important and they understand the positive impact, but it is often forgotten in the busyness or they do not know how to accomplish it. In order to create a robust strategy, we need to look at it in phases.
The 1st phase I would head “know thy self. As leaders we always start with ourselves and then branch out to the other areas. When we begin to look at ourselves, we need to identify our Strengths, Weaknesses (growth areas), Opportunities and what our possible Threats are. You probably would’ve guessed it now; you are right it is a SWOT. This is a tool that has been used for decades and it still works. What is often missing here is very few people dig deep, you need to be honest with yourself, and you do not sugar coat it your insights. If you fall into any of these traps you run the risk of missing a potential pothole. Being honest with yourself isn’t something that comes easily and something we do not do often enough. We as human beings tend to lie to ourselves to make us feel better. I have learnt that the more honest you are with yourself and others, the more you identify areas that you can grow from. Areas that you can identify and fix. If you are not regularly doing this, you will begin to stagnate, and the result is rather obvious.
Have you ever had a Manager that you felt was stuck in the dark ages? That didn’t listen to reason, that didn’t see the need for change. Well this is often a person that has not been honest with themselves and often the reason for this is fear. The fear of facing the new, learning something new or stepping out of a comfort zone. As leaders we need to be continuously learning and stretching ourselves, keeping up with the changes, trends and the world out there especially when you are in a sales environment.
Phase 2 would be to do the SWOT exercise with your team members. Why you may ask? Well in order for them to understand what their areas of strength and weakness are. Also, for you to identify these areas so that you can assist them in their growth plans, but also for you to ensure that those that are strong in an area are placed in that area of the strategy. For example, if you have a salesperson that is really good at prospecting and closing deals you wouldn’t let them focus on business retention, would you? In the same breath if you had a person that was good at building relationships you wouldn’t force them to go after new business. This seems so logical however it is often overlooked. I have on many occasions worked with companies that know these simple facts, but they allow the pressures of meeting the bottom-line to dictate where focus is, and resources are placed. If you didn’t do the SWOT exercise you wouldn’t have this valuable information in order to strategize your team strengths along with the business strategy.
Phase 3 is to do an in-depth SWOT on your company itself and the products or services you offer. This is often an area that many companies do and do well. I would advise though that you dissect your company SWOT well, look at the opportunities in detail and look ahead and not just at the now. This is where many companies miss opportunities by being pioneers. You could be the first to solve a problem that is currently evident or that you could see becoming evident in the near future. This is where your Sales Team could add a lot of value.
The last phase is to understand your competitors and what products or services they offer. We often assume that we know them and know their offerings but do we really? Do we know where their strengths and weaknesses lie? The reason for this may be very obvious however once again it is an area where massive amounts of assumption lie. Don’t assume that you are better in an area unless you have conclusive proof. The other reason is that as much as people change so do companies, they too have strategies and they too evolve. So, what was true last year may be the complete opposite this year, do not be caught unawares, be ready! Think about it, if you are wanting to close a client on your solution, they are probably using one of your competitors currently are they not? If you do not know your competitors SWOT how are you going to know how to close the deal?
The SWOT is absolutely amazing in creating a sustainable, robust strategy and then executing it effectively in order to reach the set goal. But how do we bring all 4 phases together? Firstly, my suggestion would be to do a SWOT every year preferably at the beginning of the year when everybody is fresh and rested. Why? Because people change, they get upskilled, others leave. Clients change, competitors change, the economy and business world changes so we need to change. Do not rush through this process, take your time, get to the detail and unpack it well. Once the SWOT has been completed there will be a picture painted in each of the 4 phases. Read the picture and look for pitfalls or possible areas of weakness that you need to strengthen or change. Make those changes, it could be that you need to recruit a certain skill or swop some skills around. It could be a new opportunity that needs to be developed or a process that needs to be tweaked. Whatever it is change it and change it quickly to avoid procrastination and delay.
Now it’s time to segment your customer base, understanding the numbers and getting them to tell a story. Creating a strategy per category, per area per client. We also look at what is new business and what is existing business and create a specific strategy around those categories, why? Because a new client is vastly different to an existing client, are they not? An existing client would be around service delivery as an example whereas a new client would be around building trust and matching the offering to their need. This may be new to you and don’t let it seem daunting, it isn’t as difficult as it looks. Once you get going you will begin to see a picture unfold that will change the way you see things and do things moving forward. It will unpack some previously confusing aspects and make those clear so that you can conquer any circumstance with accuracy. It is all in the detail. If you have done this in the past, great, you are one of the very few. However, what I would urge you to do is do it with better precision. Go deeper, get more detail, and don’t miss a phase, do it for every aspect of your business. Take a look at the data and use it.
I often find that Managers do the process, but the data then gets put on a shelf when things get busy, use it! Simplify the information and get the team involved digging it up. One of my favourite quotes by Nelson Mandela is “I never lose, I either win or I learn”. In sales we need to always be positive, look at every situation as a victory in one area or another and to change your mindset to learning when things go wrong, then that means next time we will do things differently. Don’t skip over this phase, it probably one of the most time intensive but it is the foundation of your robust strategy the information you will uncover will be invaluable in the months to come. The results will speak for themselves. Do the hard work and the results will speak for themselves? Next year half the work is done and all you need to add is a few tweaks. Let’s do things differently this time. The skills and tools I am teaching you have worked time and time again over my years of experience, personally and with clients I work with today. I challenge you to try them, you will not be disappointed.