Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Recent studies across the North America, Europe and Asia reveal that revenue growth is back on CEO and Board agendas. Companies have been through excessive cost cutting exercises and realize that to continue cost cutting behaviors will no longer support business goals. The focus must be growth.

As we approach the end of 2012, many companies are reviewing their performance year-to-date and planning for 2013. Strategies and budgets are under review for performance against targets and deliverables. With their focus now firmly on growth, often the responsibility to deliver growth sits square on the shoulders of the sales leader and their ability to execute sales strategies.

Many of the CEOs and sales leaders we are working with are experiencing market conditions that are challenging, some complex and others highly competitive. They are working in a business landscape that is changing at frightening speed. The luxury of time is being taken away from them as their strategies are taking more time and effort to develop than in the recent years. Their companies are operating ‘thin’ with financial pressures and their sales teams must deliver the top line revenue with fewer resources.

Sales strategy execution has never been as high on the agenda of companies as it is today. The market has demanded that execution has become a very thin line between achievement and failure. For some companies they may be looking to leverage off a good year in 2012 and continue to drive their strategy. Others will be analyzing why results are not being delivered and why strategies are seemingly failing.

For sales organizations, the typical scrutiny applied to under performance is people investing an inordinate amount of time in examining their financial performance and the difference between their stated goals and actual results. They are examining existing customer bases and looking for where they can extract some easy wins to resolve their problems.

If the company is underperforming the financial performance scrutiny is not going to resolve their issues and nor are quick wins going to resolve past mistakes. The financial performance is often the end result of failed strategy execution and not sales performance as often thought. Whether your strategy was as a simple as lets repeat last year with just 5% increase in sales or complex with taking new products and entering new markets.

Fact: If your company is not hitting its targets, then the execution of your strategy using traditional methods of sales management and sales performance have failed you. To continue further believing things will change applying the same methodologies would be imprudent.

So why do those traditional methods fail you?

Sales budgeting and sales strategy are intrinsically tied together and need to be worked on simultaneously if you are to deliver sales goals in the year ahead. In most companies I review the two tasks are completed with some degree of cross-over but not sufficient to remove dangerous gaps that will appear once the year commences. There is insufficient depth in them both to even commence contemplating the development of an execution plan.

Over the years there has been much written and studied on the development of strategy but very little is done on the core skills and practices required for execution. In fact, Harvard Business claims that a staggering 90% of strategies fail, no so much because of the strategy being wrong, but the execution was poorly performed. Sales leaders, who often have the least amount of college education, are left with the task of execution and often end up trying to fit square pegs in round holes. They are trying to apply their past experience to new strategies without sufficient depth and detail for it to become a reality. Let’s face it, sales leaders are renowned for their lack of desire to use systems, structure and process which are all at odds with strategy execution.

Interestingly, when I am reviewing companies I often see that the sales strategy execution has failed well before the sales budget failed. There is a degree of momentum in most businesses that disguises failed strategies for a period of time. Companies will console themselves that even though their sales strategies or initiatives are not coming to fruition, they are at least still profitable. It will just take a little more time than they first though. They don’t hear the warning bells early enough to remedy the problems and the business quickly moves to a quarterly then monthly crisis of not making the numbers.

The failure of sales budgets is immediately apparent and becomes the focus of all executives. They ask ‘What immediate action can be taken to remedy shortfall in sales revenue?’ Often considered a failed sales goal, it is in fact a poorly managed sales strategy that has now surfaced as failed sales budgets.

Getting sales strategy execution right

With 2013 fast approaching it is a time for companies to take a step back and look deeply into their sales organizations and examine (1) sales strategy, (2) sales budgets and (3) execution plans. You need to review those three steps with sufficient depth so as to remedy the gaps and place the company in position of succeeding in 2013.
For successful strategy execution you need to establish the right series of measurements and disciplines that ensure sufficient actions and processes occur producing the required momentum to achieve over sales goal results.

You need to be able to answer these questions:

  • Are last year’s customers going to support our sales strategy for the coming year?
  • Are the behaviors in our business going to support our sales strategy for the coming year?
  • How have we validated our existing customer spend for the coming year?
  • Is our sales force structure and roles correctly aligned to the sales strategy?
  • Do we have sufficient metrics to drive the sales business and make informed timely decisions?
  • Do we have sufficient information and knowledge internally to drive the business?
  • Does our implementation cover sufficient points that it supports delivery of the strategy?
  • Have we correctly ascertained the time, revenue and resources required to support the delivery of our sales strategy?
  • What internally blocked us from delivery growth in the previous year?
  • Does our strategy sufficiently address the market changes and competitors for the coming twelve months?
  • What assumptions have been made, and have you done an adequate job of objectively testing those assumptions to ensure they'll work when they meet the realities of the market?
  • Do we have sufficient depth in our playbook that it will enable sales force members to perform tasks aligned to our strategy vs. them operating autonomously in conflict to our plan?
  • Do we have genuine individual accountability at all levels?

These are the some of the fundamental questions that need to be answered. As a CEO you will potentially get ‘yes’ to most of them. You may well have been getting ‘yes’ to those points for the last few years.

The question to CEOs is “Did the sales organization deliver over sales goal results and deliver strategy in the last year and two year period?” If the answer is no, then there are points not being reviewed deeply enough within those questions that are undermining your results. Is your implementation plan of sufficient depth that it engages all the actions required to deliver the results? Can you make timely sound decisions based on the information you are receiving as a CEO?

Many of my clients face the challenge as CEO of deciding what degree of risk there is to the company if the 1) sales strategy, (2) sales budgets and (3) execution plans go unchecked. The risk can be more than just lost revenue and profitability; it can spill over into lost market share and shareholder value.

CEOs need to take action now and validate their execution strategies for 2013 and minimise the risk of underperformance.

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Sales Focus International

Sales Focus International has for two decades been a leader in sales organization improvement in major countries across the world. We understand the business impact of the sales organization in terms of profitability and shareholder value.

Our record of assisting companies with sales analysis, sales benchmarking and sales force effectiveness supports board members, directors and CEOs with hard evidence to ensure that their sales business is operating to maximum performance and is competitive now and in the future.

Our Business Blog has become a preferred source of information for business leaders and journalists seeking current and effective information for business management.

Adele Crane
P: +61 3 9678 9212
M: 0418 575 298


business strategy; strategy execution



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