I had the opportunity to survey about 650 mid-size company executives, mostly CEO and senior executives, a while back and learned some interesting information. These executives were asked to make a first, second and third choice selection from a list of topics on which they wanted more information. The two subjects that rose to the top were:
- Building a high-performance sales organization. Nearly one quarter of the executives (22.4%; more than twice the number that chose the #2 topic) selected this topic as their first choice. This, I believe, stems from the interest of CEO’s trying to figure out how to return to the growth patterns they knew prior to the Great Recession.
- Strategic Planning. Just over 10% selected this topic as their #1 choice to talk about. Since every respondent holds a leadership role in a successful company, I believe that the interest in talking about Strategic Planning is not because their organizations don’t have a strategic plan (the executives were mostly from successful organizations and, therefore, almost certainly have a strategy). More likely the interest comes from a longing to clearly articulate a compelling strategy and communicate it to the organization’s stakeholders.
At a cursory glance, one might assume the two topics are unrelated. As a business strategist who works with these kinds of companies, I believe that the two topics are very closely related.
Too often, I find companies that believe that the path to success is as simple as hiring great sales people. When growth falls short of expectations, management is ready to declare the root cause of the shortfall is the quality (and/or the performance) of the sales staff. The reality is that it’s rarely that simple.
I argue (supported by my interaction with many management teams) that the company’s senior leadership team needs to make decisions about the products that the sales organization is to focus on and the markets and customer segments to whom the sales staff is to sell. Directions to the sales staff should include the following, as a minimum:
- Clear definition and segmentation of the markets in which the organization has committed to be successful. This direction should identify the segments that require extra attention to grow, which segments are to be maintained and which are to be left to decline/harvested.
- Similarly, the company’s products should be segmented so the sales organization understands which products need more, the same or less emphasis.
- Each product/market combination should have specific sales and profitability goals that can be used to define success and monitor progress.
Once completed, the sales organization knows exactly what to sell and to whom. Furthermore, the rest of the organization can undertake longer term planning to ensure that the right products are developed and manufactured.