The Strategy vs. Sales Conundrum
Why Your Company Needs a Strategic Customer Profile
Only customers buy. That may seem like a tautology, but it is a very pithy rule of selling. A market never buys anything. Closing a sale to a customer is the “final mandatory step” in connecting any strategy with business development efforts and sales results.
So for most companies, the de facto strategy is the resulting total of the deals that are closed. The problem, which I have seen in both startups and medium-sized companies, is that few firms clearly define their customer selection criteria. In the case of early-stage startups, even the founders themselves can often find it difficult to stay focused on customers who best fit the strategy in the midst of the struggle to bring in early customers and sales revenue. Medium-sized companies are no different. In fact, this is a perennial problem.
It is often said that salespeople are “coin-operated.” That is not intended as a criticism, rather as a fact, that management often does not grasp. Consequently, companies will tend to sell to anyone they can, and unfortunately, often at discounted prices. The problem is with the management of business development, not the salespeople. It eventually leads to loss of positioning with customers, and, over time, the nurturing of “commodity competencies.” In other words, the sales process gets better and better at closing sales that customers value less and less.
“Marketing wants Mr. Right. Sales Wants Mr. Right Now” – Unknown
The problem is so common that recently I have been asked to conduct a workshop on “business development,” the art of developing a “strategic customer profile” and applying it to customer prospects. Also included in the workshop are other strategic techniques to bootstrap a company’s sales results. A related problem is confusion about the terms themselves. Some companies use “sales,” “business development,” and even “marketing” almost interchangeably, which they are not.
Strategic initiatives, for example, are internal company projects, communicated widely to all employees, and often managed by a professional project manager, that are designed to address internal issues that are critical to success with customers.
Strategic business development is a category of external activity that is distinctly different from sales. Normally, a senior executive will be assigned to target a specific project or projects, that may involve multiple customers and even competitors to bootstrap the company’s brand image and, consequently, its sales success.
The last issue to consider occurs when nothing works. The right customers cannot be found, and no amount of focus on strategic issues is producing results. You may be at a “strategic inflection point.” Something has changed. You may not yet understand fully what has changed, but the market feels different. Obvious examples would include the COVID 19 pandemic. It is necessary to recognize and respond to the changes, and if necessary to pivot the company.
A rare but real “strategic inflection point,” may occur when the business is just idling along, not thriving, and a significant strategic opportunity presents itself, but requires that the company make a strategic “left turn.” The decision to make that left turn, or not, could make all the difference in a company’s future. I have experienced such a situation, when the “left turn,” was the right decision.
Companies that adhere to these conceptual strategies have been shown statistically to have a higher probability of survival in a crisis and of long-term success.
If you are interested in attending this workshop please reply to firstname.lastname@example.org.