William F. Kendy
In a war, generals don't send troops into battle without a plan. It would mean certain defeat. Any sales manager who would send the sales team into the field without a plan would be setting them up for failure. But what makes a winning plan? Is it simply a matter of telling salespeople to go out there and sell as much as possible? Of course not.
"The foundation of any sales strategy is based upon three elements: customer knowledge, product knowledge and competitive knowledge. Sales managers and their sales force must develop a base of information to determine the needs of the customers, the strengths and weaknesses of the product or service, and the strengths and weaknesses of the company as opposed to the competition," says Timothy Bednarz, president of Bednarz Business Strategies International Inc. "The design of a sales strategy is, by nature, a strategic activity rather than a tactical one and should be directly related to the strategic and marketing goals of the company. It has major long-range implications and requires the comprehensive use of information for the strategy to be effective."
A strategic selling plan is an offshoot of a company's marketing plan, which is driven by company-set budgets and goals. It can be an overall assessment of the market in general, or it can get down to micromanaging categories and the efforts of each individual sales rep. The complexity of a sales strategy depends upon what the company sells and who its customers are. It is a road map identifying how to achieve company sales goals.
"I look at strategy from an Old World military strategy viewpoint," says Kevin Neugent, director of Strategic Partners (Michigan) for Lucent Technologies, who says he develops his sales strategies on a per-account basis. "Every year I'm given corporate growth numbers and we determine how these goals are going to play into our client base," he explains. "I sit down with my global account managers and we determine, based on the technology we have, whom we're going after in the next month, quarter and year.
"Technology changes quickly, and as a global sales manager I can't affect that change - but I do have to incorporate it into my strategy. That technology isn't going to universally affect all my clients, and we need to identify whom it can apply to and determine and implement strategies to go after those opportunities. I don't run the labs. I'm given a number of solutions, and our job is to determine whether there is a fit for our clients."
Neugent and his global account managers work together to construct a sales strategy. "We go through a series of question sets relating to technology and selling opportunity assessments," he says. "First we determine opportunities, from both customer and application perspectives, then go into clients' profiles, financial conditions and anticipated costs, strengths, weaknesses, political alignments, corporate compatibility...a whole host of areas."
Neugent's first question set is Where are the opportunities? That drives a subset that includes questions about applications, client profiles, propensity to pay and compelling events.
"The second question set covers customers' formal decision-making criteria: Will our solution work? What sort of modifications/enhancements need to be made? What sort of resources are we going to have to commit to make this happen? and Does Lucent have a unique business value?
"The third question set includes Can we win? Do we have inside support - mentors, coaches and champions? Do we have executive credibility - access to the appropriate levels that are going to make decisions based on our solutions?"
Neugent says the last set of questions in this exercise centers around whether an application, from a return on investment perspective, is actually worth winning. "In the last set of questions we ask Is it worth winning? What's the short term revenue impact on us; will it lead to future sales; what type of margin can we make? What's the degree of risk on our part; what resources are we going to have to zap up after the sale? If we do win it, will it provide us leverage in the market segment, industry setting and corporate setting? Only after we answer all these questions do we start designing specific account-based sales strategies."
Bednarz lists the following logical steps to strategy development. "First, collect information and verify the accuracy of the information. Analyze it, looking for ways to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses against your competition and to position your product or service successfully in the customer's mind.
"The next step is to develop a sales strategy based on your analysis, test it with friendly customers, revise it based on customer feedback and then roll it out. Above (continued on page 2)