A sales management strategy is vital to growing your business. In addition to the day-to-day operations of sales teams going out and meeting customers, there are a few areas on which management needs to focus.
1. CLARIFYING THE ZONE OF MARKET ACTIVITY
You must first determine your zone of interest and activity in your particular market. The management team must sit down together, at least once a year, and determine what area of the market they would like to operate in, what type of products they will offer and what type of customers they wish to attract and maintain. This is not something which should be left to the sales teams on a day to day basis. They should be very clear about why they want to be in that part of the market and they should let everybody know both internally across the functional teams and externally on the market place to customers and targets. This is increasingly important with the current level of disruption market invasion – particularly from larger companies into smaller companies’ space. Every year the management team should have a renewed look at their plans and ask, what areas are we interested in?
2. ENSURING RELEVANT AND COMPETITIVE OFFERINGS TO CUSTOMERS
Understand the needs of customers. This may seem very obvious but in order to do that you really have to segment the market and your customer base. In a lot of cases, companies deal with many types of customers and you've really got to drill in and understand the needs of each of those customer types while also having a deep understanding of the market. Sometimes there's a gap in the market but there may not be a market in the gap; it just might not be profitable to offer there. Part of understanding the market is also being aware of what competitors are doing so that businesses can come up with a relevant menu of offerings which are frequently reviewed and updated in order to give their sales teams a fair chance of success. The goal is to formulate a good range of quality offerings – whether that be in manufacturing, retail, or services – after reviewing the market and fully understanding what is currently being offered and what the particular target client segment’s needs are. Then a suitable set of relevant, competitive offerings can be developed for that part of the market.
3. A MEANINGFUL CLIENT PROMISE
What level of promise and care are you going to give to the customers? Sometimes when you read brochures people promise everything and, at certain price points, that's just not realistic. You've got to be very clear with your customers. For example, in some cases where it's a very good price we might only have a promise to deliver the goods as we said we would. In another case where, for example, we provide a very high level of service at a higher price point, we might want to add a lot of care and attention, and then we should be clear with our teams and everybody who interacts with our customers so that they know which level of standards of care are necessary. Increasingly in today’s interconnected, digitised environment an important element is also to express the level of digital support which we will give to our customers, so it is important not to overlook this.
4. PULLING THE SALES MANAGEMENT STRATEGY TOGETHER
The next area is to break down these elements, segment the market and start to allocate each one of the responsibilities to a member of the management team. It’s important to ensure that not only the lagging indicators of when sales will happen are being captured (such as pipeline activity, proposals and sales numbers) but also the leading indicators of the broader activity required to deliver sales is being planned for and proactively developed. This includes:
- How are we going to create market awareness around our product or service?
- How can we best engage clients’ interest?
- Which channels will we need to use to engage with specific client types we wish to target?
- What messaging is required to engage with these client types via those sales channels?
By working on the leading indicators, that will lead on to the actual sale – but we should break down all of the components and allocate them around the team so that we can clearly see who's responsible for what. In a lot of cases, with middle market businesses, they tend to just look at simple sales every month or every week. Sales management strategy needs to be a little more planned and complex than that, but also not too complex.
5. TRACKING AND MANAGEMENT
The final key item is to constantly stay on top of your business, to track what's happening, and to manage sales on a monthly basis (rather than leave it until November, if you're on a calendar year, to see if you can make up sales). At that point it is too late to track both the actual results but also the leading indicators of, are there enough people interested?, can we stimulate more interest earlier in the year? and if we don't know enough about our market have we tasked someone to do it? So stay on top of tracking and managers so that by the end of the year your targets have a much better chance of being achieved.
After studying the market, we think that mid-market companies are leaving sales and value on the table because they are not spending enough time on this. Operations, and following through operationally with sales teams, is absolutely vital. But there is also a leadership challenge to ensure that the environment in which those people operate gives them a really good chance for success. This includes giving them the right tools and the right offerings or products.
If a little more time and effort is spent in these areas then this effort will be more than well repaid in terms of increasing the sales and growing the value of the business. This includes:
- Truly understanding the part of the market being targeted.
- Identifying the important clients in that segment and their needs.
- Focusing on the right products and services to remain relevant and competitive.
- Using the right channels and messages to connect to your target customers.
- Tracking, monitoring and updating in all of these areas as necessary.
We often sit down with management teams and look at these five key pillars and work with them to determine what their optimum zone of interest should be. Then we look with the whole question of sales channel management and analysing the data. In a lot of cases – retail, for example – the data can be based on up to millions of different individual retail transactions, so we can help businesses to get to know their customers. We can use data to see what the customers' wants and needs are, and we can help structure the information to help make sense of what type of offering the customers want.
From there we can help with the whole question of the pricing policy for each offering to see, does it make sense?, where should we allocate limited investment? We can also help advise in a number of areas such as HR or digital to ensure these tasks get properly allocated to people who have the right skills, and then we can help develop a full sales KPI dashboard which will keep the company on top of the situation. The dashboard can be monitored on a month-by-month basis so when it comes to the year end you've done as much proactively as you could possibly do – and when that happens, you get much better results.
Joe Carr speaks about the sales management challenges facing privately owned businesses in Business & Finance – watch the video.