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How Your Sales Team Can Drive Your Operational Strategy

Tracey Wik
Tracey Wik

Your sales team has unique insight into the needs and wants of your customer base.

  • In a fast-paced environment, business leaders have to carve out time to step back and look at the bigger picture.
  • Sales managers and salespeople are in unique positions to provide strategic insights and can be catalysts for these strategy conversations.
  • Not only will these strategy discussions present opportunities for growth, but they will also likely help sales teams close more and better deals.
  • Sales managers can use framing language and specific techniques to build buy-in from the C-suite.

Too often, businesses operate with tunnel vision and blinders: They sell according to what they think is best, not what the customer most relates to. It's vital for business leaders to take a step back, understand what connects with the customers and make adjustments rooted in consumer behavior.

Here's an example of how a business leader's mindset clashed with consumers' viewpoints: Business leaders often speak about their businesses from the perspective of an industry or a vertical. But that's not how your customers interact with you.

One of my clients who owned a co-working space realized her marketing messages came from an affiliate standpoint, framed by how she thought about her business. When she transitioned her messaging to the simple value of office space, which was how her customers related to her business, the return on her marketing investment exploded.

Most modern professionals acknowledge the value of analysis and data gathering, but it can be near impossible for C-suite executives and business leaders to slow down long enough to gather those insights. According to a study conducted by Harvard, CEOs use only 21% of their work time focusing on business strategy. Now is the time to consider strategy, especially as 35% of CEOs expect the economy to worsen in the next year. 

The sales team has a powerful role to play in driving more time devoted to strategy. Sales managers and salespeople can be the catalyst that causes the C-suite to pause and reflect. Knowing the strategic landscape gives you the ability to position yourself as an expert and displace your competition. It also allows you to align your offering to the right customer, saving selling time and frustration. But how can you persuade your C-suite to slow down and step back? The key is using the right language and strategies.

Because salespeople speak with customers every day and understand the company’s competitive positioning, they are an incredibly important voice when it comes to making operational changes. 

As a sales leader, you have a line of sight into both the client-facing and operational sides of your business. Others might not have that big-picture perspective. This makes it all the more imperative that you leverage your insights and encourage your leadership to take time to pause so that you can ensure your company is heading in the right direction.

Find a way to engage systematically to gather the most sound and current feedback about your customers. This could be a net promoter score type of questionnaire, or even just a basic survey. The questions you ask are not as important as the actions you take from the feedback.

In a 24/7, transparent world, you will always receive irrational requests from customers. By identifying trends, you'll have better insight into what aspects of your processes require the most immediate attention and resources. 

The cliche is "feedback is a gift," but when it involves your paying customers, negative feedback patterns merit a timeout. You need to have the judgment to determine whether a request can add value or whether it's coming from a one-off situation or a disgruntled customer. 

In B2C marketing, paint points commonly relate to improving customers' finances or productivity. In the B2B space, they're more likely to involve streamlining internal processes or giving operational support.

As a seller, it's worth it to solicit that feedback. Regardless of what questions you ask to get there, the goal of any feedback exercise should be to understand the biggest challenges your customers face.

Just as it did for the co-working space owner, language matters for you.

How to "sell" your executives on the benefits of taking a strategic planning break to achieve higher sales

1. Tie your idea back to revenue

The most effective way to get a CEO or sales executive to listen is to start with, "I have an idea about how we can drive more revenue and/or get more clients."

By beginning with the revenue goals and then backing out into how your idea accomplishes them, you're speaking your leaders' language and will gain a stronger hold on their attention. You are in a unique position to break down requests and feedback into actionable steps and to outline the ways those steps will impact the overall revenue number. If you don't link the idea to increased revenue, then don't expect your leaders to take action.

2. Make it tangible

People often speak in generic, high-level concepts. Leaders want tangible ideas that they can visualize and implement, so it behooves you to explain your approach in actions or behaviors.

Think about it from a day in your life: What has to change to free you up to close more and better sales? It could be as simple as creating an email-free zone at certain times during the day so you have more time to respond to clients. The point is to make it tangible so that others can visualize your idea for themselves. 

3. Ask for one thing at a time

We can't possibly keep up with the inundation of data in today's business world. Data is wonderful when it is synthesized and applied properly, but in aggregate, it can foster a sense of overwhelm or analysis paralysis. Make it easy on your leaders by asking them for just one thing to be different. Not only will it be an easier ask of them, but it will also show them proof of how your idea is effective and scalable.

For example, one of my clients wanted to ensure that everyone on a new project was aligned, but she was having trouble gaining buy-in. She asked her president for a premeeting before it even launched. Those 30 minutes were invaluable for everyone involved and ensured that everyone was clear on the end goal before the project even began. 

4. Apply the pre-Gutenberg test

Another client who runs a $12 million professional staffing business told me he was tired of the latest tools and technologies. As an early adopter, he found too often that he was bound to a new dashboard or app.

This client gained a moment of clarity when he learned of the "pre-Gutenberg" approach. Instead of relying on the latest fancy software, he returned to his tried-and-true methods. If it was a good enough idea to work before the printing press, it has clearly stood the test of time. The same simplicity test can be applied to both your feedback loops (surveys) and your conversations with leaders. 

Taking the time to understand the behaviors along your value chain is key to creating greater efficiencies with time or money. Small businesses can get distracted more easily than bigger businesses because they are "changing the tires" as they drive. They don't have large functional departments to whom they can delegate tasks. They have to be and do at the same time, which can create the appearance of being scattered. Understanding what the revenue-generating activities are is key.

In the sales world, it might seem like everything is about closing the deal. But by taking the time to ask questions, gather information and think strategically about critical issues, you will save time and vital resources down the road. As a salesperson, you're in a key position to encourage your C-suite to slow down and consider strategy. With carefully framed language, you can set your entire company on a more efficient path to growth.


Image Credit: Jirapong Manustrong/Getty Images
Tracey Wik
Tracey Wik Member
Tracey Wik is the president of talent and organization effectiveness for GrowthPlay. Tracey has worked with leaders for more than 20 years to help them understand that talent is the most important thing they manage from a business perspective. By applying research-based talent analytics and hard facts, Tracey and GrowthPlay help leaders understand the talent they have and figure out how to obtain the talent they need.