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BW Businessworld

Lead Review: Integrate, Improve

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In Aligning Strategy and Sales, harvard Business School professor Frank Cespedes emphasises the critical role played by the sales team in contributing to the growth and success of any organisation. In the book, he asks business leaders to deliberate on whether their highly productive and profitable sales department is aligned with the strategy of the company or whether the organisation’s roadmap has been articulated to the ground team in a manner in which it can connect and implement their actions?

The author writes: “...You must integrate three factors internal to the sales organisation — the people involved, the control systems that influence their behaviours, and how those controls are applied in the sales force and company environment — with factors external to the sales organisation:  your business strategy and the target market/customer characteristics that flow from those strategic choices… When there is coherent integration among these factors, sales results and strategy formulation improve.”

Along with linking strategy to sales, Cespedes also stresses on creating strong interdependencies and collaborating with other departments. He goes on to stress that the sales force has to be well integrated with HR, Finance and other sections. The size of the company may vary but the dependencies and their paramount contribution to prosperity remains the same. People are the fulcrum of any business. Therefore, it becomes imperative to hire and retain employees who understand the company’s culture. The book underlines the importance of recruitment, mentoring, training and performance management of sales people, along with the need for developing a well-defined compensation system to keep them motivated.
T.R. Ramachandran
I endorse what Cespedes has conveyed in his writings; in my 24 years of professional life, I have tried to imbibe practical knowledge and learn from day-to-day, on-the-ground experiences. Building teams and removing barriers, as well as cross functional interaction and engagement have been my success mantra. ‘Keeping it simple’ is a rule that can be understood and reciprocated by everybody in an organisation — everybody has to support one another to create an effectual working system.

A strategy that is not completely bought or fully understood by all will remain good only on paper. For any strategy to see the light of the day, it needs to be emphasised and mutually agreed upon. These efforts help us to move in one direction, and optimise and prevent variance. The biggest mistake business leaders can make is to embark on a strategy without considering the realities that people charged with executing that strategy face.

Hence, it is imperative to develop and articulate a strategy in ways that people in the field can understand and motivate themselves to drive sales numbers. It is also extremely crucial for business leaders to step out of boardrooms and directly interact with their clients and customers. Without a proper alignment in place, leaders will continue to swing between these two anomalies — driving better execution when they need a better strategy, or altering the strategic direction (involving considerable investment and time) when they should focus on the basics of sales execution.

Confusing purpose with strategy is wrong, as strategy is not the same as values. For instance, for P&G’s CEO Bob McDonald, the ‘purpose’ of the company was to ‘touch and improve the lives of more consumers, in more parts of the world, more completely.” In the absence of results, he abandoned that rhetoric when he cut jobs and made core strategic decisions. Purpose is not strategy. The core values of Apple made it the most valuable company by 2014. “We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products… We constantly focus on innovation… We don’t settle for anything less than excellence ...” On the other side, there are the espoused values of Enron, Lehman and Bear Stearns. Values are real in action but it is the strategy that provides the direction about the ‘where’, ‘how’ and ‘when’. In fact, an effective strategy aligned with sales is more like the Appalachian Trail.

Cespedes’s book provides a good lesson for creating a connect between a well-thought out strategy and a highly executable selling performance so as to make organisations prosper and become happy workplaces. 

Ramachandran is Group Country Manager, India & South Asia, Visa

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 29-06-2015)