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July 19, 2019

Link Sales Training to Your Organization’s Strategic Goals

This article is a recap of a presentation by Frank Cespedes, Strategy Expert and Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School, at Allego’s 2019 customer conference. The session was entitled, “Accelerating Learning and Profitable Growth: Aligning Strategy and Sales.”

U.S. firms spend over $900 billion annually on their sales forces – three times more than they spend on all media advertising. About $1,500 is spent per rep on sales training, 20% more per capita than to train any other type of employee.

Unfortunately, the return on this enormous investment is often disappointing. According to data from the consulting firm Marakon, companies only deliver, on average, about 50% to 60% of the financial performance promised in their investor presentations and sales forecasts.

One reason for this is that sales efforts are often divorced from the firms’ strategic goals and objectives.

A Dirty Secret

At some companies, the dirty secret is that they don’t have a strategy. They may have initiatives. They may have mission statements and value statements that they put on the website, but these aren’t the same as enterprise-wide goals. Put kindly, it’s very difficult to accomplish good things in business without a coherent strategy.

At other firms, the strategy does exist, but it’s been poorly communicated to the troops. When asked why the strategy hasn’t been disseminated, a typical CEO response is, “Well, if we talked about it a lot, our competitors might find out.” True. But if you’re not communicating strategic objectives to the sales force, competitors are the least of your worries.

Too Many Goals

Even more common are companies in which the senior leaders can’t agree on what the core strategies even are. In one 20-year study of companies worldwide, various executives at each firm were asked to list their five most critical strategic objectives. The median number listed at each company was 35. That’s 35 competing – and sometimes conflicting – strategic goals.

Little wonder, then, that Effectory surveys have consistently found that 50% of employees don’t understand their companies’ strategies. And this figure drops even further among salespeople and customer service personnel. In other words, the closer you get to the customer, the lower the number of employees who can say, “I understand my firm’s strategy.”

Connecting Sales with Strategy

How can companies better connect sales training – and sales efforts in general – with critical objectives?

First, the C-Suite executives must agree – and communicate – the five or six or seven strategic goals that are most important for long-term prosperity. Sales trainers and reps can’t devise an effective plan if they don’t know what the goals are.

One approach to strategy development is for the CEO to survey the executives – individually. Ask each manager to list their top objectives, and then prioritize them by assigning each goal a number from 1 to 10, with 1 being the most important and 10 the least. The CEO can now quantify the relative importance of each goal by averaging the numerical scores.

The survey should also ask managers to cite examples to support why this or that objective is important, and request suggestions for what the company should start, stop or do differently in order to improve.

The ultimate goal of the survey is to create a shared vision – one from which sales trainers and reps can develop “rules of engagement” for interacting with both customers and the other departments within the company.

In Part II of this article, we’ll examine the roles that opportunity management and sales productivity can play in forging a stronger link between sales training and business strategy.





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