The business has been in survival mode for the past few years. Executives have had their hands full keeping their businesses afloat while weathering the pandemic, labor issues, supply chain issues, rising interest rates, the recession and more. As a leader, your job is not simply to maintain the status quo. To thrive, an organization must grow.
In my new book The growth leader, I highlight strategies for leaders to achieve the best and lowest results. Here are three important lessons for successfully leading growth.
1. Don’t neglect the sales experience in your customer experience.
Executives recognize that customer experience is a point of differentiation for their company and build growth strategies that incorporate CX into their plans. Unfortunately, most CX efforts focus on what happens after a prospect becomes a customer, completely neglecting what comes first: the sales experience. The sales experience is the first stage of the competition to win and retain customers, and if your company doesn’t win it, your prospects will have a customer experience with your competitor.
A study of B2B transactions shows that up to 25% of your customer’s decision criteria is based on the sales experience. Sales experience is the most valuable customer decision-making factor after the quality of the products and services you provide. So when your offering looks similar or the same as your competitors in the eyes of potential customers, the sales experience is what will set your company apart and tip the scales in your favor.
Leaders must focus on designing a value-based sales experience, not just pitching products or pitching opportunities. Use your organizational insights and experience to help clients think differently about their circumstances and needs and how best to address them. Focus your sales organization on helping customers recognize issues they haven’t identified as priorities or the implications of challenges they haven’t considered. Help potential customers see answers to their problems by using your solutions in ways they hadn’t thought of before. The value built into this type of partnership provides a sales experience that customers are willing to pay for. They will vote for you with their dollars.
2. Remove the stigma from sales.
One of the main reasons organizations fail to capitalize on sales expertise is sales stigma: the negative perceptions and stereotypes associated with the sales profession. Most executives have functional backgrounds in finance, operations, technical areas, or sometimes marketing. Very rarely do they come from sales. Although the role of sales has evolved dramatically since the early days of the U.S. Census, when sales jobs were reduced to “salespeople” or “peddlers,” the stigma remains. It touches on the characteristics we typically look for in sales professionals, highlighting traits like an extroverted personality or aggressiveness that are counterproductive in complex solution selling. It also affects how sales teams are developed and managed to deliver or close without paying enough attention to consultative practices.
This has a limiting effect on how a business acquires new customers, expands its business with existing ones and creates customer loyalty. These outdated stereotypes and negative perceptions still influence dozens of critical decisions made by CEOs and executives about the sales function: the kinds of people we hire, how we manage them, how we pay them, how we develop them, and how we communicate with them.
Because beliefs shape behavior, stigma and counterproductive beliefs about sales must be addressed to drive growth. Creating a high-performance sales culture requires leaders to prioritize strategic perspective, technical or functional expertise, and intelligence when recruiting sales professionals, as these are the skills most valued by customers. Leaders must also recognize the complexity required for consultative selling of solutions and strategic investments in training and management. Above all, leaders must separate the purpose of the business organization from the results they achieve. Revenue and profit are often the primary goals pursued in sales. But these metrics are the result of creating a valuable sales process for your customers, which provides the great sales force.
3. Align your sales organization with your strategy.
Each trade call determines the success or failure of your go-to-market strategy. When researching The growth leadermany CEOs said that the sales organization is always naturally more distant from the C-suite than other functions, but the sales function is also closest to the market. If you accept the natural distance between sales and leadership, you also recognize a huge – and expensive – distance between leadership and customers.
It’s up to executives to engage more strategically with their sales organization. My research shows that most sales teams have little understanding of their company’s strategy – 4.2 on a scale of 1 to 10. This is a huge risk to growth goals because the sales team is the execution of your strategy. This execution happens hundreds – even thousands – of times every day. It’s either a huge accumulation of profits or death by a thousand cuts.
Spend time with your sales leaders and frontline sellers to make sure they understand your strategy and what it means to execute that strategy on the ground. Be clear about the right type of business to pursue and the type of business to let go of. Help them understand the connections between your new products, services and capabilities and the results and outcomes you believe your decisions will bring them. Reinforce that the role of the sales organization is not just to produce numbers – but to create a valuable sales experience for customers. Do this well and the numbers will follow.
If your business relies on a sales organization to connect with your customers, then growth and sales are inextricably linked. One of the predictable failures for companies is the lack of connection between leadership, strategy and sales. Address these three critical topics with your sales organization and you’ll be on your way to growth, not just staying afloat.
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