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Are Tactics More Important than Sales Strategy?

strategy-and-tacticsBusinesses like to talk about being strategic. It’s one of those buzzwords that’s always in fashion. Some also take pride in being tactical, another buzzword that remains fashionable, even if those who use these terms don’t have any grasp at all of what they mean.

Sales organizations are no different. In nearly every sales office I walk into, it doesn’t take long at all before I hear about strategic this and tactical that. Here’s what these terms should mean in your sales shop: 

STRATEGY is everything you do before engaging any client, all your durable methods of winning. It’s your values and principles, your selection and retention of salespeople and managers, your planning, your thought leadership activities, your lead generation, your development of capabilities to serve client needs, your sales process or procedure, your training, and so on.

TACTICS include everything you do while engaged with a client, as well as those short-term methods you deploy to carry out your ongoing strategy. Active sales organizations stay disciplined, so their tactics are consistent with and supportive of their strategy. So tactics range from nationwide sales promotions to the little detours a salesperson may make with a specific prospect in order eventually to get back on strategy.

Which is more important?

For the answer, let’s turn to the legendary Chinese military general and philosopher Sun Tzu (544-496 BC) who, in his book The Art of War, wrote:

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.

Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” 

Sun Tzu tells us that even though strategy is more important, nothing beats strategy and tactics working together.

Maybe You're Being Too Tactical

Unfortunately, most sales departments—regardless of the buzzwords they toss around—are very tactical. Or maybe calling them tactical is a little too charitable. Because they don’t have a strategy, their tactics tend to be random. And because they don’t have a strategy to succeed, much of their very busy activity putting out fires, rather than fire prevention.

If a sales department is too tactical, there is a tendency for everything to be chaotic. Managers head off with a goal in mind—usually hitting their goal—but they have no idea how to get there. Sun Tzu got it right more than 2,500 years ago: it’s the noise before defeat.

If a sales department is too strategic, and I’ve seen this too but only rarely, there is a lot of pontificating with little action. As Sun Tzu would say, they’ve chosen the slowest route to victory. And making this year’s budget next year doesn’t count.

So how should a sales organization ensure that it is guided by strategy and driven by tactics? I came up with this plan a few years back, and I’ve found it helpful to share again and again.

 

Annually, convene offsite with your key managers for one or two days of intensive planning. Bring the data that will help you analyze your business and understand the trends. Build your strategy as a group, or in small-group breakouts. Determine not only how much, but how. Turn the strategy into a plan of action—who will do what, when.
Quarterly, another offsite with your key managers, perhaps half a day to a day. Review progress against goals and strategy against actual execution. If anything isn’t on track, make the necessary adjustments—in either the strategy or the execution.
Weekly, make an appointment with yourself! Put an hour on your calendar in which computers and smartphones are turned off, and your door is shut (or better still, you’re away from the office). Pull that strategic plan off the shelf and walk yourself through it again. Think about what you and your salespeople can do to execute better.
Daily, communicate your strategy to your sales staff in everything you do. They’re watching you for signs that you adhere to that strategy or that ignore it. Send the right message consistently by how you conduct business and by the decisions you make.
Hourly, with each decision you make, ask yourself if what you’re about to do supports and enhances that strategic plan, ignores it, or undermines it.

 

Is your sales strategy explicitly thought through? For some insights into that, download 30 Provocative Questions.

30 provocative questions

Topics: Management