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