The Art of Bad Sales Strategy — Foolery, Fluff and Fuzziness

Guest post Monday and we have Richard Ruff of the Sales Training Connection. Richard has spent decades designing and managing large scale training projects for Fortune 1000 companies.  He offers great insights for us today:

In today’s market, winning in major accounts is becoming increasingly challenging.

Buying processes are more complex and more difficult to navigate and the competition is keener than ever.  Unfortunately, the old solution of simply working harder is becoming a journey to parity rather than competitive advantage.

An answer?

Good people on a good day tend to concur that in major accounts the ability to think and act strategically is an important piece of the success puzzle.

If the sales team is to become a true competitive advantage, mastery of the art of formulating and executing an effective account sales strategy is a must do.

While these good people agree on the need for solid strategic thinking, most would also acknowledge that “random activity conducted with urgency” too often is substituted for strategic thinking.  This is a masquerade that needs to be unmasked.

Three follies – foolery, fluff, and fuzziness – make the most wanted list for causing this case of mistaken identity.

Let’s take a brief look at each of these follies and then explore one particularly important best practice for moving from bad to good strategy.

Foolery:

A winning strategy requires the collection of information about the account and the conversion of that information into insights for crafting a plan of action.  Foolery occurs when the hard work of collecting and analyzing information about the account is neglected or marginalized.

Bad strategy happens when strategy formulation becomes synonymous with “filling out a form.”  Look for the following traps as early warning signs of foolery around the corner: “thinking what worked in the past will automatically continue to work” or “failing to remember that effective strategies are fluid and must be continuously updated.”

Fluff:

In major accounts an effective strategy delineates what you want to accomplish and how you plan to get there.  It requires a thoughtful diagnosis, a well-defined goal, and a plan of action for how to get to the right people, at the right time, with the right message to accomplish the goal.

Fluff occurs when mastery of the obvious, buzzwords and generalities are substituted for substance.

What does fluff look like?  A goal like “increasing market share” would be a case in point; it lacks specificity and clarity and hence provides almost no direction for formulating a plan of action.

Fuzziness:

A mistake is thoughtfully planning one call at a time and thinking that is selling strategically – that works in a transactional sale but not in a major account.

In a major account it’s necessary to think ahead and map out a coordinated course of action for getting there plus being thoughtful about each call.  It requires thinking ahead and reasoning back. There is a big difference between a coordinated series of steps to accomplish a well-defined goal and a disconnected set of things to do – one is clear; the other is fuzzy.

Every major account executive might want to ask the following question: “Can I turn on my computer and pull up a well thought out strategy for growing the business in my three most important accounts?” Unfortunately, for far too many salespeople, the answer to that question is no. Yet, the answer needs to be yes.

Last, how about that promised one best practice for moving from bad to good strategy?  It is all about the front-line Sales Manager. Most Sales Managers know a lot about how to bring strategic thinking to the account development process.

The secret is freeing up their time to coach their sales team on getting strategy right.

If you believe that doing a better job on account strategy can make a difference – then making sure that the front-line manager can get engaged in strategy coaching is the single best way to get the ball rolling.

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