Chronicles of a Sales Leader: Placing the Right Bets on Top-Line Growth

I've been to Vegas more often for business than for pleasure. In fact, I'm not really a Vegas kind of guy. Once in awhile, when I have the time and am feeling like letting loose, I'll spend a few bucks at the $5 dollar blackjack tables. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> I say "spend," because rarely is there an expectation that something will actually manifest into a gain when I gamble. I view it as entertainment more than some fantasy I'll walk away with more money than when I walked up. Then I remind myself that there are better ways to be entertained than watching a guy in a silk vest take my cash. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> One thing I do like about Vegas is I know exactly the risk and the reward. If I win, I know what the payout will be. If I lose, there's no surprise to the consequences. Which leads me to this month's topic&#x2026;<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Plenty of companies whose fiscal years end within the next 60 to 120 days are starting to line up the chips on strategic investments&#x2014;investments they believe will contribute to driving top-line growth in the coming fiscal year. The good news is, there's a tad more predictability as to whether or not the bets will pay off. The bad news is, there are a lot of variables that play a role in determining the potential impact.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> While there are only a limited number of potential investment areas you can choose from, determining which will have the greatest ROI in terms of top-line impact (acquisitions excluded) is a challenging exercise for most CEOs, CSOs, and CMOs. It's a bit like a roulette wheel: new products, customer loyalty programs, sales training, sales compensation, marketing campaigns, technology support investments, organizational realignments&#x2026;I could keep going, but you get the point.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> There are many great examples of how world-class organizations are prioritizing their strategies to drive top-line growth. Unfortunately they seem to be outnumbered by the not-so-great examples.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> It's easy to lose sight of one important variable in this process, and that's your customer. The best have figured out a strategic plan isn't an annual mulligan to tee it up again with a different club (in golf, I prefer mulligans more frequently than that). They recognize it's a framework that drives your organization to understand and react to what the customer is looking for. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> The strategy, in fact, needs to be built around how to stay close enough to the market (your customer) and assemble the plan to be able to shift appropriately as needed. The companies that lose hang their hats on internally focused investments often not tied to helping the sales or marketing organization get any closer to understanding what customers want. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Technology investments turn into fantasies about putting the selling actions on autopilot, compensation changes turn into complex math problems for those trying to figure out their quarterly commissions, new products miss the mark, marketing drives leads that aren't worth talking to&#x2026;once again, you get the point.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> The challenge within this realization is that customers are changing their businesses and adjusting their mindsets like no other time in business history. So how do you improve your odds when you place your bets?<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>1. Always know why customers are buying from you, why you win business, and why you lose business.</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Engage your largest accounts in a planning process that includes them, and ensure it includes their view of the differentiators and value provided to them.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Conduct win and loss reviews formally to capture trends on differentiators and competitive weaknesses.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>2. Ensure your sales team has a sales process and methodology that focuses on understanding the customer inside and out.</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; The most crucial differentiator you have is what happens when your sales team interacts with your customers, how they build their pursuit strategies and how they manage existing accounts&#x2014;this is the execution system that has to be customer-centric if you have any hope of winning.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>3. Ensure all of the company executives are in the business of meeting and talking to customers.</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Put an executive sponsorship plan in place for your top accounts (yes, even the finance guy).<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Ensure the executives are just as in tune to the sales process and methodologies as the sales team.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>4. Make sure sales and marketing are joined at the hip on objectives.</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; If the marketing exec is focused purely on lead volume, you'll get a lot of something you may not want.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; If the sales manager is not held accountable to lead conversion, you should quit spending money on marketing.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Ensure there is a formal mechanism for sales and marketing to intersect and review progress together on joint objectives.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>5. Test your hypothesis before going "all in."</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Create enough flexibility in your organization to test your theories with pilot approaches. Whether it's a technology investment or a compensation change, put it to the test with a small group first.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Get customer input where it makes sense, especially related to potential organizational changes.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Don't get stuck in a mindset that changes can only be implemented once per year.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Measure the impact in ways that can provide a clear go or no-go decision.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Whether you're all in on a particular strategic area of investment or spreading the chips across multiple levers, make sure there's a clear connection to customer and market dynamics. The best way to do that is to implement a strategy that provides better visibility and customer centricity in the first place.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> SMM <i>columnist Bill Golder is executive vice president of sales at Miller Heiman. Available for keynote speaking opportunities, he can be reached at <a href="" target="blank"></a> or 877-678-0397.</i>