Imagine that you’re the manager of XYZ and that your team is about to play Real Madrid. The big game is one week away and the films of the Spanish team’s last couple of games have just come in. Your players are eager to see them so they can start working out game plans, but you’ve got a better idea. No films this year, boys, you tell them. We’re going to spend this week working on the basics. Marking tackling, running, kicking, passing, we know Real Madrid are good, but by next week we’re going to be better. Just concentrate on how hard you’re going to hit them once you get onto the field. The rest will take care of itself.
How long would you last in the Premier League with and attitude like that? Maybe two weeks at the outside. In a league as competitive as the Premiership it would be suicide to ignore your re-game planning and devote yourself entirely to basics. In the world of professional football, analysing your opponents’ moves in advance is as crucial as keeping fit and the football manager who neglected such planning would soon be sending his CV to clubs in League 2.
The same principle applies to professional selling. Yet to judge from many sales representatives reactions when we mention sales strategy, it would seem that doing more of the basics constitutes their entire sales approach. To many people the only skills that count are those that emerge in the actual sales call; the tricks of the trade that help you deal effectively with the buyer once you’re actually sitting in office.
In other words, it’s still tactics that are seen as essential. Strategy — by which we mean that process you use to lay out your moves in advance of the sales call is still considered something of a gimmick: a new-fangled computer age innovation that doesn’t have much to do with how top people really perform in the field.
This limited (and limiting) view of strategy comes partly from the traditional picture of the salesperson as a professional shaker of hands, and partly from the influence of sales training programmes that specialize in teaching sales-call techniques. The old time salesperson and the trainers who initiate most new sales representatives into their fool’s paradise share the view of the salesperson as an action individual who would rather be on the road than at a desk any day, and who really comes alive only when the stakes are high and when he or she is going to meet a difficult customer. Many of these gung-ho counsellors see strategy as a waste of time. ‘Get out there and sell’ is their advice. Get out and get your hands dirty. You’re not paid to sit in the office.
We have nothing against dirty hands and definitely hands-on approach to selling. Nobody can afford to neglect the face to face fundamentals. But the tactical techniques you use in the direct encounter will pay off only if you develop a sound strategy beforehand.
The words strategy and tactics are derived from ancient Greek. To the Greeks tartiros meant fit for arranging or manoeuvring and it referred to the art of moving forces in battle. Strategos was the word for ‘general’. Originally therefore strategy was the art of the general or the art of setting up forces before the battle. In military terms these definitions still apply, with them in mind, you can easily see why strategy must precede tactics in a military setting. Before you can fight at Waterloo you’ve got to get to Belgium.
The same principle applies in the sales arena. The objective of a good sales strategy is to get yourself in the right place with the right people at the right time so that you can make the right tactical presentation. You can accomplish that only by doing your homework first, by logging in to desk time that so many sales people resent so that once they get into the actual selling event you’re certain to have everything you need to make your presentation count.
When we ask our programme participants what they like best about our programmes many of them reply, It helped me organize my data better. This isn’t a surprising answer. Think of the bulk of information you have to deal with in any complex sale. Think of the maze of the offices, the overlapping managerial decisions, the games of receptionists roulette the directors’ time tables, the sheer weight of paperwork that has to be attended to before you can close a deal and pocket a commission. If you plunge into the selling situation without having a reliable method of sorting organizing and analysing this vast body of data, you’re going to be in the same impossible position as the Premier League manager who relies on a wait until the game approach to give him a victory.