Keep it Simple: Strategy, Structure, People

Often, in client meetings I stop the discussion and say, “Strategy, Structure… then People.”  When I first started using the phrase the room would get quiet, often developing a slight air of negativity. However, after repeating this phrase several times, my clients now smile and re-direct the discussion, recognizing that somewhere the discussion got off course.

The Easiest Focus is Not the Most Effective

A former boss of mine trained me in this methodology of “Strategy, Structure, People” as a more linear method towards goal development, or problem resolution. The simplicity of the phrase is fascinating but remains quite effective. While only three words, the phrase recognizes that leaders usually approach problems overly focused in the area nearest to the pain, and seldom at the true source of the issue.

All too often, sales organizations are evaluated solely by their results. And if sales goals aren’t being achieved, it must be a “people” problem. Your company isn’t hitting its targets because you don’t have the right sales people. Anyone who has managed a company or sales team has many experiences with these types of discussions. But is it always a people problem? Are people truly the source of the inability to execute a plan and hit the company targets?

The first focus is on people performance because it’s the easiest – you have sales results supporting the opinion. However, using the methodology, “Strategy, Structure, People,” you may find that the shortfall doesn’t actually rest with the people. Rather, the problem could lie further upstream within your strategy or sales structure.

Shift the Focus to Strategy

Conversations around people performance and sales talent, held in a vacuum from a larger exploration of the company’s sales structure and sales strategy, is short-sighted and really not fair to the sales people. As the CEO or Head of Sales, you have a direct responsibility to ensure that your sales resources are organized to achieve your company goals.  After some introspection, and some deeper analysis than strictly sales quota achievement:

  • Does your structure match your Go-to-Market Strategy? What about your financial or volume sales goals?
  • Do you have the team correctly resourced and organized toward your targets?
  • Sales team resources are almost always sub-optimal, but how short of fully resourced is your team?
  • How many sales people are properly positioned and not wearing multiple hats?
  • Are key sales functions just not being done at all, hurting performance?
  • Be truthful, how less than optimal is your structure – do you have sufficient resources to win?

A holistic review should also include your sales strategy.  Ensure it has been documented and properly communicated throughout the relevant areas and leaders of the organization.  While many companies have a business plan, these plans often don’t contextually address how a sales organization should attack the market.

A well thought out sales plan identifies not just what you want to do, but more importantly, it specially details what you won’t do. This is a critical brake for smaller companies chasing revenue.  I like to say to my clients, “if we agree to do that, then what are we agreeing not to?”

[Effective] Communication is Key

I personally like the image of the “Effective Ladder of Communication” to best describe the process needed to communicate a new idea or plan within a company.  Strategies, whether good or bad, generally don’t fail based on the ideas and inherent plans developed. Strategies mostly fail because of poor understanding through a lack of adoption of the Ladder of Communication.

Rarely do those who look to implement new strategies understand the complexity and time it takes to be successful. Nor do they have the patience to accept that strategy introduction, grasp and acceptance, takes exponentially longer than the development of the plan itself. Allow the organization the time to fully understand and absorb your new strategy. Then follow up by properly modifying the structure and processes to fit the strategy. The performance of your sales team will be directly affected.

The next time your company is either developing a new plan, or evaluating the performance of your existing sales teams, return to the basics with “Strategy, Structure, People.” Build your goals or review your results in the order of:

  1. What are we trying to do?
  2. What type of team and processes do we need to execute the goals?
  3. Do we have the right players to win?

The best conclusions will be reached when the analysis and planning is completed in that order. By employing the “Strategy, Structure, People” methodology, I am certain that you will enjoy much better sales success.