By Alex Bartholomaus
Many business leaders complicate the process of implementing sales initiatives by confusing strategy with tactics and putting the success of the efforts at risk before they have a chance to get off the ground.
I attribute the confusion between strategy and tactics to leadership perspective issues. It is not that most C-Suite execs can’t understand the nuances of strategy; they are merely looking at the process through the wrong lens.
There is not a great secret to a strategy that eludes the best and brightest business minds. It is lost in the overwhelming level of detail usually included in strategic plans: Strategy is what the initiative should achieve, and tactics are how you will achieve it.
Say your company is looking to implement an initiative to increase win rates by 25% and expects to do so by implementing a structured sales process.
In this case, it is clear cut:
A blueprint for change: Flexibility and scope
One red flag that can help executive leadership diagnose a strategic planning problem is a different strategy at the end of an initiative that bears little resemblance to the initial plan.
This most often occurs because strategy traditionally manifests itself as a specific, organized plan that must be followed to a “T” to yield the best results. Similarly, the traditional blueprint for strategy does not consider a change or assume a re-calibration.
This only leads to disappointment and frustration, as strategies will never stay constant throughout an initiative because the only truly constant variable is changed. And so it is through the lenses of flexibility and scope, that leaders need to view strategy.
Flexibility: Any strategy should expect and account for deviation.
That’s correct. Part of a successful strategy is to alter the strategy throughout its implementation. It’s inevitable that strategic plans—and as a result, the tactics associated with them—devised at the beginning of an initiative will shift due to internal or external forces.
The key to a successful strategy is being able to step back at the end of each quarter and evaluate what you have learned, and what may be coming based on market conditions and internal changes. This allows the strategic plan to stay relevant throughout the year.
For example, if the initiative calls for Mike to meet with 25% more prospects each month, there needs to be the flexibility to account for exceeding personal quotas, staffing changes, market environment shifts, or macroeconomic movement.
Scope: Even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
A successful strategy will be specific to stakeholders but not individuals. Getting too granular with a strategy only ensures larger-scale change, and the more change to account for, the more complicated the road to success becomes.
Many leaders get lost in the weeds with strategy because it’s often too specific. If strategy is viewed as the blueprint, it is flawed because a blueprint is a highly prescriptive and specific document. The strategy will never be so neat and clean.
There needs to be a cadence of reassessment to allow for strategic shifts that will bring the initiative closer to the organization’s objectives. If you can commit to a minimum of quarterly refreshes to rethink your tactics, you will provide a means of achieving the end that you desire—and in business terms, that means growth.
Value in strategy
I am not making the case that yearly strategic planning is not valuable—no matter how far askew, the final strategy becomes as a result of internal or external changes. There may be some who do not see the need to continue such labor-intensive activities, but strategic planning has benefits well beyond predicting a profit outcome.
Yes, the strategic process can be cumbersome. Yes, it can seem like something that you do simply because that is the way it has always been done and yields little long-term value.
But no, strategic planning should not be scrapped. In fact, with a solid strategy in place, an initiative has a much better chance of succeeding. More importantly, a solid strategy ensures initiatives can withstand the inevitable changes in the market, and within your organization.
But if you do not have a flexible strategy, what you do in terms of tactics will be rather inconsequential. Your organization can enjoy sustained success by having a flexible strategy combined with solid tactics, even when market conditions do not favor success.