Set Sales Up for Strategic Planning Success

Sales leaders can make strategic planning more productive by following a clear roadmap.

In the 2019 Gartner Strategy Agenda Poll, 60% of corporate strategists cite slow strategy execution as their biggest challenge for 2019. Companies can remove a major roadblock by making strategic planning at the functional level more effective — and focused squarely on driving enterprise goals.

Strategic planning can be the most valuable exercise an organization undertakes

“Sales leaders need a strategic mindset or the planning process will get hijacked by short-termism,” says Cristina Gomez, Managing Vice President, Gartner. “But when executed effectively, strategic planning can be the most valuable exercise the sales organization undertakes each year.”

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At the functional level, it can be especially difficult to compile, articulate and communicate a plan that is driven by and supports enterprise strategic goals. To design an effective strategic plan, functional leaders need to take a comprehensive yet step-by-step approach.

Phase 1: Plan

Lay the groundwork for the strategic planning process by ensuring that all participants understand their respective responsibilities, process timelines and expected outcomes. This foundation should include a firm understanding of business goals and the sales capabilities required to support them. To make the most of this phase, sales leaders should:

  • Quantify and validate the achievability of goals. Goals should be outcome-based, measurable, aligned with business goals, and balanced between demanding and achievable.
  • Engage other business leaders through meaningful dialogue. Involve others throughout the planning process to develop a solid understanding of their short- and long-term priorities and support needs.
  • Simplify the plan into a concise story to engage stakeholders. To create a sense of urgency and consensus, highlight the link between organizational and sales goals, explain the cost of inaction and provide the rationale behind the strategy.
  • Eliminate unnecessary activities and legacy behaviors. Help employees prioritize activities and behaviors that support the new strategy and imperatives.

Phase 2: Build

During the build phase, sales leaders should define:

  • The sales function’s goals and objectives. Set goals and objectives that are clear, realistic, outcome-oriented, and informed by business priorities and external trends. Make sure that all stakeholders keep a strategic mindset around determining the resources needed to execute the function’s plan, and share a clear and common understanding of the relative cost, risk, time and benefits of potential cost optimization initiatives.
  • Metrics and targets to measure performance. Identify lagging and leading metrics that can help measure success against goals and objectives; settle on a concise set of metrics; and define thresholds and targets for each.
  • Prioritized strategic initiatives to address sales objectives. Direct your sales team to identify initiatives that plug capability gaps, meet sales objectives and inflect selected metrics. Prioritize and assign clear ownership responsibilities for active initiatives and new proposals on criteria such as strategic fit and execution capabilities.

As the strategic plan is finalized, sales leaders will need to communicate it to sales employees and the organization’s leadership. To ensure success, leaders must develop a concise and clearly articulated summary that reflects the business goals and initiatives. To earn crucial buy-in and commitment from leadership, communications should share the rationale for their strategy. Lastly, ensure that strategic plans across sales areas are reconciled and aligned.

Phase 3: Monitor

Planning, building and communicating is not enough. Sales leaders must actively measure progress toward objectives and adapt the function’s strategy as business conditions change. To make the most of the strategic plan:

  • Build flexibility to allow for an acceptable level of risk-taking or experimentation.
  • Develop clear course-correction triggers to relocate resources when needed.
  • Create decision factors, well in advance, that will guide project discontinuation decisions so that underperforming projects are quickly terminated.

This article has been updated from the original, published on September 12, 2018, to reflect new events, conditions or research.

Gartner for Sales Leaders clients can access the Ignition Guide to Strategic Planning for Sales.

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