ATD Blog

Training Salespeople to Put Strategic Thinking Into Practice

Thursday, December 29, 2022

It’s a common refrain from sales leaders, often to those who develop sales training: We need our salespeople to be strategic. No doubt this is because sales leaders see assigned territories, verticals, and other variations of the “book of business” as worthy of a strategic game plan, not just good tactics. It comes as no surprise that sales leadership approaches business that way. They start with a go-to-market plan and out of that flows objectives, metrics, tactics, and so forth. So, what would it look like if we developed an approach to train salespeople on putting strategic thinking into practice? It would need to cover three, key areas of knowledge: making time, determining competitive positioning, and aligning strategy and tactics.

Make Time for Strategic Thinking

One practical element of helping salespeople develop their strategic thinking capability is to help them make time to do it. You need to show them how they can build margin in their schedule to work on the business, not just in the business.

Additionally, you need to show salespeople how being intentional about brainstorming efforts requires them to reserve valuable time to do it—like scheduling time in their calendar to attend a meeting or work on a proposal. Redirecting portions of time toward thinking more strategically about their business may mean replacing other activities or tasks, so before you memorialize this practice, have the necessary conversations with sales leadership to garner support.

Once salespeople have permission to treat time as a controllable resource, training can help them better optimize it by re-evaluating meetings that are optional to attend, tasks they can delegate to others, or ways to increase their efficiency. These efforts will create time for salespeople to devote toward strategic thinking.


Determine Competitive Positioning

It is important for salespeople to recognize that developing an effective strategy to address their assigned area or portfolio begins with an analysis of the current competitive landscape. In concert with marketing, sales enablement and sales leadership, you can pull together resources that help salespeople look at the product, customer experience, and message your company’s competitors are putting into the marketplace. Next, ideally in a workshop format, it is important to train salespeople on how to identify areas in which your company is superior to the competition as well as where your competitors might have the advantage. Armed with this knowledge, salespeople need structured opportunities to practice how they can leverage competitive positioning to their benefit within their assigned area.

Sales leadership recognizes that the marketplace is fluid and changing; therefore, their competitive analysis isn’t a one-time event but rather a discipline that is developed. Training can also help salespeople stay in regular evaluation mode as well. Encourage your organization’s leaders to be transparent about their thoughts on competitive positioning to help guide how frontline salespeople think about their corner of the market—this ongoing conversation is ripe with work application opportunities!


Align Strategy With Tactics

While rock solid competitive analysis and making time are the ways to get started with strategic thinking, you also need to equip salespeople to set goals and take action. Training should revisit good goal setting practices (like the SMART approach) to connect strategy, priorities, actions, and accountability measures within their assigned area.

Culturally, you may need to seek support from sales leadership to allow added creativity in strategic goal setting. Rather than seeking goals that fully conform to the way things are currently done within the sales organization, strategic goal setting within the salesperson’s assigned area should allow for exploring what’s possible, challenging conventional constraints, and more. This not only activates salesperson creativity, but it drives engagement and could be the source of the next big breakthrough in your business.

Training Approach

Each of these knowledge areas could be deployed as a combination of coursework, application opportunities, and coaching to provide feedback. Collaborate with sales leadership, and seek to engage sales managers who are strategic so that they can provide on-the-job, instructive comments that will turn strategic thinking from an aspiration to the way your sales team approaches their work.

About the Author

Dayna Williams has been supporting sales enablement leaders for the past 20 years, focusing primarily on sales talent selection and development initiatives. She has written sales training programs, led the creation of technology-enabled products to drive field adoption and is now currently working with investor funded companies that need to stand up their sales enablement functions from scratch. Dayna is also the co-creator of SELL and has been instrumental in guiding the focus of its programming to ensure its relevancy to the enablement profession.

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