What is it?
A summary of the three essential skillsets of Strategy, Planning and Action that every Executive must not only master, but balance under ever-changing business conditions.
- Strategy, Planning and Action must all be mastered before seeking balance across all three
- The higher up an organization you rise, the more strategy you will be involved in
- As Chief Sales Officer (CSO) know that YOU are fully responsible for all things Sales including Strategy, 3-Yr Sales Plans and of course RESULTS!
- Resist the urge to get your entire team involved in Strategy - keep it to the higher ranks since the lower ranks must focus on action and delivering results
- Balance between all three areas is not an absolute; it changes and morphs to meet prevailing business conditions
- Ensure you are not being drawn into Executive Team duties more than your fair share - it happens easily
- The demands on a Sales Leader (Executive level) are substantially higher than Director level
- Balance your work time and non-work time, and be willing to sway hours while always balancing them in the longer term
- You can never fully balance Strategy, Planning and Action without first mastering empowerment
- Novice Sales Leaders often focus on action and planning, since those skills are likely what got them to the Executive Sales level - but know now that strategy is absolutely essential at this level
Ease of Implementation
8/10 (intermediate). Requires a suitable budget for training/coaching, and a real willingness for the Coachee to learn, improve and grow rapidly.
10/10 (can change just about everything). Mastering the SPA Method will prove you are a seasoned, capable & great Leader!
1,923 words (10-min read)
On the road to Executive Leadership you will have navigated past the career steps of Manager and Director. In fact, you likely started your career below Manager level and built up from there. And at every level you would have wrestled with applying and balancing your time in the most effective manner to gain the best results, the ones which allowed you to join the august ranks of the Executive club.
I recall many years ago a Sales Director asked me what the main differences between a Salesperson, a Sales Manager, a Sales Director and a Sales Vice President. I thought careful about this for a bit and then replied succinctly, “It’s about finding the right balance between Strategy (S), Planning (P) and Action(A).” The eager Sales Director wanted to know more so we grabbed a coffee and I explained it this way…
As a person new to Sales on the very first rung of the sales ladder, it’s all about learning & emulating. Learning everything you can from various sources including your peers, courses, the internet, books, your customers, etc. Then emulating best practices as you discover them.
And, it’s about applying these learnings in a highly disciplined way to realize your sales plan.
At this early stage of your career there is little to no focus on strategy, some on the plan, and the majority of time spent actioning the plan. This plan is often ‘given’ to you by your seniors, and so it’s a case of having steely discipline and courage to action, action & action again. And through doing this very well and consistently, and carving out on or above-plan results, will put yourself in good standings for promotion to Sales Manager.
As a Sales Manager you often have the same basic responsibilities as a Salesperson but with higher targets or more challenging, or larger customers. You may also have man-management responsibilities for the very first time which can be daunting but ultimately fun. In this phase you will still be required to focus on the action side of things and carve out required results against your targets/budgets. However, its likely you will be starting to think about strategy, as well as being highly involved in the planning side of things. You may even be asked for input about your customers, competitors or products/services.
Now you begin to realize that strategy is not just blah-blah but in fact highly important since with the right strategy you have a fighting chance of hitting your sales targets. And by doing that well and consistently you can apply for the next level of sales leadership, the Sales Director role.
At this stage, things start to take a big departure. There is now a real and definite requirement to not only understand strategy but be instrumental in helping shape it. This happens naturally through many strategy sessions with other Directors and Executive Management, in addition to members of non-sales disciplines like Marketing, Product Management, Engineering, etc. You are expected to be both technically and commercially savvy at this stage of your career and able to balance the many demands on your time.
All the while still having full responsibility for and delivering against ever-increasing sales targets. And your team will likely be much larger which brings more staff management responsibilities too.
This heightened level of sales responsibility can feel like a major increase in responsibility and pressure compared to the role of Sales Manager, and often many people either choose to stay at this level or in some instances revert back to being a Sales Manager since the demands on strategy creation can be quite different than focusing more on planning and action. And of course, there is nothing right or wrong with either choice, since it always makes sense to play to your natural strengths.
With exceptional results at the Director level you may be lucky (or unlucky:)) enough to find yourself in the oft-prized positon of Leader of Sales and enter the ranks of the company Executive.
At this time things REALLY change and quite simply there is nothing quite comparable to it.
You realize (and are likely reminded constantly by the CEO) that you and you alone have total responsibility for delivering the sales results for the company. This will always mean revenues but may include other KPI’s like profitability targets, sales pipeline targets, customer retention targets, etc. Now you have a very broad range of responsibilities spanning the three-crucial area of strategy, planning and action. So, in many respects it seems that you have responsibility for everything (you do), and likely the biggest challenge you will face is managing your time across these three axes for maximum short, medium and long-term impact.
But where to start, and how do you know that you are spending the correct percentage of your time across these three very distinct areas?
Know that as the Chief Sales Officer it is your responsibility to drive Sales strategy at the highest level.
And it must adhere to the following requirements:
- Dovetail seamlessly (as well as providing input) into the Corporate strategy and 3-5year Sales plan
- Show a clear path on how to achieve the main Sales KPI’s (which would definitely include sales revenues)
- Be inspirational for your team and the wider company and allow them to feel excited and empowered, knowing the chosen strategy has a great chance of succeeding
- A strategy that is convincing to other stakeholders like the Board, Partners, Investors, Customers, etc.
(*) and most importantly it must be a strategy that when executed well WILL deliver expected, or above-expected results.
But where does the time come from to do all things strategy, planning & action?
The entire subject of Executive time leadership is a complex one and outside the bounds of this small article. Know that it’s possible to find the time and keep the right allocation of it even under your ever-changing situation. For example, if quarterly revenues are down it’s likely (and expected) that the sales leader will spend more time on action to close the gap. However, if the revenues are coming in well, targets are being hit or exceeded, then the focus must be to spend more time on mid and long-term strategy, to continue this positive trend.
It’s about being in time balance now and always.
As way of a teaser to future articles on Executive time leadership, consider some of these simple tips and tricks of the time masters…
- Balance your time between work and non-work (always). For example, if you use up an extra 2 hours working above your target this week, know that its ok to reduce by 2 hours your work time over the coming few weeks. This allows for flexibility but ensures you don’t end up working too many hours at the expense of everything else in your life. Simply put, balance in action! It’s possible to do this if you simply choose (and decide to track your hours).
- Treat Executive Team time carefully.You have a duty for both Executive Sales duties and also (general) Executive duties which may include anything from special projects, corporate training, all-staff presentations all the way to attending charity events. Whatever they are, just make sure you (as a likely positive action person) don’t get lumped with all the ‘variable’ activities. A good CEO should ensure this never happens, but it’s easy for it to be overlooked.
- Knowing, practicing and living empowerment is key.Your ability to train, empower and then trust your team is a key part of Executive leadership. Only through doing this and doing it really well, can you prize out the right amount of time for strategy creation and execution. True empowerment is not the lazy leader’s excuse for not getting involved in everything, but the wise leader’s approach to allowing himself and his team to do the things they are really good at. Know that to reach this point of ‘full empowerment’ takes time and effort so consider it as a key investment in allowing your team to be challenged and fulfilled, and for you to have the necessary ‘time’ to think about only the things that only the Chief Sales Officer can think about.
Consider also tracking your time across the three axes of strategy, planning and action. Once you collate the results, after only a few weeks you will start to see trends forming. Let them illuminate possible areas of focus and change, and always know it will morph anyways, due to ever-changing business conditions and priorities.
Finding the right balance between these three essential sales leadership axes is fundamental to your success. The highest performers of the Executive Sales industry have mastered this constant need for balance.
And you can too!
My passion is helping good Executives become great Executives. Having helped many of them through this process, I know it’s possible to create and sustain this balance. If you feel you would like to find out more, I’d be happy to connect with you and discuss how best to achieve strategy, planning and action balance in the timescales you seek.
Simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond same day to your request.
Master Executive Coach
(for Leaders with Sales Responsibility)
Q1. What was the hardest part of implementing the SPA Method?
A1. Being enticed by day-to-day operational challenges is easy. There’s always something needing your attention, especially revenue or design-in related. I had to try really hard to STOP getting involved in so many of these issues and spend the time on strategy instead. Once I did it paid off handsomely.
Q2. How long was it before starting the SPA Method and becoming proficient with it?
A2. I would say about 6 months or so. A fundamental change away from operational issues to more strategy thinking and doing simply takes time! What’s important is to become aware first, then the necessary changes can be made.
Q3. Does everyone you coach get to the point of true SPA balance?
A3. Unfortunately, not. But it’s clear the higher and highest performing Sales Leaders do. Those that don’t often struggle when revenues are challenged, or operational issues are high. Not having a short-, mid- and long-term strategy will cause problems at some point. The wiser Executives understand this.
Q4. What’s the biggest obstacle that Sales Leaders have in implementing the SPA Method?
A4. That’s simple (and about 90% of the reasons given in fact). It’s lack of time availability. Sales Leaders are amongst the most time challenged of any of the Executive roles and finding time to implement strategy when there is so much focus on revenue growth is simply tough. But it can be done!
Q5. If revenues are down or operational issues high, should any strategy work be done?
A5. It’s a complicated question since every situation is different. But as a guide I would say Yes! Unless the company is heading out of business and cannot be saved, then strategy will help identify the high-level outcomes and strategies necessary to right-size the ship again.
Q6. Any advice for those starting off making this significant leadership change?
Start with a commitment you will do it. And realize that it will take time. Getting to the perfect balance position is the end goal but be patient on your road there. Micro changes soon add up to macro changes, and you’ll be there before you know it!