Six Sales Strategy Mistakes to Avoid in 2010


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“All sales failures result from executing the wrong strategy, or from executing the right strategy the wrong way.”

I just made that up, but it’s hard to argue. And if the idea is unsettling, it’s because all of us are capable of making mistakes. Little mistakes are OK—we’ll recover. But big, fat, strategic mistakes—the kind that cost millions, or billions of dollars? No thanks. I’d rather not repeat an error.

For those whose 2010 selling strategies are still percolating, here are some mistakes to avoid:

1. Focus on best practices while waiting to see what the market’s going to do. Remember the proprietary advantages that made you successful in ’09? They will be leapfrogged. While you’re busy best-practicing, your competitors are creating their own proprietary advantages, and their sales forces will use them at every opportunity in 2010. The net: best practices can only keep you even with your competitors, but proprietary advantages give your prospects outcomes they can buy.

2. Inhibit learning. I don’t like to hear whining any more than you do, but a bring-me-solutions-not-problems culture will cause any sales strategy to fail. We’re all smart about customer-centric ideals, but the people who speak to our customers and prospects every day are smarter. Ask them what’s working strategy-wise—and what’s not. They’ll tell you. Then share the knowledge. The net: there’s a goldmine of sales wisdom in your sales force, should you choose to harness it.

3. Reward your sales force for producing revenue—but nothing else. Want to encourage selling behaviors that compromise valuable customer relationships? A revenue-only compensation plan will create unintended results—some of which could undermine customer loyalty. The net: ask “what value must our sales organization provide to our company?” You’ll find it’s more than revenue. Whatever you expect and value from your sales force, make sure you recognize and reward it.

4. Accept assumptions without questioning them first. In the next quarter or so, if you hear a hissing sound, it could be your Major Assumption, deflating like a balloon. The net: Assumptions are a component of any strategy, but don’t ignore your greatest sales risks. Ask “which assumptions, if false, will prevent our organization from achieving our strategic goals?” If the worst scenario is also the most likely, consider a new strategy.

5. Disregard your trade-offs. Margin versus growth. Proprietary versus open-source. Every strategy requires trading off other ones. The net: as great as your strategy might be, your trade-offs are your nascent competitive weaknesses. Ask “how will competitors or newcomers to our market exploit the path we didn’t choose?”

6. Design your sales process with your organization at the center. Even the most thoughtfully-designed sales process will under-achieve your objectives if it lacks context. Emerging methodologies, such as Outside-in, focus on understanding pathways people take toward making purchases, and remind us that sales resources must align with, and support—in every sense of the word—buying activities. The net: sales processes are only meaningful within the changing context of how people buy.

Executing the right sales strategy the right way requires accepting the right risks and avoiding others. Admittedly, not every risk made this list. But at the end of 2010, you’ll know you’ve been successful if you can say “the mistakes we made were worth it.”


  1. Great article; though even a little scary. You’re insight is impressive. I’d like to think there were only (6) breakdowns, but of course we both know better. Your perspective on rewards for your sales force is spot-on. We approach the sales process by trying to identify what it is that will treat the prospect’s pain. Having said that, it seems a little hypocritical to approach one’s sales staff in any other fashion. Why should they be treated differently?

    Nice piece, Mr Rudin.


  2. Thanks for your insights Bobby. You have asked a key question, especially in the context of Social Selling (or Sales2.0). Is treating the prospect’s pain the centerpiece of selling processes, or a less-important part?

    I don’t have an answer, but new selling models that have identified the importance of communities and networks in the sales process suggest that other competencies are emerging that are highly influential in successful sales outcomes. What are your thoughts?


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