An Overlooked Problem of Alignment

Bob Wiesner | February 24, 2017

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Many agencies and professional services firms will readily admit they don’t have a “sales culture.” Their organizations are focused on creativity, innovation, subject matter expertise, client service, or some combination.

That’s fine. But someone has to sell services to generate revenue.

In many of these companies, responsibility for selling is given to so-called professional sales people.  And that’s where the problem of misalignment can create a huge obstacle to success.

This 2017 HBR article shows the importance of having ALL aspects of the organization aligned. That means everyone understands, and works towards, the same goals, and does it in consistent ways.  The authors summarize as follows:

  1. Enterprise purpose: What do we do and why do we do it?
  2. Business strategy: What are we trying to win at to fulfill our purpose?
  3. Organizational capability: What do we need to be good at to win?
  4. Resource architecture: What makes us good (and how good are we)?
  5. Management systems: What delivers the winning performance we need?

I’ve frequently seen entire organizations well aligned along all five questions with one exception: The sales department.  Some of my clients have, proudly, described their business development people as “the black sheep” of the organization.  They’ve been hired specifically because they are different from anyone else.

Sadly, that difference can often be reflected in misalignment with any (or all) of the above.  It’s one thing for the biz dev team to have different skill sets and strengths.  That’s good.  It’s another if they don’t know, or won’t accept, how those strengths fit with the rest of the organization.

Misalignment of sales with the rest of the agency can eventually lead to the burnout of the sales people and/or the rejection of their efforts by the firm.

You can certainly minimize the risks by doing an intense job of ensuring the sales teams understand, buy into, and reflect the agency as it would be described in the questions above.  Another more ambitious, but perhaps more effective, way is to move the rest of the organization to be more closely aligned with business development.  There’s much truth in the perceived value of having a “sales culture.”  When the entire company is aligned with what it takes to grow revenue, the business developers are likely to have much more success.

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