The Strategic Way To Hire a Sales Team

HBS Working Knowledge

The equivalent of an entire sales force is replaced at many firms every four years, so it’s critical that go-to-market initiatives remain tied to strategic goals. Frank Cespedes explains how in his book, Aligning Strategy and Sales.

Too often, there’s a huge gap between a company’s overall business strategy and the way its salesforce operates in the field. In fact, says Frank V. Cespedes, articles and books about strategy rarely take sales into consideration at all.

“Everybody talks about the importance of talent management,” says Cespedes, a senior lecturer in the Entrepreneurial Management unit at Harvard Business School. “But far fewer confront a basic fact: Companies typically spend much more money and hire many more people, annually, in their sales function than they do anywhere else in the firm. At Google and Groupon, for instance, a higher percentage of employees work in sales than engineering or data mining. And at Facebook the salesforce’s ability to translate ‘likes’ into advertisers will make or break that company’s valuation and fortunes going forward.”

Read the full article and an excerpt from Aligning Strategy and Sales on Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.

MarketingSherpa Weekly Book Giveaway


That gap between your company’s sales efforts and strategy? It’s real – and a huge vulnerability. Addressing that gap, actionably and with attention to relevant research, is the focus of this book.

In Aligning Strategy and Sales: The Choices, Systems, and Behaviors that Drive Effective Selling, Harvard Business School professor Frank Cespedes equips you to link your go-to-market initiatives with strategic goals. Cespedes offers a road map to articulate strategy in ways that people in the field can understand and that will fuel the behaviors required for profitable growth.

Enter this week’s MarketingSherpa Weekly Book Giveaway for a chance to win a copy of Aligning Strategy and Sales.

What You Don’t Know About Sales Can Hurt Your Strategy

What You Don’t Know About Sales Can Hurt Your Strategy

The goal of strategy is profitable growth, meaning economic value above the firm’s cost of capital. There are basically four ways to create that value: (1) invest in projects that earn more than their cost of capital; (2) increase profits from existing capital investments; (3) reduce the assets devoted to activities that earn less than their cost of capital; and (4) reduce the cost of capital itself.

In my experience, most CEOs, CFOs, and other C-suite executives involved in strategy formulation know these finance basics. (Or, they learn fast after a few investor meetings.) But far fewer understand and operationalize the core sales factors that materially affect each value creation lever.

Read the full article on Harvard Business Review.

4 Steps to Identifying – and Engaging – Your Core Customers


In the first decade of the 21st century, less than half of all startups in the U.S. survived beyond three years. And of the nearly 44,000 companies founded in 2000 and listed in the Capital IQ database, less than six percent achieved more than $10 million in revenues by 2010. As venture capitalist David Lee once said, “It’s never been easier to start a company and never harder to build one.”

One of the main reasons for this failure rate is entrepreneurs don’t identify their target demographic correctly. Without clarifying your core customers, selling is ultimately a function of individual, heroic efforts in the field, not a scalable platform for growth.

The following four steps can reverse this downward trend…

Read the full article on

The Importance of Aligning Strategy and Sales

CRM Magazine

Every year, U.S. companies spend more than $900 billion on their sales forces, but typically see only 50 to 60 percent of the financial performance they’re promised. The problem, Harvard Business School Professor Frank Cespedes says, is the “disconnect between selling behaviors and strategy. In his book Aligning Strategy and Sales, Cespedes discusses why bringing these two elements together is crucial for every company’s longevity, and offers his advice for making the realignment a reality. He shared his insight with Associate Editor Maria Minsker.

Read the full interview on CRM Magazine.

How to Shrink the Gap between Sales and Strategy—An Interview with Frank Cespedes

For a business to grow, it must have a strategy and that strategy must be aligned with sales. The problem is often companies don’t have a strategy, or if they do, there’s a gap between that strategy and what their sales teams are doing.

“Research shows relatively few companies successfully execute their strategies. And on average companies deliver only about 50% of the financial performance that their strategies and sales forecasts promise,” says Frank Cespedes, author of Aligning Strategy and Sales. “Now that’s a lot of wasted money and effort. … Companies regularly overpromise and under-deliver when it comes to sales and profitable growth.”

The problem stems partly from impractical strategy planning processes, he says. A firm might take five months doing planning. In the meantime, the market continues to move and sales must respond issue by issue and account by account. That means the eventual strategy is irrelevant to sales executives.

Read the full article and listen to the interview on

Book Review: Getting Beyond Yes

Harvard Business School

Every company needs a strategy—a forward-looking plan for the future—and every company needs to keep that bottom line growing through sales. But all too often, the folks devising the grand plan and the folks sealing the deals are not on the same page.

In his new book, Aligning Strategy and Sales: The Choices, Systems, and Behaviors that Drive Effective Selling, Frank V. Cespedes laments the fact that sales and strategy rarely make a joint and complementary appearance in MBA classrooms or academic journals. Professors stick safely to the realm of publishable strategy theories; the sales side is left in the hands of consultants and trainers. This, he says, is just the start of a larger problem: the inability of businesses to tie their sales practices to their overall strategy.

Read the full review in the HBS Alumni Bulletin.

You Can’t Do Strategy Without Input from Sales

Aligning Strategy and Sales

One of the best books ever written about selling is David Dorsey’s The Force. Dorsey turns a year in a Xerox sales district in Cleveland into a riveting drama about people, accounts, the operatic highs and lows of the sales cycle, and the triumph of making quota. Dorsey focuses on Fred Thomas and his sales team and the sometimes strange but effective motivational techniques of his district manager, Frank Pacetta. It’s a great ethnographic study of B2B selling for capital goods.

But even as Thomas and Pacetta make their sales, Xerox is missing the larger strategic point, although the facts are staring at them in every office where Thomas and his team make sales calls: more and more copies are being handled by printers linked to personal computers, not by copiers. Thomas is doing his best to maintain Xerox’s share in copiers. But the disconnect between sales and strategy (in this case, a lack of strategy to deal with a technology that is redefining the market and customer behavior) is the hidden subtext of the book.

Even Dorsey, as great an observer as he is, misses it. Instead, he explains that by the mid-1990s Xerox competed with Canon, Kodak, Minolta, Ricoh, Savin, and other copier manufacturers, without mentioning HP, Brother, and other makers of computer printers that were eating Xerox’s lunch. It makes Dorsey’s summation of his story a non sequitur: “A once-thriving American business loses share to the Pacific Rim, gets scared, adopts TQM practices, raises productivity, and begins to win back business. The way the Cleveland district sells copiers illustrates . . . this comeback.” No. How could it be when selling, however clever and creative, is divorced from the main strategic reality facing the firm?

Read the article on Harvard Business Review.

Sales Still Matters More than Social Media

Long Live Sales

It’s become commonplace for observers to tout the transformative potential of digital technologies and bemoan the allegedly slow pace at which companies support these initiatives. Two recent blogs published by are representative and, I believe, wrong.

Walter Frick, an HBR editor, contrasts the enthusiasm of executives for spending money on digital initiatives versus their relatively unsupportive boards. “Digital growth is appropriately a priority for a diverse swath of organizations, and boards need to get with the program,” he writes. Didier Bonnet of Capgemini agrees, and is refreshingly direct in suggesting the cause: the average age of independent directors in S&P 500 companies is almost 63, they did not grow up with online technology, and many should be replaced for their lack of “digital awareness.”

Read the full article on Harvard Business Review.

A Lesson in Execution: Why Your Strategy is Failing

Strategy Execution

Teamwork. Whether in meetings or retreats, there’s no doubt you’ve heard these words repeatedly preached by senior executives. However, few firms actually focus on alignment where it counts most: linking big-picture strategy with the nitty-gritty of customer acquisition and retention in sales efforts.

Poor alignment of sales and strategy incurs both direct and opportunity costs, putting your company at a severe disadvantage. As proven by income statements, selling is by far the most expensive part of implementation for firms. Companies in the United States invest in their sales forces three times more than consumer advertising, 20 times more than online media, and 100 times more than social media. Despite this spending on sales, 56 percent of senior executives agree their biggest challenge is ensuring that day-to-day decisions are in line with strategy and allocating resources in a way that supports strategy.

Read the full article on Business 2 Community.