sales leader

Sales Leader's First 90 Days: Dig Deep to Determine Long-Term Strategy

This is a continuation our multi-part exploration of how sales leaders approach their first 90 days.

So many of our clients have found themselves in new sales leader positions that we wondered what we could learn from their experiences.

Article 3 of 4

In post 1, we tackled onboarding yourself with your new company to prepare for day one. Post 2 offers concrete steps for the “Secure & Get Right” Method.

Now, we’ll dig deep into the organization to surface the knowledge you need for longer-term strategy. We’ll also use our discovery process to understand the all-important political and cultural landscape. Finally, we’ll begin building relationships with key influencers.

SO FAR: You Should Have Accomplished…

By day 30, you have ideally onboarded yourself and learned the organization well enough to take decisive action for early wins and credibility.

Depending on the sales situation you’ve inherited, you should also have:

  • Confirmed management’s business priorities
  • Secured your team by guarding against the loss of high performers
  • Secured any at-risk customers from defecting to competitors
  • Taken initial steps to get your organizational structure and financials right

BOLO: Transition Traps Numbers 3 – 5

In days 30-60, be on the lookout specifically for transition traps 3-5. 

  1. Setting expectations that you’ll grow revenue by a specific percentage by a deadline without fully understanding the average sales cycle
  2. Failing to understand expectations for business operations, including product development, manufacturing and distribution, solution implementation, customer support, and marketing
  3. Not building the relationships you'll to need to call when your team encounters issues

The other transition traps are important as well, but you’re more likely to encounter these three initially.

It’s Time to Dig Deep

If you’ve read posts 1 and 2, you understand the importance of gathering information and learning. We’ve advocated obtaining specific information at a semi-shallow level of detail. Your first 30 days also demand action, and there’s only so much time.

It’s now time to dig deep. You need to set longer-term strategy and assess which business aspects alignment. You must grasp the political and cultural aspects of the organization.

Do Your Own Discovery

This requires an extensive discovery effort. The reports, presentations, and other documents you’ve gathered so far are fine. You’ve learned from your initial interviews with your team.

The type of information you need to fully understand your sales organization comes from asking questions. A lot of them. You may need to delegate some of this effort. However, sales leaders should accomplish as much discovery as possible for themselves.

First and foremost, you can’t learn the political or cultural landscape if you delegate all discovery to others. Hearing nuances and patterns of knowledge yourself helps distinguish important information. You’ll continually refine your facts, so you evaluate performance.

The Payoff is Political

There’s another reason to do your own discovery.

You’ll get an excellent payoff in visibility with peers and upper management, which is crucial to succeeding. As a sales leader, you’ll be under a microscope. In the absence of personal access to you, people will define their view based on words from others. Take this opportunity to control your own first impression.

That pales in comparison to the credibility you’ll gain with the people you manage. Drive your discovery effort well beyond your direct reports. Whatever it takes. You have a short window to use your relative ignorance for advantage. Do not waste it. You will never be the new guy again.

Your NEXT 30 Days Objectives

Here are your objectives for the next 30 days – the period between day 30 and 60:

  1. Dig deep into your sales organization so you can determine a longer-term strategy
  2. Actively look for and note instances of misalignment between the different aspects of your sales organization
  3. Identify those influencers needed to ensure your team’s future success and begin building relationships with them
  4. Use your discovery efforts to political advantage with peers and upper management and to establish credibility with your team

Re-clarify management’s priorities and expectations to ensure they haven’t changed in the last 30 days.

Conducting Discovery: Our Recommended Question Bank

We’ve built our First 90 Days Question Bank toward developing longer-term strategy and fixing alignment issues. Therefore, our discovery questions fall into one of four buckets:

  1. Strategy & Structure
  2. Process & Technology
  3. Enablement & People
  4. Management & Coaching

Keep in mind there are aspects of these areas best gleaned from reports (territory coverage, manager span of control, win/loss ratio, pipeline metrics, seller book-of-business assignments, compensation structures, etc.).

We focus our question bank on knowledge that cannot be gleaned from reports.

Question Bank

Our suggestion:
 Choose your questions, determine the interviewee, and combine findings with hard data from reports. This shows gaps or alignment issues.

Spotting Gaps and Alignment Issues – A Case Study

Candice Sherman ran into these issues when her employer, communications, and cloud services company Unify, was acquired by Atos.

Under new management and engulfed in a different culture, Candice found herself alone with little direction from the new company. There were instructions to keep selling their current line, but also start selling a “new bag” that included cyber security, big data, and consulting service. Her team had little expertise.

Difficulty Gathering Knowledge and Building Needed Relationships

Candice wanted to plan for the new company and get aligned with management expectations. The opportunities turned out to be limited.

She was going to be in the position of keeping morale and her team together without much support.

Absent clear guidance, she developed a vision for her team. She struggled to find an audience for it.

“It wasn’t that they didn’t care, they just had bigger fish to fry,” she said.

This certainly a common situation for companies in the throes of a post-merger integration.

In the Absence of Clear Direction, Rely on Yourself

Candice decided to execute a hands-on management strategy. There was no budget to bring her team together to relay the vision. She put it in motion virtually with “lunch and learns” and cadence calls to stay close to her team.

She also spent time evaluating seller skills to understand their relation to the new bag. Constant communication was the key ingredient in keeping the team together.

Misalignment Surprise

The misalignment surprise hit when Candice realized her team’s updated compensation structure didn’t support a new directive from management. This is important to achieve quicker growth in recognized revenue. They were getting paid when the sale was made. No one had any incentive to drive the pace of delivery for faster revenue.

In most companies, there tended to be a lag between the sale and when revenue could be recognized. This situation was exacerbated by the fact that Unify’s services had a longer revenue recognition cycle than Atos.

The situation was frustrating, however, there was no point in getting ruffled. Candice brought the misalignment to management’s attention. She asked, “What would you like me to do differently?”

She went out of her way to emphasize respect for the leadership team at Atos.

“They are truly brilliant. I’m confident they’ll continue to execute their digital transformation strategy at high levels.” 

Ultimately, she elected to leave, having decided her preferences for management were out of sync with Atos culture.

She gained valuable lessons in maintaining credibility with the team.

“I (kept) an open forum where they could share their frustrations.” And she let them know, “You've been heard, I understand, I will run that up the chain of command.”

She might not be able to guarantee action, but that kind of honesty earned her loyalty.

Identifying the Influencers Needed to Succeed

Whether Candice would have benefited over time from stronger relationships with the influencers from her acquiring company, we cannot say. Given the post-merger distractions at Atos, she did her best.

Her circumstances aside, we are strong advocates of making deliberate plans to identify and schedule the time to build relationships.

What groups does your team rely on to drive a deal forward? Solution experts? Pricing strategists? Customer marketers? Product managers? Supply chain operations? Customer care? Who heads these teams and what do you know about their management priorities and incentives?

Sooner or later, you’re going to need assistance to drive a deal to close or to retain a critical customer.

Therefore, We Have This Suggestion

Anticipate what you’ll need from who, then take steps to nurture these relationships.

Look at your calendar. Do you have meetings with key influencers? If not, figure out who you need to foster a stronger relationship with and schedule those meetings.

Do it now. This isn’t a matter of being social, it’s a matter of risk mitigation.


Digging deep is a time-consuming effort that many sales leaders are tempted to give less consideration needed. Occasionally, they’re uncomfortable with the volume of personal interaction required for this task.

If you find yourself in this situation, find delegates to help you. In your first 90 days, remember:

  1. Small actions taken now have a huge impact later
  2. Failure to create momentum in the first 90 days virtually guarantees an uphill battle for the rest of your tenure

What’s Next?

The fourth (and final) post will show you how to organize your key learnings and use them to build a roadmap. Feel free to reach out to us directly to learn more.

About The Author

Author photo Hope is a sales effectiveness expert who builds winning sales organizations. She works side-by-side with sales teams around account segmentation and planning, helping complex organizations rethink the way they serve their largest accounts. Her specialties include sales transformation, sales capability development, leadership development/coaching, and performance management. Hope’s expertise and execution focus mean she’s the consultant that clients want to keep around.

Smarter Selling Insights

Subscribe to Our Blog