Customer Engagement

Nicola Cook: Building a Sales Engine for growth

When you’re running a business, disruption and uncertainty can be frightening things – especially when due to something unprecedented (like a pandemic). Of course, the first response is survival; immediate action which will help you weather the storm. But how do you survive, and what happens next? 

The truth is that there is opportunity to be found in every crisis. If you implement the right strategy, the type of disruption we’re experiencing now can actually be a significant business advantage. So how do you come out the other side smelling of roses? Best-selling international author, CEO of Company Shortcuts, and Vistage speaker, Nicola Cook, knows exactly what it takes. 

Nicola’s Sales Acceleration Model (SAM©) is designed not just to help you survive disruption but also to use it to your advantage, and thrive. Her model provides all the tools you need to define a clear, practical strategy for sales acceleration and growth. Nicola recently hosted a Vistage webinar, here’s a taster of what was covered…

Mistakes that sales teams make

When you think about how and why your business is going to succeed, what’s the first thing you think of? While most people know the importance of having a business plan, Nicola is clear: that alone will not facilitate growth. Without an actionable sales strategy, your vision of where you want your business to go is unlikely to be realised.

“My SAM© model is built on four building blocks of sales strategy and most people don’t understand what that means. They’ll say, “we have a business plan”. Well, your sales strategy is how you’re going to execute that business plan to realise your planned revenue goals.”

Nicola explains why having a detailed sales strategy is fundamental to business success.

“Most people can’t articulate what that plan needs to be.”

“One of the first questions I ask is: what is the number you’re going for? Then I ask: how are you going to do that? Most people can’t articulate what that plan needs to be. They haven’t thought about it in terms of customer acquisition, team structure, cost per acquisition, value per average client – they just don’t know. They’ll often say, ‘we’re just going to sell more’, and that won’t cut it.”

Apart from not having a strategy, Nicola highlights another mistake that businesses (particularly those that are scaling up) make:

“Often people try to hire their way out of this problem. They hire personnel in marketing or sales or sales leadership who they think will deliver all of this. Sometimes they will – but if that person doesn’t have experience in creating a Sales Engine or building an end-to-end sales and marketing function in a fast-growing business, they’ll have the same “we’ll just sell more” philosophy.”

The solution

Nicola believes the starting point to building a scalable, multi-channel Sales Engine is to uncover your Sales Algorithm – then figure out what’s missing. That’s why her SAM© model begins with asking six key questions:

  • Does your company have a clearly defined UDP (unique differentiating proposition)? As Nicola says: “This is not just the benefit of what you do but a value proposition that is market dependable, that offers a point of difference and can give you real leverage in terms of growth.”
  • Do we really understand our Target Client Avatar? This has to go far beyond a superficial understanding of personas, as Nicola explains: “So much of your sales governance, sales templates, as well as your content and marketing strategy and sales processes hangs off the back of understanding your Target Client Avatar and their reasons for buying.”
  • What is our route to market? “What’s our sales process? What are our channels to market and what is the sales methodology that supports them? How do we deliver our value proposition to our customers?”
  • Can we do it at a profit? “This doesn’t just mean: can we sell and make money? It means: can we sell profitably? What is our cost of sales vs our lifetime customer value and at what point do we make profit?”
  • Can we do it over a predictable timescale?
  • Finally, is it resourced well and correctly?

Answering these questions will allow you to “unpack the sales strategy”, as Nicola says. “This all comes under building block number one in my SAM© model, which is Strategy. Everything else in the model thereafter is about ‘how do we build it?’”

Nicola gives an overview of the remaining three building blocks in SAM©: “Building block number two is Team. What kind of team do you need and with what competencies? Then how do you reward them, build culture and lead them effectively.”


“Number three is Tools. This used to be about what we carried in our sales bags: samples, order forms, business cards. Today, Tools means content, data, thought leadership, marketing mechanisms.”

Nicola explains why having the right Tools is so critical.

“The psychology these days is that ‘people love buying but don’t want to be sold to’. People used to come into your customer journey when they were 25% sure they might need you as a supplier, now that’s delayed to 75%. They’re entering at the point of negotiation but the organisation is still trying to qualify and educate them. The tools element of the SAM© model helps bridge that gap.”

“Building block number four is Tactics: are people behaving in the way we need them to? Are we all doing what we should on a daily basis, to deliver on the strategy? Or do they need additional skills support in order to perform at their best?”

How the SAM© model can future proof your business

While Covid is a current challenge for many businesses, it’s important to remember that the absence of a clearly defined sales strategy is a problem in any climate – it will always limit growth. Some businesses were already in the midst of tackling this problem when the pandemic hit, and others have been forced to reevaluate the way they function in order to survive. Nicola is clear about what it takes to future proof your business and survive adversity.

“Many businesses saw their sectors shrink rapidly or practically disappear overnight, or the way they were communicating with customers was completely disrupted. Answering the six key questions allows businesses to reevaluate how they operate across the entire sales journey and come up with a different approach.

“Businesses that can think creatively around these problems are the ones that pave the way.”

“Everything is up for grabs at the moment. It’s the businesses that pivot and adapt the most – either their offer, marketplace or how they sell it – that will come out stronger. Businesses that can think creatively around these problems are the ones that pave the way, and become market disruptors. As Churchill said: ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’.”

Nicola believes that getting your Sales Engine right will help your business emerge stronger than ever before, at the forefront of your marketplace. But this can only be achieved if leaders understand the intrinsic, all-encompassing nature of what ‘sales’ really means:

“People understand that the definition of a brand is ‘A promise of consistency’ but what they miss is the consistency of how they sell their proposition. They focus on the consistency of their product or service when they’re scaling but they also have to make sure there is consistency in how they communicate the value or sell the proposition. Sales is not a department, it’s a culture, it’s all-encompassing – if your business were a human body, then the Sales Engine is the beating heart.”

Watch Nicola’s full webinar, here.

Images via Adobe Stock and Pixabay

Category: Customer Engagement Sales


About the Author: Vistage UK Staff

Vistage is the world’s largest executive coaching organisation for small and medium sized businesses.
For more than 60 years we’ve been helping MDs, CEOs, business owners and key executives solve their toughest challenges

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