Strategy: It’s What Not to Do and Who Not to Do It With – by Anthony Iannarino

Anthony Iannarino Photograph

Strategy is about deciding what we are going to do to compete and win. It’s how we create an advantage and it is how we create focus. As sales managers and sales leaders, we are charged with ensuring that our sales strategies and sales tactics are aligned with the company’s overall strategy; they serve as a guide to what we will do.

Strategy is also a guide to what we will not do.

Who We Won’t Serve

Bringing strategy to life means deciding who you will not serve. It dictates who you will not pursue as clients as much as it dictates whom you will. It is the underlying foundation for both targeting (who you will call on) and qualifying (who you will not call on).

If your company is not the price leader, your strategy will dictate that you forego calling on prospects whose primary deciding factor for choosing a partner is price. A price-driven prospect needs value creation around obtaining a lower price, and your value-creation lies elsewhere.

Some large, well-known companies bring this to life. Apple Computers purposely and willing gives up market share in laptop computers by targeting and selling to at a higher price point; they are willing to lose all of the potential laptop buyers whose primary concern is price. The other side is Wal-Mart. They are the low price leader, but if you want a clean, bright store instead of a warehouse for your household shopping, Wal-Mart is willing to lose your business.

This guidance is critical to leading the sales force effectively. When you can tell them who not to call and why, you free up the time and the resources to focus on who you do want them to pursue.

What We Won’t Do

Targeting and qualifying are also more effective when the sales force has been provided concrete guidance as to what we won’t do.

If there are some things that you can’t, won’t, or don’t want to do because your strategy dictates otherwise, then helping the sales force to understand the strategy prevents them from wasting time pursuing the wrong prospects.

If a prospect requires a solution that you cannot provide, if they have very specific needs that you aren’t able to meet, or if they operate in a way that requires something other than what you do, eliminating the time working on these prospects frees up time for better activities.

Here is a quick example from a business I know well. The business provides staffing. But they don’t provide anyone if their duty it is to drive. If they call on a prospective client that needs drivers, the prospect is immediately disqualified, regardless of how much they spend or how easy it might be to acquire the prospect. They have also eliminated the need to have further discussions about driving, and the sales force can move past that prospect without any further direction.

Because we want—and need—to identify and move opportunities through the pipeline from target to close, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to serve everybody. We believe that maybe we could find a way to make what we do work, or maybe we could change the prospect’s mind about what they need. And sometimes, you may be able to find a way. But the great majority of the time, doing so is a more complicated decision that means changing your strategy.

Your strategy should guide what you do, as well as what you will not do. It should also guide who you target and who you disqualify. These decisions are critical, and considering them and providing the sales force clear guidance can help you produce results faster and more effectively.


Anthony Iannarino is the President and Chief Sales Officer for SOLUTIONS Staffing, a best-in-class staffing firm, and the Director of B2B Sales Coach & Consultancy, a boutique sales coaching and consulting company where he works to help salespeople and sales organizations improve and reach their full potential.  Anthony also works as an adjunct faculty member at Capital University’s School of Management and Leadership where he teaches Personal Selling in the undergraduate program, and Persuasive Marketing and Social Media Marketing in the MBA program.  You can read his blog at

Anthony is a graduate of Capital University Law School and attended Harvard Business School, completing their OPM program in 2005, which is Harvard’s version of an Executive MBA.