Change management

I’ve often pointed to the handful of dirty little secrets that exist within most sales teams.

Well, sales leaders have a few secrets of their own.

Take for instance leadership’s appetite for changing how they approach selling. The mantra of sales leaders usually sounds something like, “We need to do things differently … We need to change!”

Leadership’s little secret is that they’re all about change … that is, as long as they don’t disrupt anything. What, change without disruption?
We’re human. We can all understand our collective psychological aversion to change. Unless we have very, very compelling reasons to change, we’re pretty much going to sit tight.
Four years ago – during an entirely different economic epoch – most people didn’t have enough reason to change. Now, that has changed!
Most leaders are finally ready. So let’s get started.
“Change management” has been bisected, dissected, trisected, researched, modeled and written about for decades. Yet it continues to outsmart organizations. The principles are easy enough to grasp, but often prove very difficult to execute. As one frustrated client CEO put it, “Knowin’ it ain’t the same as doin’ it.”
Most change management models focus on a top-down model. My experience suggests that a more collaborative model works better in a sales culture.
Deploying change successfully in sales organizations requires tweaking or revising traditional principles. Here are two suggestions to help you succeed with any change effort you might be leading in your sales organization.
Change has to happen in the trenches

The traditional change rule is to define a leader-articulated “big picture, skyscraper” vision. Leadership is critical to any change effort. However, the vision needs to thrive in the trenches where salespeople live (and where they often feel leaders are generally clueless). You have to create a trench version of your vision.
One senior vice president of sales in the office printing and production industry had overseen a remarkable improvement in sales performance in his first two years. Then, he began talking widely of the need, “to get to the next level” in sales proficiency because, “our competitors will catch up to us.”
The trench version of his vision became, “first, take a step back.” “Getting to the next level” and, “first, take a step back” may sound contradictory. As in the example above, however, “taking a step back” became the clear, simple rallying cry for interacting differently with customers. It worked.
The vision for enhancing sales performance needs to be advanced in language the folks in the trenches can rally around.
Pay very, very close attention to the details

Traditionally, change is undone at the tactical level, not the visionary or strategic level. Even a compelling trench-level vision will be undone by poor tactical execution.
I cannot stress enough that tactical execution can – and, more often than not, does – crash change initiatives.
Take for example, the idea of avoiding the pursuit of bad business by the sales team. This is one of the most chronic and perhaps the most poorly dealt with issues in all of sales.
No company will have as its sales mission, “We want our salespeople to spend their time and our resources chasing deals they will never win.” Yet, salespeople tend to spend too much time (as much as 60 percent in our estimation) on deals they will inevitably—essentially, with or without the salesperson’s involvement—win or lose, and not nearly enough time on deals where they can really affect the outcome.
In addition, no sales directive says, “we encourage our salespeople to spend a disproportionate amount of their energy maintaining relationships with unprofitable accounts.”
Leaders will insist, “of course you can walk away from bad business.” But, unfortunately, the sales force will not believe them.
Saying no to bad business also illustrates the need for corporate and sales directions to be aligned. At one client, while the head of sales was telling the sales force to avoid competing in long sales cycles with a low chance of success, the company’s CEO was saying, “we will defeat competitor X at any price!” What do you think happened the next time someone had to compete against X in a protracted sales process?
In the end, sales force change is about overcoming a disconnect between the leader’s desire to do things differently and the sales force’s interpretation of that desire. Both sides need to accept responsibility for closing that gap. And that is just a matter of basic communication.

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