Success Story

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

Here’s a blinding insight into the obvious. Change is hard. And, when it comes to driving change within a sales force, well, need we say more?

The reality, which we’ve pointed out more than once in these pages, is that most sales force change initiatives fail.

Consider this. Our company has conducted an online survey with clients for several years. One of the survey questions asks about the attitude of the sales force toward the effectiveness of past training efforts at their company. The most popular response? "We’ve failed so often that people have become cynical toward training."

One reason trumps all others for this unfortunate attitude: It’s the leadership team, stupid.

Now, let’s turn it around and look at a very successful sales force change initiative with one of our clients (full disclosure: we wish we could say all of them were this successful) – a Seattle-based technology company (no, not Microsoft. We’ll cleverly call them XYZ Company) – and the reasons for that success. One key reason for the project’s success, which we want to talk about today, is messaging.

We have found that the message leadership sends to the sales force about the change initiative is as important as the follow-through reinforcement they provide. There are four parts to this leadership message. Here they are, along with specific examples from the Seattle client (sufficiently doctored so as to prevent identification of the company).

1. Why are we undertaking this change in our sales force?

• We’re a different company. We’re becoming best in class. We want the sales force to be best in class too.

• The velocity of our business will continue to increase.

• We want everyone operating at the best of their ability – consistently.

• We want to eliminate the peaks and valleys of our selling experience.

• This change will be a cultural/mindset breakthrough for us.

2. What are the internal and external goals of the change?

• Four internal goals include:

– Helping customers see beyond product and price.

– Improving our customer retention rate.

– Creating demand from within our current account base.

– Doing a better job of committing company resources according to the potential return of the opportunity.

• We want to enhance XYZ’s ability to meet our financial goals.

• We want a shared selling mindset, approach and language. We want to be able to call on each other as colleagues, especially in challenging situations.

3. What is leadership’s promise to the sales force?

• We’ve invested in the past in training and education that we failed to instill in the sales force. We will not let you down this time.

• We’re not just asking you to change, we’re asking ourselves to change too. We’re going through this with you and meeting as a leadership team throughout the process.

• We will integrate what we’re learning from this change into our review and compensation structure.

• We will do everything we can to make this change process fun.

4. What does leadership expect of the sales force?

• The selling approach we’re learning in this change is proven. If applied correctly it will yield the results we’re seeking. You are not testing the approach to see if it works for you.

• We (the leadership team) have made a long-term commitment to this change. We expect you to do the same. No excuses.

• If you have an issue or concern, take it up with your manager, not your colleagues, and don’t let it fester.

• Have fun.

That’s it. Oh, and one more blinding insight into the obvious. Share it with the team. Everyone on XYZ’s leadership team signed theirs.

Jerry Stapleton and Nancy McKeon are with Stapleton Resources LLC, a Waukesha-based sales force effectiveness practice. They can be reached at (262) 524-8099 or on the Web at

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