All Sales Directors and indeed anybody aiming to transform their company’s salesforce know how difficult it can be to achieve lasting change from new sales skills training, processes and CRM implementations. Salespeople are after all naturally skilled at getting round procedures not following them…
This paper outlines a simple, yet challenging, 7-stage model that will work if organisations are committed to success…….and frankly there is little point doing any sales training or process implementation without this..
The steps appear to be full of common sense – and they are – but the key is actually doing it! They can be viewed as a series of interdependent activities, each needing their own focus – and in many case different resourcing. However, they will work best if they viewed as part of a consistent, unified, tenaciously run ‘campaign’.
Fig 1 – the Greenbank Sustainability Model
1. Vision and Goals
Why are we doing this? How will we know when we get there?…
When new sales initiatives evolve there is normally a clear reason for the change – hitting strategic targets, improving market share etc. There is (sometimes!) even a clear view of what the end result might look like!!
In our experience though – these don’t always get clearly articulated to the salesforce and sales managers.
Why is this important? Well – with a clear vision, top salespeople will find their own ways to meet the programme end-objectives without being spoon-fed. Without this, at best they will carry out the new defined process, but may of course not see the need and end up working around it.
This last point has frustrated many a Sales Development project. Sales managers are generally reluctant to ‘force’ new processes onto a valuable, high-performing salesperson who does not want to make use of it….
So, you really do need the ‘voluntary’ commitment and buy-in of the salesforce.
Its key therefore to produce a clear vision and meaningful targets that answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question that’s never far from a salespersons mind (or lips!).
So – the first key step here is….
“Ensure that every salesperson and manager knows why the organisation is making the change – what the end result will look like – and their key role in it”
2. Senior Management Commitment
Just who at the top really supports this??….
One of the best definitions of commitment I’ve personally come across uses the great British breakfast as a metaphor… …
“the hen was involved….but the pig was committed”
Now, regardless of exactly how committed you need senior management to be (!) its true that many change programmes founder because of over-optimism by the programme-leaders on the true level of commitment at the top. So – there are some questions worth asking..
- How many directors on the main board would have the programme on their top 5 priorities?
- Could they state the bottom line impact and objectives of the programme if asked?
- Are the committed directors directly responsible for the sales force?
- Is there enough commitment to survive a major restructure?
- Does your executive sponsor regularly chase you for updates or do you have to make sure they are kept in touch?
- Do they regularly and pro-actively mention the initiative at board meetings or staff conferences?
- Do they show real ownership of the future 12-month plan or just refer to previous successes??
If you can answer positive for all of these, then the programme is in good shape – and maybe unique! Otherwise, there could be problems looming – because setbacks will happen. Sales managers will complain about the resource implication of the programme, often using training as an excuse for poor sales figures. Have you really got top-level cover when things get tough??
So – how do you get this commitment? Here are some ideas;
- Get commitment up front from a clear executive sponsor, who has line responsibility for the majority of the salesforce.
- Question middle management programme owners who may be blinkered when claiming top-level commitment already exists.
- Ensure that several senior executives – not just your main sponsor – are seen to be committed. Get them to talk about the programme at their own management meetings, or on the company intranet. Make sure that every board member understands the programme and their role in it.
- Make sure the salesforce see the messages coming from the very top – use quotes from board members to reinforce this…
With all training programmes being looked at critically, any initiative without full commitment from the top is at risk – don’t take a head in the sand approach to this and wrongly assume that the occasional word of praise is the same – its not! So the 2nd step is..
“secure real demonstrable top level leadership – and then make full use of this…”
3. Pin Down Leading Indicators
Just how will this impact the bottom line?
Any sales transformation programme that needs ongoing executive commitment needs to be measured. But – what to measure?
Sales figures themselves are too blunt an instrument and clearly influenced by other factors such as the macro economic climate.
In the face of this, too many sales change programmes fall back on measuring the progress or quality of the programme itself – for example using feedback immediately after training courses. This is attractive and easy to do – but it ducks the issue.
An alternative and highly effective approach, is to clearly identify the business leading indicators, directly influenced by the change programme and which in turn will have an undisputed impact on revenue or profit.
A good example here that we have effectively used with clients is how early the salesforce get involved in a customers buying cycle for a bid – thus shaping their prospects’ buying criteria. This could be a stated objective of a sales training programme that can be easily measured – and who would argue that this would not have a real impact on the eventual win rate?
Other leading indicator examples we have used include;
- average bid size
- length of sales cycle
- total number of active opportunities
- number of opportunities at different sales stages
- number/seniority of ‘positive’ contacts per accounts etc
So – the third challenge for change managers on sales projects is to..
“clarify up front the measurable leading indicators”
These should be clearly tailored to the specific performance improvements you are looking to make and importantly directly influenced by the training or process work..
Without this effort, any subsequent ROI discussion is likely to fail, but with these indicators in place and consistently measured, a transformation programme can hold its head up high and show a real bottom line impact…
4. A clear role for first-line sales management
Do this and you will succeed. Don’t and you will undoubtedly fail….
One of the most common reasons why sales change fails is because the new ways are not supported by first line sales management once a training course is over.
In most organisations, this is the group that has the biggest influence on what a salesperson does on a day-by-day basis. They interpret messages from above, police processes and, importantly, are normally the biggest direct influence on a salesperson’s remuneration.
So, gaining commitment from this group is vital – yet they are often seem merely as the ‘implementers’ of new approaches handed down from middle or senior management.
Its difficult of course – often first line management are playing a key operational role that makes it difficult for them to get actively involved, or interested, in the formation of strategy. So what should you be doing to help gain their commitment?
The approach will of course vary from organisation to organisation, but from our experience, here are some ideas that seem to work….
Bring them along from the very start – encourage the organisation to take the pain of removing them from some operational duties early on in the initiative.
Make sure sales management really understand the programme vision and goals and that they have a ready ‘elevator speech’.
Clarify and communicate their precise role – exactly what will be expected of them in the programme? Eg coaching calls, implementing new processes etc – and how these are going to be measured.
Train them up ahead of the game – and then enlist their help in training their own staff. Have them at the front of the training room, not as an attendee. This will help them become change-leaders as opposed to the ‘shop steward’ stance that can sometimes occur.
Change sales management targets to include the successful adoption of the new approach in their ‘patch’.
If you can achieve a team of motivated sales managers, carrying out a clear role in the change, you will have a good fighting chance of both dealing effectively with the issues that will arise – and also more positively, you will have a broader team looking to maximise the benefits from the new skills or systems…
So – the fourth challenge is
“develop first-line sales managers to be change leaders”
5. Leveraging the wider organisation
A sales development project cannot succeed if viewed in a vacuum and there is an important piece of work here – maybe working with HR – to see beyond the sales function itself to maximise the linkage opportunities.
Areas worth looking at include;
Existing HR competences. For example does the appraisal system work with or against the change in approach you are looking to implement? Be prepared to change appraisals, 360o surveys and objective-setting systems
Non-Sales management and staff. Other departments have a clear role to play in a successful sales campaign and need to understand the objectives, new approach, the language and the review process.
Marketing – and other message givers could ensure that the new language and terminology is incorporated into the work they do – eg marketing communications, competitive intelligence etc
The fifth step is therefore
“Ensure the initiative is supported by HR processes and other parts of the organisation”
6. Creating and Rewarding Excellence
Building your ambassadors
There will be salespeople who really come away thirsting for ‘advanced’ skills and lead the way – you know who they are! But do you do everything you can do to help them?
- Experts can be role models to encourage their less tenacious peers
- They can coach others
- They are likely to be the ones who achieve significant results – case studies that can be used elsewhere
- They will be ambassadors for the programme
Use of CDROMs, ‘advanced’ workshops, sharing of best practice etc are all possible approaches here to create excellence….
Its also vital to recognise and reward excellence…although distinguish here between paying staff to simply use the new approaches from rewarding end results
Some pointers here;
- Make sure you spot good practice – this may not happen automatically – and then communicate it well..
- Consider separate incentive schemes -focussing on the end results – eg sales brought about by using the new skills.
- Align the existing sales commission scheme – for example communicating the importance of ‘strategic partnering’ with clients but actually rewarding only short term revenue is a common trap…
So the 6th challenge…
“Build real excellence in the new skills and create ambassadors”
7. Communication, communication, communication
Keeping it ‘in their face’
Any major programme needs a, sustained communications plan – to reinforce management commitment, create a common language, clarify targets and keep the new ways of working alive.
Make sure though that you challenge the assumptions behind the communication and asking the difficult questions..
Are the different audiences being taken into account? What will senior management want to see? (results, financials, balanced scorecard) sales management? (their team’s performance versus other groups) and salespeople themselves? (hints and tips, their own name in lights, individual war stories etc)
Are your team over relying on communication alone? In some ways it’s the easiest of the sustainability activities – as a recent discussion with a senior executive reminded me…..”Sustainability? oh you mean CDROMs and Web Sites??”
A communication plan alone, without the trickier commitment and buy in activities is an empty shell, providing ammunition for the sceptics who could view it as an execise in ‘spin’.
Its important though – think of it as a channel making everybody aware of the other more intrinsically important sustainability activities – its key that everybody knows just how vital the CEO sees the initiative and what their own personal plans are for the project……..
So this final challenge – is;
“Challenge the communications approach and make it a useful part of the change management plan..”
Salesforce transformation remains high on company’s agendas. Often though this transformation is viewed simply in terms of a ‘quick fix’ of skills training or process implementation – easy, readily understood and short term.
This is very attractive …but in most cases leads to wasted investment – something that neither buying organisations, nor training companies hoping to come back later and sell more services, want in the 2010-11 “show me the return” environment.
This article has aimed to show that the salesforce has unique characteristics that require particular change management focus and has provided a number of suggestions for how you can ensure you are among the 15% of organisations achieving real, demonstrable success! I hope you have found it useful.
Article by Ian Hirst