Leading a sales team through the reality of change

The better salespeople understand the reasons and benefits, the easier they will find the transition


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Does your sales team look the same as it did five or 10 years ago? Are all the same players doing the same things? Do those same people and activities continue to grow revenues and expand opportunities for the company?

If so, like they say, “If it ain’t broke …” However, it’s a very rare business that hasn’t undergone significant, if not major, changes in marketing, selling and sales management strategies.

Change is an expected and very exciting phenomenon to some people, and it can be very scary or perhaps unacceptable to others working on the same team. Change happens to all of us, no matter where or how far we go to try and avoid it. Those unwilling to change direction and behaviors according to newly established management policies may want to reconsider their rigidity or confront their fears.

On a macro level, consider two tectonic shifts affecting sales and business growth over the last 15 years: the Internet’s flourish and the financial crisis of 2008.

With regard to the Internet, virtually every product and service on earth can be sourced, compared, priced and purchased without being facilitated by a salesperson. A savvy consumer can know more about the product he or she is buying than the person selling it.

The 2008 financial meltdown jolted the economy so much that sound fiscal responsibility has become the watch phrase of every cost center in the organization. This extends all the way down to things like how many sheets of paper are being used in each department. Ironically, some are calling these times “the new normal.”

How’s that working out for you?

From recent experience, we can tell you that things are working out just fine for clients who have embraced the idea that change isn’t something to which we must grudgingly adapt; change just is. Unless it is ultimately welcomed and implemented throughout a sales organization, the market’s train will leave the station without them.

Change management

Most executives can anticipate how a change in sales strategies, tactics, hiring practices and compensation plans will be met by their teams. Often they must steel themselves against the inevitable blowback and resentments.

It’s vital to understand that people experience a wide range of emotions when mandatory changes are implemented, and it helps to anticipate those emotions.

When salespeople have successfully built a customer base that’s providing a relatively comfortable income for them and feel secure in their position, it doesn’t always mean that the company’s profits are being maintained. As margins are squeezed by outside forces and other business costs, some flexibility in sales compensation should be the rule rather than the exception.

When salespeople fail to meet their numbers, some will blame the company for lack of marketing support or various other factors. While there may be numerous reasons and shared responsibility for declining sales, most salespeople are willing to change behavior only after they take responsibility for their part in solving the problem.

As the organization must change and adapt to the market, so must the sales team.

To fully grasp what’s required to successfully implement a change process, it’s best to examine in depth each of the key points addressed below. But this overview will have the reader on the right track.

First, understand that change is a process that requires time to fully take effect. People cannot change overnight, even if they want to. The manager’s role is to interpret, communicate and enable:

 • Clearly defined objectives

 • Team acceptance

 • The action plan

While some changes are necessary, others are based on strategic vision. As changes are considered, these principles of change management should be followed:

 • Know where you are now and where you want to be as a result of the change

 • Identify the why, when and what elements of getting there

 • Involve the people affected by and integral to carrying out the change

 • Create and implement a plan to accomplish the change

 • Monitor progress along the way

 • Adjust tactics as needed to maintain performance against the plan

Following these principles will help managers avoid ad hoc implementation of change through executive decree, which rarely goes smoothly or works out well. The better that salespeople understand the reasons for and the benefits of change, the easier they will find the transition. The more they feel involved in the change planning and implementation process, the more eager they’ll be to carry it out.

Kevin Hallenbeck, principal of Sandler Training-Manchester, can be reached at 603-232-1520 or through bestsalespeople.com.

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