…In my view designing for real change in a sales organisation requires more than a generic “change management technique” sprayed on and around a standard training concept. Change management needs to be an integrated part of the initiative. Some change management experts will tell you about how a Kotter or Stacey theory should be used. That is great but how does this apply to the specifics of change in a sales organisation?”

Depressing knowledge
Most people within sales have come to acknowledge that traditional sales training efforts are more or less a waste of money. According to research 87 % of sales training is forgotten within one month of the training. Other studies are a little less dramatic indicating that participants in traditional curriculum-based training forget more than 80 percent of the information they were taught within 90 days. What ever study you believe to be most correct, it is depressing knowledge to possess when you are responsible for finding a way to create new organic revenue growth.

All management is change management
Over the years I have read a lot, heard a lot and been part of many conversations with clients revolving around this issue and one of the most cited suggestions for how to overcome this problem is “You Need Change Management Techniques”. It may be right and may be wrong but it really really needs more detail and substance which it very rarely gets. In my view, designing for real change in a sales organisation requires more than a generic “change management technique” sprayed on and around a standard training concept. Change management needs to be an integrated part of the initiative. Some change management experts will tell you about how Kotter or Stacey theory should be used. That is great but how does this apply to the specifics of change in a sales organisation? I think Robert Schaffer nails it in his HBR article called “All Management is Change Management”. Cutting it short, I think you need to incorporate your sales development into how you or your people are leading the sales force on a day-to-day basis.

On that note, here are some of the reasons for why change in sales organisations often times fail and what you can choose to do instead:

1 Not knowing where your are going
Be sure you have a very precise idea about what the sales organisation is expected to deliver in terms of results in the coming period. If for some reason you are unable to measure or get these figures I suggest you delay the sales development initiative. When you have these figures help the teams become very specific on what they think is realistic that the initiative will deliver on top. Do your best to get these estimates fleshed out on to different levels of results. What revenue change are you looking to achieve? How much pipeline is expected to be built? What specific behaviors are you hoping to see change and to what?

2 Trying to fix the wrong problem
Assess potential roadblocks outside sales´control before you get started and find ways to address these if needed. Are you having competitive edge issues no related to how you sell? No or low differentiation on important solutions? Are you seeing too few or badly qualified leads from marketing? Is it really a sales development initiative you need or is something else the real blocker of revenue creation?

3 Focusing solely on sales techniques and sales rep behavior
Before you even get started get the right people in on deciding on how you will support your initiative technologically. The likelihood of real change happening increases substantially if working procedures and systems change along with expectations on change in sales rep behavior. Get early buy-in with the right people to ensure required changes in underlying and supporting processes and systems can take place when appropriate.

4 Buying a glossy flavor-of-the-month sales training concept
It is tempting to jump start the process by having inviting training vendors in early. It is quite easy to have the executive team buy into sugar coated pitch on a standard sales methodology that highlights all the right things. In many cases I would advice that you instead start by finding out what already works in your organisation. Who is having the selling behavior your are looking to replicate? Who is using a homegrown value calculation methodology? Who has great ways of getting access to the right people within the client organisations? Merge these examples of internal best practices with carefully selected external best practices and choose key people internally to help you discover, conceptualize and champion these so that they can be leveraged and scaled across your organisation.

5. Underestimating the complexity in customer engagement and interactions
Find out what key customer conversations are taking place today, what conversations should be taking place and what needs to change. Which 2-3 conversations with the buyer along her evaluation of you and your solution really makes the difference? Is it the interest creating conversation with buyers via social media? Is it the conversation focused on identifying the business issue or proofing the value of your solution? Establishing a vision with decision makers? Installing a “sales call blueprint” very seldom gets the work done.

6 Overestimating sales person ability to comprehend complex processes and tools
When the right conversations have been identified, co-create simple and practical no-bullshit conversation guides supported by a toolbox orientated towards the right behavior to support sales people carry out these conversations at the right time in the buying cycle. And then rehearse these relentlessly prior to trying them out on real customer interactions. Have the members of the sales team carry these out with team mates and provide each other feedback.

7 Overlooking the role of sales management in having real change taking place
Find out what key sales management conversations needs to change. Very often performance management conversations takes up 80-90% of conversations between sales management and reps. Do you need skill development sessions to get you mediocre performing reps to really take in new tools and get up to speed? Do your need your sales managers to conduct coaching on sales opportunities to push the right deals forward and leverage new tools? Pipeline coaching to secure quarterly target achievement?

8 Leaving it to the team to find its own way
Many sales development initiatives fail because no management cadence to secure discipline and action around the new concept is being designed and installed. Co-create and install a weekly rhythm with specific agenda points and detailed ideas for content per conversation and make sure to merge this rhythm with already existing meeting structure with the aim of a minimum of extra meeting time coming into play.

“Which 2-3 conversations with the buyer along her evaluation of you and your solution really makes the difference? Is it the interest creating conversation with buyers via social media? Is it the conversation focused on identifying the business issue or proofing the value of your solution?”

9 Forgetting that new hires need to get on-boarded quick and smooth
Co-create a simple and preferably digital playbook containing your sales approach so that everyone can quickly access and understand concepts, procedures and tools. This is especially useful for new employees and will help them get quicker up to speed.

10 Leave education to e-learning and/or external consultants
Avoid standalone e-learning and classic class room training. It does not work. Instead, help your local teams choose the key topics from the curriculum and toolbox that they find most important to their situation. If they find that value proposition creation is an important topic right now have the local sales managers learn it by heart so that they can teach their own reps your methodology on this specific issue in a designated monthly time slot with the entire team. Help them create a plan for 4-5 top topics and get them support if they are not up for carrying out the training job yet.

11 Think that all is done when program “ends”
Be prepared with a plan for re-enforcement bursts and methodology innovation sprints in a carefully and a proactively designed anchoring phase. The sales approach needs to stay fresh and up-to-date to not quickly be rendered obsolete.

If you want to discuss this in person please don´t hesitate to get in touch with us.

Thomas Børve, tbj@ikvadrant.dk, +45 40410043