Sales transformation: sometimes necessary – never easy

Sales Transformation

If you look back over the last decade, a number of industries have gone through dramatic change.  As a result, the organizations in those industries have substantially changed how they do business with those companies that sell to them.  They have changed what they buy, how they buy, and what they are willing to pay for it.

If your customers are making changes of that magnitude, then the case is made that it is no longer business-as-usual for your sales team.  If you are to be responsive, it becomes a matter of doing something different rather than simply doing a better job doing what you are doing. The required shift in the sales process isn’t incremental; it’s transformational.

So, what does it take for a company to plan and implement a sales transformation?  First, let’s explore that question from a sales leadership perspective, then drill down and examine what it means for one specific component – sales training.

Recently, CSO Insight published a report entitled Sales Management 2.0: Optimizing Sales performance 2012 Vol. 8 that included two outstanding articles on sales transformation from a leadership perspective.  They pointed out four pitfalls that are particularly important:

  • Pitfall 1 – Under Commitment. If your management team does not fundamentally believe that successfully redesigning your sales process is one of the top strategic challenges your company faces, don’t even start a sales transformation project.
  • Pitfall 2 – Lack of Coordination. Successful sales transformation projects require an enterprise-wise orientation.  If you let each of your departments attempt to deal with their portion of the sales process independently, you may create a configuration that even Rube Goldberg couldn’t figure out.
  • Pitfall 3 – Champagne Dreams and Beer Budgets. Trying to implement a sales transformation cheaply is another common mistake.”  The key is to  “figure out what you want to achieve, determine what it will cost to get there, compare the benefits to the costs and then decide if it a good investment.

  • Pitfall 4 – Expecting to Just Add Water. Designing and implementing a sales transformation effort is not a quick fix.  It is unlikely that Version 1.0 is going to be a perfect fit for your organization.  No sophisticated sales effectiveness strategy will work perfectly the first time.

All the leadership issues must be addressed before crafting a sales training intervention that will help the sales force understand the new sales process and develop the skills required to implement it. However, once done, what are some of the lessons for designing an effective sales training component for the sales transformation initiative?  Let’s take a look:

  • Lesson 1 – Understand the Difference. The profile of the sales training solution is strikingly different if the challenge is to help a sales team take the next step at getting better at doing what they are doing versus doing something different.  Achieving the latter requires greater design innovation and a longer timeframe for skill acquisition.
  • Lesson 2 – Build Up-front Understanding and Enthusiasm. Before the training, the leadership team must set the stage for sales training. This includes communicating what is to be done and why it is being done. The sales team needs to see why the sales process needs changing, what the new process looks like, how others are also being asked to change and what the anticipated payoffs will be.
  • Lesson 3 – Select the Right Partner(s). There are 100s of viable training companies if you are selecting a training vendor for your national sales meeting. The number is dramatically reduced for a sales transformation project. The best fit will, of course, depend on the specifics of the transformation being planned – nobody is the best across the board. However, there are some considerations worth highlighting   understanding your culture, committing the A-team, bring innovative design expertise, and receptivity to alternative pricing models.
  • Lesson 4 – Spotlight the Pivotal Job. The front-line sales manager is the pivotal job for driving the success of any sales transformation effort. They need to be engaged in defining the new sales process and take a leadership role in introducing it to the sales teams.  They will also be the key element in helping the sales people learn the new required skills.  They need trained first – they should participate in the sales reps training – and most importantly, they need to be committed to providing coaching over the long haul.

If the industry you sell into is undergoing transformational changes, it is likely that a parallel effort will be required on your part. And, from a competitive standpoint it does not pay to be the last holdout for the ways of yesteryear.  Three final things to keep in mind

1. Changing Behavior is Tough. Your sales team has been doing what they have been doing for a long time – changing technology is easy compared to asking people to change their behavior.

2. Walking before Running is Okay. Once the change reaches a certain level, it is worth considering doing it in phases or using a “skunk works” approach to work out the problems.

3. Sticking to your Guns. Sometime doing the change a crisis, such as a fall in revenue figures, will occur; this of course is the time when the brave of heart must step forward.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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