Lessons from IBM – change is the “new normal” in sales

Sales Lessons from IBM

IBM conducted a Global Making Change Work Study to examine how organizations manage change.  The study explored differences in how change was implemented by over 1,500 practitioners worldwide. Let’s examine what they found and relate it to the world of sales.

The key finding …

For survival, tomorrow’s companies must better prepare themselves as the pace, variety, and pervasiveness of change continues to increase.  When asked, only 61% of the leaders felt they were in a position to properly manage the anticipated change.

Some, however, have begun to “crack the code” on managing change. Interestingly, technology wasn’t the answer. Rather, success was reported to depend largely on people.

Relating the study findings to Sales

1. Need for change in the sales function likely will be significant. The study reported – “No longer will companies have the luxury of expecting day-to-day operations to fall into a static or predictable pattern that is interrupted only occasionally by short bursts of change. To prosper, leaders will need to abandon such outdated notions of change. In reality, the new normal is continuous change – not the absence of change.”

These organizations and others like them are someone’s customers.  If these companies are anticipating the need to cope with continuous changes, it is likely these changes significantly will impact what they buy and how they buy.  This means that a sales force will need to constantly adjust and adapt their selling processes to the new realities in the buying dynamics of their customer base.

2. Review of how to manage change in the sales function is probably warranted. The study noted – “The ability to manage change must be a core competence – and yet, as the level of expected change continues to rise, many are struggling to keep up. Eight out of ten CEOs anticipate substantial or very substantial change over the next three years, yet they rated their ability to manage change 22 percent lower than their expected need for it.”  A change capability gap exists.

Although there is not a direct link between a CEO’s judgment about the ability to cope with company-wide change and the capability to manage a change in the sales function, the finding does send up a red flare. At a minimum, a prudent move might be for sales leaders to re-examine the plans and budgets in place to asses the extent and nature of the changes their sales team will likely be facing and the planned interventions to deal with those changes.

3. Best practices exist for managing change in the sales function. When it comes to best practices for managing change, the study identified four factors – labeled the “Change Diamond” – as having the largest impact on managing change.  According to IBM, neglecting even one factor can inhibit achieving change excellence. On the other hand, when used together, the results can be synergistic. The four factors appear as appropriate for managing change in the sales function as in any other type of change management effort.

  • Real Insights, Real ActionsStrive for a full realistic awareness and understanding of the upcoming challenges and complexities driven by the anticipated changes, then follow up with actions to address them.
  • Solid Methods, Solid BenefitsUse a systematic approach to managing change that is focused directly on achieving the desired outcomes.  A solid method must be innovative yet have a proven track record for achieving the desired results.
  • Better Skills, Better Change Demonstrate top management sponsorship, assign dedicated change managers and empower employees to enact change and recognize them when they do.
  • Right Investment, Right ImpactDevelop a clear understanding of which types of investments can offer the best returns to achieve the desired change.

A final important note for those of us interested in sales – the study authors observed: “Surprisingly, it turns out the ‘soft stuff’ is the hardest to get right.  Changing mindsets, attitudes and culture in an organization typically require different techniques, applied consistently and over time – sometimes across a series of successive projects and often continuing after the formal ‘project’ has finished. Practitioners typically find such less concrete challenges tougher to manage and measure than challenges related to business processes or technology, which are more tangible and possibly capable of being changed permanently through a single intervention.”

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©2011 Sales Horizons, LLC

About Janet Spirer

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. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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4 Responses to Lessons from IBM – change is the “new normal” in sales

  1. Josh Puckett says:

    Excellent article. As the world becomes smaller and businesses are able to reach to an ever-increasing customer base, businesses need to become agile in order to meet the needs of these customers. They need to be able to apply this agility to evolving capabilities in being able to help clients stay ahead of the game in tracking customer needs and flow in order to fill need gaps when they appear.

    Well-written piece.

  2. Pingback: STC: Lessons from IBM – change is the “new normal” in sales « The Sales Pipeline – B2B Sales Blog

  3. Richard Ruff says:

    Thanks for tuning in to the Sales Training Connection and for your comment. We think this point about helping a sales team to adjust and adapt to continuous change in their buying environment is a really a big deal and one that receives more discussion than actual engagement in too many companies.

  4. Pingback: Sales Training Connection post selected as an Editor’s Top 10 Pick by Customer Think | Sales Training Connection

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