In most markets customers are instituting significant changes in how they do business. In some cases, such as the health care industry, these changes can legitimately be labeled transformational – as a result who does the buying, what they buy, and what they are willing to pay for it have all changed.
A recent change management study by IBM shines a very bright light on this trend. The authors note: “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 burst 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 To prosper, leaders will need to abandon such outdated notions of change.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.”
What does this all means for sales leadership? As any senior sales leader will gladly share – it means many things. But one fundamental implication is: in times of dramatic change it is unlikely that a B2B sales force can continue to prosper by simply doing a better job doing what they are already doing.
If a customer base is going through a transformation shift, then from a sales perspective a beefed-up modified version of business-as-usual is not going to carry the day. Sales strategies need to be rethought – sales skills need revisiting, and attitudes and mindsets need adjusting. The answer is not simply a motivational speaker at the next national meeting; it is crafting and executing a substantial change in what the sales force does and how they do it.
Many companies have the experience to deal with routine change – far fewer have successfully executed a comprehensive sales management change effort. Let’s examine some things we know about the latter.
- Change the pivotal job first. Recently McKinsey published an interesting report on change management. They looked at a number of different efforts across companies and across functions.
As might be suspected, one finding was about the difficulty of changing everything and everyone all at once. You need to identify the pivotal job and start there. The authors noted: “Identifying what your change program’s pivotal role is and making sure that the people in it have both the tools and the willingness to change is often essential to ensuring that the rest of the organization changes.”
When it comes to sales it is suggested that the pivotal job is the front-line sales manager. If a sales force is going to successfully make the changes required to cope with a transformational shift in the customer base, then the front-line sales managers need to have brought into the changes and be equipped to help others to do what is necessary to execute them.
- Address the soft stuff. Attitudes, mind-sets, and bits and pieces of culture all need to be revisited if a sales team is going to do more than just a better job doing what they are doing. In the end it is often the “soft stuff” where major change efforts fail. For example, it is important to develop a shared vision and commitment to what needs to be done before any hard skill training takes place – it is hard to imagine sales reps learning new skills if they do not see a reason why those skills will be needed
If new attitudes and mindsets are to be adopted across the sales function, then everyone needs to come to the party – front-line mangers, sales reps, tech support, and marketing. This all requires substantial planning and communication by the senior leadership.
- Revisit skills training. Most companies engaged in major B2B sales have in place an effective core sales skills training curriculum – programs that help sales reps develop effective account strategies and programs to plan and execute sales calls.
In most cases the challenge for achieving success in the new normal is not about developing an entirely new set of sales skills – it’s about helping sales reps to apply their existing skills to a new set of conditions. From a training perspective this is a significantly different challenge – one that requires a different type of sales training program.
In sales when the reset button does not return conditions to the old normal, one of the results you can count on is there will be a new set of winners and losers. Major trap: doing too little, too late.
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©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC