Sales leaders – how they unknowingly hinder innovation – An STC Classic

A Classic - '63 Corvette

A Classic – ’63 Corvette

In a wide variety of industries, companies are experiencing transformational changes.  These changes are driven by global competition, technological changes, government regulations and the dynamics of an unstable economy.  As a result companies’ expectations concerning their suppliers are changing – what they buy, how they buy, and what they are willing to pay for it are all in a state of flux.

Viewed from the other side of the fence, it means vendors are unlikely to prosper if they view improvement simply as doing a better job doing what they are doing – innovation is required.

The subject of innovation dominates the technology sphere.  Articles on “wearable technology” like Apple’s much-hyped iWatch are easy to find.  Likewise in sales most of discussion related to innovation is about technology.  Lots of interest and dialogue on empowering your sales force through technology or the ten new mobile apps for igniting sales.

However, if companies are going to take innovation seriously and do more than just manipulate the status quo, then new technologies are just part of the solution – not the entire story.  Because of the scope of the change on the buyers’ side of the equation, a comprehensive perspective of innovation is required: sales force designs need revisiting – sales processes should be reviewed – roles and responsibilities deserve a new look and that is just the short list.

When it comes to implementing sales innovation it is a safe bet to say it starts with the senior sales leadership team – VP of Sales and Regional Directors.  So as a first step, let’s take a look at some of the things they might be doing that could unknowingly get in the way of creating an environment where innovation is likely to flourish.

We came across an interesting blog post by Rosabeth Moss Kanter about nine actions that senior managers take that can unknowingly guarantee that innovation will be stifled.  We thought three of her points were particularly relevant for sales leadership.  Let’s take a look at a translation of Kanter’s points to the world of sales:

  • Restricting Strategy Formulation. In a number of cases the discussion and formulation of strategy is limited to a chosen few.  The overall strategic direction and the guiding initiatives for the sales team are developed with limited input from the front-line sales managers and sales reps. This is particularly telling in Sales because everyday you have a whole bunch of smart people interacting with really smart customers – not a bad scenario for generating ideas that could contribute to innovations for improving customer alignment.
  • Stressing Predictability. Sales has a love affair with predictability and measurement.  Targets are set and continuous progress is measured on a bunch of different numbers.  Everyone is counting everything all the time.  Plans of action are developed, reviewed, and up-dated.  Now, obviously this propensity has an upside.  But as Kanter suggests it can also create an environment that tends to stifle innovation.  One can miss long-term significant changes in the customer base if the whole deal is just to meet next month’s targets.
  • Looking Back vs. Ahead. It is easy to fall into the trap of invoking bad experiences in the past as reasons why new ideas are not worth trying.  In order to innovate, a culture must be created by the leadership team that recognizes the past but emphasizes the future.  Sales people who contribute to this mindset must be recognized and rewarded.

It is likely the near future will be a heyday for those that take sales innovation seriously. The need for innovation will be pervasive – incorporating the strategic, operational, and technological aspects of a company’s sales efforts.

The notion that everything is basically okay and innovation can be put off until Friday could prove to be very telling.  As Rick Newman, a business blogger, noted – Many of the world’s top companies in 1985 have shrunk, grown obsolete, or been acquired by rivals.”

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©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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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