By Adrian Davis
Everywhere sales leaders are grappling with unprecedented, constant change when it comes to industries, customers, and competitors. As a result, sales leaders have to rethink their go-to-market strategies.
Often, they reach out to consultants to help them rethink their sales objectives, strategies, and processes. Getting external help when facing transformative change is not only a good idea – it’s often the foundation for fresh and innovative approaches.
One thing that can’t be overlooked, however, is that new strategies and new processes have no value unless they are actually implemented. Execution is the only thing that matters.
A Lesson from NASCAR
When it comes to winning, we can learn a lot from NASCAR. Not unlike NASCAR, we are in a race. Ours is a race for value, which requires us to make pit stops from time to time.
One of these “pit stops” is the annual sales conference – often when sales leaders introduce change to the sales team. This is not, however, where change happens. Change happens when talented salespeople are in front of qualified prospects and they implement the new strategies and processes.
When reflecting on a recent win, one best-in-class NASCAR pit crewmember said this:
“Victories aren’t always determined behind the wheel. With the cars these days, you can’t really pass that well. Most races now are won in the pit.”
The relevance of this quote to sales teams undergoing change is significant. NASCAR has reduced the time in the pit to 8.5 seconds. That’s 8.5 seconds to change tires, refuel, and do any other necessary maintenance. Because of parity on the track, it is the team that can get its car in and out of the pit the fastest that now wins the race.
In the same way, every sales force must change or die. The adoption and use of CRM is no longer a “nice to have.” The ability to engage all stakeholders in meaningful and strategic relationships has become compulsory. And the ability to understand and contribute to the client’s total economic equation has become the only way to create real value.
These are just a few examples of the many changes through which sales leaders must guide their teams. With these seismic shifts in the marketplace, sales leaders are forced to pull their teams off the road and educate them on their new strategies and processes. The sooner the sales teams can fully grasp and implement the proposed changes, the more quickly they can get back into the race for value. With the unrelenting changes and intense competition these days, this is where the race is won.
Coping with the Shock of Change
Unfortunately, implementing change in a sales team is far more difficult than it sounds. The type of unprecedented change sales organizations are undergoing leaves many salespeople in a state of shock and bewilderment. They find comfort in doing things the way they’ve always done them. Rather than see the new vision and associated opportunities, all they see is something being taken away from them and they react accordingly. Often, they drag down the morale of the whole team and ensure your change efforts are stalled (at best) or abandoned altogether (at worst).
Six Steps to Success
Understanding the states people go through when facing dramatic change can help you coach your people to success and get them out of the pit and back on the track. The following stages are loosely based on the Kübler-Ross model of coping with loss.
|Stage of Sales Team||What Management Should Focus On|
|1. Denial – They do not accept that the proposed change is real. They believe it’s just the flavor of the month and all they have to do is wait it out and it’ll go away.||Use this time to strengthen relationships with team members on a one-on-one basis and avoid confrontation. Break the change down into small bite-size steps and get the team to focus on fully implementing the first step.|
|2. Anger – They begin to realize the change is here to stay and the old way of doing things will no longer be acceptable. They begin to act out in anger in an effort to regain control.||Do not take these attacks personally; instead, legitimize the anger and acknowledge that it is appropriate to feel anger when you do not feel in control of the changes you are undergoing.|
|3. Bargaining – They try to negotiate elements of your change effort in order to minimize the impact of the change on them personally.||Be careful not to negotiate on the major elements of your change effort. If you do, you are redefining the change effort – generating a whole new wave of negative responses to any future change efforts.|
|4. Depression – They acknowledge that they have “lost” the battle to defend the old ways and they experience a deep sense of loss and intense frustration.||Continue to provide support and let the team know about resources that are available to help them. Encourage them to take responsibility for their career and to reframe the change in order to regain a sense of control. As an example, rather than say, “No one told me and there’s nothing I can do,” encourage them to say, “I didn’t ask for the information I need,” and, “Let me begin to explore my options.” This reframing will give them greater psychological strength and help them preserve and build their self worth.|
|5. Testing – They are willing to experiment with the new methods.||Acknowledge the team’s progress and help it build confidence. Openly praise the progress individuals are making.|
|6. Acceptance – They begin to realize that the change is positive.||Reward and acknowledge the progress; also, identify what has been learned that can be used in the next change effort.|
Hiring external consultants to provide thought leadership with respect to sales transformation is critical. Bringing in a powerful keynote speaker to galvanize the sales team at your next sales conference will help win over hearts and minds and kick off your change effort in a position for optimal success (please reach out to me if I can help you here).
However, the most critical step in change is using a strategy for adoption to prepare management to coach and validate your people through the change. This is where the real transformation takes place. In the end, it’s not systems or processes that change, it’s people. The sooner they change, the faster you can get out of the pit stop and back into the race for value. In a world of constant change, the speed in and out of the pit stop is where the race for value is won!
Adrian Davis is president of Whetstone, Inc, where he has worked with organizations such as Johnson & Johnson, KPMG, Motorola, PwC, Phonak, Aviva, and Dupont. His highly talented team has developed a reputation for leading organizations to innovative and practical solutions that enhance customer value and dramatically increase sales. Adrian is the author of Human to Human Selling: How to Sell Real and Lasting Value in an Increasingly Digital and Fast-Paced World, a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), a certified professional in Business Process Management (P.BPM) and a certified Competitive Intelligence Professional (CIP).