Leading Your Sales Organization through a Change Management Program
The most difficult part of change management isn’t coming up with new great ideas — it’s getting people to change their behaviors. How can sales leaders manage the people side of change to achieve the required business outcomes?
Businesses change and evolve, the pace and frequency of which vary depending upon the scale and scope of the change. As the leader of the sales organization, it’s your job to ensure that your sales teams and sales reps follow suit and comply with the new way of doing things. Otherwise, it’ll be your job.
Most changes that impact the sales organization involve modifications to processes (e.g., the sales process), documents (e.g., order entry forms), and roles and responsibilities (who does what during the post-sale implementation). As sales leader, it’s your responsibility to identify the best practices to be implemented. Change management programs help you get your people to engage and sustain effort in actually making those best practices part of their regular routine.
Sales people are paid to go out and sell, which should be their primary focus. You need to minimize distractions and make sure that they have the necessary tools, resources, incentives, and support to succeed. However, sales reps also need to realize that they work for a company, not for themselves, and that the company has specific goals, objectives, processes, and preferred ways of doing things. It might not always make sense to everyone, but that’s immaterial.
Unless your company is relatively new, you likely have a mix of long- and short-tenured sales reps. Those with many years (even decades) of experience may bristle at the notion of doing things differently. Many see themselves as being above the change and immune to conformity. You can choose to ignore this group and hope that they don’t cause trouble. However, they could be quietly (or noisily) subversive and encourage their younger, more impressionable peers not to bother complying with the desired changes.
In their defense, they’ve likely been around long enough to experience numerous change management programs, many of which fizzled. It’s understandable that they’d be frustrated with yet another change initiative. But it’s not up to them. To be a successful employee, you need to follow the rules and abide by the expected behaviors and guidelines set out for you by the company.
You can’t just announce a change program and then sit back and watch it unfold. As mentioned earlier, you need to provide the necessary tools, resources, and support for your people, which will help them transition to the new way of doing things. This could also include new or additional sales training programs for everyone or for those who need extra help. But if some remain stubbornly attached to the old ways, you’ll need to be prepared to take disciplinary action, which could ultimately include letting them go.
What Do People Need in Order to Change Their Behavior?
We’re big believers in following the ADKAR approach to change. It provides the necessary structure and sequence to help sales managers and employees alike when adapting to new ways:
- Awareness of the need to change
- Desire to participate in the change
- Knowledge of how to do things differently
- Ability to apply tools, processes, and knowledge
- Reinforcement to sustain personal efforts to change despite setbacks
It is important that management go through the same sequence of steps as employees. However, managers should be a step ahead in the process. For example, if we are building awareness among the salespeople and account directors, the sales managers should already be in the Desire step. This “step ahead” approach ensures that sales managers are prepared to reinforce and support the next phase of behavior change before their people get to that step.
Communication Builds Awareness
Announcing a program is just the beginning. Having a formal communication strategy to keep employees informed and motivated is a critical aspect of any change initiative. Too often leaders assume that because they themselves know what’s going on that everyone else shares the same knowledge or feelings. They see a communications plan as “fluff” and unnecessary, but that view is short-sighted. Tailor or supplement company-wide communications with messages that are specific to your sales organization in order to help share the vision and provide clarity among your sales teams and sales reps so that they can easily get the message and focus on selling.
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