Changing ways of working is not easy, and this is supported by statistics. According to Gartner, only every third critical change project is successful. The two biggest reasons for this, as I see it, are that (1) less than half of the people (44%) involved in a change project understand the change they are driving and (2) roughly one third (38%) understand it but do not agree with it.
"I claim that the numbers are even more depressing when driving a change in the context of sales."
Sellers are “rock stars” and guys who work independently. They know that they are the ones who bring in the money and they have customer contacts—often on a personal level and with a long history. But why is a sales transformation so difficult to implement successfully?
Here, I don’t discuss how right or wrong the change itself is—my starting point is that the change itself makes sense. It should have the right drivers, obtained, for example, by won–lost case reviews or customer interviews. Typically, sales transformation is driven by the following three steps.
Step 1: Define the sales process. The sales process defines the activities, and their sequences and responsibilities in a given context. The process is crucial for defining common ways of working and controlling how people operate. But, let’s be honest here: the sellers hate processes.
One seller told me that he sees processes as speed limits when driving along the highway.
Step 2: Implement supporting IT. Today various IT systems (e.g. CRM, CPQ, ERP) support the sales process and its implementation. They are absolutely necessary for sales management, forecasting, planning, and controlling sales process compliancy. But again, sellers are not big fans of these. The same seller compared CRM to the police, adding that since “if it is not in CRM, it does not exist.”
Step 3: Organize trainings. There are many kinds of sales training and they are a necessary part of a change. They explain the new process, system, method, tool etc. and provide inspiration for participants. But in the shoes of a seller, trainings are too far from reality: “Very interesting and logical stuff, but I cannot use it because …”
To be crystal clear, these three steps are necessary, but if just one is used alone, it will not be enough. The big problem with them is that if you don’t get the sales team to follow you, your implementation will not be successful.
To get people to follow you, you must ensure that they understand the change (why and what is being changed) and are willing, able, and required to implement it in daily life (how the change will happen). In sales, in practical terms, this means there are the following three requirements.
Requirement 1: A ssuper clear sales strategy. Your sales strategy should define who sells what, to whom, and how. It must be clear and concrete enough to guarantee that your commercial machine has a clear direction and set-up. In my opinion, sales strategies are typically too vague, and basically, everything can be argued to align with the strategy. Sellers are experts at finding a pigeonhole in the sales strategy, and therefore, many changes in sales will not be implemented properly.
Requirement 2: New sales management practices. New ways of working in sales require new kind of sales management. In the most successful sales transformation implementations, the manager acts as a coach with various coaching sessions on a weekly basis. New non-negotiables and KPIs need to be set and reviewed actively. Far too often, sales management practices are properly in the scope of a transformation but the old ways remain and continue to be applied. For sellers it seems that the change is not necessary in practice, and the old ways of working continue to flourish.
Requirement 3: Learning with real opportunities. To start working in new ways is difficult, and it requires new capabilities and confidence. I claim that the most effective way to do this is to practice with real opportunities as a joint effort. This applies to everything, be it sales activity, a tool, or something else. To get moving fast, you should pick the most attractive opportunities, sellers, and sales managers with a “can-do” attitude and a coach (internal or external) with relevant experience. The effort is about preparing and performing together and providing feedback later for learning purposes. After the first successful cases are promoted and customer testimonials shared with the rest of your sales department, you are halfway there. Almost always this phase is neglected and implementation on the opportunity level is left on the seller’s shoulders. Often the burden is too much, and the new practices will not be applied.
“The only constant is change,” and this also applies to sales.
Covid-19 has had, and will have, a huge impact on how customers buy and how companies sell. Companies need to transform the sales department to various degrees, and these changes need to be implemented all the way to the front line. To improve the statistics above, make sure that the people involved understand the change and have the necessary support and capabilities to drive it.
Ville Tiainen vastaa Suomen Deloittella B2B-myynnin transformaatioista erityisesti teollisissa yrityksissä. Villen intohimona on arvomyynnin ja asiakaslähtöisyyden suunnittelu, juurruttaminen ja johtaminen. Villellä on yli 10 vuoden kokemus erilaisista myynnin transformaatiosta ’commercial excellence’ kärjellä teollisessa kentässä. Briefly in English: Ville Tiainen is responsible for B2B sales transformations in Deloitte Finland, heavily focusing on industrial companies. Ville is passionate about designing, implementing and managing value based selling and customer centricity. Ville has more than 10 years of experience in various sales transformations with commercial excellence edge in the industrial field.