“Our Sales Organization Must Transform!” But From What to What?

In the 2017 World-Class Sales Practices Study, we asked sales leaders what they were dealing with or concerned about that had not been on their minds 12 months prior. The #1 answer was “transforming my sales organization.”

That is not surprising, as few, if any, organizations aren’t undergoing some major change or complete overhaul of their sales function. Unfortunately, most don’t feel like they are making progress fast enough or profoundly enough.

What should a sales leader do when tasked with “transforming” a sales organization? Perhaps one besieged by new competitors? Or a newly formed one as a result of M&A activity? (These were #2 and #3 on the list of new concerns.)

The good news is that sales leaders have more levers than ever before that can be pulled to effect change: territory design, compensation strategies, sales process definition, value messaging, hiring profiles, sales methodology, staffing design, restructuring, and technology (even AI-based) productivity tools.

The bad news is that none of these happen without significant investments of time, money and other resources. And, it’s a practical impossibility to change them all at once.

Moving forward requires thoughtful prioritization through a holistic organizational assessment. Where are you today? Where would you like to (need to) be? How should you get there?

  1. Start with a high level assessment of your sales effectiveness. We recommend evaluating where you are on the Sales Relationship Process (SRP) Matrix. (The 2017 World Class Practices Study includes a description of this framework and the criteria to use to rate yourself). We know from ten years of using this model that organizations with higher levels of sales process adoption and higher levels of customer relationships are more successful in terms of win/loss/no-decision rates, attrition, revenue attainment, quota attainment and win rate.
    • TIP: Many sales leaders have more clarity on where they would like to be than where they actually are, despite the fact that they should have a lot more information about reality versus vision. Use as much real data as possible to do the assessment, whether it comes from voice of employee, voice of customer, CRM or elsewhere. Consider your whole organization, not just your best (or worst) sales teams and customers.
  1. Put a stake in the ground for the future. Consider, based on the realities of your business model, where you would like to be within the next two years with regard to relationships and sales process.
    • TIP: Sales process is always under your control. You may find it challenging to achieve the highest level of relationship (Trusted Partner) in some industries. However, you can always drive improvements through process.
  1. Explore possible options for movement. With this as context, look at specific organizational practices that help you move to higher levels of performance. Pay particular attention to the practices that our research shows have greater correlations to success metrics. Benchmark yourself against what the best do in order to highlight gaps, confirm assumptions, and uncover strengths to leverage and prioritize next steps.
    • TIP: Use data from your Customer Sat programs, your CRM, HRIS, and Individual Assessments when available. Collect the perceptions and insights of your sales teams from the frontline to the top. Each layer of the organization will have a different point of view, as will each business unit.
  1. Now outline an implementation plan. Select two or three initiatives and use working teams to quickly layout business cases for prioritization and short-term milestones.
    • TIP: Consider an 18-month plan or shorter. Selling environments are too volatile to assume any plan longer than that would be relevant for its entire span. Also, keep your initiatives to a small number, create a formal business case and then execute them well using change management principles.


Transformation is a big and overused word. Many organizations roll out selected, disjointed projects and claim them as transformation. A sales effectiveness program is not necessarily a driver of transformation. You have to start with the big picture and get people motivated around the idea of significant, continuous, change. Influenced by their experiences as consumers, corporate customers are changing at a rate infinitely faster than sales organizations. To catch up, sales organizations must be willing to take on something big, knowing getting there may be a never-ending journey of implementation and refinement.

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