Sales Transformation: The Human Side of the Equation

Transform your sales organization? What a great idea! Modernize the technology, improve processes, develop your people, research best practices and adapt them to your specific situation, and watch your revenues grow. Also, confuse, anger and alarm your team, and feel helpless as morale plummets and your best salespeople defect to the competition.

It is a critical pitfall to avoid focusing too much on process, technology, and knowledge, and not enough on the people who will be using these solutions. You can design the best process in the world and back it with the latest and greatest technology and sales tools, but if your people don’t buy into the project, it won’t succeed. There are two people-related issues that have surfaced in many of the sub-optimal sales transformation initiatives we have reviewed that are worth noting:

The Resistance to Change Syndrome: Your sales transformation initiative is not really introducing a new way of selling as much as replacing the existing one. There is an important difference. Your sales teams are already selling. They may be doing it with flawed processes and less than perfect tactics, but it works to some extent and your people are familiar with it. Sales transformation requires change, which people may rebel against. This resistance to change needs to be dealt with early on, or the very people that the process improvements are designed to help, may be the ones to see that it fails.

The Big Brother Syndrome: Be aware that horror stories about the hidden reasons that companies implement sales transformation initiatives may already be circulating through your sales force. Team members may have heard how these projects are designed to implement processes and systems that are designed to track their every move and that management is just waiting for them to make a mistake so they can pounce on them. This initial distrust is a very serious issue that must also be dealt with swiftly.

These issues need to be dealt with head-on so that everyone is on board and supportive of what the company is trying to accomplish. Be sure you are in a position to make the first sale with your new way of selling an internal one. Show them what is in it for them and how the new process and tools will make them more successful.

However, you can also run into problems if you are too diplomatic. Fundamentally, your sales transformation initiative has to succeed or your firm’s long-term future may be in jeopardy. You may find some salespeople and sales managers who push back against the changes you are making. If you find terrorists who are trying to sabotage the project, get rid of them. You cannot afford to keep these people.

While you want to be sensitive, keep in mind that you cannot please everyone. Some employees may end up with less responsibility, some may not be able to adjust to the new way of doing things, and some may lose their jobs. There will be a temptation to try to make the sales transformation vision fit your organization instead of changing your organization to fit your sales transformation vision. Taking either a too hard or soft course of action with people will either diminish the results you achieve or delay the implementation of your initiative.

Adapted from CSO Insights’ groundbreaking paper, “The CSO’s Guide to Sales Transformation”

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