July 13, 2016Stories from the front line
What I’ve learned from leading sales teams through collaborative, customer-centred change
In today’s highly-connected, highly-informed age with the rise of digital disrupters offering consumers faster, cheaper, simpler results, customers want more than a traditional sales person – they want a strategic partner who offers something unique.
Someone who listens and understands but can also leverage organisational capabilities that their competition can’t.
At Blue Seed, we’ve helped many organisations transform their sales teams to match the evolving needs of customers, shareholders and employees. In today’s post, we share what has worked for our clients in leading sales teams through collaborative, customer-centred change that delivers results.
The stakes are high, are you playing it right?
To stay relevant and ready for the future, sales people must continually evolve.
They need to adapt to new operating models, embrace new technology and processes and leverage organisational culture. As the saying goes what works today, won’t get it done tomorrow.
Yet when making changes to your sales teams, the stakes are high:
- A botched change process could result in losing your best sales people to competitors. Studies reveal this translates to a financial impact (per lost employee) of as much as triple the employee’s salary. Lose 3-4 quality sales people and you’ve lost a million dollars.
- If change interventions don’t deliver the right skills, knowledge, motivation and support, chaos ensues. Any distraction can result in lost time with customers, lost sales and revenue (anecdotally we’ve heard of one organisation losing millions of dollars a month over several months as a result of lost productivity and losing half their sales people as competitors swooped in to poach).
- If you expose your organisational confusion to customers, then you risk losing deals, losing the customer and even market-wide brand damage. The full impact to customer engagement is impossible to gauge.
Play it together to get results
With today’s high value customer solutions usually a team of experienced, innovative specialists and strategists is required to design and close the deal; the capabilities required are rarely contained in a single sales person. Enter the need for collaboration.
Anyone who’s worked in an organisation knows that collaboration can be messy. We’ve all seen meetings with no purpose or outcome, teams of people with unclear roles and managers not held accountable.
It is the leader’s role to define structures and mechanisms that address ambiguity. When change happens, this is even more critical.
And let’s just say it. Sales people can be difficult to influence, especially the ‘high performers: “I smashed my targets and my customers love me – and you want me to change? Good luck!”
Change sounds alarm bells for high performing salespeople. They aren’t looking for a better ‘target state.’ In their mind they have it made. Change risks loss of their status and rewards, so fear sets in.
How to win the high stakes change game for your sales team
The key question is: how do you engage and retain talent and exceed sales targets while trying to enact a more collaborative, customer-centred sales force?
Our experience tells us that these helpful strategies will go a long way to master the change in your teams. Here’s what you can try with your teams, without too much disruption and push back:
- Publicly model and recognise collaborative behaviours
It is often said that leaders will drive desired culture by modelling desired behaviours. They can also do this simply by recognising the right behaviours.
How you can implement it: Call out the account manager who partnered effectively with the product, pricing or digital teams to deliver an innovative customer solution. Remember to recognise the behaviour as well as the outcome. And of course, Leaders are not excused. They too must collaborate well and make this visible to direct reports.
- Continually build knowledge of your operating model and how to leverage it for optimal customer outcomes.
Send a team of rugby players on to a field but don’t tell each what position they are playing or what the game plan is… then watch a flurry of tries score against them! The well-trained team with clear roles and responsibilities and understanding of the game plan will always triumph.
How you can implement it: Make sure your team has clear roles and responsibilities and knows the game plan. Staff may even need to be reminded about things that aren’t changing. Explain changes and reinforce existing capabilities.
- Repeat and reinforce the ‘why’ message
Lack of communication is the archenemy of change. Your people must be on the same page as you and your leadership group. First and foremost, they need to understand why you are changing and this must include what is in it for them. Consider the airline safety briefing: “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” People usually consider their own needs first – after all they have rent to pay and mouths to feed at home.
How you can implement it: Make sure your people know what’s in it for them and remove fear by creating certainty.
- Share customer feedback widely
When customers realise the value of your collaborative team and their broad-ranging, specialist capabilities, ask for feedback and share it widely within the organisation. This helps staff to understand the value of bringing various skill sets together to create outstanding customer outcomes and makes them want to emulate it next time.
How you can implement it: Ask for customer feedback and share it widely with your team.
- Align incentives to target behaviours as well as individual revenue outcomes
As legendary sales trainer Grant Cardone puts it: “set no targets and you will get nowhere.” Just as you have revenue targets, if you want teamwork, set a target for it and reward it.
How you can implement it: reward and recognise lead performance indicators (e.g. customer-centred behaviours) as well as lag indicators (e.g. revenue results). Shifting from individual sales incentives to team-based schemes or a mix of the two, will encourage effective collaboration. Implementing separate reward programs that encourage outstanding team work and customer-focused behaviours also work. Make the recognition process fun and innovative to drive further engagement.
- Empower staff to define their own culture
People are more likely to ‘live’ the organisation’s target cultural values and behaviours if they know what they are, believe in them and ideally define the cultural traits themselves.
How you can implement it: Whether you engage your team one-on-one, collect feedback via survey or let them run a ‘culture committee,’ find a way for staff to have their say about ‘how things should be done around here.’ Make sure leaders listen and respond.
If the change is worth doing, it will be hard and it won’t be perfect. You may lose a good sales person. Your model may need tweaks. Staff will question your strategy. Leaders need to be aligned and communicate highly effectively – your guiding coalition must remain calm and in control. At Blue Seed we regard this as a critical characteristic of a Change Intelligent leader.
So remember, keep your eyes on the prize. Remain resilient through the ambiguous process of change and persist relentlessly in aligning your people to your strategy.
The game will be tough, but the win will be worth it – for your customers, your sales teams and your shareholders.
Insights from Huw Thomas, Principal Consultant at Blue Seed Consulting