Changing the Tires on a Sales Team in Motion: Sales Transformation vs. Sales Disruption

By Masami Middleton on Apr 17, 2018

How many times have you heard the term “sales transformation” and thought it’s just consultant speak?  Or an ideal that’s impossible amidst your team’s never-ending hustle to make the number? 

If you are a seasoned sales leader, you’ve probably lived through all kinds of disruptive forces.  Mergers and acquisitions, business model changes, new competitors, and leadership or rep turnover. These factors can render your sales strategy, process, selling skills, or organization structure obsolete (or dated at best).

While many sales leaders recognize that a transformational change is in order for one or more of these areas, actually executing it feels like changing the tires on a car that’s moving fast.  But what’s the tradeoff? Would you rather change the tires now for future performance gains or skip it and risk a high-speed blowout on your sales team?

NASCAR pit crews change tires and re-fuel multiple times over 200-400 laps to give their racer the necessities to win.  We recommend a similar, sequenced approach to prioritize and execute sales initiatives across a transformation journey.

Strategic Roadmap of Sales Initiatives

Through our research and extensive client work, we have found that the best sales organizations follow a systematic approach to sales transformation. My colleagues Warren Shiver and Michael Perla outline a systematic approach for this type of change in their book 7 Steps to Sales Force Transformation.

Shiver and Perla note, “One significant challenge for sales leaders seeking to transform their sales organization is time. The average tenure of a chief sales officer is just 18 months.” So, being decisive, systematic, and efficient is vital for effective change. The good news from their research: 66 percent of successful transformations see positive results in a year or less.

We recommend identifying and sequencing change initiatives across four areas (see our Way of Sales Model). These four categories are noted below, along with central questions that sales leaders can ask to identify the need for transformational change:

  • Sales Strategy and Structure: Do we have the right sales coverage, capacity, and structure in place to profitably capture the market opportunity?
  • Sales Process and Technology: Do we have clear and repeatable processes enabled by automation to scale and deliver predictable results?
  • Sales Enablement and People: Do our sellers and sales support teams have the necessary skills to drive sales effectiveness and customer engagement?
  • Sales Management and Coaching: Do we have a disciplined sales management cadence and coaching program in place to drive continuous improvement over time?

We call this approach "sequential" because it begins with the foundational elements of sales (go-to-market) strategy and sales organizational structure. These elements must be in place to realize the full value of your organization’s capabilities in the later planning phases, such as Enablement and People and Management and Coaching. For example, “up-skilling” your team with a new sales training program will be ineffective if their roles are not aligned to market opportunity or if their territories are poorly defined.

Senior sales leaders in new roles are in an opportune position to affect change in these areas with the right organizational support.  In her eBook The Sales Leader’s First 90 Days, author Hope Eyre recommends that new sales leaders conduct initial discovery and sequence change programs across these four categories.

Here are a few examples of sales initiatives in a transformation roadmap across our Way of Sales categories:

  • Sales Strategy and Structure: Sales resource optimization, Market/Account segmentation, Strategic pipeline growth program, Voice of Customer research, Buyer persona/Buyer journey definition
  • Sales Process and Technology: Territory/Book of Business planning, Strategic Account Planning, Sales methodology definition/selection, Account-Based Marketing, CRM strategy, definition, or optimization
  • Sales Enablement and People: Sales Academy design and implementation, New rep on-boarding program, Value proposition/messaging development, Content management, Sales playbooks
  • Sales Management and Coaching: Sales management cadence, Front-line manager training, sales coaching model, Performance dashboard/metrics definition

In our work partnering with Sales and/or Sales Operations teams, we have helped several companies develop a Sales Transformation Roadmap to prioritize and sequence key sales initiatives over a 12 to 24-month period. 

Case Example

Recently, our firm partnered with an IT Services firm experiencing significant change brought on by new and changing competition, changing customer expectations, evolving structural changes, and new product launches. To their credit, they recognized the need for a more proactive and methodical approach to prioritizing, funding, and enabling sustainable change within and across their sales organization. 

Through our Way of Sales framework, we assessed the relative strength of sixteen differentiating sales capabilities against their strategic objectives. This assessment informed the 10 discrete projects we recommended to meet their objectives of increasing pipeline growth, improving win rate, and reducing the cost of sales.

After evaluating the impact on their strategic objectives and the inter-dependencies among these key initiatives, we constructed a prioritized roadmap, which now serves as the firm's global sales operations investment plan through this year.

Minimize Disruption, Reinforce Change

In his recent blog titled “Stop Helping Me Sell More,” Michael Perla makes an important point that “clients are increasingly conscious and intentional of what they ‘throw’ at their sales professionals to drive change.”

Think strategically about the “pit stops” you are asking of your sales force. Get the best pit crew on the job to carefully plan the sequence, time investment, communications plan, supporting resources, and management reinforcement that will maximize every bit of time, especially if it takes your team out of the field.

Whether you are a Sales Leader in your first 90 days or you're developing/updating your Sales Investment plan, remember the NASCAR analogy. While pit stops temporarily stop forward progress, they provide the necessities that power and accelerate performance. Take the time to step back, chart, and execute initiatives for real strategic and operating improvement in your organization.

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Masami Middleton

Written by Masami Middleton

As a Principal Consultant with Symmetrics Group, Masami Middleton combines the market focus and execution of a Marketing VP with the critical, data-driven orientation of a seasoned strategist. Masami is passionate about sales and marketing integration and helping organizations take a disciplined approach to defining sales and marketing process and enabling technologies. Over the last 25 years, Masami has served as a strategy consultant and marketing leader from Fortune 500 to start-up environments.

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