Michael Perla and I have been researching sales transformations for an upcoming book – what works, what doesn’t, lessons learned, surprises – based on our firm’s consulting experience and through primary research (surveys and interviews) of more than 100 leading sales organizations. One of our observations so far is that there are several “levers” that can really amplify your ability to drive a sustainable change in your sales organization.
- Perspective - An Outside-In perspective is one in which the company actively elicits and listens to what their current and prospective customers want, need, and value, and then develops or modifies their offerings accordingly. This provides leverage, because you are listening to the needs of those who will buy more from you if you get it right. Sounds obvious, but we’ve found that too many organizations focus mainly on their internal capability (which is also important). Involving your customers and your sales team in the design of a solution is a great change-leadership approach.
- Alignment - Sales can’t be an “island” when it comes to successful transformation. If Sales tries to “go it alone,” it is unlikely to be successful. One of the key lessons for one of our interviewees, a sales executive of a Fortune 100 company that was on its third sales transformation, was that he should have included other functions and stakeholders in his first two transformation efforts, neither of which had been successful. According to the executive, in a rush to get the transformation efforts started, the sales organization didn’t create alignment or build alliances with other related functions. This alignment issue also came out in our survey: the most successful transformations involved approximately four sales-related functions up-front in the process.
- Leadership - In almost all of our interviews for this book, the importance of leadership came up. In short, most said that if the key leaders weren’t committed to the change and helping to drive it, it was not going to happen. Ultimately, the vision and commitment must be top-down – and it must go far beyond new coffee cups or trite slogans. Leadership and ongoing commitment provide the leverage to distinguish a sustainable transformation from a one-time training event. Beyond a “flavor of the month” sales development effort, sustained and authentic leadership across all levels of the sales team provides a multiplier effect that helps to accelerate change.
- Sequence - According to Jim Collins’s classic bestseller, Good to Great, to become a great company, not only do you need to get the right people on the bus, but you also have to get them in the right seats – “First Who, Then What.” Perhaps counter-intuitively, many of our interviewees echoed this theme but in the opposite sequence. In order to recruit, select, and hire the right people, you first need to know what they will be doing – what knowledge, skills, and abilities will be needed to support a new sales process or way of selling with your customers. If the transformation involves moving to a more solutions selling model or a split focus between existing and new accounts, these sales strategies require different skill sets – and often, different people.
- Measurement - The vision and the metrics you use to quantify transformation should focus on the vital few things that will determine success or failure. In our survey we found that the number one predictor of success was whether or not they measured progress. But keep in mind, it’s a big world and you can’t measure everything. In fact, if you try, you’ll end up measuring nothing. One client we worked with was measuring 180 KPIs, but no one really knew where the business was headed. It was like herding cats. The client ended up doing a “Balanced Scorecard” approach and went down to seven key metrics to track. These metrics were intimately linked to the heart of their sales transformation effort – things like growth greater than ‘run rate’ growth, ‘wallet’ share, and contract renewals.
- Communication - Many senior executives are surprised at how often they need to repeat themselves to demonstrate that they are serious about making a change. Aside from being early and often, communications should also be authentic and transparent for optimal results and resonance. As a VP of Strategic Accounts eloquently told us, “It’s more successful when we are more transparent with the sales team about what we need to do. We put it in business terms for them by saying, ‘we’re getting fewer resources; we are going to do it this way.’ They see what's driving things. The more transparent we've been with what's happening and what's driving it, the greater their understanding.”
Sales executives want to ensure they are focusing on the right things that will increase the likelihood of success from their sales transformation. To reach your “ideal transformational advantage,” you need to pull the right levers in your sales force and across the entire organization. Our research shows that successful sales force transformations nearly always involve pulling most, if not all, of these six levers.
Stay tuned for follow-on posts with more updates from our research on sales transformations.