Many dynamics can spark the need for changes in your sales team. Rather than driving sales and margins, the current team may be sales facilitators or order takers, or may exhibit more industry-common techniques than the “best in class” methods. Either way, you may realize that a change is needed for the company to rise to the next level. Your team got you to where you are today, but the composition, skillset or methods may not be the best fit for the future of your company.
Business owners often feel loyalty to their team, and therefore a sense of duty to help them be successful with change. Providing support and leadership to staff so they have every chance to succeed is a responsible and reasonable approach.
A successful team always needs the right incentives, leadership, goal setting, communication of expectations, check-ins, and performance reviews, and all are especially important during a change in focus. These components do have a significant role in the transformation, but they are for naught if a different skillset is required. In that case, here are seven steps to implementing a true sales force transformation.
1) The Contingency Plan:
Prepare to lose employees due to skillset mismatches. Form your contingency plan for turnover first. Identify the skills needed for your ideal value-add candidate(s) and evaluate these against your current team to identify gaps and possible areas of concern. Write a new or modify the current job description to fit such a candidate and the value-added sales approach. Answer the following questions: How will this candidate be sourced? How will they be trained? Does the training program need to be modified so it aligns with the new sales approach? If or when you lose a member of the team, how will their territory be covered so it is seamless for customers until a new representative is in place? Only after developing a thorough contingency plan can one safely focus on implementing the new approach.
2) State Your Vision to the Team:
Staff understanding of change is important. Explain, and don’t sugarcoat anything. It will be challenging, at least for some of the staff, so tell them. Make sure they know you will provide the specific tools they need to be successful. And, while you will provide tools, reinforce they are the ones responsible for their skill development. Tell them how you intend for the transformation to be implemented.
3) Standardize your Presentations:
Document value-added points that make you unique. Capture all product features and benefits, and specific value-added aspects of your company such as lead times, product and customer service. These would be both company and product attributes that your customers value most and that give you a competitive advantage. Drill them into your team. Peer presentations are a very effective way to do this and to learn different approaches to handling objections that other team members have faced. These should be done frequently. You cannot water this tree too much!
4) Involve Sales Support:
Keep other departments in the loop. It is important that other departments are aware of how changes will affect them. Consistency with all customer-facing communications is necessary. Having support staff attend peer presentations is a good way to solidify this consistency in your messaging.
5) Take Immediate Control of your Message with Customers:
Find opportunities to educate. The degree of successful change potentially hinges on this one aspect alone, and it cannot be left to the team to execute by themselves. This step is easier said than done, but it will resoundingly pay off for you once it is accomplished. Not only does this help cement the new vision among your sales team so that it can be more easily emulated, it immediately ensures customers hear about the true value that you bring. Can you invite customers into your facility for a day long product “University’’ where your sales staff present, and your management team facilitates and provides guidance? Can you incentivize customers to learn about your company and product benefits through a marketing program? Can you do a multi-day focused sales blitz with the whole team focusing on one sales territory at a time? These opportunities would allow sales managers a better ability to coach and provide immediate feedback to the whole team, interaction by interaction.
Ongoing evaluation and communication of progress is key. Consistently review the metrics and validate specific individual and group wins to the whole team. Providing the team with examples of how the new approach is being successful is critical.
7) Refer to Your Contingency Plan:
You prepared a plan for turnover; use it! Should it be necessary to let someone go, or they decide they are no longer a fit, don’t waste a minute implementing your contingency plan. It will actually provide your team reassurance that a plan for replacement and for assisting customers during a transition has been thought out and swiftly executed.
Beyond these steps, only a repetitious expression of your vision and a relentless consistency in your actions will change the culture of your team, but you will enjoy the challenge and soon reap the benefits.
Douglas Cook is a Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA) and is the Senior Value Advisor at Headwaters Strategic Succession Consulting, Llc. He specializes in helping business owners formulate exit strategies by helping to increase the transferrable value of their companies.