At some point in a company’s development, it becomes a priority to focus on and to change the existing sales culture. This need to change can be driven by many factors including slumping or declining sales numbers, or a change in focus from a customer service oriented sales team taking inbound leads to a more direct selling model where outbound calling becomes a priority, or a change in direction like a focus on growing new accounts. Sometimes a total transformation is in order whereby a whole new sales methodology is required and selling systems, processes and other key sales drivers are developed and implemented.
Regardless of the change, and in spite of the work necessary, one common challenge remains consistent – getting buy in from your existing sales team to adopt and implement the skills, processes and procedures needed to make the change successful.
The Problem is With People, Not Processes
Changing processes and procedures is relatively straight forward; changing attitudes and actions of experienced sales reps isn’t. Those of you who have been involved in managing or directing a sales team know first-hand the resistance of reps to change the way they sell. Even when current sales skills are ineffective, sales reps are reluctant to try something different. Many sales reps resist a scripted or process oriented approach preferring to ad-lib their way through their sales presentation, arguing they would sound canned if they did otherwise.
In addition, many experienced sales reps have been through enough “sales culture changes” and know that if they just wait long enough for the new changes to blow over, that the current senior management team will eventually lose steam and give up, and things will go back to normal. Sales reps have an uncanny ability to survive and have outwitted and endured many other initiatives and have eventually been left alone to scrape out a living.
Getting your sales team to buy into your new sales initiatives, and developing key drivers for coaching, reinforcing, and measuring the implementation of these initiatives is what determines how successful your new sales culture becomes.
Re-engineering a New Sales Platform
Often after a proper assessment of current sales operations has been completed, it becomes clear that a complete redesign and re-engineering of the sales platform is necessary. This complete sales transformation has three primary stages. The first stage is to define the sales process (what we call the DSP), including identifying the benchmarks and best practices that facilitate the successful navigation through each step in your sales process. This best practice methodology becomes the blueprint that each of the following stages follow and reinforce.
The second stage is to turn your DSP into your company sales training program and to develop your sales playbook from it. What is important at this stage is to understand and take what your top performers are intuitively doing and saying to close sales, and turn these successful practices into your sales playbook. This playbook consists of proven scripts, qualifying guidelines, closing presentations and rebuttals that teach your reps, step by step, what it takes to successfully qualify and close deals in your environment.
The third stage of the new sales platform is to develop key drivers that allow you and your managers to coach, teach and measure adherence to your sales playbook. This includes teaching managers how to monitor live calls, critique and grade call recordings, and other methods of being more active during a sales rep’s call. Changing this focus to active management gets sales managers out from behind their desks and gets them involved in and more responsible for the sales rep’s success.
Developing a new set of sales metrics which measure activities that actually drive sales is crucial at this point. While most companies measure things like number of calls, time on the phone, closing percentage to goal etc, these are not ‘active’ metrics because they are “backward looking” and describe what happened after the sales attempt. Your new key metrics will measure activities that take place during the sales cycle like adherence to your best practice scripts, number of qualifiers asked and answered on the first call, commitments and action steps at the end of calls, etc.
During this process of re-engineering your sales platform, there are three key areas that play an important role in ultimately changing and getting the buy in of your sales team.
The 3 Keys to a Successful Culture Change
As we noted earlier, getting your existing sales team to buy in to your new sales platform is not only crucial to its success, but it’s also one of the biggest challenges to changing your sales operations. There are three keys to ensuring your team buys in to the change, but careful and thoughtful implementation of these strategies is what is needed to give you the best chance of achieving not only buy in but in sustaining the momentum and growth of early successes.
Key One: Have a Clear Strategy for rolling out your initiative.
Although it seems straight forward to suggest having a planned rollout strategy for such a big undertaking as re-engineering and implementing a new sales platform, you might be surprised by the lack of planning and cohesion with which many new programs are developed and introduced. This lack of a clear strategy not only sabotages many good intentioned and needed changes, but often introduces more problems than it attempts to solve. The first key then to giving your new sales initiative a fighting chance is to carefully plan out each step in its development and implementation.
The best place to start is in the beginning and, more specifically, to find ways of enlisting the support, feedback and ideas of the very sales people who will be asked to implement it. There is a very fine line to walk here and the key is to solicit input from your sales reps in terms of having them identify the sales situations they need help in most, but not being overwhelmed by nor allowing them to take over the project from the beginning. I’ll clarify this during the second key.
The point is that for sales reps to buy in to any change, they need to feel a part of its design, and, more importantly, see how they can benefit from it. Again, you’d be surprised by how many companies develop a sweeping new sales platform in the safety and comfort of the senior management think tank and then hand it down and mandate it to the reps. It’s no wonder reps think their best strategy is to hide out and outlast the new program. And they are right – without their buy in it will go away.
The next stage to consider is the development of the sales playbook. While scripting out best practices and word for word rebuttals, introductions, closes, etc., will undoubtedly be the fundamental key to the success of your new sales initiative, once again the careful timing of its introduction and the enlistment of your rep’s input and revisions is crucial to its acceptance and implementation. The key here is to resist the temptation of passing the new scripts out before they have been thoroughly tested.
As you develop your sales playbook, you will undoubtedly be caught up in the belief that these improved scripts and sales procedures can have an immediate positive effect on sales right now! And they can. But handing out these scripts too early has undermined many a positive change and has negatively affected the buy in and adoption by the sales team. The key is to have your managers or top reps test, refine, and retest the scripts until they are ready to be used (read tested and refined even further) by the rest of the reps.
The last key to successful rollout of your new sales platform is to be clear what your goals and benchmarks are during the initial rollout – usually the first 90 to 120 days. The mistake many companies make is in expecting total buy in and adoption by the reps of the sales playbook. Instead it is more realistic and useful to measure and reward adherence to the gradual usage and adoption of parts of the playbook starting with the first call. Bringing reps along slowly, reinforcing each success as they come and rewarding initial adherence is the better way to go.
Key Two: Get Key Buy In and Champions Involved Early.
By developing the clear rollout strategy for each stage of the new sales platform, we are able to identify target areas that help us enlist our champions early on. The first group involved is obviously the front line managers and the formula we use to get their buy in is the same as the one we use for the reps – enlisting their feedback and input on the key areas of change we’ve already identified and are committed to changing (see the three stages mentioned earlier).
The key is that we involve our managers early and solicit their input throughout the entire process. This is especially true with the beginning stage of defining our sales process and they can be particularly helpful here if they were at some point a top producer in your company and are familiar with the best practices of your sales cycle. In addition, involving them in the development and practical use of your scripts is crucial for their continued investment in this process.
Enlisting your top producers and turning them into champions is also key as you might imagine. The easiest way to do this is to carefully listen to and incorporate their best practices into both the DSP development and the sales playbook. Your top producers are intimately familiar with the best practices of closing your particular sale and enlisting their participation and capturing the practices they intuitively use goes a long way in getting buy in from the rest of the team. It will also ensure that your top reps don’t turn on the process and undermine its implementation down the road.
In the same way, enlisting the rest of the sales team’s input is important as well. Sales reps all want to know one thing – “What’s in it for me?” If you can help them resolve the problem areas they run into – the objections they have trouble overcoming, the blow offs they can’t get past, etc. – you will more easily win them over. The way to do this is to have them submit the objections and stalls that regularly frustrate them and provide them with effective rebuttals in your sales playbook.
Other champions include support staff and others who will be involved in compiling and updating the new metrics and design of the sales dashboards and reports. By identifying these key people in advance and having target areas for their involvement, you can ensure the steady development and implementation of your new sales platform.
Key Three: During Implementation Focus on Progressive Success.
Nothing will alienate your sales team more than expecting total adoption and adherence to your new sales playbook and platform during the early stages of its introduction. While this seems obvious, management and ownership – after investing the time, energy and money – are often in a hurry to get the team to buy in. Don’t worry, they will, but it takes time and a plan.
The first key is to coach, measure and reward the adoption of each part of the new sales process one step at a time. Have your managers focus on the opening of your first call for the first week, and then move on to building rapport, qualifying and getting commitment. After your team is scoring high – using a script grading adherence form – on the first call, turn your attention to the closing call and build momentum, and buy in, one step at a time.
Next, focus on the reps that are bought in the most and emphasize their successes in team meetings. Record them using the scripts successfully; highlight their script grading adherence percentages, and reward them for their closed sales. Sales reps carefully watch what the others do and once they learn from their peers that the new playbook and techniques work, they will follow suit. Ultimately, the best way to get your more senior or stubborn reps onboard is give attention to and reward those other, often newer, reps who are doing it your new way and succeeding. Sooner rather than later, the other reps will want the same results and attention.
Measuring adherence to your new playbook, and reinforcing progressive success is what will get sustained and eventual buy in from your entire sales team.
Often times, the successful implementation of a new sales platform and the transformation of a sales culture depend on the senior management’s ability to carefully rollout new initiatives in alignment with a clear strategy and a controlled set of key drivers. Having and following a defined process allows a company to sometimes outwait and outwit the sales team’s natural resistance to change and provides the environment where the new platform truly can transform the culture.