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A CEO Guide to a Successful Sales Transformation

Two businessman reviewing results of a Successful Sales Tranformation
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How can a CEO ensure a successful sales transformation is achieved in their company?

The words ‘transformation’ or ‘change’ are business acronyms for making improvements to what a part of a company is currently doing. Whether that change is small in how an order is processed or a product ordered, or a major change in the structure and activities of a large group of people. The catalyst to the majority of changes within sales is often about more transparency, increased revenues, and profits. Those types of changes go to the core of who and what the company is and can never be treated with a ‘quick fix’ or partial approach.

The sales organisation, whether just six people or hundreds, typically attempt to embark on what is referred to as simple change but often find themselves confronted with major change as they fail to take the right steps from the outset or look at the issues deeply enough to identify the real causes. A great example is being lured to the implementation of software as the first step of their business requirements, companies quickly realise the roll-on effects of the software implementation.

Perhaps the most difficult task you face as a business leader is establishing the full requirements of a transformation and then successfully leading a complex sales force transformation or change. Too often, CEOs delegate the change to sales leaders not realising contribution and engagement at the highest levels is required for the change to be taken seriously and a successful sales transformation achieved. The stakes are high, with immense potential for high ROI – and a huge cost both financially and in human capital, if it fails.

Why do transformations fail?

Unfortunately, many transformations fail to deliver their planned revenue or they go off the rails. Predominately the causes are lack of leadership skills through transformation and lack of understanding of the execution of a successful sales transformation. Leadership in transformation can be different from leadership in other situations. For a successful sales transformation, you are leading people into the unknown, taking them through new experiences, asking them to let go of their comfort zones, and also things that they hold dear to themselves. You can be asking them to be in conflict with beliefs and their status in who they believe they are to the company. You have the added pressure of customers impacting the change as they place their traditional demands on sellers too.

Another challenge is the leaked announcement. You have started changing the culture of the business immediately when you announce, or whispers sneak out, that things are going to be done differently. Without a formal announcement and education of the change, people create their own version of what potentially may happen. Teams will react to how they received the information and what was contained in the information. An out of touch management may well spark a revolution within the teams by focusing on issues they do not agree are a priority.

Transformations affect people in many different ways and only experience in execution provides you with the depth of insight to ensure it stays on track and most of all delivers the required ROI.

Another often underrated impact is that often sales leaders from within an organisation are going through enormous change for themselves, when asked to lead a transformation internally. They are being asked to take a different message to the team and one that may fly in the face of their previous messages. They are walking into the unknown often with little time to learn what lays ahead for them, little lone their teams. They can be affected emotionally by the impact of the change amongst those within the company. They can unknowingly succumb to emotional and sometimes irrational decisions under the stress that is change. CEOs need to be prepared to support sales leaders and provide the necessary guidance and communication to guide them through the changes as they are pivotal to a successful sales transformation.

You need to get a transformation right the first time.

Often when we review companies, there are bread crumbs of attempted change that have been swept under the carpet and other companies where the damage is like an open wound, and you are greeted by an atmosphere of traumatised personnel where change has been winding its way around the business.

I recently met with a company that was contemplating a transformation, for the third time, and were looking at ways they could ensure success and achieve their outcomes. They outlined to me the previous attempts had only been minor change processes and they had experienced some bumpy roads going through those changes, and the results were not anywhere near the levels they had expected. They had consoled themselves that this is just how it is with change and a good job had been completed. They had collectively agreed the upside is never going to be as high as what you consider it will be.

The executive had put together a committee of people to guide the transformation and those people provided the stewardship to everyone involved. Those people were all briefed on where the company was heading and what had to be achieved. They met on a regular basis to discuss the progress and any issues that needed addressing. They made decisions at those meetings to keep the transformations moving forward. They described to me that was the process they had experienced in other companies they had worked for and the results they were getting were in line with their past experiences.

I agreed with them that many change programmes or transformations are conducted in this manner and that the results they are experiencing were measurable to others applying the same practices. I gently entered the subject that however, I did not believe they were applying best practice for transformations. Their results were inevitable as there were four cornerstones of transformations missing in their approach. They are:

Transformation Cornerstone #1. Ensure you have a documented plan in place of what you need to change, how it needs to be changed, and what the completed standards will be from the change.

Change has many layers and items necessary to address during the ‘transformation’ process. Often one interrelates to another and if they are not addressed in the right sequence, with the full understanding of what ‘cause and effect’ you are dealing with, the transformation will go off track or languish in its first couple of months. A well-documented sales improvement review and the execution plan are vital.

Transformation Cornerstone #2.  Set realistic timelines for change based on the true capacity of the business and the leadership team. Not all leaders can deliver short-timeline change which most aspire to do.

Not all companies cope well with change and others have cultures that require tremendous skill and endurance to transform. Just because the people give consensus to the desire to change does not mean they actually will change. You need to understand the companies and the people’s ability to cope with change and find a balance between their abilities and market demands. The change must be delivered in under 12 months for success and you need to consider the impact of that timeline throughout the business.

Transformation Cornerstone #3. Develop your understanding of the human and cultural change dynamics of change.

People are the organisation. Take them away and you have no business. This does not mean you build the entire transformation around people’s demands, but it does mean that you must have an element of the psychology on your side to be able to understand people’s real motivations for their actions. Cultural change is the most difficult task to achieve when you have an existing relationship with the people as you have already developed a subjective perspective of those individuals which compromises your ability to drive change.

Transformation Cornerstone #4. Build a critical mass of support by engaging key stakeholders.

Key stakeholders are pivotal to your successful sales transformation. One person reneging or attempting to ‘sit it out’ will send a message that creates a crack that grows to as wide as the Grand Canyon in your transformation. Key stakeholders must be on board or new people installed that are supportive stakeholders. The company must hear, observe and experience one message continuously.

Successful Sales Transformations

Most companies are quick to move on past the first cornerstone of planning and certainly underestimate the second of timelines. Hence the results that many companies experience. Interestingly, many companies will trip on cornerstone three by becoming part of the problem, rather than the solution. This is overcome by simply having an external person to become conscious of the transformation to assist in keeping people-focused. The final cornerstone can create challenges for companies who wish to attempt change with their existing team leaders. Often that decision that is based on loyalty, can corrupt the entire process. Many executives believe they can coerce them into being supporters and much time is lost and damage caused as those stakeholders agree in meetings and conduct themselves in conflict outside the meetings.

If you apply those four cornerstones for transformation your ROI will increase and your risk of failure will greatly diminish.

To identify who is best to lead a sales transformation, click on the image and download a comprehensive book on the profile and selection of transformation leaders.

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Sales Focus Advisory specialises in the review and development of sales transformation plans to ensure maximum ROI is achieved. Contact us today to discuss your specific business goals.

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About the Author: Adele Crane

A leader in Implementation Consulting.
CEOs and Managing Directors have relied on Adele Crane to solve challenges with the performance of their sales and marketing since 1990. Her consulting experience in delivering results in 90-120 days is unprecedented by any other known sales and marketing consulting professional in the world. As an author of 3 acclaimed books, appearances on major media, and publications in USA, NZ and Australia, Adele’s experience brings fresh thinking and contemporary practices to business.