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Sales Transformation Without Crisis, Part 2

As we explored in our previous installment, a successful organization carries some baggage. If personal motivations are being met by current behaviors, it increases the difficulty to recruit volunteers to the new initiative. Worse, the more successful a salesperson is, the more reason they have to hold on to current behaviors. This robs the transformation of one of the most important tools—respected role models.

Also remember that conflicting priorities sap attention and make focus on transformation a challenge. Lastly, when transformation resistance is observed, it becomes difficult to tease apart the reasons, and most often the culture of the organization is blamed.

Sometimes culture is a problem, but more commonly, it is the lack of motivation to change that leads to hiding behind culture or history. Although we label it a passive resistance methodology, many of our customers have described it as, "They wait you out." Meaning, the field organization waits out the initiative to see it die on its own.

So how does a leader successfully navigate a sales transformation with a successful operation? The answer is to treat it as a start-up.

Consider the company that sends a group of engineers off to a new site to create a new product. They are attempting to create an environment that shelters the group from unnecessary or distracting communication and potentially providing the opportunity to reinvent or modify the culture to better support the development of a competitive product. In short, they are attempting to recreate the positive results that come from a start-up environment.

In a similar fashion, a CSO should consider selecting a subset of their sales organization to transform their sales engagement model on a subsector of their business. The selected group could be a select geography, the major accounts team, a new product team, a new logo team, or simply a set of volunteers who have higher career aspirations and want to demonstrate their willingness to learn and lead.

The essential aspect of this approach is to treat the group as a separate entity focused on innovating or realigning the sales methodology. They should be given special resources, special recognition ,and potentially, special compensation. The group's distinction can be physical or symbolic. A physical distinction is visible and unambiguous. There are many cases where a new division is created and housed separately.

A symbolic bifurcation, however, can be appropriate and also produce the desired results. Examples of symbolic separation include applying a special name to the group but leaving them in their respective reporting positions, dotted-line or skip-level reporting opportunities, creating forums to provide better access to resources, different compensation plans or recognition and more.

The intended message in these physical or symbolic distinctions is that the group is set apart in order to support the focus on the new initiative and provide alternative motivation that cannot be tapped in a frontal transformation strategy.

There will be ancillary issues to address such as envy of the new group's resources or their incentive plan, mistrust or protective behaviors if there is overlap on resources, and posturing for a variety of other political reasons. Most of the fallout can be readily resolved, especially if you anticipate it.

More significantly, some positive reactions will also come into play. Typically, a curiosity will arise regarding how the innovation or realignment is progressing. In this case, informal communication channels can be flooded with conflicting information. As success is recognized and properly communicated, individual campaigns to join the "elite" group will begin. This is what you want.

The lessons learned from successful and unsuccessful sales transformations in growth and recovery cases indicate that strategy is an important consideration. While a frontal (all-hands-on-deck) strategy works well in crisis situations, it can undermine success in non-crisis situations, either delaying the outcome or derailing it.

A niche strategy—splintering off a specialized group either physically or symbolically to focus on the transformation—works better for non-crisis
situations. We believe the reason that frontal strategies are so commonly applied in non-crisis situations is the misperception it will offer speedy results. In real practice, the outcome is the opposite.

It seems counterintuitive the niche strategy will actually decrease the time it takes to achieve the transformation compared to a frontal strategy, but history demonstrates this is the case. Like the tortoise and the hare, the seemingly slower approach gets to the finish line faster.

Kevin Temple is president and CEO of The Enterprise Selling Group.