Why Do Good Reps Resist Sales Process Improvement?
According to a study conducted by McKinsey & Company, nearly 75% of new sales process implementations are not adopted by the sales force. This is because human beings instinctively react negatively to change. Changing the sales process touches every aspect of the life of the sales rep, so resistance is a natural and expected part of the implementation process. Without proactive measures, your implementation will most likely fall among the 75% group of failures. Here’s what we have seen to be most effective.
Resistance: Passive & Active
Resistance comes in two varieties, Passive and Active. When the new sales process initiative is announced, some sales reps will react with skepticism that it will ever happen. Past experience tells them that this is just a pipe dream, and they won’t waste any energy to deal with it. They passively resist the change. Here are some common examples:
- Avoiding offers to participate in planning
- Ignoring requests for input in the design
- Minimal compliance with assigned tasks
After launch and training on the new process is completed, passive resistance becomes more obvious:
- Explaining to customers that job aids are just a new corporate formality
- Entering inaccurate data in CRM
- Bad-mouthing the process to peers, but not offering suggestions for improvement
Eventually the passive resistance of some reps becomes more active. Examples of active resistance include:
- Purposely reporting activities that did not happen
- Refusing to use job aids
- Entering false information in the CRM system
Why Do They Resist?
A well-designed new process consists of prescribed activities, job aids, and exit criteria that are a quantum leap beyond the current process (or lack of process.) You would expect the sales force to instantly embrace this powerful new stuff and start closing more and bigger deals as soon as they leave the classroom.
The classroom. That’s where the active resistance starts; at the moment reps take their seats (or log-in) and realize that this new process they’ve heard about is actually going to happen. In his recent book, Your Brain at Work, David Rock explains how various chemicals are released in the human brain whenever change is imminent. (Read his book for a fascinating explanation that includes cool scientific words like prefrontal cortex, endorphins, dopamine, and amygdala.)
The hard-wired impact of the human mind may seem slight, but there is an undeniable influence. Here are the subtle reactions that the reps and managers feel when faced with change:
Status: Being directed to do something by an authority diminishes status, which causes a rush of dopamine, a negative brain chemical. Seasoned sales professionals are proud of their past accomplishments, skills and knowledge. A new process implies a loss of status.
Certainty: The human brain prefers repetition and predictability. We are programmed to react negatively to all changes, including a new sales process, even if we have high hopes.
Autonomy: Loss of self-determination sets off alarms. The fear of being forced to adopt new behaviors causes resistance. The human brain rebels at being forced into new patterns.
Relatedness: Facing change alone is unsettling. Humans are social creatures who feel safety in numbers and they respond negatively to situations where they lack support from others.
Fairness: Humans are acutely aware of the equity of every situation. The response to being tasked with new work will seem unfair if it is not balanced with an equivalent benefit.
Here’s the Fix
Surely mature adults can overcome their innate resistance to change and just suck it up. But we are hard-wired to resist. The good news is that resistance can be mitigated. Here’s how:
Status: Select top performers to participate in the design and pilot test. Associate involvement with the new process as a sign of prestige. Publicly recognize the efforts of those who contributed, and use their testimonials to spread the news.
Certainty: Over-communicate. Don’t assume that the sales force reads or listens to every message. Provide schedules, FAQs, and set clear expectations. Broadcast the success stories of early adopters. A regular flow of information will combat the ambiguity that stifles acceptance.
Autonomy: Make sure that the sales force is aware that they have input into the new process. Actively solicit their ideas during development, and provide a closed-loop process to accept suggestions for continuous improvements.
Relatedness: Your sales reps may feel like they are facing this change alone, so you must create an environment that encourages and rewards collaboration and best practice sharing. Host status calls where reps and managers can discuss their experience, both good and bad.
Fairness: Publicize the efficiency and productivity gains that the sales process users are enjoying. If you expect reps to START new behaviors it is only fair to also STOP some. (If there is no productivity gain, the new process design is flawed.)
Finally, start a program to track resistance to the adoption of the new process and tools. Click here for a downloadable spreadsheet that will help pinpoint pockets of resistance, and enable sales managers to take quick counteractive measures.
I'm interested to hear of your own experiences with the implementation of a new sales process. Please comment below.
Ensure the success of your new sales process implementation by preparing in advance to meet resistance and overcome it.
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