I have yet to see an organization that doesn’t struggle with implementing new ideas. Driving change will never be an easy undertaking, but there are ways to plan to avoid pitfalls that typically sink new initiatives and suffocate your new ideas. Sales Force Structure changes require even more change management attention due to their level of disruption. Great sales organizations are able to take new ideas from fruition to execution. This is how.
The Truth: A new initiative can fail based on poor messaging alone. Without a compelling, clear, and consistent message you leave room for doubt. Doubt kills all initiatives. People are resistant to change because change hurts and requires more work. If people think that your initiative is weak or doesn’t apply to them then it is doomed.
Instead: Your message should inspire action and play on what motivates your sales force. Your message should envoke emotion. Sometimes this message is a positive one focused on making more commission, achieving the annual trip, or making quota. Sometimes the message is based on the hard facts. If we don’t do X, the company will not be in business in 5 years because of Y. Less promotion opportunities will be available if we don’t change X. Either way, the message should be clear, concise, and compelling.
Modes: Communication Plan - should detail the ongoing communication cadence and communication channels to be utilized. Project Team - a group of individuals responsible for ensuring the project is progressing as planned and milestones are being achieved. The message should be communicated early and often. Everyone in the sales force should be able to recite it and understand the importance.
Result: The entire sales force is clear on the message and urgently headed in the same direction with a purpose.
Gain Bottom Up Support:
The Truth: Most initiatives start at the top and cascade down through an organization. The message is lost at each level and so is the excitement. Executives confidently make the decision and their egos allow them to ignore the reality of what is to come during the adoption phase. Sales Managers salute and execute like good soldiers, but don’t fully believe. The field is annoyed with all the extra work that shifts their focus from their next commission check. Reps wonder how long it will be before this new initiative fails like the last 10 and they can go back to doing what they do best. Support at the top is a must, but execution at the field level is where success is realized. Always remember this fact when managing change.
Instead: Put your ego aside and let the field own the idea. Form a guiding coalition of your best and most influential Reps. Allow them to voice concerns, add to the idea, and try it out via pilot. Have Sales Managers own the process and trust in their abilities. Emotional attachment to a vision leads to successful adoption.
Modes:Field Advisory Council, Pilot Team, Expert Panel.
Result: Buy in, and even more, ownership at the field level. No Executive has the ability to implement a new idea. You are an influencer.
Reinforce & Measure:
The Truth: Most initiatives fail at the implementation phase because there is no plan on how to gain momentum, reinforce, support and measure the adoption of the new idea. Excitement fades after the rollout is over and the reality of "real life" imposes its will on everyones schedules once again.
Instead: Everyone needs to be held accountable and coached on what “correct” looks like. If the new idea isn’t reinforced, you are sending a message that it isn’t that important. People love to see progress measured and it creates cohesion within a sales force. Post results and use multiple forms of communication to report wins. It is important to note that Wins don’t have to be landing a huge customer. A win can be a new rep using the new idea and failing. The act of having the courage to try something new is a win in itself. Focus on positive reinforcement and redirect those that are making mistakes.
Modes: Communication Plan, Adoption at the Executive Level, Field rides, 1-on-1 Debriefs, Ad-hoc Spot Checks by Sales Leaders, Metrics Review, Progress Ranking.
Takeaway: You can’t win without successfully driving change and implementing new ideas. Don't assume others will follow because leadership is onboard. Even the best idea will fail without the proper change management plan.
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