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When the annual sales report falls short of expectations, it’s time to question the causes of poor performance.
Unfortunately, some organizations don’t question themselves enough. They don’t try to solve the problems that lead to lower revenues or stagnation.
Agile organizations, on the other hand, identify the triggers of declining sales and proactively address them through organizational change.
This may be the case for you.
In this article, I discuss five practices for successfully managing change in a sales team.
Why make changes to a sales team
Before embarking on a change process, it’s important to determine why. In my experience, certain changes keep coming back, regardless of company size or industry.
One of the main reasons for this is unsatisfactory results. This may be due to a lack of sales to existing customers, or to delays compared with the previous year. It may also be that the team isn’t selling the right things, or is selling at too low margins.
It may also involve a change in the sales process caused by various triggers. For example, an outbound approach may be favored over an inbound strategy. Other triggers include loss of revenue, stagnating growth, or the arrival of new competitors.
Another reason may be wide variations in sales performance. Some perform very well, while others are at the back of the pack. It’s true that not everyone can be among the best. But too great a gap indicates that changes are needed to rebalance the team.
Finally, changes may be required following the acquisition of a new company or the establishment of a partnership. These situations could lead to the addition of new products or services, thus influencing the structure of the sales team.
Once you’ve decided to implement a change in your team, the next step is to put it into action. This is often where we dwell on the small stuff.
5 tips for implementing change within a sales team
Poorly managed change can have significant negative consequences. A case that springs to mind is that of a customer who rushed to implement changes. But in doing so, he neglected certain aspects of the business. The result? In one year, sales plummeted from $14 million to $8 million.
Although change can be painful, we can limit the impact by adopting the following practices.
Tip 1: Think and plan
The first thing is to take the time to think and plan properly. Change has to be well planned, because you often won’t get a second chance if it fails. Planning must include a clear understanding of what needs to be done, when and how.
With any change, you have to consider the impact on business continuity. If you don’t ensure it, the company risks suffering significant drops in sales, like the customer I mentioned earlier. So it’s important to ensure that changes are implemented in a way that minimizes disruption to the business.
Tip 2: Choose the right moment
An important element of the impact on continuity is the timing of the change. You can significantly reduce the impact of a change by taking into account its timing. Some factors to consider are :
- The season: is it high or low season for sales? Avoid implementing major changes during busy periods to avoid disrupting sales.
- The financial calendar: many companies prefer to implement changes at the beginning of the fiscal year. This leaves more time during the year to adjust. In this case, make sure you are well prepared to announce the changes in the previous quarter.
- Change announcements: sales kick-offs are often the ideal time to announce changes. This aligns the team with new objectives and motivates them for the new year.
- A reprieve for an ill-prepared project: if a change project isn’t well prepared, it’s better to delay it rather than rush it through.
Timing is everything, so you need to take it into account to ensure the success of the change process.
Tip 3: Evaluate the team
It may be necessary to assess the team to determine whether members are capable of adapting to the new demands that will be placed upon them. This assessment can help identify existing skills, areas requiring development or training, and team members who may not be able to adapt.
Team assessment also helps identify opportunities to improve performance. By understanding team members’ strengths and weaknesses, you can make informed decisions about how to support and develop them to ensure successful change.
Tip 4: Communicate the impact of change
Many companies make the mistake of trying to implement a major change without informing the team first. As a manager, you need to inform the sales team of the steps in the change process and explain why they are being implemented. HR team members must also be involved.
The idea is not to impose changes, but to keep the team informed throughout the process. The aim is not to get their opinion on the business decision. People are often reluctant to change, preferring to stay in their comfort zone. They may even try to resist it, especially if it comes as a surprise to them.
A better approach is to involve the sales team in the execution of changes – not in the decision to implement them. This allows them to actively participate in the implementation of changes and to adopt them more easily.
The team also needs to understand the impact of this change on their roles and responsibilities. Good planning and assessment will enable you to explain how their tasks and skills might be affected. You can also outline the new expectations that will be imposed on them.
If the sales team isn’t informed and involved, it can get in the way and hinder the change process. By involving them in the execution and informing them of the process, you minimize resistance to change and ensure a smoother transition.
Tip 5: Measure and present the impact of changes
What can’t be measured can’t be improved. This is even truer when you’re implementing major changes. To make sure they bear fruit, monitor results throughout the implementation and stabilization of change.
- Set up performance indicators: establish performance indicators to be monitored on a monthly or quarterly basis. Share them with the whole team to ensure that everyone is aware of progress or pitfalls.
- Monitoring indicators at meetings: performance indicators should be presented at team and management meetings, to review progress and adjust targets if necessary. Sales meetings are also a good time to get feedback from the team. It gives salespeople another opportunity to get involved and embrace change. However, avoid discussing it at every team meeting. Allow time for adjustments to take effect.
- Year-end review: at the end of the year, take stock of what went well, what went less well and what can be improved. It’s also a good time to highlight the steps that still need to be taken to make the transformation a success.
Implementing these elements will enable you to evaluate the effectiveness of changes and determine the adjustments needed to improve sales team performance and satisfaction.
A well-prepared team is worth two
Some companies are better prepared to manage change than others. Those that already have processes in place are often able to adapt more quickly to unforeseen situations. This was the case during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic forced many companies to rethink their sales strategies. They had to switch from face-to-face to virtual meetings, which required technological and organizational adjustments.
Unfortunately, too many companies lack a well-defined change process or the right people to manage change. These companies are often reactive and intuitive rather than proactive and structured. This can make them less able to adapt quickly.
Changes are becoming increasingly frequent and rapid. Companies will need to be able to change quickly and anticipate market signals and trends to stay competitive. They will need to set up “radars” to detect early warning signs of change, and pay close attention to results and sales forecasts to guide their decisions.
How can we do this? By making effective use of data and forecasts to identify necessary changes, and by proactively implementing change processes. This makes us more resilient in the face of future challenges, and enables us to adapt more rapidly to market developments.
The key role of managers in change management
The leadership of company executives, such as presidents and directors, plays a key role in any change. If their leadership is not strong, and if they fail to secure the unconditional commitment of all team members, the change management process is likely to fail.
Sales leaders, in particular, have a fundamental role to play in change management. If these leaders fail, the change will not take place or will not be successful. Their attitude is also decisive: if they seem reluctant or skeptical, this can have a negative influence on the whole team.
Leaders set the tone, and must support and encourage change initiatives. It can’t just come from the bottom up or from sales managers. Senior management support is crucial to the success of corporate transformations.
Managing change can be a fuzzy process. Every situation is different. It’s rare to have to solve the same problem over and over again. We’re often faced with new challenges that require new changes.
The way to do this is to have an adaptable approach to managing change, whether in the way you approach issues with team members or in the sales culture itself.
A sales culture that values change and progression enables sales teams to better adapt to challenges and continue to be successful. Regardless of changing situations.