Why Your Initiative Never Made It Past the Starting Gate

Mike Riksheim

Most sales effectiveness initiatives don’t take hold. At least not in the way originally planned. In the beginning, people appear to walk the talk. Sales ops integrates elements into systems and reporting. Leaders and the field pick up the new terminology and process language. After all, who doesn’t like a new buzz word or two? 

But soon, the tyranny of the urgent, all too common in sales organizations, takes hold. Before long, only a fraction of the field is executing the new approach. The early adopters might end up using one element of the program, and then, just part of the time. There’s a reason why ‘flavor of the month’ is such a commonly used phrase.

To make meaningful change in an organization, any initiative must become part of the culture. This means real behavior change and adoption at all levels of the organization. It all begins with executive leadership (the topic of my forthcoming blog). But front-line sales management is where your initiative lives or dies.

No matter the amount of training, tools, and technology, leadership and coaching are the keys to success. For adoption to take hold, front-line managers must be equipped to do three things:

  1. Model the way: Front-line managers must demonstrate what good looks like. This means not just generic modeling, but demonstrating ‘the ideal’ in a relevant sales situation. New skills and tools can seem intuitive at face value. But come Monday morning, actual application can be challenging for reps. Like any physical exercise, correct form and repetition is important. But so is context. Runners know that 10 miles on a treadmill is very different than 10 miles on the open road. Managers should be able to model in the common situational contexts. When they can’t, reps question the use and value of the initiative. If my manager can't do this in the real world, why should I? Ensure your managers are well-trained as part of a robust reinforcement plan.
  2. Coach the process: We’ve worked with a multitude of sales organizations. One reality is nearly ubiquitous: managers manage their people instead of coaching them. But often, this fact isn’t the fault of the manager. In many sales teams, there is no management or leadership development program. Managers are frequently promoted based on their performance as individual contributors. Getting results and getting results through others are much different competencies. Most organizations have not invested in a meaningful sales management process. Poorly equipped managers simply look for process or tool use to 'check the box’. Little to no actual coaching on the component parts of the initiative takes place. Enable your managers with a quality coaching methodology that includes the right skills, tools, and process. Integrate this methodology into their training around your initiative. Follow up and reinforce.
  3. Communicate wins – and losses: Seems simple, right? Learn from other’s experiences – good and bad. Most sales reps operate on their own island. There may be a few team meetings and group coaching sessions, but otherwise, most are left on their own. Successes and failures are generally kept within the isolated patches of a territory or org silo. This is a missed opportunity for collective learning. Growing up largely in pharmaceutical sales, I certainly don’t condone mandatory ‘success stories’ as a best practice. (If you’re not familiar with these, check out the cringe-worthy ‘Charles Charles, Success Stories’). Managers should have intimate knowledge of their reps’ patches and opportunities. And through this, finding the right way to communicate program successes and failures on a broader level is a necessity. Ensure there is an effective feedback loop for these situations. Equip managers to take success and losses and make them relevant to their teams. And don’t just recognize people doing something right. Celebrate failure and learnings from those trying something new. Don’t allow these enablement opportunities to become lost in the patch.

When designing your change management plan, be sure to heavy up on your front-line managers. If your initiative has already launched, it’s not too late. Managers always crave new ways to make their teams better. Use the right process and tools, and provide reps with a safe environment to practice new skills. Equip managers to coach using relevant opportunities, not hypothetical concepts. When managers put all dots together, they're equipped to enable their teams to do the same.

We’d love to share more practical learnings from our experience helping our clients make enablement programs ‘stick’ . Contact us to set up a time for us to connect.

Mike Riksheim

Mike Riksheim

Senior consultant with significant expertise in strategic alignment, talent management, sales enablement and sales training. Mike combines his consulting experience with a practical background as a salesperson and sales leader to help his clients drive performance.