The phrase “change management” carries a lot of baggage. The negative connotations come quickly: painful, likely to fail, waste of time, expensive, risky.
These bad associations are interesting because change itself isn’t necessarily bad. Think about all the positives that comes from changes like a new job, a new relationship, a new car, or even a great new restaurant.
One way or another, today’s sales opportunities involve change. Sellers are asking buyers to change their current way of doing something. This often means changing from an incumbent provider or solution. It may also mean asking a customer to tackle an issue they’re currently ignoring.
Modern selling has very little to do with you, the seller. It’s about the buyer embracing their decision process about change. It’s not even really about the solution. It’s more about a customer coming to terms with what’s not working and the need to do something different.
The most important thing is that buyers need to feel good about change. The result of the decision is, in many ways, less important than the change process itself. The decision to get moving is more critical than the ultimate destination.
The truth is, the way most sellers engage can stir more negatives than positives when it comes to change. They often amplify the bad emotions and thoughts about change. And they trigger the same bad associations that people have with change management:
- Complacency – Change is hard. Maybe the status quo isn’t so bad.
- Confusion – What’s the right option for my business? Multiple choices and paths blur together. Different approaches start to look the same.
- Frustration – How do we mobilize internal support? What’s the best way to prioritize our organization’s issues? How to communicate the rationale to others?
- Delays/Stops/Starts – Shifting internal dynamics combined with complex contingencies are a constant challenge. Inconsistent progress leads to more pain.
- Lack of Buy-In – Aligning stakeholders takes time. Readiness for change and overall support can be mixed across different leaders and teams.
- Cynicism of Seller/Solution – The promise of improvement, ROI, and achieving the success metrics don’t add up. At some point, it doesn’t seem worth it.
The best reps are tapping into the mindset, skillset, and toolset of change management. They understand that modern selling is really change management. And they see themselves as change agents that guide their buyers. They use a change management approach when leading buyers through the steps of the decision process:
Step 1. Breaking down the current state to create a compelling case for change. Facilitating a full understanding of your buyer’s current risks, gaps, and/or missed opportunities. This means helping customers understand that the risk of maintaining the current state exceeds any pain associated with change.
Step 2. Painting a vision of a better future state. This involves defining the positive outcomes you’re working toward and how things could be better with your solution.
Step 3. Communicating the path forward. Getting practical and outlining the actions needed to move from the current state to the future vision. These requirements might include identifying others to engage, related decisions to be made, funding to secure.
Step 4. Maintaining a focus on movement. Change is always a choice. The lure of returning to status quo can be strong, especially when progress hits a stag. There must be a continuous focus on nudging and cajoling to maintain movement. It also requires navigating speedbumps so they don’t become roadblocks to change.
Yes, this sounds hard, and it can be a lot different than the way average reps sell. But the best sales organizations have embraced this new change management model. And they’re using it to transform their sales teams into change consultants. To make this a reality, they’re adding these five change management strategies to their sellers’ toolkits:
1. Stakeholder Engagement – Change management requires identifying those who can exert influence over the initiative plus all those impacted. These individuals are then classified by their position – allies, blockers, neutrals, etc. Individual plans are needed for engaging each stakeholder type.
2. Co-creation to Build Buy-in – Change can be highly personal. The best change programs are intentional in bringing people into the process. Support comes from folks recognizing their fingerprints in the plan.
3. Change Champions – Successful change programs require a strong and active champion. The ideal candidate for this role has the right EQ, political savvy, and influence to guide the process forward.
4. FUD Management – After the initial excitement, every change initiative will hit the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt stage. Change consultants anticipate this natural point of resistance and are ready with reinforcement. The right messages can increase optimism when negative emotions are at their highest.
5. Engineering Small Wins – Forward progress in the change journey requires building in a series of small wins. Recognizing these little victories helps affirm the process, increase confidence, and reinforce the change decision.
Experiencing change is one of the most difficult, but potentially rewarding things in life. Change isn’t necessarily bad – often, it’s the opposite. In the case of modern selling, the goal is helping buyers increase their confidence in the change process. For many customers, their view of change turns negative when they feel they aren’t in control. By deploying the right change management tools, sellers can help customers navigate the change journey. Sellers create mutually beneficial outcomes when the customer feels good about their decision process and sellers win the deal.
What are you doing to elevate the change capabilities of your sales team? How are you equipping your reps to help buyers move through the changes associated with today’s decisions? Contact us to hear more practical ways to implement the change management mindset, skillset, and toolset needed by modern sellers.
About The Author
Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.