One of the best parts of being a consultant is getting to know senior executives across many industries. Compared to the past, most of today’s CEOs, COO, and C-Suite players really “get” sales. They understand the importance of consistent, sustainable top-line growth. And most have given sales a seat at the “grown up" table.
Despite that, there’s a lot of things senior leaders still don’t understand about sales, especially when it comes to transformation efforts. And for many, what they don’t know, can really hurt them. These knowledge gaps can be a deadly contributor to sales transformation failures.
Re-engineering the sales function is a massive undertaking. Done correctly, transformations guide companies safely through evolving markets. Botched sales transformations become massive distractions, triggering a downward spiral in sales performance.
When it comes to transformations, a senior leader's impact is tied to their level of understanding of five critical sales transformation absolutes:
- It’s a journey – Sales transformations don’t happen overnight. There are many moving parts to sequence and multiple stakeholders to align. Senior executive should expect (and demand) ongoing pivots and refinements. But timelines can’t be rushed.
- Linked to the strategic agenda – Sales transformations must connect to the broader corporate strategy. It’s the senior executive team's responsibility to ensure that this linkage is clear and is clearly communicated across the entire enterprise. Setting this tone and requiring support from all functions (IT, HR, Ops, Marketing, etc.) is essential.
- Active CEO engagement – Sales transformations are complex and dynamic, so CEOs must keep these initiatives on their immediate radar. They should demand meaningful updates during each executive team meeting. And they must actively work to clear roadblocks (there will be many) and redirect resources (an ongoing action).
- Internal politics are brutal – Sales transformations will also trigger negative reactions - it's a given. Change is threatening and there’s a natural bias to pay too much attention to the loudest, but not necessarily most informed voices. Leaders must be keenly aware of signal-versus-noise. They need to snuff out distractions or gamesmanship when they see it. This will likely be early and often.
- Smart change management is the unsung hero – Sales transformations can be any company’s most complex and risky undertaking. The right change management strategy will make or break the effort. Executives must marshal the right investments and organizational support to keep things on track.
The best senior leaders use these insights in partnering with the sales team. In partnership, they become the driving force behind their sales transformation. A savvy executive will demand:
- Early engagement in sales transformation planning. This includes a fact-based discussion of the rationale, scope, timeline, and expected ROI.
- A well-constructed communication and change management plan. A quality plan explicitly links to the corporate strategy and maps all stakeholders, messaging, and actions.
- Definitive milestones for holding the sales team accountable. This must define not only the lagging outcomes, but more importantly the behavioral metrics that signal positive momentum in each phase of the transformation.
From Idea to Action
Is your senior leadership team having discussions around these topic? If not, how can you initiative a broader, more strategic conversation? Sales must educate senior leaders on these issues. They also need to see their role as facilitators of an ongoing process that starts in sales transformation planning and continues to field execution. As we've seen across a range of good and bad sales transformations, these foundational actions make all the difference.
Are you a sales leader planning or managing a sales transformation? Or, are you a senior business leader in a company executing major change in the sales model? We’d love to share our insight, including learnings from good and bad transformations.
Contact us and let’s explore how you can harness the power of a sales transformation to achieve lasting sales improvement.
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.