How to support your sales function in times of (constant) change
Updated: Jun 18, 2019
The concept of change has been prominent in sales discourses for some time now. Sales people and departments are advised to embrace change, and there is a growing awareness about having to keep up with change, in order to remain successful.
In larger organizations, it is not uncommon for a salesperson to change 2 or 3 sectors, several line managers and several directors, all within a year or two. It can be challenging for sales professionals and their teams, and influence both productivity and job satisfaction.
In business reality, change is multidimensional. It cuts across products, strategy and leadership, which can only increase strain on the sales function. Indeed, what does it take to maintain excellence in a sales profession? Some say that the ability to handle change is one the most useful assets a sales professional can have in order to stay on top of things and excel in their career.
But also, what are the assets and strategies that companies can use to facilitate many faces of change that will keep “hitting” their sales departments?
1. Changes in products: Look to facilitate learning and grow confidence
Successful companies will upgrade their product offering and look to enrich services they provide. Products, packages and service bundles can transform greatly, especially in fast-growing companies.
This requires sales professionals to learn, and possibly extend their activity towards market verticals they haven’t handled before. New sets of marketing and sales materials can come into play. Companies may produce them on time, but sometimes they lag behind with sales force education and full integration of the process.
Some people may not be comfortable selling the new product, because they don’t understand it well yet. Larger organizations are often trying to handle this at the intersection of marketing, sales and product divisions, using different methodologies, and with more or less success.
External consultants are sometimes employed, to help structure go-to-market and sales processes around new products and services. They can bring in knowledge and experience from other organizations they supported through a similar transformation.
Also, it’s useful to check if other assets and processes you already have in your company can help. Does your website support your sales and marketing? It’s possible you can consolidate potential from other departments and employ it to support the sales process. Could sales structures benefit from further alignment with product teams?
These considerations can help company owners and sales leaders understand all aspects of challenge, and guide them in developing solutions.
2. Changes in organization and procedures: Make sure the strategy and goals are clear
In addition to launching new products, organizations will restructure from time to time. Companies will grow, open and close divisions and branches. New projects will be introduced, some will be abandoned, and will require structures and processes to change.
Commercial departments can merge, individuals or teams can be transferred from one division or department to another. This will inevitably affect sales professionals working on those teams and sectors. Newly formed teams can have different dynamics than ones in earlier structure.
On top of that, business buyers’ expectations are growing more and more complex, which puts companies under increased pressure. To respond to that, companies will look to change existing processes, and introduce new ones. Collaborative selling, team expansion, different structure of tasks - all this can be employed in order to achieve deeper levels of customer engagement.
To that same end, companies can introduce new tools and technologies. New CRM procedures or task management systems can become part of the work routine, as well as collaboration tools, social media channels etc. This asks for adaptability and change. Larger organizations will often seek to integrate marketing and financial data into the sales routine. Smaller organizations might ask their sales people to take on a broader scope of work, and perform some aspects of marketing, client care functions. For some this will be an opportunity to learn, and some can accept this with insecurity or fear.
What’s obstructing change is often insufficient communication on some or all company levels. So it comes as no surprise that internal communications function can be an important asset in facilitating change in business organizations.
According to Forbes, the clarity of company direction is key in overcoming challenge associated with changes in organization, poor teamwork, unsatisfied clients and stagnant sales. Clarity should come first in order for employees to have a common understanding of goals and why changes are needed.
When working towards achieving clarity, leaders are the ones who should spread it first. This doesn't mean that individuals from across the organization shouldn't have an active role in the effort as well. As it is an ongoing process, a lot of work, communication and questions and answers will be needed in creating a culture of clarity for the organization. Such a culture will be more likely to have less problems, better execution and more productive teams.
3. Changes in line management: Allow some time for adjustment
A new line manager will bring new perspectives and new ways. Some sales people might realize they’re still working the old way, although new leaders and plans have been announced and presented. Being caught up working the old way for some time after that is not unusual. Changes can take time to settle in with everyone. It will take even longer for new methods and leaders to actually change things and produce results.
The question of how well teams will fit with new managers is more important than you might think. It can have a tremendous impact on how change will actually play out. Many times, the ability to get along with line managers will be key to employees' job satisfaction. Some sales professionals said they left their positions after the leadership changed because they couldn't connect with the new leader. Also, if employees believe that transformation will ultimately mean less opportunities for their own professional growth, they can develop negative feelings about the job, environment and the company.
A proper understanding of the process, and how change ties in with business strategy will help employees adapt to challenging circumstances such as these. In the best and strongest organizations, these processes will be discussed, planned and managed as a joint effort of HR, Marketing and sales leadership. This is likely to produce best results in terms of facilitating change and making it work for the organization in the best way possible.
Do you think your sales organization adapts to change well? Would you like to examine how sales and marketing alignment could result in improved adaptability and flexibility of your organization? Get in touch to learn more.