The UK sales landscape has changed dramatically in recent years. The age of cold calling through a list of contacts has long passed. Today's buyers are digital, price-conscious and more inclined to undertake an extensive research process before committing to a purchasing decision.
This has had a profound effect on the average sales department. Business development teams are now under huge pressures to deliver sustainable pipelines with real long-term value. For the majority of companies the level of change has its own challenges. This includes the need to maintain and drive sales revenue, but also from an HR perspective - experienced staff and new starters need supporting through a turbulent market shift.
It is important to maintain consistency. The new buying landscape should not mean 'out with the old, in with the new'. This would result in a fragmented sales department, one that is highly detrimental to its own performance and the business as a whole.
Gutting a department of those that seem unaligned with modern techniques is not effective change management.
It is short sighted and can cost your business dearly. The knowledge experienced staff have is often irreplaceable, and while some personnel decisions are always necessary, it is more beneficial in the long run to pursue a strategy built around retaining staff, personal development and targeted training strategies.
Selling the Concept to Sales
Begin by identifying those that are welcoming to the change and individuals that might be apprehensive. The former are ready to be moulded into change champions; staff willing to spread the benefits of adopting new sales methods. Through these individuals, vocalise the positive effects the change will bring. Enlist their assistance and drive them to motivate others.
The latter stakeholder group should be first on the list for your change champions. They are the staff that require extra support. If left to their own devices, they possess the ability to spread resistance and could cause roadblocks to success. They may prevent other staff from getting on board because of their negativity. Offset the risks they pose by opening up clear communication channels, engage with their apprehensions and act on them quickly.
Ensure you fully understand each stakeholder group before moving forward. The next step is to identify your intended business outcomes. Are you looking to drive sales innovation across your business or keep up with market developments? Do you want to increase sales, target a new demographic or merely consolidate the current department to ensure greater flexibility in the future?
Strategising for Success
All of the above need an implementation strategy of their own. Always be honest and open during the planning stage, otherwise staff will be unsure of senior management’s overall aims or objectives.
Communicate why change is necessary and outline key milestones so employees are aware what is expected of them, what internal governance will occur and what new skills might be developable.
The next step is implementation and meeting the above milestones. Utilise a variety of engagement methods. Consider one-on-one sessions for challenging staff. Set aggressive but reachable targets that push those comfortable with the new strategy. All staff need to be incentivised, so implement a supplementary reward-based structure alongside traditional incentives and financial benefits.
Most importantly, celebrate success when progress is made and foster a culture of value. Your salespeople will have adapted to new work practices and methodologies, so be conscious of the effort involved and show them you appreciate their progress.
Supplement strategic implementation with regular training and professional support. Staff should not be trained and then left to adapt. Ongoing training and engagement sessions will highlight post-project risks and potential complications. Do not let these fester; identify and outline a process that deals with them efficiently.
Never let the market change your strategy without good reason. Instead lead your sales department to meet the industry head-on. Nurture and incentivise your staff, outline clear, practical guidance and ensure a high impact training framework is in place. That is how you sell a new strategy to staff adept in the field while simultaneously ensuring sustainable positive business outcomes.
By Esther McMorris, Founder, Nine Feet Tall