Talent Considerations for a Successful Sales Transformation

June 3, 2015
Author: Bob Bartholomew
Successful Sales Transformation

Organizational transformation is never easy. According to recent survey results from McKinsey, only 30% succeed. Yet every year, companies spend billions on training and development, often overlooking one critical aspect—their people. Organizational transformation should be described as numerous individuals undergoing a similar change process at the same time.

Given that an organizational transformation is really the result of many personal transformations, any factor that drives individual behavior will have an impact on the transformation. When deciding to transform your sales organization’s Go-to-Market Strategy (GTMS), make sure you consider these ten individual-focused areas to greatly improve your chance of success:

  1. Recruiting
    Ninety percent of online sales job postings are targeted primarily at Transaction-focused sellers. Given that many of these ads are from sales organizations with complex offerings and long sales cycle times, this is almost surely unintentional. Companies using these ads will often fail to attract salespeople who thrive in Process, Business, or Joint Venture-focused environments. Because staffing needs are different than those of the past, a transforming sales organization must pay close and intentional attention to their recruiting methods and messages.
  2. Interviewing & Hiring
    Interviewing and hiring is often a peculiar dance. The candidate naturally “sells” himself or herself and “buys” the company, while the hiring manager comfortably “sells” the company and “buys” the candidate. On close inspection, these interactions between candidate and manager are often revealed to be Transaction-focused discussions. That in turn favors Transaction-focused candidates. To find the right salespeople for the new environment, sales organizations looking to transform their GTMS must use structured science and behavioral interviewing to explore candidates’ experience and performance in clients’ environments, not just the employer’s environment.
  3. Compensation
    The optimal compensation plan for a Transaction-focused salesperson is tied to revenue generation, which can most quickly be achieved by a singular focus on “low price” as an expression of value. Though measures doggedly undertaken to lower prices may bring short-term revenue, this is often at the expense of margin as well as client satisfaction. To attract and drive Process or Business-focused sales professionals, a transforming organization must add elements such as order profitability and gain-sharing incentives, weighting equal to or larger than that of simple revenue.
  4. Account Assignments
    Especially within unusually small or large clients, salespeople may find themselves with a practical limitation on their choice of GTMS. The “Mom & Pop” owners of a small company may be unalterably convinced that they know best and thus refuse any thought leadership, relegating their assigned salesperson to a Transaction-focus. Due to the scope or nature of their offering, a salesperson may simply be unable to engage client business leadership when that client is a massive global conglomerate, relegating the salesperson to choosing between a Transaction or Process-focus. Though these limitations would usually be thought of as a challenge, they can also be an opportunity. A transforming sales organization will likely find a certain proportion of salespeople who will always be most comfortable and effective with, say, a Transaction-focus. Therefore, finding perpetually Transaction-focused accounts can offer synergies in assignments.
  5. Training
    There are 27 critical sales competencies, each of which can be the deciding factor in a salesperson’s success or failure. A salesperson must execute each of these competencies differently depending upon the choice of GTMS. For this reason, any sales training focused on any of the 27 competencies—which is virtually all sales training—needs to contain intentional and explicit alignment with one or more chosen strategies. Very few off-the-shelf sales training programs have this alignment. Thus, the transforming organization must typically charter their own sales training resources to design and/or customize GTMS-aligned programs.
  6. Performance Reviews
    Like training programs, performance reviews are often built around competencies without respect to GTMS. Making matters worse, performance reviews usually force evaluation of competency execution on a quality scale such as poor to excellent. If descriptions of competency performance quality are not rigorously aligned to the GTMS, the performance review process itself may become a powerful disincentive to making the transformation. Sales organizations undertaking a GTMS transformation must nominally adopt and enforce a two-step approach to performance evaluation, answering first “which GTMS should the salesperson be executing” and then “is the salesperson executing effectively (in the context of the identified GTMS).”
  7. Development Opportunities & Assignments
    If a salesperson’s only experience and interest is in selling, then there is a risk they will always be seen by clients as a salesperson rather than as a trusted specialist, political insider, or mutual ally. Those seen as salespeople are almost always forced into a Transaction-focus. Especially if they are expected to create demand, a salesperson must be encouraged to develop their credibility independent of their selling responsibilities. A transforming organization must allow and encourage salespeople to define, research, publish, present, etc. original works of thought leadership within the client’s industry and marketplace, even those that go well beyond applications of their offerings in those domains.
  8. Coaching
    When selling with a Transaction-focus, sales professionals get extensive assistance and guidance from client contacts expressly assigned to make the selling/buying process structured and well-understood. As selling moves to the Process, Business, and Joint Venture strategies, more and more responsibility for defining the opportunity moves to the salesperson. In addition, the political environment often becomes significantly more complex and less transparent. To ensure they prosper in this more sophisticated environment, salespeople need objective, thought provoking coaching—both planned and in the moment—aligned to their chosen GTMS. It is rare for sales managers to have this coaching acumen and awareness prior to a strategic transformation; therefore, sales organizations moving to a more sophisticated GTMS must develop the coaching tools and skills to match.
  9. Information & Collateral
    Once a Process or Business-focused sales professional opens client doors and initiates demand, they must have the tools and collateral to support their future success. To help them continuously hone their knowledge, Business and Process-focused executives have a host of tools at their disposal, such as business intelligence repositories, industry best practice sources, etc. To gain credibility with their client executives, salespeople require the same information access. A salesperson that initially excites a client executive about business benefits but then leaves behind a product feature brochure may ultimately fare worse than a uniformly Transaction-focused salesperson.
  10. Role Modeling
    Every sales organization has their role models, individuals whose past success and recognized skill makes them a “guiding light” of excellence for others. Well-intending organizations often rush to reward their current role models with highly visible responsibilities for defining and advocating a GTMS transformation. Perhaps the hardest part of such a change is recognizing that these role models may in some cases actually be an impediment to the initiative. This recognition starts with a clear-eyed assessment of how current role models achieved their success. A transforming sales organization must give careful and intentional effort to selecting internal champions who do or will model success with the new GTMS.

Don’t let your organization be part of the 70% of transformations that fail. The costs are high when change efforts go wrong—not only financially, but also in lost opportunity, wasted resources, and diminished morale. Following these ten talent-related considerations will help your organization overcome common reasons for failure and achieve success.

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