If change was easy, we’d probably do it all the time. But it’s a fact of life that change can be challenging, especially here in the salesverse. Take the introduction of a new CRM, or the implementation of different sales processes. You don’t even have to go that far. The simplest change can be painful. A minor adjustment to hours, for example, might throw off your workforce, and leave them annoyed and frustrated. The change may even make them uncertain of the future and suspicious of C-suite motives. When change is afoot, effective sales managers have two missions: dealing with frustration and confusion from staff over new initiatives, and managing the expectations of the leadership driving the change.
Sell the Change
Even in ideal conditions, sales is a hard profession; on a good day it can be stressful. So it’s easy to understand your reps’ emotional reactions when ask to alter their ways. If things are working, why mess them up, right? Well, we say it all the time, but it bears repeating: The world moves quickly these days, so top sales professionals should keep an open mind when it comes to new ideas and more forward-thinking ways of doing business. For sales managers taking the brunt of the staff blowback, here are some methods for selling change to your team.
Show your reps the value-add of the change you’re rolling out. Just as you would with a prospect you want to convert to a customer, demonstrate the problem and how a particular change is the solution. If the direct benefit of the change isn’t apparent, it will be harder to put it into action and get a decent adoption rate. Use the selling of your change as an opportunity to be transparent, explaining how the change will impact staff roles. Will it result in cost savings for the company? If yes, say that. Perhaps it will mean an increase in leads, or an uptick in client-retention rates. Whatever the benefit—financial or otherwise—be sure to make it clear.
But expect too that even after explaining the value of the change, there will be those on your team who’ll react with skepticism, disregard, cynicism, and even disbelief. You’ll have to be prepared to address those reactions and also work to reverse any negative behaviors that may result from the change. Frame your response to those reactions in terms of the change being good for the company as a whole and, by extension, good for individual sales reps and their careers.
Be the Change You Usher In
Go for democracy, not hypocrisy. Say you mandate that your sales team use the new CRM; that’s great, but don’t then retreat to your desk and pull up the moth-eaten spreadsheet you use to track leads. To really champion the change, you need to set an example.
Clear the calendar when the change takes effect, making yourself available for Q and A with staff should they have questions. Which they will. Be right there with them when the change happens. Lending an ear to their concerns will show them your level of commitment to the new way of doing things and to them. Also, involve your team in the process, keeping an open ear to any ideas they have that surface as a result of the change. Remember too that you don’t have to interpret every non-positive staff comment as a bad thing. That “criticism” Mary raised could be an innovative idea that no one at the planning meetings thought of.
Whether changing things up or not, it’s never a bad idea to demonstrate leadership by jumping back into the trenches with your sales force. This shows your team that you’re not just giving commands from on high, but that you see things from their frontline perspective; that you understand their day-to-day reality. Tell you what, go on some calls. You might learn a thing or two from the way-back days, when change took you out of your comfort zone too.