Improving sales performance more often than not requires changing the behaviors of sellers and managers. Sales organizations are continually challenged to bring in higher revenue, quarter after quarter, and year after year. They are asked to expand markets, launch next-generation products, and keep pace with the changing needs of their customers. The sales environment is dynamic and relentless, and to remain competitive, sales organizations need the ability to change, and change rapidly.
A structured approach is essential for any organizational change, but particularly so for rapid behavior change. Here are four keys to ensure that sellers and their managers buy into your change initiative and that new behaviors are impactful and sustainable.
1. Define. Start with KPIs and work backward
To be effective, it is important that behaviors targeted for change are directly aligned to the sales organization’s KPIs and desired outcomes. Alignment keeps stakeholders supportive and ensures that behavior change results in meaningful impact. Start by identifying the actions, measurements and behaviors that drive results.
This involves understanding current and desired-state KPIs and prioritizing specific behaviors that make the most impact on KPIs, for both sales professionals and their managers. Design relevant and challenging learning interventions to address desired behavior changes and create a measurement plan to confirm and quantify business impact.
Each element informs and supports the next, creating a framework for meaningful and actionable change that can be observed and measured. From knowledge acquisition through business impact, be sure that measures are put in place to drive your KPIs.
2. Learn. Engage sellers in their transformation
As with any group, salespeople and sales managers do not change their behaviors because they are expected to do so, or even because it is obviously in their own best interest. They change because they buy-in, and that happens when salespeople actively participate in the transformation. Change needs to be comfortable and familiar. Well-designed learning activities provide the opportunity to model new behaviors in a supportive environment that reflects the real-life challenges sellers face in the field.
To engage sellers and managers, create targeted learning interactions that focus on the sales dialogue between buyers and sellers that are highly customized to the specific selling environment. Emphasize learning-by-doing and engage sellers in problem-solving, brainstorming and collaborative thinking. Additionally, utilize intensive facilitator and peer-to-peer feedback and coaching, and incorporate thoughtful, field-based sustainment activities.
Training is where many sales organizations begin and end the transformation process. Though critical, training is just one element in a broader behavior change strategy.
3. Change. Make new behaviors matter
Sales is a very practical discipline, and salespeople have a keen sense for what will and will not add value to themselves and their clients. For sellers to really buy-in, they need to see new behaviors succeed in the field, and they need to know that those behaviors are expected and supported by the organization.
To ensure that new behaviors take root, confirm that the managers and coaches of sellers can demonstrate the behaviors at a high level of competency. Train managers on coaching best practices and build in a cadence of observation and feedback so that sellers are supported on the job. It is also essential to provide managers with a practical way to observe and coach sales behaviors in the field.
Sales professionals who don’t receive ongoing coaching and feedback from their managers generally fall back on old behaviors. Coaching demonstrates organizational commitment and provides salespeople with the confidence to change.
4. Measure. Shift from guessing to knowing
A defined measurement strategy is essential for real-time visibility, informing the learning program, and validating success. Without key measures, there is no way of knowing where, when or if change is occurring. Measures are also critical to training. Learning programs need to evolve and adapt overtime and that depends on knowing what is, and is not, working in practice. Even when new behaviors are adopted, without measures there is no guarantee that change is actually moving the needle in the right direction.
To ensure behavior change and prove business impact, your measurement strategy should provide insights into the quality of learning engagements and how well sales teams retain knowledge and skills over time. You should be able to pinpoint where coaching is taking place across the organization and identify when and where specific behaviors have changed, and how specific behaviors are impacting KPIs.
Moreover, it is important that your measurement process be practical and efficient. If capturing data is burdensome, then managers and sellers are unlikely to comply. It is also essential that your measurement process align to your coaching and KPI cadence. Ultimately you will want to quantify specific behavior changes and correlate them with changes in your KPIs. This requires putting some thought into attribution and timing.
The path to rapid behavior change relies on processes to define, learn, change and measure critical selling behaviors. Because transformative change doesn’t happen without interaction and commitment, it is essential that learning programs focus on the right behaviors and that those behaviors are taught in a way that fosters buy-in and personal accountability. Knowledge and skills modeled in the classroom need to translate to behavior change in the field. To sustain new behaviors, it is critical that managers are equipped with the knowhow and methodology to coach effectively. Lastly, transformation needs the visibility, insight and validation provided by an effective and practical measurement strategy.
Your sales organization is critical to the growth and well-being of your business. Sustained success for them will mean adapting to the velocity and dynamics of your customers and markets. To keep pace, your sellers and managers will need to change, and the faster the better.