6 Steps to Winning the Race for Value

Everywhere sales leaders are grappling with unprecedented change. Industries, customers and competitors are not what they used to be. As a result, sales leaders have to rethink their go-to-market strategies. Often, they reach out to consultants to help them rethink their sales objectives, strategies and processes. Getting external help when facing transformative change is not only a good idea; it’s often the foundation for fresh and innovative approaches. One thing that can’t be overlooked, however, is that new strategies and new processes have no value unless they are actually implemented. Execution is the only thing that matters.

A Lesson from NASCAR

When it comes to winning, we can learn a lot from NASCAR. Not unlike NASCAR, we are in a race. Ours is a race for value, which requires us to make pit-stops from time to time. The annual sales conference is like a pit-stop. This is where we introduce change to the sales team. This is not, however, where change happens. Change happens when talented sales people are in front of qualified prospects and they implement the new strategies and processes. When reflecting on a recent win, one best-in-class NASCAR pit crewmember said this:

“Victories aren’t always determined behind the wheel. With the cars these days, you can’t really pass that well. Most races now are won in the pit”.

The relevance of this quote to sales teams undergoing change is significant. NASCAR has reduced the time in the pit to 8.5 seconds. That’s 8.5 seconds for tires to be changed, refueling and any other maintenance deemed necessary. It is the team that can get its car in and out of the pit the fastest that now wins the race.

In the same way, every sales force must change or die. The adoption and use of CRM is no longer a “nice to have”. The ability to engage all stakeholders in meaningful and strategic relationships has become compulsory. And the ability to understand and contribute to the client’s total economic equation has become the only way to create real value. These are just a few examples of the many changes sales leaders must guide their teams through. With these seismic shifts in the marketplace, sales leaders are forced to pull their teams off the road and educate them on their new strategies and processes. The sooner the sales teams can fully grasp and implement the proposed changes, the quicker they can get back into the race for value. With the unrelenting changes and intense competition these days, this is where the race is won.

Coping with the Shock of Change

Unfortunately, implementing change in a sales team is far more difficult than it sounds. The type of unprecedented change that sales organizations are undergoing leaves many sales people in a state of shock and bewilderment. They find comfort in doing things the way they’ve always done them. Rather than see the new vision, what they see is something being taken away from them and they react accordingly. Often, they drag down the morale of the whole team and ensure that your change efforts are stalled, at best, or abandoned altogether, at worst.

Six Steps to Success

Understanding the states people go through when facing dramatic change can help you coach your people to success and get them out of the pit. The following stages are loosely based on the Kübler-Ross model of coping with loss.

Stage of Sales TeamWhat Management Should Focus On
1. Denial – They do not accept that the change is real. They believe it’s just the flavor of the month and all they have to do is wait it out and it’ll go away.Use this time to strengthen relationships with team members on a one-on-one basis and avoid confrontation. Break the change down into small bite-size steps and get the team to focus on the first step.
2. Anger – They realize the change is here to stay and the old way of doing things will no longer work. They begin to act out in anger in an effort to regain control.Do not take these attacks personally, instead, legitimize the anger and acknowledge that is it appropriate to feel anger when you do not feel in control of the changes you are undergoing.
3. Bargaining – They try to negotiate in order to minimize the impact of change on them personally.Be careful not to negotiate on the major elements of the change effort. If you do, you are redefining the change effort and this will generate a whole new negative response to change.
4. Depression – They acknowledge that they have “lost” the battle to defend the old ways and they experience a deep sense of loss and intense frustration.Continue to provide support and let the team know about resources that are available to help them. Encourage them to take responsibility for their career and to reframe the change in order to regain a sense of control. As an example, rather than say, “No one told me and there’s nothing I can do”, encourage them to say, “I didn’t ask and let me explore my options”. This reframing will give them greater psychological strength and help them build their self worth.
5. Testing – They are willing to experiment with the new methods.Acknowledge the team’s progress and help it build confidence.
6. Acceptance – They begin to realize that the change is positive.Reward and acknowledge the progress, and also identify what has been learned that can be used in the next change effort.

Hiring external consultants to provide thought leadership with respect to sales transformation is critical. Bringing in a powerful keynote speaker to galvanize the sales team at your next sales conference will help to kick off the change effort. Using this outline to prepare management to coach and validate your people through the change is the most critical step. This is where the real transformation takes place. In the end, it’s not systems or processes that change, it’s people. The sooner they change, the faster you can get out of the pit stop and back in the race for value.