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8 Barriers to Successful Sales Transformation

March 30, 2016

Are you looking to lead a transformation with your team or organization? Warren Shiver is a leading consultant to sales organizations seeking to radically change their capabilities and effectiveness. This is an adaptation from his book with coauthor Michael Perla, 7 Steps to Sales Force Transformation.

Sales training is challenging, but it can be critical to improving your company’s top line performance.  Through our in-depth research–including interviews with sales leaders and an extensive survey of sales professionals–we have identified a number of key barriers to implementing a successful transformation.  While this list is not exhaustive, we have found that these obstacles apply almost universally when a sales organization attempts significant change.  Our aim is to help you succeed by equipping you with insights into these potential barriers, along with suggestions that may help you overcome–or even avoid–them.

  • Success as a Barrier to Success – It’s hard to build momentum for a sales transformation when things are going well. This brings to mind Jim Collins’s idea: “good is the enemy of great.” Avoid the temptation to be satisfied with “good enough.”
  • Keeping the Lights On – The classic adage of changing the tire while you’re moving applies here. Many people we have worked with were bullish on a sales transformation effort until they lost a significant deal or a major customer defected. Often, it was a deal they should have lost or a customer that was not ideal, but, nevertheless, the reality of keeping the lights on and achieving short-term targets is very salient to the sales organization.
  • Technology/Data Complexity – Most customers we talk to today are thinking about, actively moving to, or are already leveraging cloud technologies to run their businesses. The dirty little secret, however, is that all the old systems, applications, or databases are often still running in the background. A lot of companies don’t decommission old systems, and too much time is spent reconciling “the numbers” between the different reports, systems, and analyses. In some cases, managers keep track of their forecasts in Excel spreadsheets on the side.
  • Your Problems “Walk and Talk” – There is a saying within many companies that the “people make the place.” In our own survey of more than a hundred sales leaders, our research corroborated that people challenges and cross-functional coordination were some of the biggest barriers to sales transformation success.

While these barriers are not insignificant, they are predictable, and they can be successfully addressed if you are prepared.  Following are some key considerations for your implementation process, many of which will help you overcome–or even head off–these barriers:

  • Pilot When Possible – Most everyone agrees that a trial is usually a good idea, especially for larger commitments. Testing the key elements of your sales transformation road-map can pay off in several ways, such as increasing your understanding of areas to refine and capturing result metrics that can be leveraged to secure funding and buy-in for the full deployment. Pilots typically start with a small group or division testing, refining, and gaining real-world proof from within the company; then the group leverages the experience and results to scale across the sales organization.
  • Roll-Out to Front-Line Managers First – First level sales managers are among the most important people in realizing the success of your sales training effort. After all, they’re the ones who will help to coach, model, and cascade the content and process to their teams. Ultimately, you need them to lead by example. This sequence means that you must equip sales management and leaders to reinforce from the start.  They need to be trained on how to coach staff in the new sales strategy, processes, skills, and behaviors. They also need to learn how to select, develop, and provide performance feedback to their teams based on the new processes.
  • Avoid Death by a Thousand Cuts – A healthy amount of turnover may be necessary to foster acceptance of a major transformation. Many sales leaders told us that it’s best to make the team cuts at once, be transparent about the reasons, and communicate honestly and candidly. Avoid creating a culture of fear and uncertainty that can dramatically slow the business while you’re in the process of transforming.
  • Keep It Simple – Many of us have been guilty of mistaking complexity for competence. The more robust and thorough the account plan, the more details on a pipeline report, the more voluminous the sales playbook, the better. With sales force transformations, it’s KISS – Keep It Simple for the Sellers.
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About The Author

Warren Shiver and Michael Perla are the authors of 7 STEPS TO SALES FORCE TRANSFORMATION: Driving Sustainable Change in Your Organization. Warren Shiver is the Founder and Managing Partner of Symmetrics Group and has more than 20 years of sales, management and consulting experience. Michael Perla is a Principal with Symmetrics Group, and has more than 20 years of sales effectiveness consulting and strategic marketing experience.

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