Transforming Your Sales Team – It Is Hard Work

A few weeks back I attended a great discussion and presentation sponsored by the Kellogg business school alumni titled “Selling Strategies In A Challenging Environment”. The event included a panel discussion with four sales executives who answered questions about their efforts to evolve and transform their sales organizations. During the course of the conversation, a couple of  question came up about turnover – how much was there? had these sales leaders worked to reduce turnover?

Across the board, these executives had experienced turnover within their organizations, and a lot of it. Turnover in each case had exceeded 50%. I don’t think this is the answer that any of us wants to hear but I think it is realistic and a challenge that sales leaders who want to transform their organizations will need to face sooner or later.  It is not that individuals are or intend to be cut throat or malicious to successfully transform their organization, but change is hard and not everybody is going to make it. Consider:

The willing but incapable: Perhaps your transformation requires a different style of selling, a different market or product, a different level of executive conversation.  There is probably at least a few in your organization that may have the right attitude but just cannot, for whatever reason change their skills to fit in the transformed organization.

The capable but unwilling: These exist in every organization as well.  Skilled individuals who are not willing to make the change that the organization has asked them to make.

Right-sizing the sales team: Many transformation efforts include changing the structure of the sales organization.  Does an inside sales team need to be added? Is the size of the each managers sales team changing? Are two organizations merging and redundancies need to be removed?

A couple of conversations last week with family business owners, again caused me to reflect on how hard transformations can be. A third generation business owner shared his journey from running the family business to selling that business to an investor and to becoming professional management for another business owner. He shared how it had been impossible to layoff the overpaid, under-performing employee as the business owner but could recognize the need and take action when he was hired management. Transformation is hard, necessary perhaps for continued success but very, very hard.

This morning I read a blog posted by Buckley Brinkman about how difficult transformational change is.  He is in the process of making career changes and moving to a new city which has caused him to reflect (again?) on how hard change is. Buckley is a “Change Catalyst” and in the business of making change happen for companies that he works with.  Yet even this master of change, has to dig a little deeper to find the benefits that make the pain of change worth going through.

Read Buckley’s Blog Post on Change.

How have you managed challenging transformations within your sales team?

Invest In YOUR Sales Success – Not In Your Competition’s

At a recent presentation I gave to a group of sales and marketing Vice Presidents, the conversation turned toward the issue of high turnover in their sales organizations and its negative impact on their ability to build a high-performing sales team that could deliver predictable results.  In many of their companies, across several industries, well-trained sales reps were leaving to join the competition and taking much of their pipeline and customers with them.  Unfortunately they are not alone. Research by CSO Insights, which regularly surveys Sales Executives for the latest trends in sales and sales team management, finds that high turnover rates (up to 50%) are not atypical of mid-size companies.

While turnover rates may be improved with better hiring profiles, appropriate compensation plans, and strong management, this situation is not likely to be improved easily and may remain a fact of life for many companies.  Consider the impact of socio-economic trends in the business world – a tough economy and a changing workforce – that will continue to put pressure on any efforts to reduce turnover. The average tenure of  ‘millennial’ generation employees is less than two years. As more baby-boomers retire, it will become more necessary to tap into the skills of this younger workforce.

Companies need to face this reality and build an operating model for your sales and marketing organization that addresses the reality of living with high turnover. It is analogous to the individual who buys a pair of jeans two sizes too small and anticipates wearing them once they lose a few pounds. Inevitably, the jeans sit in the closet and are never worn. The moral: build for today not for an idealistic future that may never arrive.

Building an operating model that addresses the reality of high turnover means focusing your effort and investment on creating a sales process. The sales process allows you to pro-actively manage your sale engine and retain knowledge within the company about who your customers are and why they buy from you.  It gives you the management tools that enable you to better leverage company resources and continuously improve how you sell. It frees you from the traditional dependence on luck in hiring rainmakers and on individual sales representative’s “thrill of the hunt”. It reduces the inherent risk of having these individuals leave and go to the competition, with their skills and customers.