How to Scare Your Top Sales Reps


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It never fails. In nearly every client we hear about the emails and calls. Sales Reps hear through the grapevine about a sales or marketing improvement project. Then they ask their managers what’s going on. A worry about job security starts a panic. Now, a resistance has taken form – even before the project gets any traction!

This is avoidable. Strong communications are the key – enlist the HR Business Partner early to manage the change. In this post, I discuss the components of effective change communications. I include some tips on launching change communications. For help, download the Change Communication Creator tool. It has samples of communications to use in various situations related to Sales improvement.

The Impact of Poor Change Communications

By far, the worst change communications I’ve seen are like this: (Nothing!) Sales or Marketing leadership thinks there’s a problem and decides to fix it. They use internal or external consultants to identify the true cause of the problem. But they forgot to tell the field that this is going to happen. So, the field finds out when a consultant starts poking around. Now the questions and rumors start:

  • Who are these people and what do they want?

  • Is our company getting acquired?

  • Is there going to be a RIF (Reduction In Force?)

  • Will our compensation change? Our territories? Our quotas?

  • Are we getting new leadership?

With the questions may well come response tactics at the field level. These tactics may be damaging to your company. For example, with a RIF rumor, Sales Reps may cozy up to top accounts – to make sure they can count on them at the competitor. Pipelines may magically grow to show “better performance”. Some may even start to spread the internal rumors externally to customers and prospects. Top reps may start to put out feelers for a new position.

Ineffective Change Communications

Aside from NO change communications, there are other types that have poor effect. These 2, for example:

1. The verbose, consultant-ease communication.

You know this one. 2+ page email with 20+ words in a sentence. Uses fancy phrases like “an initiative that implements world-class capabilities to keep our market-leading presence in an enviable position”. A plethora of words doesn’t convince anyone.

    2. The terse “I’m too busy of a leader to get involved” communication.

    Almost the exact opposite of number 1. It is a short, “forced” communication. It is usually from a leader that wants the benefits, but doesn’t want to do the work. The tone of this type gives the beneficiaries the idea that it isn’t serious. Words something like “This project starts next week, so I ask for your earnest contributions. If you have questions, ask your manager.”

    Components of Effective Change Communications

    To ensure the improvement initiative will have high adoption, pay attention to these components:

    1. WHAT/WHO/WHY: Short statement of what the change is, why it is needed and who is impacted.

    2. ALIGNMENT: Show alignment with company or sales goals, especially stretch goals. There may be an overarching theme to tie to, like $20B by 2020.

    3. FUTURE: A future vision of what the change will bring. In this, provide reasons why the field wants to be a part: WIIFT/WIIFU (What’s In It For Them/What’s In It For Us.)

    4. ENGAGEMENT: What is the expected level of engagement of the message recipients. Also, show evidence and promises that senior leadership is engaged in this effort.

    5. REACTION: Provide and communicate a method for those affected to get more information. This feedback loop should allow for anonymous questions and suggestions.

    Tips for Effective Change Communications

    • Multiple Messages – This list of components to include is lengthy. You don’t have to put them in one single communication. Space them out in separate communications. Use different communicators for the different pieces. Leverage different communication formats. Email, blog post, newsletter, town hall meeting, video, etc. You can even put a note in (or on if electronic) the paycheck

    • Enlist the Managers – Bring the front line sales managers into the project early. Enable them with messaging and actions they will use to communicate to their teams.

    • Get Beneficiaries to Contribute – Include the beneficiaries in the initial decision and design of the project. This involves being transparent. For example, let the field know that things need to improve. Point out the issue(s) and ask for their feedback for potential resolutions. This helps the field feel something is being done WITH them, not TO them. Consider assembling a team from the field that can help be mouthpieces.

    • Get Creative Help – Leverage Marketing resources for creative assistance in crafting messaging.

    • Show Senior Leadership Involvement – Ensure that senior leadership (CxO-level) is actively communicating and showing involvement. This means they are plugged into the project, not just the initial introduction communication. Have different senior leaders communicate via different channels throughout the project. The communications from senior leaders should include a personal tone.

    • Over Communicate – Continue with communications throughout the whole project. Don’t just stop with the initial messaging.

    What to do next

    You don’t want to set a panic among your sales force. The top reps shouldn’t get a scare. Carefully plan your initiative to ensure a calm, logical adoption.

    1. Enlist the help of HR for managing the change related to any improvement initiative.

    2. Completely plan communication content, dates, channels, and communicators. Pay special attention to the natural low points of the change impactees. This is when encouraging communications help push everyone through.

    3. Download the Change Communication Creator for sample starting points of various message types.

    4. Create effective change communications. It helps if the basic message is “ghost written” beforehand. Then, HR will provide it to the communicator to personalize it before sending.

    5. Be sure that the field has been involved early – BEFORE this change is foisted upon them.

    Republished with author's permission from original post.

    Steve Loftness
    Steve has worked for more than 20 years in process design and implementation, as a certified Six Sigma Black Belt. While at Sales Benchmark Index, he has helped many B-to-B organizations eliminate non-value add selling activities resulting in productivity improvements of 20+%.


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