Lessons from IBM – change is the “new normal” in sales

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IBM conducted a Global Making Change Work Study to examine how organizations manage change. The study explored differences in how change was implemented by over 1,500 practitioners worldwide. Let’s examine what they found and relate it to the world of sales.

The key finding …

For survival, tomorrow’s companies must better prepare themselves as the pace, variety, and pervasiveness of change continues to increase. When asked, only 61% of the leaders felt they were in a position to properly manage the anticipated change.

Some, however, have begun to “crack the code” on managing change. Interestingly, technology wasn’t the answer. Rather, success was reported to depend largely on people.

Relating the study findings to Sales

1. Need for change in the sales function likely will be significant. The study reported – “No longer will companies have the luxury of expecting day-to-day operations to fall into a static or predictable pattern that is interrupted only occasionally by short bursts of change. To prosper, leaders will need to abandon such outdated notions of change. In reality, the new normal is continuous change – not the absence of change.”

These organizations and others like them are someone’s customers. If these companies are anticipating the need to cope with continuous changes, it is likely these changes significantly will impact what they buy and how they buy. This means that a sales force will need to constantly adjust and adapt their selling processes to the new realities in the buying dynamics of their customer base.

2. Review of how to manage change in the sales function is probably warranted. The study noted – “The ability to manage change must be a core competence – and yet, as the level of expected change continues to rise, many are struggling to keep up. Eight out of ten CEOs anticipate substantial or very substantial change over the next three years, yet they rated their ability to manage change 22 percent lower than their expected need for it.” A change capability gap exists.

Although there is not a direct link between a CEO’s judgment about the ability to cope with company-wide change and the capability to manage a change in the sales function, the finding does send up a red flare. At a minimum, a prudent move might be for sales leaders to re-examine the plans and budgets in place to asses the extent and nature of the changes their sales team will likely be facing and the planned interventions to deal with those changes.

3. Best practices exist for managing change in the sales function. When it comes to best practices for managing change, the study identified four factors – labeled the “Change Diamond” – as having the largest impact on managing change. According to IBM, neglecting even one factor can inhibit achieving change excellence. On the other hand, when used together, the results can be synergistic. The four factors appear as appropriate for managing change in the sales function as in any other type of change management effort.

  • Real Insights, Real Actions Strive for a full realistic awareness and understanding of the upcoming challenges and complexities driven by the anticipated changes, then follow up with actions to address them.
  • Solid Methods, Solid Benefits Use a systematic approach to managing change that is focused directly on achieving the desired outcomes. A solid method must be innovative yet have a proven track record for achieving the desired results.
  • Better Skills, Better Change Demonstrate top management sponsorship, assign dedicated change managers and empower employees to enact change and recognize them when they do.
  • Right Investment, Right Impact Develop a clear understanding of which types of investments can offer the best returns to achieve the desired change.

A final important note for those of us interested in sales – the study authors observed: “Surprisingly, it turns out the ‘soft stuff’ is the hardest to get right. Changing mindsets, attitudes and culture in an organization typically require different techniques, applied consistently and over time – sometimes across a series of successive projects and often continuing after the formal ‘project’ has finished. Practitioners typically find such less concrete challenges tougher to manage and measure than challenges related to business processes or technology, which are more tangible and possibly capable of being changed permanently through a single intervention.”

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©2011 Sales Horizons, LLC

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