“Selling Internally,” Driving Transformation

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We tend to think differently about our behaviors in engaging customers and “selling,” and how we drive change–particularly big change–within our own organizations.

But in reality, the issues, challenges, and processes are very similar. We can learn a lot about driving internal change from the very best practices in helping our customers change/buy.

But let’s start with some data: An older McKinsey study shows over 70% of internal transformation efforts fail. Mort Hansen’s work in Collaboration shows similar data on internal projects. From the Challenger/Gartner research, we find 54% of committed buying efforts fail–they end in no decision made. My friend Hank Barnes, has compelling research around “buyer’s remorse,” for those that do buy.

As we look at getting our customers to change and navigate the process successfully—achieving their goals, and our own internal efforts to drive change and transformation, there are remarkable parallels.

At the same time, we find similarities in how we manage each. Too often, we leap to solutions before we–and our “customer” recognize they have a problem, determine their needs, and search for solutions. We are driven to “pitch” our solutions. “You need to use a new tool! You need to use a new methodology! You need to have more training! You need different people, metrics, incentives……” It’s actually the same–whether we are speaking about external customers or internal customers.

The difference is, at least theoretically, external customers have a choice. They can choose an alternative. Internally, particularly if we are in senior management positions, we get to inflict the change on our “customers.”

But in both internal and external change management issues, we have huge failure rates.

At the same time, we can learn a huge amount around very effective, high impact selling. We can adapt these approaches in driving internal change.

The first thing we know about being successful with our customers, is it’s about value creation—not creating value for the customer, but creating value with the customer.

As we create value with our customers (internal or external–I’ll stop making the distinction for the rest of the article), we know that it’s a collaborative learning journey and collaborative conversations.

We know, one of the first steps in driving change is not talking about what things might be, but getting our customers to recognize the current state is unacceptable and we have to do something different. As my friend Brent Adamson says, “The pain of doing nothing has to be much greater than the pain of the change!” Too often, we rush past this step with our customers. We don’t get them to recognize, “We must change!” They are not interested in looking at solutions, doing something new/different, until they have made that commitment.

We know in complex situations, our customers don’t know how to “buy.” We have to teach them, we have to guide them, we have to help them think differently. We have to help them structure and orchestrate that journey. We have to align diverse agendas, priorities, interests.

We have learned the buying journey is not linear, it wanders, it starts and stops, it shifts directions and priorities. As great sales people, we can help the customer navigate that more effectively and efficiently. We can help the customer not lose their way. We can help “straighten” and focus what they are doing, helping create a successful outcome.

We know that selling is about change management–inciting people to change, helping people identify what and how to change and navigate the change process as effectively and efficiently as possible. And we know that if we create great value in that process, “customers” will look to us for more, they want to continue to innovate, grow.

As with everything, adapting “sales approaches” to internal change management is a double edged sword. There is so much bad selling–so often we focus on our needs to “get an order,” not solve the customer problem. At the same time, research and experience has shown us we are more effective when we become customer focused/driven seeking to help them in their journey. We’ve developed great tools, processes, methodologies to do this effectively and have seen the results from those who execute these well.

Imagine doing the same thing with our internal customers? Imagine the buy-in, commitment/ownership, time to results by adapting the same principles.

For senior leaders, your people, organization is your “account.” Develop your account plan. Identify opportunities, incite your customers do change, qualify them, conduct shared discovery, problem solving and solutions. Focus on helping your customers achieve their goals, and we achieve ours.

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