Selling is getting harder. What we are effectively doing is selling change. If you want a company to thrive long-term, that’s often what’s needed. I was reminded of this while consulting for a company that was undergoing a restructuring. It was long overdue, but also essential if they were going to stay in business.
Their organizational structure hadn’t changed in 20 years, with the sales manager also taking the roles of lead manager and account manager. Normally, that would be a problem for any company larger than a small business, but their technology product initially had faced little competition in the marketplace. As a result, the company had got complacent. When competition inevitably developed in their lucrative market, they knew they had to make a change. Even then, it took some time and not a small amount of tension-filled conversations among the team members before I got the call to come in to see them.
Change is essential – but how to go about it? When to do it? Who will execute it? There are often a lot of moving parts – and if you’re going to sell change, there is a way of doing it without getting everyone’s backs up.
Listen to the stakeholders. The most transformative organizational changes don’t come from outside. It’s best for the process to start from inside. By the time I got the call, the leadership team at the company was already very aware that they had a problem: they couldn’t argue with declining market share and a stagnant revenue stream. They desperately wanted to tell an expert their problem. It’s a consultant’s job to listen carefully and connect the dots where the people talking to you have a sense of what they need, but are unclear on what to do about it.
Make sure you’re talking to the decision-maker. The company had a dynamic new sales director who was eager to move the company into the future – but to make this change happen, we needed to present the plan to the CEO. This was going to be a challenge: he’d been with the company from the beginning and wasn’t at all looking forward to a major shakeup five years before he retired. But there was no going around him. If change was going to happen, it would ultimately come through him. That’s where we focused our efforts to drive the change.
Deal with emotional hurdles by giving them an emotional payoff. The CEO had the same access to the numbers as the rest of the leadership team and certainly had been briefed on the company’s problems many times before I ever walked in the door. It should have been an easy, rational, business decision to change up the structure of the sales team and assign new roles to get the edge again on their competition. But companies are made up of human beings – and we are emotional animals. Egos, vanity, fear and sheer stubbornness all play their part. To get around it, you have to be patient – but you also have to offer solutions that offset negative emotions with positive ones.
Help them see past the fear of change towards the relief and peace of mind they’ll feel when the plan starts moving ahead. As well, the bigger the change, the bigger the payoff; human beings in general like to be part of something bigger than themselves. Part of that will come from how you can describe the change to them: “It’s not just a restructuring – it’s a transformation of your business. An evolution.”
Change is hard – but if you can sell it right, you can save companies from themselves.
Talk to the sales consulting experts in Vancouver who have helped so many companies change for the better.