How to Lead Your Sales Team Through Tough Changes

red arrow in the Maze

Leadership has the potential to drive significant change, but the implementation of plans for change and growth can make or break your business’ success, too. Sure, leaders need experience, business skill and talent to move great ideas from the initial stage to the end goal; however, the make-or-break success potential ideas have often has more to do with how well your employees receive these new ideas, and how well they walk them out.

Changes on the horizon

Perhaps you’ve come up with a brilliant plan to break into new markets to propel growth.

Perhaps the times necessitate that you develop new products that means marketing to a different niche and a different demographic.

Perhaps your company is merging with another business, and your sales team has to now sell a whole new group of products.

Regardless of the specific drivers motivating change, success depends greatly upon how well you sell the change to your salespeople. First and foremost, as your mission changes, you need to keep the team focused on that core mission. In order to get your team to support the new mission, they need to understand what’s happening, why the change is occurring, and what benefits will come of it.

In the past, getting buy-in from employees was easy. The “Boss” handed down the verdict—or the new direction the business was taking—and everyone immediately jumped on board. These days, however, employees require more explanation, and to keep successful sales staff from jumping ship, it’s important to get their support.

As the business’ leadership team gets ready to announce the new change, develop a plan to educate your salespeople about the reason the change is happening, why its best for the business overall, how it will benefit individual employees, and how their buy-in will help to propel its success.

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A road map for success

Here are a few ways you can get salespeople on board with the change:

  • Outline long-term benefits. If you’re adopting a new product, map out the long-term success that you see for this new product. Contrast the increased revenue over the long term against the added workload for salespeople, learning about the new product and adapting to new sales techniques.
  • Talk to each employee one-on-one. Let them ask questions, and be sure they understand how the change affects them individually, and as an organization.
  • Address their objections. In the field, the salespeople will confront lots of obstacles as they adapt to the change. For example, a product with a longer sales cycle than previous products means lots of change for salespeople. If they’re used to a product with a shorter sales cycle, then your team is accustomed to the high that frequent sales provide. With a longer sales cycle, however, there will fewer highs, which requires lots of adjustment. Addressing these problems beforehand and appropriately adjusting the sales rewards systems, too, will help the team conquer the obstacles they’ll be facing.
  • Help them win before they get started. Take the time to work out new sales tactics. For instance, if the sales person’s job required talking only to the people in IT in order to sell, but the new product requires selling to IT and the Human Resources people, give them a plan and the tools to succeed.
  • Be prepared for some resistance. Not everyone will jump on board with the changes right away. Some people are naturally resistant to change—even if you explain all the benefits, and effectively educate and train them. Knowing beforehand that some salespeople will take longer to buy into the change helps, so does recognizing that the resistance doesn’t necessarily mean the employee is disrespectful of management, or a bad employee. Keep working the system you’ve put in place, and meet with the employee to allay fears and equip him/her to succeed in order to get them to buy into the change.

No matter how great your ideas are, or how explosive potential new markets are, they won’t matter much if you can’t get your salespeople on board. These are the people that need to make things happen on the ground level. Keep in mind that change is a process: It requires patience to educate employees, and management needs to recognize the individual differences in how employees accept change before getting on board.