Sales transformation: Failures and success

By Anders Björklund

Sales transformation: Failures and success

All B2B sales managers know that sales transformation must happen. Most sales leaders want to make it happen and are a bit stressed, and some hope that the storm will pass.

Many companies invest in digital collaboration tools, social selling, new CRM's, and sales automation to gain data relevance and insights. And that they desire to evolve into a world of hybrid selling. 

At the same time, most companies learn to live with COVID-19, and there's only a nary a chance that we go back to the pre-pandemic days of pure face-to-face selling.

There's no doubt that technology is a crucial enabler of sales transformation. But as a buyer, you need to beware aware that it's not a silver bullet.

I am involved in many sales transformation initiatives and know that many companies struggle to reap the promised investment returns. My general advice is always: sales transformation changes need to be purposefully managed and agilely executed, especially this scale and magnitude. 

Why sales transformations initiatives fail

Given the resources now pumped into sales transformation, failure is almost unacceptable. Yet, at the same time, failure is relatively common. In my experience, there are a few five primary reasons for this:

Lack of assessing your team's readiness

To equip your sales organisation with the best technology solutions can be challenging if your sales reps or managers don't understand why they must embrace these new ways of thinking. 

Assessing and improving your team's readiness for the needed change with a paced programme is essential. You can measure your sales team's readiness quantitatively (through polls and surveys) and qualitatively (through interviews and focus groups). Of course, a combination often provides more accurate insights but what's critical is designing the questions and conditions under which they are asked.

Failure to articulate a clear vision and plan

Transformation is an abstract concept until the 'why' and 'how' is communicated. It's hard for sales teams to get on board if they don't understand how the transformed processes and new technology solutions will help them create efficiency and improve effectiveness daily. The responsibility of articulating and leading change sits squarely on the shoulders of decision-makers and managers. 

Failure to leverage data and coaching

Many sales organisations rely on data to track transformation progress and individual sales performance or sales managers to coach their teams towards the desired goals. Success is a combination of both. Sales managers must leverage actionable data insights regularly to preempt or address adoption challenges, recommend improvement opportunities, and suggest relevant interventions.

Underestimating the extent and reach

Sales is a team game that goes beyond the sales organisation. In most cases, it requires the support of, and change in, other teams like, e.g., marketing, management, finance, business development, service, offering and technology. So think of your sales transformation on an organisation-wide scale to create a more holistic, accurate and sustainable approach to people and processes. 

Lack of leadership support

Transformation requires full leadership buy-in, and it thrives on leadership support. When your leaders are present, guiding and supporting your teams through the change, it does wonders in alleviating fear and inspiring confidence. The converse is true too.

How to succeed with sales transformation

So, what can you in your company do to create and sustain sales transformation success? 

While your change management should be tailored specifically to one's business objectives, there are five universal principles sales leaders can use to guide this journey towards success effectively:

Start focused and specific

Having a vision of your teams and the company's success and translating this for your sales teams can sometimes be challenging. If so, focus on quick wins to show them why transformation matters for them. This will help excite and motivate your teams to get on board.

By identifying early milestones you can achieve within the months, you're coaching your teams towards understandable and measurable progress and reducing change fatigue. For example, when transforming your sales organisation from a product-focused to a customer-centric approach, you must reward teams and individuals who have achieved specific goals, e.g., customer satisfaction scores or reduced churn, to create incentive and motivation.

Be agile in your technology adoption

When it comes to sales transformation, you must prioritise your sales team before the technology. You must identify and understand change capacity and implement an agile framework that allows coaching, training, feedback, shoulder mate time and sprints to test new ideas and experiment. Often, compensation systems need to be re-designed to reinforce the sales team's behaviour and habits.

You can lean on your technology provider more at this juncture. Today, post-sales support like integrations and enablement is essential when technology buyers choose a vendor for a good reason.

If your tech stack grows increasingly complex, you must ensure that additional solutions are well integrated and implemented. For example, in Zooma, we make sure that we understand our customer objectives, needs, challenges, desired future state, and approach before developing their sales initiatives. These efforts always commence from their brief, our debrief and the onboarding. We then implement sales support, coaching, training, value reviews, best practice sharing and more to help our customers to build additional sales capabilities and support their performance management. 

Create ownership with autonomy and resources

The Project Lead's responsibility and accountability fall on establishing sales transformation as a large-scale project. Therefore, some components must co-exist a Project Lead who is fully backed by an active decision-maker, sufficient resources, and the authority to address and resolve issues promptly as they arise. This signals a solid organisational commitment to change. 

From buyers of SaaS tools on a digital transformation journey, I often hear that it's not enough that the solution is excellent. Instead, they are looking for a partner to drive their change practically and help them demonstrate what and how to apply and prioritise best practices.  

Monitor, measure and manage

As part of your sales transformation approach, you must establish your objectives, KPIs and other relevant success metrics. Because process transformation operationalises this approach into daily activities and tasks, keeping a close watch on progress helps you understand whether the change and the transformation are taking root.

Here, sales managers play a critical role. However, research has found that most sales organisations do not take advantage of sales coaching as an essential tool for sales enablement. This is a missed opportunity because those who invest in a sales coaching programme can see increased win rates for forecasted deals and increased employee satisfaction among their sales reps.

Transform your sales culture

Leading by example and ensuring behavioural consistency are essential to sales transformation. To embed change into your culture is imperative. It requires the orchestration of appropriate initiatives in communication, processes, systems, performance management, compensation and more to ensure sustainable change. 

Sales transformation is an organisational-level initiative, but it needs to resonate with people personally for change to stick. While change is told never to be easy, it is a journey that every modern sales organisation must embark on.

To get more updates like this, subscribe to The Onlinification Hub - and make sure to take a look at our in-depth guide to sales enablement to keep learning more about how to transform your current sales operation.

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Anders Björklund
Founder, CEO & Strategist since 2001. Anders provides thoughts and reflections about how to think about onlinification and digitalisation in B2B.
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