HOW TO IMPLEMENT REAL CHANGE IN YOUR BUSINESS WHEN IT COMES TO SALES
Changing your business
People resist change. This is a known fact, with much research undertaken and many articles explaining why this is the case.
As a leader in business, you need to frequently make change to maintain your competitive edge. One such change could be adopting a whole new sales process to improve your chances of consistently winning new business, however all businesses will need to make many and varied changes over time.
So, what should you consider to successfully introduce change? As with many things, one size doesn’t fit all, therefore implementing a small process adjustment, say, including an additional follow up call with prospects, requires less effort to implement than the whole new sales process. That said, many of the basic principles below are the same.
There are also considerations for making the change ‘stick’, preventing people from reverting to the ‘old’ way of doing things, I’ll cover some thoughts on this in the next article.
Tell your people why change is happening
Generally, people don’t like surprises, unless it’s something like a lottery win.
I’ve seen people attend a training course to learn new ways of working, and they don’t understand why the change is happening. They arrive with many questions unanswered, or worse, their own agenda, based on partial understanding and often this impacts the success of the training.
Ideally you will have involved your people, or a subset of them, in deciding on or designing the change. This is useful to increase their buy-in to the change and gives them a sense of ownership.
In any case, remember that people need time to get their heads around change, so it pays to tell them early. It really helps when one of the bosses takes the time to explain why things are changing. In larger change programs, we call this ‘the case for change’ and we try to explain, through various channels (written communications, briefings, lunch sessions, videos etc.) the details of the change and why it is happening.
In the example of adopting a new sales process, some of the messaging around why this is happening could include the need to generate more business to beat our competition, to have a consistent approach for signing up new customers and to improve our reputation.
If you have a smaller team, you should be able to speak to everyone in person rather than having to rely more on written or recorded messages. With this approach you can gauge reactions, address concerns or questions head on and determine whether you need to do anything else to help people adopt the change.
Be an advocate
Each change needs someone that is credible and senior to champion it, to be the advocate and be fully behind it. Where large corporations implement significant change programs, we aim for one of the C-suite to lend that extra gravitas to help with the messaging.
As a leader in a smaller business, it’s likely you will need to be the advocate. To increase your chances of success, you should:
- Be able to clearly and concisely explain why the change is happening
- Promote the benefits the change will bring. Be honest though, there may also be some downsides which you should also mention. Being clear about the downsides will help enormously and prevent nasty surprises
- Communicate what the change means for your team (and customers, if appropriate). This includes changes to the ways of working, changes to people’s tasks and responsibilities
Have a plan, and share it
This is an obvious one, but it’s common for people to make change without fully considering how to go about it, from start to finish.
Using the example of introducing a new sales process, you will undoubtedly identify new steps and activities that should always be performed. This could include additional follow ups with leads, or recording more information along the way.
On the face of it, this may not sound like much for your people to adopt – you could just tell them about the change and then expect them to adopt it. You should however think as widely as possible, beyond just the headlines and consider what’s important across your business.
Your team may have been following the existing process for years, and in their view ‘it works’. Deeply entrenched practices are very hard to change, and it’s not as easy as just saying ‘do it this way now’. Extra time with people, training or providing supporting materials may be required to help your people understand the reasons for and the detail of the new ways of working.
Other, wider considerations when planning might include whether you should trial the change in a small area of your business first rather than going for the ‘big bang’ and deploying it all in once? Do you also need to consider impacts on your existing customers or suppliers and how you should inform them?
It’s best to start with the end in mind and consider all the steps required to get to the desired state. Two or more heads are always better than one when planning, so if you can, get your team involved in this process too – it also increases their buy-in.
Once you have a plan, it always pays to share it with all your people. Not every detail, just the highlights; key dates and activities will be enough to keep them informed and avoid surprises. They might also spot something you have overlooked.
Understand what the change really means, and provide the right support
Understanding the change requires you to look at how you currently operate and how you will operate after the change is implemented, noting the differences and using the information to help you prepare. In large programs of work this process is often referred to as the Change Impact Assessment.
The outputs from it will enable you to:
- Brief your people on the detail of the change, what it means for them, what they will be doing differently each day/week
- Understand what support your people may need when adopting the change, for example training, quick reference guides, etc
- Document new ways of working to update operating processes
Here’s a basic example of how to assess change and provide support, based on your desire to improve your sales process.
Your existing sales process could be:
- Receive a sales lead
- Respond by email with marketing information to the lead
- Follow up by telephone after a period of time if nothing received from the lead
Your newly designed process might look like this:
- Receive a sales lead
- Respond by email with marketing information to the lead within 1 business day
- Record the lead’s details
- Create a task for your team to follow up (task 1)
- After 7 days, complete task 1 by sending a further email that nurtures the lead’s interest area
- Create task 2 for further follow up
- After 14 days, complete task 2 and send a further email that nurtures the lead’s interest area
- Generate a weekly report to identify prospects converted and those outstanding
You might identify the key differences as:
- The sales process now contains more steps
- You are now asking for your team to create tasks in a system
- You are introducing timelines into the process that you want your people to follow
- The lead’s details need to be recorded in a system
- There is less time spent on the telephone
- You are increasing scrutiny on their work by reporting weekly on progress of leads
In order to help your people adopt the change, you could:
- Provide detail of new sales process (through briefings, supporting documentation, a worked example)
- Explain how tasks will be created and tracked (through system training)
- Explain know how to record the details of new leads (through system training)
- Provide information to introduce the weekly reporting, how this will work and what will be included (through a demonstration and discussion)
Most people will be concerned with the changes to their role, what it means for them on a day-to-day basis. In this example, there are several points for consideration that you might want to address:
- Your people may spend more time completing certain tasks
- By introducing a new system, some of the process steps may be automated, e.g. saving time crafting individual emails
- There is expected to be less time on the telephone chasing leads
- Concerns your people may have around the increased scrutiny and the new expectation of completing tasks within a predefined time.
It might sound obvious, but discussing these points openly with your people and allowing them to have their questions and concerns addressed is key for success. You should also consider that in some cases you may need to seek professional HR advice, depending on the nature and scale of the change.
You should take into account other support your people might need to adopt the change, for example updated process documentation, feedback sessions, quick reference guides, where to go for help, etc. You need to select which ones work best to address your change but also consider what works well in your business.
Keep the dialogue going
It may be relatively easy to do all the above; to put a plan in place, communicate why, tell people what the changes are then send them on some training before you go live with the change.
It’s very important though to keep the dialogue going, to gauge how they are feeling. Were there any concerns identified during training? Do they feel ready to adopt the change? Are there any gaps in their knowledge? Do they have any worries? Can they see any extra impacts or considerations you may have overlooked?
After the event, it’s important to recognise the contribution your people have made in adopting changes, be sure to congratulate them on their successes and provide them with the opportunity to reflect on their learnings – you will identify useful points for implementing your next change and if your people feel they have been involved and recognised during the process they will be much more receptive to future changes.
Be aware that there is a high probability you will overlook something. You are unlikely to plan for everything when implementing change, even if you do adopt a thorough approach. As change becomes larger and more complex, the likelihood of this also increases. This can be mitigated through expecting unforeseen challenges, managing your people’s expectations around this and through keeping the dialogue going. Involving your people in finding solutions to unforeseen problems when they arise can make them feel involved and increase their ownership.
In the next article we’ll take a look at some considerations for making change ‘stick’ and how to prevent people from slipping back into old habits.
Project & Change Management Consultant