5 Ways Salespeople Can Improve Their Change Management Skills
In many cases, salespeople lose more deals to the prospect deciding to take no action than they lose to competitors. Selling is always about change, and change is scary. Making the case for change in any organization requires building the team that can help you sell the change and who can help you execute the change.
It is no longer enough to identify and sell to the economic decision-maker alone. And it isn’t enough to simply find a decision-influencer who may be dissatisfied enough to help you identify an area that needs improvement. Instead, you need to develop a coalition of decision-makers, decision-influencers, and stakeholders who will help you both sell the idea of change as well as execute the change. You need to build a team.
As you work through an organization, ask questions to determine who else is needed on your team. Who will most benefit from your solution? Who has the greatest political power in the organization? Who has the most influence over other decision-makers, decision-influencers and stakeholders? Who is passionate enough about your idea to sell your ideas when you aren’t there?
Build this team first!
This team will help you build and sell your case for change, after you . . .
2. Identify the Obstacles to Change
It isn’t enough to build a broad coalition of team members to help you with your change initiative. You also need to identify the obstacles to change. Many deals are lost because the salesperson or the sales organization underestimates the obstacles to change.
First you need to identify the decision-makers, decision-influencers, and stakeholders who oppose change. It is surprising how often you find that these people are very open to your solution, but completely closed to the idea of change. The status quo is safer; it is the devil we know, and we have learned to live with it.
Selling means leading a change initiative and that means moving some of these obstacles to your side, and overcoming others. This is no mean feat. But too often, we sell to the group that is receptive to our offering and who wants change, and we avoid the obstacles, ignoring them at are peril.
Instead, we need to identify these obstacles and deal with them. Ignoring them is not a strategy, and it too often leads to “no action.”
But before we deal with these obstacles, we need to look at why some obstacles are so obstinate.
3. Deal with Conflicting Interests
Sometimes the obstacles to a deal and the change that it brings are opposed because they have conflicting interests. While change might help in one area, it might make things much more difficult for another area. Some of the obstacles aren’t human obstacles to be overcome; they are technical obstacles that need to be effectively dealt with before the human obstacles can agree to change.
These obstacles need to be identified and dealt with, and the sooner the better. Too often, we in sales present our solution before we have identified all of the technical obstacles and the conflicting interests and built the plan for effectively dispatching them. We leave the client and their team with a wonderful presentation, a wonderful solution, and a long list of unresolved concerns. Thinking on your feet and responding during the presentation may be exciting, and you may even be great at doing so, but it does little to resolve concerns.
Collect the obstacles long before you present. Make sure your presentations and your solutions effectively deal with obstacles to change, and that you have the agreement of those who would be affected by your change initiative before you present. (You make not get everyone’s agreement, but you better have more than you need to win a deal)
Deal with the conflicting interests!
4. Build the Case for Killing the Status Quo . . . And Sell It
You have assembled the team, you have identified the group opposed, and you have identified the obstacles. Now you have to build and sell your case for change. There is a reason that Change Management follows both Storytelling and Negotiation on my Foundational Sales Attributes hierarchy: you will need both of these skills to build your case for change.
No one will kill the status quo to replace it with something similar. It isn’t worth the work, it isn’t worth the disruption, and most of all, it isn’t worth stepping off the cliff and into the unknown. To kill the status quo, you have to build the case for how your solution will create a better future. You have to provide the vision of what the future looks like and how it is better.
If you are a great storyteller, you will have had some help with with your story including your team in the creation of that vision and how you get there. You will also have both identified the obstacles and will have built the plan for overcoming them together.
You also need to have built the ROI analysis in both financial terms and in human terms. Your case has to answer the question: “What’s in it for me?” And it has to provide that answer for as many parties as possible. This is how you sell the idea of killing the status quo to the obstacles. The less of an ROI, the greater likelihood the obstacle remains opposed. It isn’t enough to promise them blood, toil, sweat and tears.
And then. some obstacles simply must be overcome.
5. Play Politics
Politics exist in every organization, including your clients. To be effective requires that you understand and play politics. Is it messy? It sure as Hell is!
To sell and manage change requires that you understand who can bring obstacles onto the team and who can overcome them. Yes, try as you may, some obstacles will have to be overcome. It means trading deals to remove the conflicting interests. It means changing parts of your offerings to acquire some of the team members you need in order to win and execute the deal. It also means courting the obstacles and building the relationships that build trust, especially when what you sell comes with a healthy serving of blood, toil, sweat and tears—and sometimes that is exactly what is necessary to move towards a better future. And sometimes it means someone doesn’t get their way and that a higher authority decides against them.
And, as added bonus, all of these ideas must be applied to your own organization as well. Sometimes moving a client from “no action” to “action” requires that you first change something in your own organization.
You need to learn to play politics. You need to do more than learn: you need to be a master politician. This is where all of the real action in change management occurs. Want big deals with big change? Play big politics!
Sales people sell change. They sell a better future, a better outcome. Successful salespeople know that they sell more than a product or service; they sell change. Follow these ideas to improve your change management skills.