One of the more difficult initiatives a sales leader can attempt is changing their sales approach. Every so often, the external environment changes enough so that what once worked no longer generates reliable results. When this happens, the sales force's approach causes them to struggle. Results that were once easy to obtain slip out of reach. Making a decision to change your sales approach isn't easy, and executing it is even more difficult. But when you make that change, everyone on your team needs to go all in.
What follows are some ideas about how to adopt a new approach, and most of the advice will help with any change initiative, including the kind that requires a behavioral change—especially as it relates to something that brought your team success in the past.
The Difficult Nature of Behavioral Changes
Changing your sales approach comes with a high level of difficulty, something that is true of any behavioral change. It's important to understand that when someone has had success doing something for a long time, it isn't easy to understand that now it’s somehow wrong. The salesperson's past experience with their approach is comfortable, and they know everything they need to execute it perfectly.
When changing your sales approach, it's important to recognize that you are asking the sales force to give up what they know to adopt an approach they haven't practiced, making the outcome of the sales conversation uncertain. No salesperson wants to lose deals they believe they can win, and even though the new approach may be better, this fear still exists. Behavioral changes take time, more time than the sales leader expects, and more time than the sales force wants. But real change isn't fast, easy, or comfortable.
The most important outcome when implementing a new approach is behavioral change. Spending time rehearsing the conversations and role-playing provides a safe way to practice the changes the sales force needs to make. The more time you spend preparing your team to make these changes, the better your results and the faster your team will gain the necessary experience and competency.
Identify and Promote Early Successes
One of the ways you can provide your team with the confidence to change their approach is to identify and promote early successes. When salespeople see others succeeding, they are more open to trying a new thing that they may consider to be untested and unproven. Getting their buy-in may take more proof than you expect.
It’s helpful to have the salespeople who are succeeding with the new behaviors explain how they approached the client, how the client responded, and what next step they easily secured. This helps demonstrate the change. The more people who try, succeed, and share their experiences, the sooner you will have more salespeople using the new approach.
Patient Persistence and Progress
Every transformation takes time, so as a leader, you need to practice patience and persistence, and measure progress. The greater the change for the sales force, the more time it is going to take for adoption to be widespread. However, patience isn't the same as allowing people to take as long as they want to start practicing the new approach. And leaders need to remember that competency is going to take some time, even if some members of the team start improving their results very soon after being trained.
The sign that things are not going well in your transformation is a lack of progress. If there are no stories about success or failure, the sales force probably isn't using the new approach and has reverted to what they know best. Sales managers must ensure that the behavioral changes required by the new sales approach are implemented.
There was a time when I might have suggested letting the top salespeople continue doing what works for them. Their success typically came from dropping any parts of the sales approach that didn't create value for their prospective clients. They would whisper that they had stopped using their "why us" slide deck, even though it was mandated. These adjustments contributed to their success, even if some of them were born with certain advantages that gave them an edge over other salespeople.
My thoughts on this have changed, and now I recommend against giving waivers to anyone. When you give a salesperson a waiver to opt-out of the new sales approach, you give that waiver to everyone, even if that is not your intention. If the best salesperson doesn't have to change their approach, others will decide that they don’t either—even when they are struggling. As a sales leader, I understand why some managers have favorites. But if changing the sales approach is an important enough initiative to undertake, it must be important enough to require everyone on your team to adopt it.
Going All In on Your Sales Approach
Many sales forces have not yet adopted a modern sales approach, and those who most need to change have failed to do so. For many, implementing the modern approach is treated as a suggestion and not a mandate. Many more sales organizations, especially small and medium-sized companies, have no sales approach at all, leaving salespeople to do what they will. In both cases, they would do better to choose an approach they believe is right for their business, even if it isn't a modern approach, though I would highly recommend against choosing one that has already run its course.
Whatever sales approach you choose, making it a success requires going all in. You are going to have to talk about the approach constantly and consistently for longer than you think possible. Better sales results are not going to appear until your team reaches the level of competency that makes them highly effective. There is no magic bullet.