One thing that every sale involves is change. Unless you convince your buyer to change something in the way they are doing business, you won’t have a sale.
But change goes deeper than that in sales - in order to perform effectively, every sales team must be ready and able to change as the market changes, as the business changes, and as new approaches are developed.
Sales leaders and teams who understand change management have an advantage over those who don’t think in these terms. To help us understand more about best practices and approaches to change management, I spoke with Iiro Pohjanoska, a change management consultant, for my show Stop Killing Deals. Here’s what Pohjanoska had to say.
“To me, change management means getting people to work differently and think differently,” says Pohjanoska.
He separates change management into two types:
He says that these two types are different, but they share many elements and approaches.
There are also two primary drivers of change:
When there’s a burning platform, he says, it can be easier because the change is visible and the background for the change is stronger. When it’s simply a desire to achieve something bigger or better, it can be much more complicated and leadership must pay careful attention to how they manage it.
Regardless of the type or driver of change, Pohjanoska says that active and involved leadership is critical to success.
“You have to formulate the channels to discuss with the people, and have persistence in coming back to the issue when it really impacts them,” he says.
When the driver is improvement, it’s important to set the background for the change by communicating with the full team, but then to break the change down into segments and come back to people when the change is actually going to impact them.
“It’s a systems issue and a cultural issue,” he says, indicating that leaders must pay attention both to the systems of communication and support, as well as the culture of the organization toward change.
Pohjanoska says that studies show that roughly 20% of any population is “pro-change” - these people cannot stand to live in a static environment, and embrace change quickly and often. Another 20% of any population are anti-change, and will resist any changes in their environment, no matter how beneficial it is. The rest fall somewhere in between.
The critical issue for those who resist is simply time.
“You have to give them more time,” he says. “And be realistic in your expectations. Most changes fail because leaders are not realistic about how long it takes to get everyone on board.”
Middle management plays a crucial role in keeping the team in lockstep throughout the change project. Pohjanoska says that successful management is effective in holding back the forerunners from proceeding forward too quickly, and supporting the laggards in keeping up with the pack. This helps ensure the organization moves together in the change.
Managers must also be aware of themselves and their own relationship to change. Some will fall in the 20% who embrace it quickly, while others will fall in the 20% laggard group. Self-awareness can help managers keep themselves and their teams in time with the rest of the organization.
Pohjanoska says that in his work, he sees the same mistakes crop up time and again.
“The first one is not understanding the format of the change,” he says. “How clear are the boundaries of the change?”
In other words - understand which of the two types of change you’re undergoing. Cultural changes can be of the first king, with undefined borders. While others, such as the implementation of new software, may have very defined borders. The approach to each will be different.
The second mistake, he says, is failing to have a rhythm. Change won’t happen overnight, and in order to be successful, you need to plan and establish and maintain a rhythm for the change. For instance, perhaps you have an introductory or motivational video to get started. Many organizations do this step, and then don’t follow up, which ultimately is ineffective.
Instead, develop communication channels and a rhythm for communication, training, and support that takes place over a specified period of time. Make sure communication channels are two-way, so you are in sync with your team and can address concerns as they arise.
Finally, he says, companies make the mistake of thinking that everyone in the company is the same, and developing approaches that are one-size-fits-all. Instead, management must be aware of the human nature of individuals within the organization, and develop responsive change management plans that address the individual needs of each person in the company.
Pohjanoska says there is always a cultural aspect to change management, and that culture is both local and professional. Local refers to how tied people are to their local processes, local leadership, and local environment. Professional refers to the overall culture of the organization and its relationship to change and innovation.
Cultures that are very focused on local elements tend to be more resistant to change, while those focused on the larger organizational success tend to be more open and easier to scale.
In any case, the key to successful change management is to understand first the large scale change that’s desired, and to choose the correct leadership for that change. Then the correct leadership actions. And then, finally, to split it into smaller change projects with clear boundaries, responsibilities, and roles. Throughout each project, it’s important to continue to communicate the larger vision of the change.
If you want to learn more, Pohjanoska shares additional insights during our conversation, which you can watch here.
You can also contact Pahjanoska directly with questions about his work or this conversation, or get in touch with me to talk about how Membrain supports change management within the sales organization.
George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.
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