Thursday, June 26, 2008

How to Manage Sales Performance Change

In my business I deal with this almost daily. Either a sales person or an entire organization is not performing up to requirements and change has to take place. When I was a new sales manager, and I consider this to be the first five or so years, I tended to approach these problems with more or less brute force. There is a sales methodology in place and I needed to enforce it. I had several years of sales and sales management experience and that experience taught me to go back to the basics and build upward. In time I finally noticed that the irregular results I was achieving while managing change was stressful to me and unacceptable to the organization. Typically a new sales manager brings their bag of tricks and when they run out they move on to the next job. So, I started to look for a better way. I needed to understand how to implement sustainable change.

There are several high brow concepts that need to be understood to effectively manage sustainable change in any organization and this is especially true with sales. The first concept is Gleicher’s Formula for Change. All of these are found in psychology textbooks, but still have relevant practical use. Basically Gleicher states that the discomfort level that exists, times the vision of how things could be better, times a finite plan to make it happen, has to be greater that the resistance to change for change to effectively take place.

D * V * F > R

The second is the concept of Psychosclerosis and Homeostasis both developed by Abraham Maslow. Genetically we do not embrace change at the subconscious level. We dig in our heels and prefer to stay the way we are. Johannes Schultz developed the theory of Autogenic Conditioning around this concept. The last concept revolves around the Reticular Activating System (RAS). That is the part of the brain that is constantly filtering information for the subconscious.

This is a lot of book learning just to attack a simple problem of getting someone to perform at a higher level. But to sustain change over time these concepts have to be understood and applied. Now this is enough material for a book, so a blog will not give it justice. The one sentence answer is this:

The person or system that must be changed must be able to visualize the benefit of change at a subconscious level, and they must understand a clear plan to implement lasting change to embrace that change will happen. Then there must be a repeatable reinforcement methodology in place to overcome the natural desire to stay the way we are.

There are as many ways to accomplish this as there are personalities. Experience managers know how to connect the dots in a lasting and meaningful way. Less experienced managers will go through their bag of tricks until they are no longer effective and then they move on. Never really understanding why change is not permanent.

Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives. William James (1842 - 1910)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Driving Mechanisms and Critical Events

This subject has come up a lot lately. It’s interesting how many people in sales don’t understand this very simple concept. If there isn’t a change agent going on in the business, change will not happen. If this change is not tied to a drop dead date, it will not happen in a predictable timeframe. When you say it out loud is sounds intuitive. When I talk with clients and they are lamenting about long sales cycles, unpredictable forecasts and why their sales people can’t close business, my first thought goes to these two concepts. Let me explain further….

Almost every professional sales person has now figured out that they have to solve a business problem to stand a chance of closing the deal. They understand that uncovering and validating the pain is important, if not critical. The top echelon even goes as far as to have the prospect validate the value of the pain in their own words. They get the solution to belong to the prospect by having them articulate the need and the value to themselves of meeting that need. Mike Bosworth in “Solution Selling, Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets (McGraw-Hill 1994) defines a prospect as a buyer who has admitted a problem. So you understand the buying process, you are dealing with the decision maker, they have a budget allocated, you have not only uncovered the business pain, you have gotten the buyer to admit to it and put a value on it. Deal closed, right!

Why is the deal still in the pipeline three months from now? How do you overcome objections when there aren’t any? The checks in the mail.

The reason is there are no driving mechanisms and/or critical events to cause the decision to be implemented. Your prospect, the CFO or the VP of Purchasing has never processed the paper because there are other pressing issues or no issues at all. In James Clavell book “Shogun” (Cornet Books 1975), Lord Toranaga constantly reinforces to Blackthorne that no decision should be made until it has to be made. The driving mechanism might be a face-off with his arch-rival, but there is no attack; therefore no critical event. The same is with sales. There must be a driving mechanism such as a reorganization, critical financial crisis, or new business process. Something which causes the potential buyer to consider alternatives to what they are doing today. This is what got you to the presentation and the proposal, but it won’t close the deal. Too many times we get this far and assume the deal will now close.

This is where understanding the critical event becomes extremely important. If I am going to forecast this sale, I had better understand when and why it’s going to close. If my solution is part of a process required to achieve a goal, I need to work backward from the launch or introduction date of the new process to create my critical event. “If we cannot start implementation by next week, we cannot make the launch date of May 17th.” “If your new plant is scheduled to go into production on July 1st, then we need to….now”

If they want to improve your AR process or their sales process, but haven’t actually committed to when they must accomplish it, then I can’t forecast the close date on my deal. If they want things to be better, but don’t have a time line for making them better, then I can’t predict when they will buy, if ever.

Even when the pain is real and the cost of the solution is less than the problem, without something driving the buyer to implement the solution, there is no deal. This is why opportunities linger in the pipeline for months and then fad away…..