What a CEO Needs to Know About Sales Force Transformation

Warren Shiver & Michael Perla, Authors, 7 Steps To Sales Force Transformation: Driving Sustainable Change in Your Organization

What a CEO Needs to Know About Sales Force Transformation

The challenges facing CEOs and other senior executives are many.  In the realm of sales and marketing, much of the guidance aimed at the executive suite is focused on operating performance.  However, what if a situation, such as continued underperformance or changes in the competitive landscape, necessitates wholesale change in the sales organization?  What do leaders need to know about sales force transformation?

First, salespeople, by and large, are independent and entrepreneurial. They don’t just sell their products, they sell themselves. Sellers will typically cite ‘freedom’ as one of the biggest benefits being in sales, which is why perceived ‘micromanagement’ is often so despised. If you try to change people who are out there selling themselves day in and day out, you will likely learn that most salespeople are intrinsically resistant to change, typically much more so than in other functional areas.

Next, while our research and experience have proven that sales force transformation can create significant value for companies, we have also seen that to successfully implement sustainable change, senior executives must champion and support the effort in the following areas: 

  • Leadership: Since a transformational journey is not measured in days or even months in some cases, a successful transformation needs sustained, committed and authentic leadership from the full executive team, not just sales leadership. Often sales transformations require changes in other areas (e.g., supply chain, product/marketing) and the leadership team must be fully committed and accountable to the overall vision.
  • Communications: the theme is “early and often” when it comes to communications. The messages should also be authentic and transparent and be communicated in such a way that they incorporate the different learning and thinking styles of different recipients (e.g., data driven, story oriented, emotionally focused, etc.). Senior executives have a unique ability to signal to the organization (and to external stakeholders such as customers, partners, and suppliers) by their words and actions their commitment to meaningful change.
  • Alignment: Sales can’t succeed as an ‘island’ in the organization. Transforming a sales organization to consistently deliver insights requires new value propositions, case studies and collateral from the Marketing, new competencies, skill development, recruiting profiles from HR, and alignment with Operations to refine products and services. Senior executives must ensure that sales leadership is aligned with their peers from other functional areas within the organization, such as marketing, HR, finance and operations.

Finally, senior executives are typically adept at “keeping score” and managing to the metrics and leading indicators for their businesses. In our research, the best predictor of a successful transformation was whether or not the company measured progress – not simply sales results but both leading and lagging indicators that tracked the desired changes (e.g., increased pipeline, increased win rates, decreased sales cycle time) and also show effectiveness of communication and alignment efforts. Both process and result metrics are essential for communicating progress and early-wins and helping to build momentum for the effort.

About the Authors

Warren Shiver and Michael Perla are the authors of 7 STEPS TO SALES FORCE TRANSFORMATION:  Driving Sustainable Change in Your Organization (Palgrave MacMillan).  Warren Shiver is the Founder and Managing Partner of Symmetrics Group (www.symmetricsgroup.com) and has more than 20 years of sales, management and consulting experience.  Michael Perla  is a Principal with Symmetrics Group, and has more than 20 years of sales effectiveness consulting and strategic marketing experience.