Helping Organizations Navigate Change through Sales Enablement
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It’s often said that the modern business environment is rapidly changing – and that sentiment has never been more true than it is today. As the world confronts a very real, very serious crisis, businesses need to quickly find answers to new questions emerging from every facet of the organization – questions that didn’t exist until months, weeks, and even days ago.
In the midst of uncertainty, sales enablement is more important than ever. From helping salespeople adapt to new workflows while working remotely, to guiding key leaders in the organization on how to effectively communicate important changes to the field, and preparing salespeople to practice critical skills such as empathy, sales enablement is uniquely positioned to help organizations navigate large-scale change.
“[Sales enablement] has never been more relevant than we are today,” said Rebecca Bell, associate director of global sales enablement at IQVIA. “We need to encourage and help our salespeople to make this transition.”
As companies across the globe continue to blaze new paths through unprecedented territory, sales enablement can be a crucial asset to lead organizations through change. Here are four strategies sales enablement practitioners can use to successfully guide organizations on their change journeys.
The first step to creating meaningful change is to unite behind a powerful “why”. Without a clear vision for why change is necessary – and why complacency is inadequate – people are unlikely to be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to change behaviors.
Even when facing a visible challenge, people are often tempted to cling to status quo. This complacency comes from a variety of sources: lack of transparency from leaders, low performance standards, denial, and more.
Sales as a profession is also often resistant to change because of the time it can take to adjust processes, learn new messaging, etc. – time that could otherwise be used selling. In creating a vision for change, it is extremely important for sales enablement to be sensitive to the fact that change is not easy.
“As sales enablement people, we have to have a lot of empathy for the field,” said Cori Hartje, senior director of global technical enablement at Poly. “Just calling it out, just acknowledging that this is hard is important.”
A bold vision that clearly articulates why change is needed helps establish a sense of urgency. When people can understand the potential impact of change, they will be more willing to put the necessary work in to make it happen.
To define your vision, start by bringing together a task force to help guide the implementation of the change initiative. This group should consist of credible leaders across the organization, people with the power and authority to enforce new processes, the leadership skills to inspire action, and expertise that covers a wide range of perspectives.
“Having enablement and key stakeholders agree on the vision and plan is critical for the successful execution of the transformation,” said Helen Cummins, an experienced sales enablement leader.
Creating a compelling vision takes careful thought, and often won’t come from a single draft. Rely on teamwork to ensure the vision achieves your desired objectives. Consider whether your vision encompasses the following characteristics outlined by John Kotter in his book, Leading Change:
- Imaginable: conveys a clear picture of the future
- Desirable: appeals to the long-term interests of stakeholders
- Feasible: comprises realistic and attainable goals
- Focused: can provide guidance in future decisions
- Flexible: allows for adjustments as conditions change
- Communicable: successfully explained in five minutes or less
Defining a vision is just the first hurdle – it then needs to be communicated properly to the people that will be directly involved in or impacted by the change. If it isn’t clear to people exactly what the vision is, how it benefits them, and what they are expected to do because of it, then the initiative is doomed to fail.
“The biggest change is to get people’s mindsets around supporting the vision and implementing the changes and then sticking to the new way of doing things,” said Cummins. “How many times do we run into occasions where the vision wasn’t clear or is in contradiction to existing core values? Change is really hard. If people can’t share the same vision, then you’re not going to be able to successfully execute in the new direction.”
Clear communication and transparency can be extremely effective motivation tools. Not only does it help by clarifying expectations and approach, but it can also help limit the influence of voices that might undermine the change.
For example, individuals might grow skeptical of a change initiative if they only hear the vision repeated by the CEO at the beginning of an all-hands meeting, but never reinforced in one-on-one meetings with their manager. However, the managers might be hesitant to discuss the vision because it might be too jargon-filled to distill any useful meaning from it.
With an effective communication strategy, sales enablement practitioners can remove ambiguity and help reinforce core messages in a clear and simple way. Kotter recommends using the following principles to effectively communicate a vision for change:
- Simplicity: eliminate the use of jargon
- Metaphor: use metaphors, analogies, and examples to paint a picture
- Multiple forums: reinforce the messages through various mediums, including big and small meetings, verbal and written formats, and more
- Repetition: lean on managers to consistently reinforce the vision with their teams
- Lead by example: ensure behavior from top executives is consistent with the vision
- Explanation of inconsistencies: address any inconsistencies that arise before they undermine credibility
- Give-and-take: allow for discussion and create forums for two-way communication
Generating momentum is a continuous process that extends far beyond the initial sense of urgency. Most large-scale changes take several months, if not years, to become fully entwined in an organization and the behaviors of employees. To maintain the momentum behind a change initiative over time, it pays to actively plan short-term wins to go after incrementally.
For example, identify a quarterly benchmark for improvement in a specific sales competency that supports the vision. Hold managers accountable for tracking progress and be prepared to show how that competency improvement has impacted other sales goals. Then, reward those that met the goal and elevate them as examples of what success can look like with the change.
“You’ve got individuals out there who are very focused on change…and they very quickly see the realization of why that change can work,” said Aaron Evans, director of sales enablement at GlobalData Plc. “When they start implementing that change, we celebrate their success. Then they become almost a totem for the organization of, ‘if you make these changes, you will succeed, you will do well.’”
Short-term wins work so well because they provide visible evidence that the sacrifices made are worth it. When everyone can see the success that’s possible on the other side of change, it helps retain support from the top down.
“You want to raise visibility of short-term wins,” said Cummins. “I have found it really important to publicly recognize and reward people who are moving things in the right direction. It really sets the right tone.”
While celebrating short-term success along the way is beneficial, be careful not to celebrate the end of the change too early. The allure of a big win is attractive, but it’s important to keep in mind that real, meaningful change isn’t over until it becomes fully embedded in the culture – and that takes time.
Celebrating the end of a project as the end of change sends the message that people are no longer expected to put in the effort, and people can easily fall back into old habits as a result. Even after the completion of a major change project, help maintain commitment to the vision by continuing to build on it over time. Continue to look for new ideas to tackle, encourage leadership to think bigger, and reinforce the shared purpose of the vision.
Anchoring the new approaches in culture is the most crucial step to leading successful change, and it is also the most complex.
Whether consciously or subconsciously, all individuals that are brought into an organization have been indoctrinated to operate on the same principles. Often, this is exerted through the visible behaviors and actions of a large number of people, which become the social norms over time. Culture has deep roots, and is extremely difficult to change.
To help embed new changes in the culture of an organization over time, Kotter suggests you keep in mind these four key things:
- Culture change comes last: people often embark on change initiatives with the goal of changing the culture. While it is important to be sensitive to cultural issues throughout an entire project, understand that culture change does not happen overnight, or even after just one project in many cases. It takes time, effort, and intentionality to cultivate.
- Culture change depends on results: typically, new approaches sink in and become a part of normal workflows only after it’s proven that they work. That is why generating short-term wins is such a critical component of driving meaningful change.
- Culture change requires a lot of communication: without support, people are often hesitant to admit that the new practices are valid. The new approaches need to be thoughtfully communicated with empathy for how the change impacts them and honesty about what they stand to gain.
- Culture change may involve turnover: if leaders, managers, and individuals do not reflect the culture you are striving for and are unwilling to change, sometimes voluntary or involuntary turnover is the best solution to move forward.
“Don’t take your foot off the pedal until the plan has been executed and the new way is really part of the culture,” said Cummins. “You’ve got to persevere.”
It is more important than ever for sales enablement practitioners to rise to the challenge and help organizations pioneer through change. As businesses around the globe adjust to a new normal, sales enablement has not only an opportunity but a responsibility to help organizations evolve with the changing needs and expectations of employees, customers, and stakeholders.
Through skillful change management that includes a powerful vision, clear communication, continuous momentum, and ultimately the ability to become rooted in the culture, sales enablement can ensure salespeople have the support they need to endure and prosper through any change.