CHANGE MATTERSby Beth Banks Cohn, Columnist & Featured Contributor

[su_dropcap style=”flat”]O[/su_dropcap]NE OF THE BEST THINGS about leading a change management initiative that is focused on transforming the sales function is that salespeople, by their very nature, tend to be enthusiastic about change: They’re good at spotting opportunities, they adopt and adapt rapidly, and they aren’t afraid of ‘getting out there’ and trying new things.

Except these qualities are also exactly the ones that can get a change management project into real trouble.

Salespeople tend to want to take action, and they like to communicate, so without the right controls in place, a change management initiative can misfire – the sales force can start implementing changes before the final pieces are all in place, and the rumour mill can go into hyper drive.

So how do you manage a change initiative that has a large sales force component?

Start by managing these factors:

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  • Ensure you have the ‘big picture’ mapped out before you start talking about the details. Getting into the details before you know what the end point will be often triggers early adopters to take action – but without knowing the end point, you risk sending people off in the wrong direction.
  • Engage salespeople in the process. The best salespeople are highly engaged in the organization and in their own role in it – they have a keen sense that their own effort produces demonstrable results. Dropping changes on them without getting their input or feedback can cause alienation – which salesmeans you could lose your best salespeople. Also, they have something to offer that may actually improve your change. I once worked with a sales force that used their ‘field’ knowledge to refine a change initiative that led to 10x more of a return than originally thought.
  • Communicate as much accurate information as possible. Salespeople are natural communicators, and in the absence of accurate information, they’ll end up speculating, which can cause misinformation to take hold. During the change process, it’s important to communicate early and often, to ensure the right message is disseminated. Early and often are the keys to success here. Don’t let communication stop after the initial announcement. Things will happen in the field and if there isn’t communication coming out about it, the rumour mill will once again go into high gear. And communication isn’t only one way – make sure you are set up to get feedback in as well as sending information out.
  • Understand the psychological effect of change. Top salespeople tend to bring their emotions to work – and that’s a good thing, because it helps them build relationships with customers. But it also means that they can have strong feelings about change initiatives. It’s worth taking the time to make sure that the sales team clearly understands the features and benefits of change – and how it will positively affect them – in order to get them on board. Don’t make assumptions here. And don’t forget to include not only your top salespeople but their managers as well.[/message]

Your sales force can become your most enthusiastic change evangelists, and they can lead the rest of the organization in a change initiative – as long as you properly harness their natural strengths to do it.

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