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The Sales Curmudgeon: Why Your Sales Initiative Will Fail

Categories: Sales Transformation

The Sales Curmudgeon is a sales management veteran who's been through countless sales initiatives. He knows why some projects succeed wildly, and others fail miserably. Experience has taught him that very few leaders will risk what it takes to make a real difference. 

The Force Marketing Team wanted The Sales Curmudgeon to share his wisdom, so they painstakingly convinced him to put forth the effort to write this five-part blog series. He has a military background and often equates sales initiatives with military campaigns. Please forgive the brutal tone. We apologize. After countless sales campaigns, he’s too exhausted to mince his words.

Sales initiatives can be an awful undertaking.

New leader. New initiative. Same stuff, different day.

“Hey everybody look: we’ve got a new tab in our CRM!”

Really? Good luck to you. I've heard it before. Just because you’re new to the party, doesn’t mean I am.

If you’re a senior leader preparing to launch a major sales initiative, you’re probably going to fail. Sorry for the dose, but I’m being honest.

It’s a statistical reality, a 65–70% probability.

The Problem with Failure

There are two problems with failed initiatives. The first is that failure rarely flies below the radar. It’s horrific. It takes people’s careers with it. If you blow it, you’re going to blow it for yourself and for those around you. Especially for those who trusted you and put their names on the line.

The second problem with failure is that it spoils the environment for other initiatives in close proximity. In the world of demolitions, it’s called “sympathetic detonation”. The failure of one initiative tends to make people cynical about other initiatives. It also has a half-life that lays the groundwork for future failures.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that I know why projects typically fail. I’ve worked in enough organizations, at all levels of the sales management hierarchy. I’ve seen it all and when projects fail, they follow consistent patterns. At the first murmurings of a new initiative, I can immediately spot the early signs of success or failure. The landmines are always the same.

Do you want to succeed? 

If so, keep reading. If not, I’m good with that too. Your choice.

This is the first of a five-part series where I essentially predict your future, and give you the top reasons why your sales initiative will blow up. Forewarned is forearmed.

I’m going to start with the first reason you will fail: delegating your leadership responsibilities. Or, as I like to call it: stabbing the wounded.

Reason #1 Your Initiative Will Fail: Stabbing the Wounded

failure_shadowThis is one of the most common ground truths I’ve seen from the trenches.

“Hey, I’m all fired up about this new sales message and sales process, but am too busy to actually participate. I may fire off a few emails voicing my support and sit through a portion of the training, but other than that, I’m going to focus on my day job. But this thing is very important to me, so I’m going to delegate it.”

So, you pass it off to an outside consultant or to the head of Sales Ops … or to a recently promoted first-line sales manager who has shown massive initiative. In other words, I’m going to delegate it to someone who lacks the power and influence over the people who will be most impacted by the change.

But that’s the thing about leadership – you can’t delegate it. Getting people to change their habits is a messy, hands-on endeavor. You need to actively participate in your own rescue and the rescue of your teams.

If you want your sales organization to be emotionally connected to a new idea, then you need to personally inspire that emotion. And that begins with your active participation. You can’t sit back and let others lead for you. Simply setting up a few status meetings to tell people what they’re doing wrong isn’t leading; that’s stabbing the wounded.

You are the leader. You need to drive the initiative.

Paint a compelling picture that helps your sales team stand in the moment of change … then provide active leadership over the initiative that will architect that change. Most sales initiatives involve a series of workshops and design sessions to put the future state together. Be an active member of those sessions, and personally ensure that the best and brightest minds of your organization are active members as well.

Don’t stab the wounded. The success or failure of an initiative has less to do with the behaviors of the implementation team than it does with the executive sponsorship that surrounds it.

So when in charge, take charge. Fully participate in all aspects of the sales initiative.

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