Building Resilient Sales Teams: Initiatives That Work

Capabilities eBook - Cover

There’s no better place to improve a company’s revenue performance than by boosting the performance of the sales organization. It’s where the growth strategy is executed, the critical place where a buyer chooses the solution. It’s where marketing and product efforts are realized and where customer success gets its start. If a sales organization isn’t performing, the related pain points are felt around the company. While revenue numbers struggle, there’s definite angst around how the quarter is shaping up and perhaps how the year will end.

You know the problem. The challenge is finding the solution. 

In an increasingly remote work environment, changing behavior and building the right sales capabilities can seem insurmountable. After COVID-19 hit, many organizations struggled in a new environment with hesitant buyers. For some leaders, it illuminated the need to make a change and along with it, a desire to build a sales team that can survive and thrive in changing environments. You may be one of them. The challenge to course correct lies in finding the right solution and enabling your reps with the capabilities they need to be successful. Then, once you change the behavior, adequately reinforcing it. 

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In this downloadable PDF you'll find insights and best practices revenue leaders use to change sales behaviors, make them stick, and recognize revenue results. Leverage this PDF and share it with your sales leadership team to understand what top organizations are doing to create a culture of alignment on buyers’ critical needs and launch initiatives that ensure their sales teams thrive.

Capabilities eBook - Chapter 2


Build the Right Capabilities in the Current Environment

Recent McKinsey research highlighted the challenges the COVID-19 Pandemic brought to building capabilities in your sales organization. The study covers how, even before the pandemic, companies faced a dizzying pace of change with constantly evolving competition and marketplaces. To improve their sales organization’s ability to compete, sales leaders have always had to overcome the complex challenges of changing sales behaviors. Now, the research notes that training in an increasingly virtual world brings another level of challenges, requiring sales leaders to strategically shift their mindset altogether:

“Traditional passive- and digital-learning experiences simply won’t cut it anymore. Instead, remote-learning experiences must deliver the skills employees need, while also inspiring the consistent application of those new skills, so that behaviors—and performance—ultimately improve.” McKinsey White Paper: Closing the capability gap in the time of COVID-19; Page 2

McKinsey’s research demonstrates the need to build teams that can withstand the pressures of a shifting work environment and marketplace. We believe the sales team is the linchpin for resilient companies. When the market waffles, every sales conversation is an opportunity to meet the revenue number. It's essential your sales team is (1) in tune to changing buyer needs and (2) has the right capabilities to adjust and execute based on those needs, repeatedly. There’s no doubt the companies that have thrived during the COVID-19 Pandemic have shown us the importance of buyer-focused sales performance. 

One of the best ways to build resilience into your organization is to build a robust sales engine centered on buyer needs and desired value. For many companies, this step requires a sales transformation initiative that aligns the entire organization on the needs of the buyer and enables the execution of the growth strategy at the point of sale.

A well-thought-out strategic sales initiative accelerates growth and powers valuable exits for growing companies. In our nearly 20-year history, we’ve worked with thousands of sales leaders, coaching them on how to drive lasting change that begins with the right sales capabilities. Organizations that successfully transform their teams all have one thing in common — cross-functional alignment.

Capabilities eBook - Chapter 3

Building Sales Capabilities Requires More Than the Sales Department

Too often, sales initiatives are implemented with a sales-only approach. On the surface, it makes sense. If you want to change behavior on your sales team, train the sales team. But, these initiatives fall flat because there’s too much focus on the internal operation of the sales team and not enough on the buyer. As a result, these initiatives fail to account for buyer needs and outcomes, the driving force behind sales performance. They also fail to consider how other departments influence and interact with your prospects and customers.  

These sales-only initiatives may see individual success or even team success, but the overall company transformation never happens. Sales may be engaging with the buyer one way, but other departments are pushing inconsistent or even contradictory messages. The reinforcement process breaks down because the seller reverts to old behavior reinforced by others’ actions. 

Organizational alignment on buyer needs and value is a critical step to embedding new methodologies and processes into your salespeople’s daily routines. Your teams will maintain their current status quo, if desired changes are not agreed upon, enforced, and valued from the top down and across your company. Alignment fosters organizational transformation that accelerates growth.

Capabilities eBook - Chapter 4 Update

The Five Critical Stages to Implementing Sales Transformation

Successfully building the right capabilities in your sales organization requires the right mindset, process and content. Your execution plan is a critical component to ensuring your efforts create the lasting behavior change you need. There are five critical stages to an initiative that changes sales behavior. These stages ensure your best results for organizational alignment, reinforcement and ultimate success.

1. Discovery:

Just like executing a sales process, your initiative needs your own discovery stage. You need to ensure you’re doing your own discovery on the challenges facing your sales organization. Consider:

  • Where exactly are salespeople falling short and why are they falling short? 
  • What internal bottlenecks are causing sales to achieve poor results, deal velocity to stagnate, etc.? 
  • What external factors in the market or buyers organizations are causing sellers to lose to competition, lose late, qualify the wrong opportunities, close too many discounted opportunities, etc.?
  • What are the current dynamics within your company or in your buyers organization that are impacting sales success?

You can’t fix the problem, if you don’t truly understand it. Do the discovery necessary to ensure you have a solid plan to change it.

2. Organizational Alignment on Content and Tools:

There are many departments in your organization that interact with the buyer. They all have their own perspectives on the problems you solve, the value of your solution and why it’s different than others in the marketplace. If you want a team that is buyer-focused, you need to account for these viewpoints and align them on a focused buyer message. That’s why it’s critical to pull in a cross-functional team (e.g., product, talent management, marketing) to provide input on new sales content, processes and tools.

Cross-functional leadership agreement of your initiative’s major concepts helps to develop customized sales tools that are relevant to your customer engagement process and reflect how you create and capture customer value. This agreement also ensures that there’s a defined plan for how other departments will interact with new methodologies and processes, in a way that supports the sales team’s ability to execute.

See how incorporating workshops into the development of your sales transformation initiative fosters the needed cross-functional alignment that results in bottom-line impact.

3. Integration:

The most successful organizations take new tools, content and processes and integrate them in a way that makes them easily applicable to what their sales teams do every day. Consider what that means for your organization. Where can you reinforce these concepts to make them visible every day? What remote tools can the methodology be integrated in? CRM integration is an obvious choice, but consider other areas where you can integrate the methodology. These options may include: sales presentations, pre-call tools, manager coaching guides, marketing materials, customer success plans, even designated internal chat streams.

Integration may also include drafting new content, processes and tools into other best practices or initiatives already in place. This step makes what’s new feel more like an evolution of what the sales team is doing already, rather than an additional requirement.

4. Delivery:

Delivery is where you train your teams on new processes, content and tools. In a virtual environment, this step is a critical component to ensuring new behaviors take hold and the initiative starts effectively with the front-line sales teams. It’s not enough to schedule a few training sessions over video calls and have a presenter go through a new methodology. Your training process needs to account for the nuances of virtual learning. According to McKinsey’s research study of numerous virtual training engagements, 

“A well-designed virtual program can meet or exceed the efficacy of in-person offerings. Indeed, some 87 percent of learners participating in newly adapted virtual experiences agreed that they were at least as effective as an in-person event. Virtual workshops can be effective tools for organizations as they emerge into recovery from the pandemic.” McKinsey White Paper: Closing the capability gap in the time of COVID-19; Page 5 

In Delivery, we find there are two major tenets to success:

Practical Application

Reps and managers should be trained on new methodologies, content and CRM integrations in a way that’s meaningful to their role. You may not want to train your inside reps the same as your enterprise reps, for example. Also, the majority of the sales training should focus on practical real-world selling scenarios where reps are required to apply and test new capabilities on live deals. The more reps apply new concepts in a controlled environment, the more inclined they are to use them after the training is over. 

Fluent Facilitators 

Facilitators and trainers should have the necessary fluency on your organization’s marketplace, current challenges and industry. If not, the training will lose practicality and relevance. Both of which are critical to reinforcement stages and supporting on-going adoption by the front-line sales team. 


What Companies Are Doing Virtually

With virtual delivery, here are some specific training steps we have seen to improve outcomes when training sales organizations. 

  • Spread training out over several days, think shorter bursts of knowledge over 1-2 weeks, instead of 2 full days packed to the brim
  • Mandate a “cameras always on” mentality to drive engagement and improve the facilitator’s ability to “read the room”
  • Have facilitators who involve the group, making the live training a conversation, not a lecture or one-way presentation
  • Provide an effective balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning, leverage pre-learning before in-person sessions. This step helps maximize interaction in virtual sessions
  • Provide all participants with ways to ‘raise their hand’ and contribute to the session by taking advantage of polls, live chats and other digital features  
  • If at all possible, keep the facilitator role as just that. Use other people to help keep track of time, capture notes, manage participation, moderate chat functions, etc. Delegating the other duties helps make sure the presenter can do his/her best at ensuring an engaging session. All roles will play a critical part in providing additional value to participants during and after the session
  • Incorporate live opportunities and real-world scenarios into role plays, discussions and small group time
  • BREAK. Breaks are critical. People need to recharge. If you go on too long without a break, you will lose your audience. Run for an hour and half or two hours and then take a longer break so that people can do a little bit of their day job or get something to eat. We’ve even done a couple hours, a two hour break with a little bit of individual pre-work for the next session and then another session two hours later in the day. This has shown to work well and keep the momentum going in every critical session

5. Sustain:

Successful sustainment requires critical focus and a plan for reinforcement that’s developed in the content creation stage. The initiative must be a priority for the organization. If it’s not, you won’t have the energy you need to keep reinforcement at the forefront.

Every component of the initiative needs to be relevant and integrated into the day-to-day operating rhythm of your team members. A framework for measuring both big wins and small successes is also a critical part to ensuring reinforcement happens throughout the sales organization. 

You have to commit to reinforcing your sales initiative and driving company-wide alignment behind it, from leadership down to the front line and across any supporting departments. Alignment means everyone is focused on delivering that buyer value and holds themselves to the same standard in executing against that goal. 

Achieve company-wide alignment behind your initiative by making sure everyone understands: 

  • The value of the change initiative, as it relates to managers, reps, supporting departments and executive leaders.
  • What good looks like in each specific role regarding the change initiative, i.e. if the change behaviors are being executed what does that look like for a sales rep, manager, etc? What are the metrics of success, and the benefits each individual will see?
  • How each sales role should execute the change behavior. Elite leaders clearly define how each role will be supported (through coaching, content and tools) and held accountable for consistently executing.

Reinforcement in Action - The Virtual Environment

The virtual environment requires leaders to think through how to best serve their own teams, given the modalities they have access to in a remote setting. Here are a few best practices we’ve seen companies adopt within virtual workspaces: 

  • Develop company Slack channels, internal webinars or newsletters that are strictly focused on sharing success stories and lifting reps and managers up
  • Provide internal messaging boards and outlets for reps to share strategic tips and insights that other reps may be able to leverage as well. A place where they can highlight practical examples of how they leveraged new capabilities/processes/methodologies to drive success in an opportunity
  • Leverage “manager swaps'' where territory managers swap for training or adoption events with new teams. Often times, folks tend to be less emotionally attached to the deals that don't belong to their team, so the manager will be even more objective in doing a deal review for a rep/SE/CS that doesn't report to them
  • Have an “all-hands manager call” every other week or 1x/month where you review how things are going, what’s working for some sales teams, what’s been challenging etc. Then, incorporate time to strategize and discuss coaching action plans to address challenges. Having these calls is a great way to spread success stories and drive improvements to how managers are reinforcing changed behaviors

Beyond the sales team adoption plans, leaders should take other departments into account to ensure new capabilities are supported and reinforced, a few examples being:

Product: implementing communication channels where product can share new product development updates to the sales team, in terms of buyer value and solution differentiation. These channels should support sales ability to sell new or evolved offerings in a way that aligns with changed sales behaviors and capabilities.

Marketing: reframing case study templates, landing pages, customer testimonial interview questions and other template collateral to ensure the end result improves sales’ ability to leverage those resources in a way that supports an aligned buyer focus. 

Human Resources and Talent Teams: updating hiring qualification and materials to ensure new hire candidates will be capable and possibly familiar with the sales capabilities that they will need to be successful in the sales organization and achieve a faster time to productivity.

Alignment doesn’t start at the beginning of an initiative and simply stop once it’s over. If you’ve rolled out your sales transformation initiative correctly leveraging the five steps above — the cross-functional power carries on through reinforcement, making change behaviors stick.

Why MEDDICC Isnt Enough eBook - Conclusion

Drive Sales Transformation, Achieve Lasting Results.

There’s not a company leader out there who doesn’t want their sales teams to sell more, faster. In a competitive marketplace, there’s always room to improve. The McKinsey study showed that a key way to drive success in a virtual environment is, 

“setting priorities from top to bottom, leaving no one exempt and showing the company—from C-suite leaders to front-line teams—everyone is on the journey together.” McKinsey White Paper: Closing the capability gap in the time of COVID-19; Page 3

Changing behavior at an organizational level demands an understanding of what it takes from the sales reps, managers and yourself as the leader to drive lasting outcomes. Fortunately, as a leader, you have the power to articulate the value behind your initiative and own the ability to build commitment from your sales teams. You’re in the driver’s seat. It goes beyond just saying the right things. It means you do them

Your teams are looking at you for behavior to emulate. The actions you take make the biggest difference toward changing behaviors. If your sales management and enterprise reps see how invested you are in the change initiative’s success, they’ll see the importance of driving long-term reinforcement and adoption. 

Remember, the challenges you have in your sales organization won’t correct on their own. If you want to lead an elite team, you need to commit to creating one. There’s no better time to start than right now. Launch the right type of sales transformation initiative that creates a resilient team and builds the sales capabilities required to propel your sales organization, and company, forward.


Finding a Partner for Success

Changing behavior and implementing new processes is hard work. It's a full-time job. You can stay committed to this change and lead from the front without having to take this complex project on all on your own. An experienced partner can provide you with the fuel to drive this change, so you don’t have to take your foot off the gas and instead can change seller behaviors quicker and to a higher standard than you may be able to on your own.

Generate the alignment you need on an initiative that gets results. Invest in the right partner, one that understands the commitment and alignment necessary to change seller behaviors. 


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