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Successful Sales Organizations Lead Customer-Focused Transformation

In the battle for sales market share, it’s eat lunch or be eaten. The challenge of sales teams today is to lead customer-focused transformation to align with the customers’ rapidly changing needs and challenges. In a competitive landscape the organization that leads this transformation will eat lunch (with customers), while the competition loses market and mind share.

3 Critical Must-Have Practices to Drive Sales Transformation

There are some critical factors that differentiate highly engaged sales teams from those losing (or about to lose) market share. The challenge is that in a changing environment your market share can change quickly too.  

1) Ensure the right talent is on your ‘Change Bus’

Whether you inherited a team or hired some of them years ago, it is important to weed out those who, while they may have been successful in the past, now lack the capacity to succeed with changing customer needs. A team is only as strong as its weakest link. When a sales leader maintains an unengaged or ineffective sales person on the team it undermines their leadership credibility, and thus the engagement and performance of other team members. To this end sales leaders need to practice “zero-based thinking,” and on paper ask the following question about each of their sales professionals: Knowing what I know now, would I re-hire (name) for this role? If not, then you need to determine your action plan. To ensure that it’s not just subjective in nature it is helpful to have some objective metrics or a data-driven benchmark.

Asking this question is important for all sales leaders. That being said, it can be challenging to “de-hire” legacy staff who have accumulated significant personal relationship equity. Effective leaders, however, will not shy away from helping them to be successful somewhere else, in as helpful a manner as possible.

The other side of the talent bridge is hiring the top talent. Within the context of change, we need to anticipate future customer/market changes and performance skill factors in acquiring new talent. For example, a sales rep who has been successful selling print advertising may not be able to make the shift to selling online advertising, or have the knowledge necessary to promote social media ads. If that is where customer needs are evolving to, clearly new criteria for identifying the performers of the future will be needed. Past criteria won’t cut it. Leaders that recognize this are on the right side of the change track. Again, some sort of objective job benchmark analysis brings great value here.

2) Developing a Stronger Sales Coaching Capacity than the Competition

In the book Topgrading by Brad Smart, the author states, “Topgrading is about both hiring A-players and developing them to remain A-players. “ The fact is, an organization that succeeds in acquiring A-talent but fails to coach them well will be challenged to retain them, especially when the economy picks up. Sales organizations that embed a strong propensity for coach-leadership will retain and engage high-performance A-players required to out-sell the competition. Organizations that go beyond paying lip-service to the practice of ’coaching’, who really equip their managers strategically with coaching methodology and monitor them, will compete more effectively for market share.

Since all sales team members are unique, their coaching methodology must be behaviorally based. It will require managers to really know and understand how to customize their coaching to the unique behavioral characteristics and motivators of each of their sales team members. A one-size-fits-all approach won`t work for sales staff or customers. Instead, sales managers should have a coaching file for each person. Managers need to be held accountable and likewise coached effectively by their sales executives. 

“There is nothing wrong with change if it is in the right direction.”
       - Winston Churchill

 An organization that attempts to introduce coaching strategy aimed at mid-management without involvement from senior sales leaders runs the risk of low uptake and turning any such investment into a wasted expense, rather than a strategic revenue generation advantage.

3) Lead a Customer-Focused Sales Culture

Recently I met a client for lunch at a national restaurant chain, which he had suggested, near his head office. We were both in professional business attire and had a file folder on the table with some reports to review. The server greeted us, and proceeded to outline the alcoholic specials of the day, which might have been better reserved for the evening night club crowd. Sales teams that have a culture of listening to and solving customer problems will earn market share over teams that are simply incentivised ‘product-pushers.’

With research clearly showing that customers prefer to “buy” vs. being “sold to” it is the sales professionals who engage customers in meaningful strategic dialogue to understand their evolving needs and problems that will be ahead of the customer change curve. Sales leaders need to ensure they are modeling the customer focus in meetings. The way that they speak with and treat customers sends critical signals to the team. In addition, managers should be careful what they reward. As the saying goes, what gets rewarded gets done. Rewarding “product pushing” will not maintain sustainable growth of market share through changing customer needs.

People underestimate their capacity for change. There is never a right time to do a difficult thing. A leader’s job is to help people have a vision of their potential. – John Porter

Much like good pilots navigating storms and changing weather patterns, organizations that
lead sales transformation to acquire and coach top talent to be customer-centric stand to fly through market change and arrive at superior market share.

The way sales leaders respond to customers and talk about customers sets the example for how their sales teams view customers. In B2B channel sales, for example, are they more concerned about “sell to” or “sell through”? Encouraging your sales professionals to be consultative and customer-focused allows them to build trust, so that customers invite them into their worlds, sharing their problems in a manner that allows your organization the opportunity to contribute profitable solutions.

Without a doubt, sales transformation requires talent alignment and a customer-focused mindset to win market share.

© 2011 All rights reserved. Article originally published in December 2010.
Chuck Reynolds is president and chief performance officer of Excel Group Development in Toronto.


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