Sales Transformation and Its Practical Implications for Organizations
Beyond research and insights, learn what it means for organizations to carry out a sales transformation process and what needs to be considered to build a successful sales team.
One of the hottest trends in this period for organizations is the development and transformation of the sales force. Gartner, McKinsey, and all the big players in the research field continuously produce very interesting articles on this topic showing data and insights that confirm how important this evolution is for companies. As a consultant, I was able to talk to my customers, help them to implement the sales transformation process, and understand what it means to organizations at large.
Sales transformation processes start with people
A common misconception is that the pandemic led to sales transformation. As a matter of fact, the crisis that has been ongoing in the past two years has accelerated the sales transformation process instead of initiating it. To keep up with the pace of change, organizations need to understand that a transformation in the industry needs to be accompanied by a transformation within the workforce.
Let's start with an example of a large TLC company in Italy. In 2018, the company was in the middle of the digital revolution that affected all TLC players. They witnessed the development of new products and services, as well as technologies getting more advanced at a speed never seen before. This event generated an expectation of business growth, which was not reflected in their sales figures.
The sales management then started to review the situation to identify the obstacles that needed to be removed to increase sales in a manner consistent with the market potential and the numbers of the main competitors in both TLC and IT. One of the main issues that emerged was the difficulty of the sales teams to operate in the new context, with increasingly advanced customers, products and services with high added value and innovative technologies, and a rapidly changing sales cycle.
One of the main risks the company ran into was that many salespeople, about more than 700 people between sales and pre-sales, tended to take refuge in more traditional products and services for two reasons:
- The lack of ability to move to a new context.
- The urge to get short-term results by pushing well-known products and services—with low risk of competition, they do not need to put extra effort in customer management and therefore, more profitable in the short term.
The solution was that the sales team had to be the subject of a deep development intervention in which people with a strong propensity for change should be the ambassadors of this transformation inside and outside the organization. Evolution needs to start from within the organization for the whole business to succeed.
Another more recent example is a global e-payment organization that was in the process of evolving its offer and sales model. After a review, the sales management also decided to reshape the sales team based on the readiness for the transformation. In this case, one of the most interesting aspects was the need for the senior executives not to benchmark the organization with other financial institutions, but rather with a broader type of organization like strategic consulting organizations, thus showing much more attention to the approach than to the technical dimension of the sale.
The crisis that has been ongoing in the past two years has accelerated the sales transformation process instead of initiating it.
Building a successful sales team
From the examples above as well as other sales transformation projects that I managed, I have developed some conclusions:
- The most effective sales model is not largely determined by products and services anymore. The focus is now more on the context in which the relationship with the customer takes shape.
- The development of the sales force must also be guided by the ability of executives to deal with the external market and understand which directions are crucial to make sales evolve.
- Unlike other functions, sales development is not a typical HR practice anymore. It is the business and its leaders who feel the need, act, and seek solutions—thus taking the lead in shaping the sales force. In the examples I have described above, I did not have any contact with the HR of the companies, with the exception of some HR Business Partners that were in charge of taking care of the development phase following the review phase.
Implementing a sales transformation process needs to start with the people. Organizations need to focus on the salespeople’s readiness to move to the new context and think outside of the box to build long-term gain instead of focusing on short-term results. This is the key to a successful sales team.