LinkedIn’s Hurley: Three Principles Your Sales Leaders Need To Follow

Most organizational transformation efforts fail. Those who are successful prioritize a few critical priorities, get buy-in from their teams and, through consistency and focus, deliver results. 

In January, my husband and I decided to make a change. A big change. Throughout the pandemic, we had picked up bad habits—ordering take out, drinking wine, not exercising. It was clear we needed to change, especially with the realization that we would be squeezing back into our pre-Covid-19 jeans by summer. We established a plan: replace breakfast with a smoothie, have a salad for lunch, plan for a healthy dinner and drink no alcohol in January.

At first, all of that was hard. However, we believed in the change, were committed to holding each other accountable and recognized that we could adjust and make changes as needed. After a few weeks, we had dropped a few pounds. Encouraged, we made tweaks to improve the plan, and six months later, we are going strong. We feel better, look better and can fit into our jeans.

Personal change is certainly difficult and worth the effort, but it pales in comparison to leading major change across an organization. BCG found that “75% of transformation efforts don’t deliver the hoped-for results.” What sets apart the 25% that do achieve their transformation goals? They prioritize a few critical priorities, get buy-in from their team and, through consistency and focus, deliver results.

As a sales leader, change management is one of the most critical things we do. If you do change management well, your sales team can evolve quickly, becoming more skilled, efficient and successful. If you don’t, the process can become painful and drawn-out—wasting time, energy and resources.

The last 14 months have called for new strategies. Sales teams, who once relied on face-to-face interactions, went virtual and now recognize the combination of relationships and technology has enabled them to scale their business and unlock new opportunities they did not have before. As we continue to drive change, here are three principles for sales leaders to keep in mind.

1. Have conviction around the ‘why’

Sales leaders need to believe in the change they want to manage, whether they are implementing new software, overhauling an organizational structure, applying new pipeline strategies or closing deals. Sales leaders need to be “all in” to sell the change to their colleagues.

Be clear about why you believe this change matters. Then, translate that into why it matters for the individuals on your team. If your team understands and connects with how the change will positively impact them, they are more likely to be committed.

This idea was embodied through a change my team made last year. Understanding the “why” was critical not only for the launch of the change but also the follow-through. When we transitioned to an organization-wide sales methodology, it was a transformational shift in the language and lens through which we saw our customer relationships. What made us successful was the upfront understanding of how this change impacts our customers, business, and individual sellers. It was that clarity in our objectives that continues to help our managers reinforce the behaviors and keep the initiative alive, even a year later.

2. Listen with compassion

Getting buy-in across the organization also requires empathizing with team members and understanding they will likely feel some reluctance and push back accordingly. Research from the University of Toronto found that just 14% to 28% of American and Canadian knowledge workers are enthusiastic about innovation. Even fewer (11%-19%) are willing to take risks.

Listening with compassion will help you understand what the root cause of their objection is. Give your team the opportunity to express their concerns. And once you have a real understanding of their reluctance, you can help develop solutions.

3. Create consistency

Consistency is the best way to minimize growing pains and reinforce behavior change. Therefore, seize opportunities to celebrate success and hold others accountable.

Within my team, we carve out time weekly to inspect and discuss progress on key initiatives, what’s working and where people are struggling. Not only does this help hold everyone accountable, it provides a forum for shared learning and feedback.

Enable team members to share what’s working and problem solve on challenges and then operationalize successes for other teams. Doubters and holdouts—who like the old way of doing things—will see the success and want in on it.

Consistency is about more than overcoming the belief gap. It’s also an important part of getting everyone to operate with the tools and techniques that are working. If everyone is doing something different, it’s nearly impossible to isolate what’s working, let alone replicate, iterate on, and scale those successes.

Expect even more change

Change is jarring but necessary for growth. For sales, many of these changes brought on by the pandemic will endure. It’s important to build expectations as well as skills to embrace change—not just for your team but also with your leaders.

Often, the prospect of change is more disorienting than the change itself. By starting with the “why,” listening with compassion and creating consistency, you will help ensure your team is set up to win.