Is Your Sales Force Suffering From Change Management Fatigue?

By: Quang Do Implementation & Change Adoption, Revenue Growth Strategy, Sales Compensation Program Management, Sales Leadership

Sales organizations are notorious for their speed, tempo and sheer volume of strategic and tactical changes. Each year, sales leaders implement new job roles, innovative enablement tools, re-designed sales compensation plans and many other modifications in an effort to meet revenue growth goals. This continual upheaval causes factions of the sales force to experience tiredness, ineffectiveness, and even disenfranchisement–the effects of change management fatigue (CMF). Companies that ignore the sales force’s CMF symptoms risk losing an inordinate amount of time, money and talent.

However, it is not just the number of changes that leads to change management fatigue. It also occurs when the sales force perceives the changes as unnecessary or misaligned with the company’s strategic compass. When left untreated, CMF will lead to lackluster revenue performance, apathy and increased turnover. Is your company suffering from CMF? Here are three methods to diagnose:

Method One: Vigilantly track survey response trends and read the comments

Many companies perform annual sales force ‘pulse’ surveys. At the close of each survey, sales leaders should review two important metrics: survey abandonment and completion rates. If abandonment rates rise and completion rates decline between surveys, this may be a sign of change management fatigue. To diagnose the extent of fatigue, start by reading open-ended survey comments.

For example, a retail company with over five thousand sales employees conducted a sales force survey that showed a 10 percent decline in survey participation compared to the year prior. The open-ended comments revealed a strong desire from the sales force to see action based on the feedback they had previously provided. In other words, the sales force did not want more promises; they were ‘fatigued’ because sales leaders ignored their concerns. After recognizing the problem, sales leadership took action by clearly communicating the connection between goals of the new initiatives to feedback they had received.

Method Two: Closely observe how the sales force adopts sales enablement tools

It is critical for organizations to measure the adoption of new sales tools. ‘Adoption’ denotes the number of employees using new tools consistently in order to improve sales effectiveness and/or efficiency. Key areas to investigate include:

  • Trends in adoption: upward, downward or stagnant
  • Variation in adoption by geography, job role, tenure and performance tiers
  • Root cause why certain individuals/teams have or have not chosen to adopt particular tools

For example, a media company deployed a suite of new enablement tools including an online opportunity management program to a geographically dispersed sales force of approximately one thousand front-line sellers. Leadership quickly realized that the adoption rate of the new tool was erratic and even nonexistent in some geographies. In feedback sessions, sellers shared that while they thought the new tool was better, they were ‘fatigued’ from too much change. Sellers did not believe the value of using the new tool outweighed the effort to learn it.

With this insight, sales leadership and sales enablement restructured their training and messaging to focus on the value—the why versus how to use the new tool. Overall adoption rates escalated as a result.

Method Three: Consult your first-line sales managers

The first-line sales managers are the most important gauges of change. These leaders are critical to understanding the breadth and depth of the sales force’s true feelings and perceptions. In many ways, they are the glue among senior sales leaders, the sales force and sales enablement.

Ways to consult first-line managers include:

  • Recurring surveys for all managers
  • Intimate focus groups of four to five managers to discuss a certain topic or issue
  • 1:1 meetings with “rock star,” core and underperforming managers

To illustrate, consider a distribution company that emerged from bankruptcy and needed to reinvent itself. Sales leadership solicited feedback from a select group of first-line managers before implementing new sales territories and sales compensation plans. Quickly, they discovered that the sales force was still digesting the change of the new executive leadership team.

Armed with this insight, senior sales leadership restructured their communication approach to address why more changes were necessary now in order to recover post-bankruptcy. They also staggered the new territory and sales compensation launches in order to minimize disruption. Ultimately, the sales team responded receptively and embraced the changes because they were more digestible.

Change management fatigue is rampant and real. Managing change is tough, and change is high maintenance. As Robert Kennedy once said, “Change has its enemies”; the failure to diagnose and conquer these “enemies” can be devastating to growth goals and your sales culture. The good news is there are concrete methods to conquer CMF through surveys, sales enablement tools and first-line managers.

Co-author: Sean Higgins is an associate consultant in the Alexander Group’s Chicago office.

Is change management fatigue taking a toll on your sales force? Visit Alexander Group’s Implementation and Change Adoption practice page or contact a practice leader for more information.

Read more Alexander Group articles on implementation and change adoption issues.

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Quang Do

Quang Do is a director in the Chicago office. Quang is a leader of the firm’s Media, Manufacturing and Implementation & Change Adoption practices. Quang leads engagements across a variety of industries including integrated & digital media, high-tech and manufacturing. His most recent engagements have included transforming clients’ revenue growth strategies, structures and management systems and providing full-scale implementation guidance. During times of significant and rapid change, Quang shapes and implements high-impact solutions that deliver sustained revenue growth and drive organizational change.

Prior to joining the Alexander Group, Quang was a member of Ford’s marketing leadership program. Prior to Ford, Quang worked in business development for Eaton Corp. Through 2008, he worked in investor relations for Chevron where he served institutional investors and Wall Street analysts. While at Chevron, Quang also worked and lived in Venezuela and is a graduate of Chevron’s finance leadership development program.

Quang holds an MBA from the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, an M.S. in Behavior, Education & Communication from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources & Environment and a B.S. in Finance from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Quang is also a Certified Sales Compensation Professional (CSCP).