Ready…Fire…Aim!

By: Kyle Uebelhor Implementation & Change Adoption, Sales Transformation

Five key pitfalls to avoid when implementing sales transformation.

You sensed it and marketing confirmed that your customers are changing. Corporate strategy says your environment has evolved. Product leaders likely retooled your product and service offerings. And as the revenue leader, you have spent countless hours and, according to the finance team, a lot of money on developing a transformation plan for your sales organization.

This can only mean one thing … it’s time for a change management implementation program. Many sales executives will shoot-from-the-hip and fail to properly plan for this event. We know that firing before taking aim can be a CLM (career limiting move). To make this a career-defining opportunity, consider these five key implementation pitfalls:

5. Forgetting to Establish a Vision

Picture1All too often revenue leaders make an “executive-delegation” mistake. They assume that after months of intensive design and thoughtful deliberation on their new strategy they can pass the baton to their “doers” and move on to the next challenge. This strategy does not work well when transforming a sales team.

The executive team must lead everyone from middle management to internal functional partners to the field sales team through the process of why and how the organization will change. Success only comes when the vast majority of individuals at each level embrace the vision of the new world.

We know that transformations succeed when the executive leader (1) clarifies the need for change, (2) details a path for the change and (3) articulates a message of abundance for all. When leaders consistently reinforce their vision with superlatives and passionate language throughout the change program, they increase the team’s buy-in and shorten the uncertainty period where revenue is at risk.

4. Not Creating a Sense of Urgency

As alluring as it may seem, taking a slow-ramp approach to your transformation is a dangerous pitfall that must be avoided. For the field sales team, small, incremental changes are easy to ignore. Without a sense of urgency, those responsible for driving the change will default to the comfort zone of performing their day-to-day duties, putting off the tough decisions needed to complete the transformation.

Bypass this pitfall by creating a bridge that explains the consequences of “what if we do nothing?” Set an aggressive but realistic go-live date. When communicating to your change leaders acknowledge their daily responsibilities, but stress that implementing the transformation plan is their primary responsibility. Ensure everyone has the appropriate support resources to reach the transformation target date.

3. Underestimating the Amount of Work

Change is hard. Leaders often underestimate the amount of work needed in advance of a go-live date. Failure to understand dependencies within the organization and an inability to pull the necessary work teams together are symptoms of this common pitfall.

Successful transformations are treated like an enterprise project with a highly influential, cross-functional team and a dedicated project manager.

Picture2Successful project managers map dependencies and create detailed work plans for each work stream. Most importantly, they follow the axiom “inspect what you expect,” by conducting weekly (if not daily) status update meetings and cross-functional collaborative sessions.

2. Forgetting to Build in Quick Wins

Failure to demonstrate incremental successes derails change programs.

This common pitfall usually has two root causes. First, the executive team’s focus is often on the big prize, fully realized gains from the transformation. Just like my kids, sales teams don’t do well with delayed gratification, so quick wins are needed to keep everyone engaged in the process.

Second, a myopic view toward the end game inhibits learning while on the journey. When focusing only on the final deliverable of the transformation, the change leadership team misses the opportunity to course correct along the journey.

Remedy this obstacle through a series of built-in milestone achievements, and celebrate those who have helped in these successes. Be opportunistic. Many successful transformations have piggy-backed their change efforts on elements that concurrently happen (e.g., a project win, better net promoter scores, etc.) within the change management narrative.

1. Overlooking Front-line Sales Managers as Change Leaders

I have seen mediocre sales teams successfully transform. But without fail, in all my years of engaging in various sales transformations, I have never seen a successful transformation without highly competent and engaged front-line sales leadership. Unfortunately the biggest pitfall for transformation is often the most common for executives. Failing to realize that the front-line manager is the most important change agent in the transformation inevitably leads to disappointing results.

Prior to beginning any change effort, conduct a thorough review of front-line talent. Ensure that these individuals have both the strategic capability and coaching skills needed to drive change. They will be responsible for turning the transformation strategy into action. I strongly recommend that a few select front-line managers are team leaders in the transformation design process…there is no better way to instill a sense of ownership when the front-line mangers help create the plan.

To learn more about how Alexander Group can transform your sales organization, please visit our website to learn more about implementation and change adoption.

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Kyle Uebelhor

Kyle Uebelhor is a principal in the Chicago office. He is a leader in the firm’s Manufacturing and Distribution practices. Kyle’s clients include leading companies throughout manufacturing and wholesale/distribution. By applying deep industry expertise and a pragmatic approach to each situation, he helps companies achieve their organic growth objectives. He brings nuanced perspective to the complexities of sizing the total available global market, delivering differentiated value, creating omni-channel designs, and motivating partners and the commercial team. Kyle frequently speaks on sales enablement topics. He has authored several articles and whitepapers including “The Power of Playbooks: Execute Your Vision” and most recently “Digitizing the Revenue Growth Model.”


Prior to joining the Alexander Group, Kyle spent 10 years in commercial banking. As a relationship manager and lender to large middle market companies, he developed a broad expertise across numerous manufacturing industries and developed solutions-based selling strategies with his C-suite corporate clients. Kyle has an MBA from the University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business and B.A. from Wabash College. He is also a Certified Sales Compensation Professional (CSCP).


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