Is Selling Change Management or is Change Management Selling?

Change management is the application of a structured process and tools to enable individuals or groups to transition from a current state to a future state, such that a desired outcome is achieved.

This definition from Prosci, the leading researcher in the field of Change Management, captures the essence of this important discipline. Typically, change management is an internally focused process, but substitute the term ?Enterprise Selling? for ?Change Management? and one can easily argue that these disciplines share the same goals and success factors.

It?s important to understand the relationship between change management and enterprise selling, because a salesperson’s biggest obstacle is the buyer?s tendency to resist change and stick with the status quo. As such, like a CEO aiming to transform their company, every salesperson tasked with selling to enterprise accounts must be a proficient provocateur for and facilitator of change. When you consider the success indicators for a sales engagement, the most effective salespeople have all of the qualities of a master change agent.

John Kotter?s 8-step model for change management is perhaps the best known and most applied, so let?s consider how its major tenets can be and should be equally applied to enterprise selling.

  • Increase urgency – inspire people to move, make objectives real and relevant. This first step is the most necessary and most challenging. Whether it?s Alan Mullaly, Ford?s CEO, trying to transform the way Ford builds and sells cars or a marketing automation software salesperson trying to convince a VP of Marketing that implementing their application is the best way to boost leads and revenue, the optimal approach both change agents can take to create a sense of urgency is to articulate, quantify, and socialize the measurable cost and risk of inaction, and show how the status quo jeopardizes the company?s strategic objectives and competitive position, and, in the case of Ford, existence.
  • Build the guiding team – get the right people in place with the right emotional commitment, and the right mix of skills and levels. To effect the desired change, a CEO must have the right people at the table and in the trenches to buy-in and be the first to adopt and promote the desired change behaviors. In other words, to invoke another leadership guru, they get the right people on the bus by identifying the executives and rank-and-file with the requisite skills, knowledge, drive, and influence to embolden others to join the mission. Likewise, top salespeople identify and build relationships with the key stakeholders that have the clout and commitment to motivate their colleagues to embrace the change the seller is proposing.
  • Get the vision right – get the team to establish a simple vision and strategy. Start with the end in mind. To help create a vision for what?s possible and necessary to take the organization to the next level, the most successful CEOs tell stories that illustrate the path and payoff. They use metaphors or share examples of other companies that have faced similar challenges and found a way to overcome them to spur their employees to strive to realize superior results. The best salespeople use this same formula by using powerful images to illustrate the messiness and danger of the current situation, and customer success stories to paint a picture of how to get to the Promised Land.
  • Communicate for buy-in – Involve as many people as possible, communicate the essentials, simply, and appeal and respond to people’s needs. To accomplish this, the CEO must identify key constituencies and even potential adversaries, and understand and appeal to their prime motivators in straightforward terms. The same holds true for the enterprise-salesperson. To find and gain support from buyers up and down the organization whose consensus is necessary to approve and implement the proposed solution, the savvy salesperson uncovers and addresses each stakeholder?s business and personal drivers using concise and buyer-role-specific messaging.
  • Empower action – Remove obstacles, enable constructive feedback and lots of support from leaders. CEOs strive to make it easy for their employees to make the targeted change. They remove real obstacles and invite criticism to uncover and address potentially hidden concerns. Salespeople (and their organizations) need to reduce or eliminate any complexity associated with buying AND implementing their solutions. They should proactively search for objections early in the buying process and look to resolve them with logical, proof-based arguments, ideally through stories of how they?ve resolved these types of issues for similar companies. Not accomplishing this step, will kill or stall the deal or change initiative.
  • Create short-term wins – Set aims that are easy to achieve in bite-size chunks. The CEO breaks the strategic initiative into manageable numbers of smaller ones. They make sure to finish current stages before starting new ones. The change-agent-salesperson proposes quick wins in the form of assessments or focused pilots and shows a realistic roadmap leading to the desired state in a reasonable timeframe and phased in a manner that is practical for both parties to execute.
  • Don’t let up – Foster and encourage determination and persistence. A CEO with a change agenda doesn?t let up. They?ll stumble. They?ll face adversaries and adversity, but they persevere because they believe in their people?s ability and desire to change and are committed to the organization?s success. For the enterprise salesperson, this is much more than just gritting it out. It means that the salesperson must genuinely want to serve the buyer and be dedicated to helping them achieve their most critical objectives. With that as the driving force, they persist.
  • Make change stick. To make change stick, CEOs use methodical and consistent communication of the value of successful change. They also introduce programs to equip their people with the skills and knowledge required to enable the change. And they track and celebrate progress, always highlighting achieved and future milestones. Likewise, top performing salespeople with the backing of their company recognize that the real work begins once their solution is implemented. They commit themselves to ensuring and measuring customer satisfaction and progress based on mutually agreed to success criteria. With this in mind, they ensure the customer has the necessary training and support to optimize adoption and application of their solution. They, too, monitor and celebrate progress and look for ways to enhance and expand the relationship by finding ways to add more value.

So, is selling change management or is change management selling? Daniel Pink, author of the recent New York Times best-seller ?To Sell is Human? posits that everyone sells. Whether it?s a CEO trying to implement a new strategy or an enterprise software salesperson trying to persuade a prospect to implement his or her company?s solution, everybody sells, and the very best apply change management principles to increase the odds of accomplishing their mission.

What?s your take?

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