Sales and Sales Management Blog

August 5, 2009

Boost Your Sales: “Managing Sellers Through Change–It’s All About the Micro Changes,” by Kevin Dwyer


Managing Sellers Through Change—It’s All About the Micro Changes
By Kevin Dwyer

Do you have children? If so, you will know the hardest thing about change is what you have to give up.

Sleep, going out as often, uninterrupted romantic dinners; all of these to a greater lesser extent are given up for sixteen to twenty years and appallingly in a number of modern cases, thirty plus years.

Parents face the greatest disruption in the first six weeks after which they slowly adjust to new patterns of life. However, just when parents think life is “normal” the little bundles of joy create a rolling series of changes:

  • They learn to roll, to crawl and to walk and you can no longer rely on them being where you put them
  • They learn to babble and talk and ask “Why?”
  • They learn to stretch and reach up on their tippy toes and  touch dangerous or breakable things you have had in place for years
  • They learn to desire independence before they can handle the consequences alternating in behaviour from 13 to 30
  • They leave and you are no longer the most important person in your life

With each change parents have to give up their previously established norm. It is the giving up of the norm, the letting go that is hard in change.

And so it is in managing in changing sales environments. It is the management of what people have to let go that is most important.

Sales environments have undergone several changes at the macro level since the seventies.

In the seventies customers and organisations demanded greater loyalty from sales people. Commission only sales, the backbone of the profession since the industrial revolution gave way in some organisations to salaries and commissions or bonuses as the remuneration method.

Consultative selling where customer’s needs were taken into account then became the vogue.

Procurement divisions in larger corporations were woken from there slumber by the years of effort by Deming and his disciples and rivals to partner with organisations to reduce “total cost of ownership”.

Before the dust settled on partnering (it still has not settled), the internet “threat” emerged. Large vertical portals emerged with the idea to take out the relationship and partnering aspects by creating a virtual marketplace for goods.

The “threat” of the internet ahs since morphed into a tool to reduce costs by separating the physical good from the data associated with it and in many cases replacing the physical good.

Each of these macro changes in sales had a profound affect on sales people and their roles providing sales managers with a challenge of large proportions.

The management of sales during these significant changes in the sales environment starts with observing what is happening at the micro level. The micro changes in the sales environment can be categorised as:

  • Changes in industry sales volume
  • Changes in industry sales pricing
  • Changes in customer buying behaviour

The key is to understand the cause at a level that the sales manager can at least develop tactics, if not a strategy to counter.

Porter’s five forces is a useful tool to use to analyse the causes of these categories of change in the sales environment:

  • Substitution of your products or your customers products drive volumes lower
  • New entrants, stronger customers and suppliers and internal rivalry, particularly amongst channels drives changes in customer buying behaviour
  • Internal rivalry, stronger suppliers, new entrants, stronger customers and substitution all drive changes in industry sales pricing

When volumes fall because your products or your customer’s products are being substituted there are two options for sales:

  • Sell other products/services to leverage the existing relationships
  • This means training sales people to sell potentially unfamiliar products and services. It may mean training people who are comfortable in managing the relationships with large clients to actually sell for the first time in a long while
    • As the volume decreases, price the product as a speciality for the remaining customers whose use of the product precludes them from substituting it
    • This may mean retraining sales people to sell what they treated as a commodity as a speciality. Or it may mean transferring the product/customer portfolio to another sales team well versed in selling specialities

Downward changes in pricing will occur when any one of Porter’s five forces increases within an industry. The options open to the sales organisation include:

  • Reduce rivalry by concentrating on specific and different benefits of your products and services.
  • This requires that sales people truly understands what problem their product or service solves. This is a big transition for many sales people who only understand the features and general benefits of the organisation’s products and services
  • It also means that sales people must know how to determine the value the product or service delivers rather than the cost
    • Knowing a customer’s business better allows organisations to also provide extra products and services which will also reduce internal rivalry, customer power, the threat of new entrants and substitution
    • This means sales people learning how to sell new products and services

Changes in customer buying behaviour are hard to detect early and require the sales person to let go of what they “know” about how the market works. This is a big transition that many sales people do not successfully navigate.

Changes in buying behaviour has many potential causes, however, there are two general approaches. The first is prevention. It is about staying close to the customer to not only know about their changed buying behaviours but to play a role in making the change work for them.

The second, when the change in buying behaviour has occurred without our involvement is to:

  • Acknowledge the change has occurred (I have seen sales people deny changes in buying behaviour for more than five years because the decisions required to execute a new channel strategy would upset existing channels)
  • Analyse what changes we have to make to help customers through their new buying process to buy our products, in preference
  • Determine whether the benefits of changing now and our ability to realise the change are greater than the cost of change
  • Execute the resultant strategy which will be to either make the changes or exit the market

In summary, managing sales in a changing micro environment means:

  • Be aware of what is happening in the market or industry
  • Fight complacency
  • Make sure that sales people acknowledge that change is happening or has happened
  • Create and execute plans which help sales people give up their past practices and transition to the new

If you can manage to recognise and survive micro changes in the sales environment, you and your organisation are more likely to be still here as the next macro change in the sales environment becomes apparent.

Kevin Dwyer, a native of Australia, spent twenty three years working for Shell, moving from city to city and country to country, travelling across the globe and back, developing a burgeoning respect for different country cultures, business cultures and food! Every role after the first two years in Shell was a change role, hence the passion for change.  Kevin has since managed small companies as CEO, founding Change Factory in 2004.  Change Factory’s mission is to help organizations that do not like their business outcomes get better business outcomes through changing people’s behavior.  The Change Factory view of what is generally missing in sales development can be summed up by the phrase “Training is not enough”.  Visit Kevin’s website: www.changefactory.com

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8 Comments »

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  4. I appreciated this article. Thanks again, Kevin for your very motivational and insightful writing!

    Comment by Sales Training — August 5, 2009 @ 4:04 pm | Reply

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  7. […] Boost Your Sales: “Managing Sellers Through Change–It's All About …They learn to stretch and reach up on their tippy toes and touch dangerous or breakable things you have had in place for years; They learn to desire independence before they can handle the consequences alternating in behaviour from 13 to 30 … This requires that sales people truly understands what problem their product or service solves. This is a big transition for many sales people who only understand the features and general benefits of the organisation’s products and … […]

    Pingback by Dangerous-Products » Choosing 'green' school supplies : Columbia Valley News — August 6, 2009 @ 10:32 am | Reply

  8. This is simply a remarkable article. The ideas flow superbly and emotionally. I propose to change Consultative Selling into Emotional Consultative Selling. After all, I kept reading the article having been emotionally shaken by your using the family example in the introduction.
    I have recently published a presentation on Consultative Selling and Customers’ Needs Identification. The presentation offers new approaches to identifying customers’ needs.
    This issue is of utmost importance the landscape of customers’ needs is changeable.
    The link to my article is
    http://www.docstoc.com/docs/5639366/Consultative-Selling-and-Customers-Needs-Identification

    Comment by Ali Anani — September 1, 2009 @ 1:29 pm | Reply


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