It was Stephen Covey who coined the phrase ‘Begin with the end in mind’ in his bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Although the renowned book focused on personal change, the statement is still a poignant one for achieving change in the business world.  In fact, it should be the first step of the journey for any organisation planning their sales transformation.

Think backward, move forward

Whatever the catalyst is for change, company leaders need to start by working out their final goal before defining a strategy to help them get there. For years the standard approach for measuring the success of a sales transformation has been the ‘four level’ model developed by Donald Kirkpatrick, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin in the US and a past president of the American Society for Training and Development.

It is no coincidence that we have experienced great success when it comes to tackling change management by effectively applying the Kirkpatrick model in reverse. Rather than starting at the sales team and focusing on ‘reaction’, businesses should work backwards and first identify the results they want to achieve and the selling behaviours that drive it. The answer can then be used to create the most compelling case for change. It’s common sense but it’s rarely common practice before a sales transformation.

Objectives and behaviour

When the results have been pinpointed, reversing on to level three ‘behaviour’ allows leaders to think about what people need to do on the job to achieve those results. Leaders should get together and work out the specific objectives and identify two or three behaviours they are trying to drive. Connecting the visionary goal with clear and pragmatic objectives will help to create the energy and enthusiasm needed to kick start the transformation.

At Padeda, one of the common scenarios we encounter with clients is the objectives are often too broad and fifteen different behaviours are identified by the leadership team.  Businesses need to map out the ‘why’ with a level of urgency and force the leadership to narrow the behaviours down to make them achievable. The most successful companies are deliberate about identifying their strengths and weaknesses against all capabilities and then plotting them against their goals so they understand which tow or three behaviours to prioritise. Even moving the needle on two behaviours over the period of a year takes a huge amount of consistency and focus.

All in for the buy in

An effective sales transformation needs buy in and input from boardroom to mid-level sales managers. If people don’t weigh in to a decision they won’t buy in for the long term. By focusing on the outcomes, the transformation will be more relevant to all key figures, from senior execs, sales and L&D managers to marketing, operations and HR. If you don’t find a way to make it relevant in your organisations boardroom it will be irrelevant and ultimately not have the impact you hoped. What matters is that every team member understands their own motivations and those of their colleagues. That debate and discussion should happen in one room with all the stakeholders present and contributing. Don’t be fooled by placid agreement, discussions on important topics like this are rarely smooth and polite.

Another simple but sound measure that businesses can take is to brand the sales transformation. It could be linked to other company-wide initiatives to increase its relevance. The branding will give it more clout amongst colleagues, bring it to life and ensure it lives on over the longer term. Also, nominating a project manager to measure and track the relevant metrics will keep everyone focused on each step of the journey. Sales transformations can be long processes and involve an element of risk-taking, so it is important to invest in commitment and build trust to keep morale up for the duration. Just as important is to not celebrate success too early and move one to something new.

Pre-empt failure, achieve success

One useful task we work through with clients is to get the crystal balls out and predict why the transformation might fail. The key questions to consider are if this thing fails, what elements would make it fail? Would it be specific people, departments or the processes themselves? Assessing and examining the barriers to change before they are even erected effectively creates an avoidance strategy. Pre-empting reasons for failure will undoubtedly lead to a more positive, successful transformation.

Planning a sales transformation can be complicated and challenging. Any change that demands shifting mind-sets, identifying weaknesses and developing new skills is never going to be easy. However, working backwards using the tried and tested Kirkpatrick Model and asking key questions of the leadership team at the beginning of the process will alleviate much of the complexity. Leaders will often just buy some training if you let them. If you engage them in a different, broader and empowering way they will also jump in to your debate. Success is not going to be instantaneous. The effort needs to be carefully sequenced, whether it’s rolling out training sessions, doing field work or reinforcing habits. Stephen Covey talked a lot of sense. It’s all about the end game. We just need to make sure ‘the end’ is a positive transformation.


Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash