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4 Essential Guiding Principles for Driving Change Through Your Sales Force

five sales coaching essentials


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Many factors drive businesses to change. Whether caused by economic conditions, the emergence of new technology, legislative and regulatory changes, or shifts in demographics and tastes, companies must change to seize new opportunities and stay competitive.

And, when the business strategy changes in response to these drivers, sales and marketing organizations must also change to align with the new strategy.

There are no shortages of ideas or tips to help your sales reps sell more. A simple Google search on the keyword “sales training” returns over 611 million hits! But even with all this great free advice, the tenure of sales leaders is still between 18 and 24 months, and 40% of sales reps won’t achieve their quotas. Driving change in a sales organization is extremely challenging for businesses. According to some research we uncovered, 52% of all change initiatives fail and only 10% of strategic initiatives are successfully executed.

While there are many good ideas that should be considered and trends that require you to maintain pace, there are also many “solutions looking for problems” that you should resist. Be sure to carefully evaluate the proposed product or process and not only what it could mean to your business, but especially how easy, expensive, and disruptive it will be if you choose to adopt it.

The bottom line is that ideas are a dime a dozen, but great execution is rare. This being the case, I would like to share 4 best practices to help you execute new strategic initiatives and drive change through your sales force.


We live in an ADD world in which we are inundated with new ideas and new technology that promise to help us be more successful. You need to manage through the distractions and focus on the initiatives that will give you the biggest bang for the buck, assessing the benefits of the initiative against the costs, risks, and timing.

Resist the urge to react to the latest blog post or magazine article that you read (except for this one, of course!). This is especially true if the change impacts your frontline managers and sales reps — which will almost always be the case. People can only digest so much change so fast. Constantly introducing new initiatives but not following through undermines your credibility with your employees (“Does anyone know who thought this would be a good idea?”) and with your customers (“What’s going on with Company ABC? They don’t seem like they know what they’re doing.”). Like the boy who cried wolf, people will tune you out.


Planning needs to take place at both the macro and micro levels. At the macro level, you need to determine the initiatives that you will undertake and the resources and timing. The micro-level planning looks at the individual initiatives that you will execute upon. When we work with clients, we use a strategy execution framework to guide them through a successful change initiative. This covers:

  • Strategy Execution Planning — How does this fit with your current and future plans, budget, and capacity?
  • Establish Best Practices — What is the right, best way to do this? Who does it well and why are they successful?
  • Evaluate Talent — Do you have the right people to pull this off?
  • Build Capability and Consistency — Do you have the right systems, processes, personnel, and resources to make the change?
  • Sustain Change — How can you ensure that your new initiative sticks and is fully embraced by the organization?


Change needs to be driven down to the individual managers and sales reps who will execute the strategy in the market. Don’t assume that they know what they need to do or what to say, or that they have the ability to confidently carry out their job. We use a framework called ADKAR to help our clients drive change down to individuals. ADKAR stands for:

  • Awareness — help your people understand what’s changing and why.
  • Desire — help your people buy into the change by explaining how they will benefit from the change.
  • Knowledge — give your people a deeper understanding of how their role is changing and what they need to do differently.
  • Ability — give your people an opportunity to practice applying their new skills and build confidence.
  • Reinforcement — ensure that your people have continued support to be successful while creating a culture of accountability.
Consider a trend in the pharmaceutical sector. In the days of old, sales reps would spend the majority of their time waiting in doctors’ offices for a few minutes to talk about and provide free samples of the latest prescription drugs. But now, in an effort to have a broader impact throughout a health system, sales reps are selling directly to CEOs and hospital administrators in an effort to get their pharmaceuticals on the preferred list of go-to remedies throughout their network.

This transition from selling to local family physicians to senior executives certainly requires changes for sales reps, marketing, accounting (to track incentive compensation plans), and other functions. It also requires thoughtful change that cannot be accomplished in an internal e-mail but through a regimented ADKAR-like program over time.


Successful change requires a champion at the top of the organization. By embracing “change leadership,” know that your job is to own the initiative as a leader whose job depends on successful execution. You can and should delegate the tasks necessary to operationalize the initiative, but don’t confuse this with delegating ownership. Be vocal, be visible, and hold yourself accountable for walking the walk as well as talking the talk. If you don’t take this seriously, your people won’t either.

Hold the Line

In battle, it is critical that troops advance together and hold the line when challenged. While not a life-or-death matter, the same can be true in business. When making changes in one area of your business, be sure that other business units with touch points move forward in parallel. As a business evolves, its various functions need to maintain pace with each other. If you make product changes, for example, ensure that those new enhancements are reflected in marketing materials and that sales reps are educated on the finer points to make the best pitch. If your business units are out of sync, you won’t be able to make an efficient or effective transition. 

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