As in any profession, salespeople must constantly adapt to the tools of an evolving world. Just as it's unlikely you'll find a feather pen or a Rolodex in an office today, you also won't see many salespeople relying on oversized car phones to close a deal on the go. At a certain point, it's inevitable that companies will make adjustments to keep up with the times. After all, if customers are using advanced technology, it makes sense that companies should be interacting with them using tools that are up to date as well.
Of course, if technology adoption is to have an effect on a company, the commitment of the entire team becomes a required element. But getting that kind of cooperation is not always a simple task. Managers who are proposing shifts in their operations should be aware that their star sellers might not immediately take to the new processes without some resistance. Though it's counterintuitive that anyone would resist technology designed to make their job easier, managers should anticipate a number of challenges and do their best to ease their workforce through the transition. There are all sorts of emotional and psychological barriers that could potentially come up along the way. Drawing from tips offered by industry consultants and experts experienced in guiding sales teams through such changes, CRM has composed a set of guidelines for companies in this all-too-common position.
1. COMMUNICATE THE GOALS
Picture this: You're a salesman, and you've been doing your job better than you ever have. You've exceeded your quota, and just last quarter you earned a promotion, thanks to the revenue you raked in for the company. All seems to be going well, but then, out of left field, your manager announces that the company is going to be putting in a new technology that will make things better for you in some way. There's only one problem: He doesn’t explain how or why.
You might wonder what you've been doing wrong. After all, you're yielding the company results, and your current methods for selling seem to be working, so why would they need to change? Is there something you weren't aware of? Why the ambiguity?
There may be myriad practical reasons for why the change needs to be put in place. Perhaps mobile usage is predicted to increase in the coming year, and your manager is simply making sure the company is ready for that transition. Perhaps he wants to encourage more of a community atmosphere around the office. Unfortunately, it's often the case that management does not adequately or clearly communicate the reasons for change to employees.
Before proposing any major change, it's advisable that management establish clear reasons for why the change is being proposed, and how it is going to enhance salespeople's experiences. For a sales force to understand how a technology is to help them, they need to understand what their future will look like with it in place. "If you can't articulate the benefit to [the sales team] and the company, you have no business making any type of change," Jim Dickie, a partner at CSO Insights, wrote in an email to CRM magazine.
Likewise, it is of vital importance that management create a consistent narrative that instills confidence in the workforce.
Lior Arussy, founder and president of Strativity Group, holds that the language the higher-ups in an organization use is also of vital importance. He even resists using the term "change management" when possible. "Whenever you say 'change,'" Arussy says, "[what] employees hear is 'Whatever you've done until now is wrong, and now we're going to put you on the right track.' That's not a good message." Instead, Arussy favors what he calls "cause management," which attributes any need for adjustment within a company to the customer. Under this approach, companies make an effort to craft a story that communicates the idea that this is the outcome that will best benefit the company.
Similarly, highlighting what is not going to be changing can be a source of encouragement for the sales force as well. One way companies can do this is by stating that it isn't the values that will be changing. "In a sense, you're introducing a consistency while asking them to evolve," Arussy says. "It's a much easier transition because [this way] they don't feel like they're leaving everything behind."
2. FEAR OF CHANGE ISNT NECESSARILY FEAR OF TECH
It might come as a shock to some that the technology itself is not usually the reason that employees are resistant to change. While it's tempting to jump to the conclusion that veteran sales reps are more likely to oppose new technologies, it can't quite be boiled down to the "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" adage. On the contrary, as Tim Kippley, director of customer obsession at Rightpoint, a technology consulting firm, points out, many older people are becoming less resistant to using technologies. Such behavior has also fostered a greater willingness on this group's part to adapt such programs for their business needs. "Facebook, Amazon, and [various] consumer apps have really changed the way people think about technology in their personal lives," Kippley says. "They want to do the same things when using a business app."
But problems will likely begin to surface when salespeople are not given enough notice about the programs they're expected to use. Even before it's been decided which technologies they've settled on, managers should give their workers an outline of the problems they are trying to fix. This also gives the sales force the opportunity to provide input and make suggestions about what types of processes they would like to see streamlined and how they envision their ideal sales environment. Though companies might not always have the budget for what the salespeople have in mind, they'll at least be involving them and making them feel as though they are part of the equation from the outset.
Also important is that workers are given the time to develop the kinds of skills necessary to make full use of technology. Just as it took the culture at large a while to figure out how to use social media platforms such as Twitter or Instagram, Arussy points out, so it takes workforces some conditioning to see how new programs can be of aid to them. "If you can be proactive about teaching people those new skill sets and teach people how to use [the technology] in small segments, this definitely can accelerate the change," he says.