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When You're Ready

I am shortly to become an empty-nester, and I am just fine about it. That is very different from the feeling I got from watching Steve Martin’s movie, Father of the Bride, which came out at about the time of my entrance into fatherhood. Somehow the movie transported me to a point where my new born daughter was finished with being a kid and transitioning to a new stage as a wife. I was seriously not ready for that. And while I may not be completely ready to throw a wedding, I am totally ready with the idea of the empty nest.

Somehow kids growing up make that work. When my daughter was a tweener, I ruminated over the whole dating situation. However, when it came time for her first date a couple of years later, it was totally cool and she chose her boyfriends well(mostly). The same thing happens with driving. I got so tired of driving my son to so many school functions and activities with friends, that handing over the keys after earning his license was a relief. But, I did worry in advance about that day back when he was 13. When it eventually comes time to take the big steps, the big steps seems easy.

Shipping the first one off to college worked out the same way. An 18 year old is genetically programmed to disrupt the nest. That way the parents know it’s time to send off a new member into society. The genetic programming made it easy to let go, if for no reason other than to have the disruptions go away. And now it’s time for the second one to go off and the idea of all the freedom is quite a nice light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Parenting does not come with a user guide, but it helps that nature builds in some things that assist with the transitions.

On the other hand there have been many attempts at writing user guides for business managers. But, I have never found a good one for sales managers. And I don’t think nature has done a good job assisting things either – in fact just the opposite seems to happen. Promoting great sales people into sales manager positions seems to have a poor track record. This is a problem because there are some key sales transitions that need to go well and the sales manager as coach must play a very critical role.

One of those tough transitions is the introduction of new sales force automation to a sales team that has had no or low amounts of sales technology previously. What is typically most difficult about this transition is not just the use of technology but the need to follow a more prescriptive sales process, which usually accompanies the use of world class SFA technology. This is particularly difficult when those same coaches are not in complete agreement with those process changes.

So, it may not be the most popular analogy, but sales managers (as sales coaches) are a bit like parents and do need to help with handling organizational transitions. And I think that sales manager training makes sense in this case. If you are managing a sales function or sales operations group, you need to take this transition to new technology and new sales processes pretty seriously. And, before you worry about deploying to your sales team, you need to get your sales coaches comfortable with the transition first.

Just like the transitions I described above with my kids, where I was being prepared ahead of time, we need to do that with sales managers. We need to get them ready for their people to take on more disciplined tasks and more sophisticated technology. My experience is that it is best to have the sales managers embrace the changes first. Take on the process changes and assimilate those, then layer the technology as a second wave of change.

When my daughter turned 18 she really started to flex her independence muscles. That helped to prepare me for her departure to a university 1400 miles away. We need to prepare our sales managers for transitions a bit differently, but the key is to have them experience the necessary changes first, just like I did as a parent. And I think the key to success is to train them in the sales processes that will be changing. Have them learn the changes and then be accountable for implementing those changes. When the technology comes, it will be viewed as an aid rather than as an evil.

Here is an example – account planning. Many of the organizations I work with do not have sophisticated account planning structures or tools, but it is one of the key elements of both successful SFA and effective sales methodologies. Most companies want to introduce the tool (the technology) as a way of introducing the new method. But the problem is that doing both together is like a one two punch. It is better to introduce the process of account planning first. Teach managers the new process and expect them to implement it with their sales districts. Give them paper versions of the planning template to introduce the new approach. When the tool comes it will be perceived as an improvement – everyone will be ready, especially the managers.

Ultimately, the answer is to help your sales managers to get through the transition first. Put the time and energy there, and the payoff will happen as you deploy to the whole field force. Just like a parent, they won’t be fighting the change; they will be pushing for it to happen.

How many months is it until schools open next fall?

Once Upon A Bowl

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