I’ve stopped more than one CEO in their tracks when I’ve heard them utter this phrase: “I need you to fix a sales problem I have.”
Doing the fixing is not what I do.
I have been consulting and coaching sales leaders for a long time. I’ve helped guide countless organizational turnarounds, creating winning conditions for a non-stop sales boom. I’ve even written a book about doing that.
To that end, let me share with you here some of the thoughts I once offered at a gathering of the world’s foremost thought leaders at a private sales discussion, hosted by Gartner and led by Brent Adamson.
What I told them was this: I’ve never seen a consultant successfully fix someone else’s problem for them. Understand what I will do for you.
I will diagnose problems that are holding you and your team back from achieving greater profitability.
I will guide you with insight and support you on your journey to solving those problems.
I will hold you and your team members accountable for staying on track. And I will call you out when you don’t.
I will teach you how you can do things differently and better to get the results you need. And I will give you field-tested examples of what others have done to achieve success.
But I don’t fix sales problems for you. Only you can do that. Here are five things you need to ensure are in place so that much-needed work can happen properly.
Take responsibility for your problem.
One time, I was brought in by a manufacturing company to diagnose a chronic sales problem. At every step in my work, I found myself at loggerheads with the company’s Sales VP and eventually it became clear why. He steadfastly refused to see that there was a problem at all in the organization—let alone his direct role in the mess. He was ultimately fired. His unwillingness to take responsibility was a major factor behind the team not hitting their targets successfully.
Be ready to get your hands dirty.
Solving a problem often requires making difficult changes, including letting people go. Don’t hire a consultant to do your firing for you (and in case you’re wondering, yes, I’ve been asked more than once to look after this…and have refused). Firing (and hiring) is an internal matter for a very good reason: you owe it to your people to take charge of this deeply sensitive task. To do otherwise is akin to hiring a hitman to do your dirty work. That reflects poorly on a leader and even your best people won’t forget it.
For lasting change to truly take place in an organization, your sales team needs to see that everyone has bought-in to where you’re going and why. That means everyone—from the Managers, to the VPs, to the CEO—needs to show up every day and communicate through words and actions that they are committed to organizational change. That level of alignment is crucial. It signals to everyone on the team that this isn’t some “flavor of the month” tweaking to some system, but rather full-scale change backed by a deep sense of purpose.
Stop with the shortcuts.
Resist the temptation to fast track all your much-needed changes within your group. As one client said to me recently: “Colleen, we know change takes time. You can’t put nine pregnant women in a room and birth a baby in a month.” Take your time. Do the right things systematically. With sustained effort and patience, behavior modification and performance improvements will come.
Remember: culture counts.
Lasting change happens only when you hold people responsible for what they do. That means building a culture of accountability and high performance within an organization. One of the better examples I’ve seen of this in action is at a heavy equipment manufacturer. They have a steadfast rule in-house: all sales leadership personnel participate in every onboarding session, backed by regular coaching sessions. As a result, they have a record-low turnover rate and consistently high-ranking sales performance.
To sum up: the hardest part about change involves making the commitment to doing the work. Backed by insights and input from a consultant or sales coach, however, you can make the decision to act on professional advice and transform your organization. It’s at that point you come to understand fully that I don’t fix you: you fix yourself.