Is Your Sales Team Riding Dragons or Getting Burned By Them?


Knight in armor

Before unification of the Seven Kingdoms in Westeros took place, each region had its own ruler and its own rules. For many years afterwards, Westeros was controlled by a monarch from the Iron Throne of King’s Landing—who, by the way, came into power with the aid of dragons. It wasn’t pretty. And since then, the struggle to gain power and control has continued.

Sound familiar? Maybe this scenario from the popular TV show Game of Thrones sounds like what’s been happening in your company since the recent merger or acquisition you’ve experienced. And that hasn’t been pretty, either.

Why is it that so many companies fail after a merger or acquisition? According to the Harvard Business Review, 70% of mergers and acquisitions fail. Despite this find, M&A activity continued to rise in 2016.

Disruption can come suddenly, or it can be well planned. Either way, when disruption inevitably comes, it presents both challenges and opportunities in your new organizational culture. How well your sales team rises to change and comes together depends on how you prepare them in advance.

“I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game.”

– Louis Gerstner, Former CEO of IBM

To get your sales team ready to slay dragons, realize first that employee connection to the organization is dependent upon the stability of their livelihood. Secondly, people want to be involved in decision making or at least feel they are not missing out on important decisions and information. These two points are key in understanding how to build trust between your sales team and the organization.

Related: Learn how to align sales strategy and corporate culture with these five tactical steps.

Sales Problems Associated With Business Disruptions

By not connecting your disparate sales teams together through goodwill and trust, all you’ve got are ambiguous gray areas loaded with complex and simple motivations ready to resist change. Promoting a unified sales culture with high-performing teammates poses several unique challenges to an organization in addition to the usual issues faced in any such change.

“Most good relationships are built on mutual trust and respect.”

– Mona Sutphen, Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff

Some of the unique sales team problems associated with transition include:

  • Perceived autonomy (Why are they telling us how to sell?)
  • Potential for sales teams to hang onto their unique culture, work rules, standards, etc. (My way of selling has always worked before. Why do I need to change?)
  • Lack of trust in corporate (Who do these guys think they are?)
  • Poor communication channels (What’s going on?)
  • Conflicting management styles (My old boss really knew how to motivate me. This new one – not so much.)
  • Increased apathy and latent hostility towards corporate objectives (I don’t have to do what they say when the old way worked before.)

7 Ways to Unite Your Sales Team in the Face of Disruption

Combating people’s natural tendency to defend against change requires strategic planning and implementation. Laying out a roadmap for success can be achieved by following these steps:

1. Assess the newly integrated sales teams’ attitudes and motivators. Whether you conduct individual meetings to discuss upcoming changes and their corresponding needs or you bring in a consulting firm who specializes in assessing attitudes and gaps in understanding, it’s imperative to grasp what drives each of your sales people.

Related: Not all salespeople are motivated the same way. Learn the best sales motivation for different kinds of salespeople.

People are both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated. This combination of motivators changes from day-to-day depending on a multitude of factors—and culture transformation is a major one. Find out what your sales people value, what their aspirations are and what concerns they have about potential changes in their role. Then look for ways to connect with their motivation through acknowledgement of their purpose and values.

2. Overcommunicate from inception and beyond. Promote the merger or acquisition and begin establishing trust and goodwill. You can’t overestimate the need to be transparent in what’s happening before, during and after a transition. Sales reps need to have answers to questions about their role, their customers, their compensation, their career status and so on. To some extent, human beings have an inherent need to feel “in the know” in order to feel safe and secure. Without stability, disengagement and apathy grows and can undermine the objectives behind the M&A.

3. Provide robust and meaningful training. Training shouldn’t be rote. Dredging up old training manuals from either company to train the newly integrated sales team is a surefire way to disengage or even alienate them. Rework training lessons and associated printed materials to reflect the vision and direction of the newly transformed company. Make training an incentive. Incorporate videos, quizzes or rewards to gamify the process and increase engagement.

Related: Check out these 41 invaluable sales training resources to keep your sales team razor sharp.

4. Encourage a new way of selling. Because your newly integrated team may view itself as “sleeping with the enemy,” turn their mindset to value selling as opposed to selling on price alone. Train them how to identify a business fit based upon customer-centric thinking. Show them how to identify a customer’s issue and find the right solution for their needs by leveraging the available products and services from both companies of the newly formed alliance.

5. Have the right safety nets in place. Your sales team relies on efficient sales administrators, account managers, finance managers and technology support people to be successful. Strong people in the back office means less failure on the front end. In addition, sales tools such as customer relationship management systems (CRMs) and technology that tracks and reports performance accurately and in real time are essential. This interconnectivity between sales, other team members and technology makes working together more efficient and rewarding.

6. Create role models. Superstars aren’t the only ones to recognize during a time of transition. Recognize sales people who embrace change and find small successes that will build toward bigger wins. Look for reasons to catch someone in the act of doing something right. Consider implementing a formalized recognition program that will align and motivate your sales team towards common goals and objectives.

7. Coach for success. As a leader in your organization, frequent communication with your sales team will be the difference between a successful merger/acquisition and an unsuccessful one. You set the tone and the standard as to how others will follow and behave. Sales coaching sessions give you the opportunity to learn what motivates your individual team members and what barriers he or she is facing. It’s your opportunity to leverage those motivators throughout the week and remove obstacles that are getting in the way of success.

Ensuring Successful Business Transformations

M&As are most successful when your sales team is connected and engaged with the company’s strategic direction and values. When your team understands their role and value in the new company, they can fully focus on moving the entire organization forward. Learn how to ensure successful business transformations through powerhouse culture.

“It’s easy to confuse “what is” with “what ought to be.”

– Lord Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones