When you hear the term "change agent," what comes to your mind? Maybe you think of a motivational speaker that comes in with a stockpile of buzz-words and feel-good phrases, leading your employees in a "team-building exercise" involving a bed of fiery coals. Or maybe you think of a 30-year-old, wearing a power suit and perfectly coiffed hair whose only job is to beat up your sales reps for not closing to their full potential.
Here's the good news. Neither of those images represents what a change agent truly is.
A change agent's main goal is to affect powerful, lasting change in the organization. That can't be done through a dictatorship. Rather, a change agent must have the right attitude and skill set to do the job properly. That means being open-minded and respecting everyone's seat at the table, without exception.
Basically, a change agent must sincerely listen to each team member's input. In fact, he or she should welcome and actively seek such input. Only with the insights from and support of your entire team will you be able to effectively discover opportunities for improvement, align your teams and departments toward those newly discovered goals, and implement needed changes.
Three Key Qualities of a Change Agent
It's important to consider a change agent as a guide, rather than a boss. Think of the change agent as an "investigative reporter" rather than a "mechanic." The mechanic's job is to find the problem and fix it, even if it means disassembling the engine in the process. The reporter's job is to ask questions until they clearly understand the facts.
Similarly, some business-minded people want to approach their sales department as a "machine" that needs fixing. However, it is almost always more helpful to approach organizational improvements as a "developing story," one that needs to be thoroughly investigated before any definite conclusions are reached.
With that in mind, here are three key qualities that a change agent needs to display during the process of discovery, alignment, and implementation.
1. Seek to Understand
A change agent must seek to understand, first and foremost. That means active listening, both to individuals and groups. It also means asking some penetrating questions.
Language is a prime example of why deep understanding is so vital to organizational change. Take the word "partner" as an illustration. A lot of companies talk about "partnering with their customers" — but what does that really mean?
To one sales rep that may mean 24/7 availability; to another it may just be an insubstantial buzz-word. Only by asking those probing questions, and really listening to the answers, can a change agent find and define common ground — a foundation from which the entire team can build together.
One of the best questions that a change agent can ask is: "What's showing up for you?" It's open-ended enough that the other person can interpret it in different ways. At the same time, it invites honest feedback on the content and direction of the conversation.
A simple question like that, used skillfully, can highlight different opinions between team members in a neutral way. It's a great step towards ensuring that everyone is on the same page moving forward.
2. Hold the Vision
By seeking to understand where team members are coming from, the change agent can guide them as individuals and as a collective. The change agent directs them toward the ultimate destination — achieving the company's vision.
Of course, any long journey comes with its share of "hiccups," a detour here, a traffic jam there, a delayed flight up ahead... you get the idea. When those hiccups do happen, the important thing is to stay focused on the goal. This is where a change agent can prove to be invaluable.
The change agent has to hold all stakeholders accountable to the vision. If interdepartmental alignment is a clearly stated goal but communication is slipping, then the change agent may need to call management out on this issue.
It's okay if team members or managers occasionally lose sight of the end goal. After all, the sales industry gets real busy, real quick. But when that happens, someone needs to right the ship and remind everyone of where they want to go. Usually, that someone is the change agent.
3. Consistently Build Trust
When a company is struggling with misalignment, employees are going to experience some level of frustration, disappointment, and other negative feelings. In turn, those negative feelings are going to inhibit the company's "improvement team" from sharing potentially painful, but sorely needed insights with their managers and colleagues.
This is where the change agent comes into the picture. He or she absolutely must create a safe space in which everyone can express themselves without fear of judgment or retribution.
Maintaining confidentiality is a huge part of this — and it's an ongoing process, not a one-and-done task to check off the list. If a team member vents to the change agent, the rep's trust would be completely shattered if his or her manager comes by the next day and says: "I heard you were unhappy about this issue." Once that trust is lost, so is any hope the employee will contribute something that could lead to lasting change.
Besides confidentiality, the change agent has to know the culture of the company — and even the personalities of the individual team members. Would people feel comfortable expressing themselves in a large group? Would smaller groups be better? Or would one-on-one breakout sessions be most appropriate?
How the change agent structures team interactions will play a subtle but important role in whether all members of the team ultimately buy into a culture of trust and change.
Why Does Your Sales Organization Need a Change Agent?
The simple answer? Without the right person leading the charge, any changes you want to make will have less impact and a shorter lifespan, than they could have had otherwise. Of course, whether you yourself, a designated team member, or an outside expert should be your organization's change agent is a judgment call that you'll have to make. But when you give your change agent the freedom to understand, question, remind, and nurture, then your entire company will benefit as a result.
If you'd like more insights on how to improve sales performance for your SMB, be sure to sign up for our newsletter, contact us directly, or explore our website for valuable resources and webinars.
Humans prefer new things, but often only in the context of familiarity. It’s why we love sequels. We want to know our characters and their settings, but importantly, crave seeing them in new situations. Your current customers are with you because they like what you do and you are familiar. The best way to keep them is to create a sequel - a new offering of what they already love.
To do this, it’s important to look wider and deeper into what your customers need. They are already on your side, believing in your offerings and feeling comfortable.
Reconnecting with Existing Customers
To gain new revenue through existing customers, you need to reach out and listen to what they want to achieve, what problems they face, and what challenges they want to overcome. Remember that the solution for one customer will be different than for others. Your various offerings may work for everyone in some capacity, but how they are implemented will often be different. Only once you truly hear your customers' challenges can you find the correct solution.
Get proactive by thinking about what your company can do to create more value for your customers and how to make their lives easier. Remember that your customers are real people and the more you can listen, connect and problem-solve with them, the more likely you are to bring them further into your business. In all aspects of our lives, we want our relationships to be meaningful, and the best way to do this is through thoughtful exchanges of ideas and proper listening. Brainstorming works best when the foundational relationship is significant.
It’s also important to note that when deep investigation occurs, not only does your customer feel understood and most likely thrilled with the solution, but your organization will possibly have a new offering. Idea generation shows commitment to the customer and simultaneously improves the team’s creativity and enthusiasm.
Your current customers want unique solutions. They want the sequel, something exciting but not too far beyond their experience with your company. You can provide these solutions, but the customer needs to know that you’ve aligned your offerings to their needs and that they aren’t walking into a one size fits all scenario. Give them your ear, your time, your ideas, and show them that it’s a collaborative solution. Empower them to assist in problem-solving.
The Value of Meaningful Relationships
There are always ways to create more value for your customers if you just listen and seek to understand where they are and where they want to go. The bottom line when closing a sale is communicating the value of the additional products to the customer on the strong foundation of your existing relationship.
Listening goes both ways, and trust is built upon this social reciprocity. Communicating with your customers in a meaningful way shows them that you view them as real people whom you genuinely want to assist. Encouraged by honesty, they are then inclined to move forward with your business for their next steps. Enjoy the connection!
Constant communication within a sales team ensures that everyone's effort gets expended to achieve a similar goal. According to HubSpot, more than half of salespeople rely on peers to get tips on improving. Interestingly, 44 percent look to their managers, 35 percent to team training resources, and 24 percent to media. It is clear that effective communication within the team and with the sales manager is key to success.
However, creating an effective communication system is never as simple as it seems. After all, each member is focused on their individual accounts. How can you keep the communications framework open? Keep your sales team prepared, informed, and focused on the critical goals with these four ways to build an effective sales team communication channel.
1. Get to Know Your Sales Team
Communication will thrive when you show interest in your staff. Get to know more about each member's professional and personal experiences and aspirations. You will establish a link that will promote effective and clear communication.
Your team will pay close attention to the message when it is more personal. Think about how you would respond to a more personalized message. Personal knowledge also gives you the edge of using fun and humor when communicating key points.
2. Think About Your Goals
Before you start sending out an email or having an important meeting, clearly think about what you need it to say. Did you know that the value of communication gets lost during translation? Managers often prioritize haste at the expense of communication quality.
Start by defining what the outcome of your communication needs to be. You will find it extremely difficult to communicate when you have a half-baked conversation in your head. Your sales team will also find it relatively tricky to decipher your goals. Ask yourself what you want your sales team to take away from the conversation.
3. Keep Your Communication Channels Consistent and Recognizable
When communicating with your sales team, always use a consistent and recognizable channel. It can be somewhat confusing for the entire team when you shift between different communication channels. Choose a particular communication tool. Stick with it and alert your team if it changes.
Start by training your team on how you will deliver the information and what to expect. Doing this will ensure that each member of the sales team gets communication on time and effectively. Avoid frequently switching communication channels, which could cause some members to not get your message on time.
As a rule of thumb, good communicators are always good listeners. When managing a team, the majority of the communication will be from you. However, this does not mean that a two-way communication system is not vital.
Establish an open and regular dialogue with every member of your sales team. Periodic check-ins are an excellent way of ensuring that each member can share their thoughts. Your team will also get a chance to weigh in, thus fostering effective and honest communication. Most importantly, you can act on the feedback you gather from your team.
Advantages of an Effective Sales Team Communication Channel
Why is an effective sales team communication channel vital to your organization? Never forget you stand to benefit a lot from keeping your sales team informed, focused, and prepared. Here is what a successful communication channel will get you.
Optimizing your communication channels is just one way of effectively managing a sales team. If you'd like more insights on how to improve sales performance for your SMB, be sure to sign up for our newsletter, contact us directly, or explore our website for valuable resources and webinars.
I’m Karl Becker and I help individuals and organizations improve how they sell. My focus is on clear, concise, actionable solutions.
In short, I'll show you how to increase performance and generate more revenue.
This blog shares approaches, tools, and ideas that I have seen create success.
If you’re interested in discussing anything, please reach out.