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.
Do you have a culture of trust within your sales organization? Many companies, and managers within those companies, pride themselves on having an "open door policy." In other words, their employees can come to them at any time with work-related issues, and expect to be heard.
An open door policy is a great thing. And guess what? If your sales team is bringing up issues to you as the sales leader, that means the open door culture you've created is working. Because you've taken the lead in staying open to feedback, your team trusts you. They feel comfortable sharing their ideas, concerns, and issues with you — and hopefully with each other.
But here's the thing. You've got to do more than passively listen to your sales team's feedback. In order to build a trust culture, you have to actively listen. And then you have to act. If you fail to follow through, you may end up doing irreparable damage to your culture of collaboration — and to the trust you've built up with your employees.
Here are three basic steps you can follow to address issues that are important to your sales team in a decisive, empathetic and effective way.
1. Generate a Trust Culture by Creating a Space for Feedback
The best way to get feedback from your team is to ask for it. But it's not enough to simply ask. You have to demonstrate, over a period of time, that you're willing to really hear them out, and not take feedback or criticism personally.
In fact, the feedback you receive by simply asking could change your entire approach to team building, the workplace environment, and even your management style.
It's important to remember that your basic job as a sales manager is to help your team members become the best reps they can be. You're there to support them, mentor them, and even befriend them. When you prove to your team day in and day out that you're interested in them as people, they'll be much more willing to come to you with their issues.
2. Actively Listen to Understand
Once a team member comes to you with an issue he or she is having, it's time to really drill down to the core of the problem. Building a trust culture requires active listening.
We're not just talking about techniques like repeating your team member's statements back to him or her in your own words (although techniques like this are helpful). We're talking about making absolutely sure you understand what the issue is. Why is it affecting your rep? How does it impact your team as a whole?
Then, when you have a firm grasp on the issue, reassure your team member that you know where he or she is coming from. If you've faced a similar challenge in the past, perhaps you could mention that as well. And then it's time to transition to step #3...
3. Outline What You Plan to Do, and Follow Through
"Talk is cheap." "Actions speak louder than words." Pick any cliché you want. They're all true. If you truly want your sales rep to feel valued, highly motivated, and part of a team, then you need to clearly communicate what you're going to do about this issue.
You don't have to give out all the details. Just provide a basic outline of the next steps you plan to take. If at all possible, provide a rough timeline of when he or she can expect a resolution.
Obviously, the more mission-critical the issue is, the faster you should address it. However, don't let "minor issues" fall to the wayside. A minor issue may not be urgent on an organizational level, but it was still important enough to the rep that he or she approached you to talk about it. Not following through will damage the trust culture you've worked hard to build.
If you want your team to stay focused, to feel valued, and to give your company their best, then stick to this three-step process no matter how big or small the issue may be. For more insights on how to be the best sales manager you can be, be sure to sign up for our newsletter, contact us, or explore the valuable resources on our website.
Did you know it takes an average of 18 calls before a salesperson connects with their lead? Multiply that by every lead in the salesperson's funnel, and that's a gigantic amount of time spent chasing down sales. Yet, there's often a perception among company leadership that salespeople have it easy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If your company doesn't properly value or take the time to understand its sales team, it can affect every facet of your business. Fostering a sales-positive culture helps you obtain long-term success.
The Benefit of a Sales-Positive Culture
Success begins with understanding, and understanding comes from the top down. Your company's leadership must set an example by demonstrating respect, appreciation and insight as to how their sales reps operate.
It's easy to see how misconceptions are born. For those who've never been a salesperson, speaking to clients seems like a soft skill, chatting and schmoozing followed by a lot of downtime. In reality, the sales rep spends only about 30% of their time talking directly with clients. The rest of that time is spent on administrative tasks like scheduling, paperwork and training.
Still, the misconception persists: that no one really understands what sales does, that sales seems easy, and that if the company needs more revenue, sales just needs to sell better or call more people to increase it. Unless your leadership takes measures to stop the anti-sales attitude from taking root, your company's morale and profitability could be in serious trouble.
10 Things Leadership Needs to Know About Its Sales People
It's a more effective strategy to build a bridge than it is a fence. Keeping your company's individual departments synchronized boosts morale and overall prosperity. After years of interacting with professional salespeople, these are the most essential things every salesperson wishes their CEO knew about them.
Your sales department is the driving force behind your revenue and prosperity, but they're often misunderstood by fellow employees and company leadership. It's important to view your sales team as essential and look for ways to enfranchise them. It's always better to build a bridge than it is a fence.
For more SMB advice and insights, sign up for our newsletter, or visit our website for webinars and other valuable business resources.
What Is Your Client Really Buying From You? How to Create a Winning Value Statement - with Examples & Templates
You know that a strong value statement is crucial effective sales management, and ultimately for your company to thrive. It’s that power statement — those magic words — that tell your client that you understand their problem and have the perfect solution at the ready.
Though value statements are often brief, the process of getting to those precise, honed words can be anything but. So, here are some hacks and examples to help you write your own winning value statement.
Questions to Answer with Your Team
Before you put word one down on the page, you want to make sure you have these five questions answered with your team:
Putting it all Together: Examples + Templates
Now that you have all the elements, you want to put them together in a way that’s attractive, easy to process and memorable. Here are some hacks for doing just that.
Write one powerful sentence.
The most straightforward way to build your value statement is to connect your client and their challenge to your services and benefits in one, clear sentence. In Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers, Geoff Moore suggests using the following template to do just that:
Compare your service to something your client already knows.If you can find a way to compare your service to another well-known product in another industry, you’ve found a shortcut to conveying your value proposition. By relying on your audience’s knowledge of the familiar product, you can quickly say a lot about what you offer.
Focus on who and how you help.Steven Blank’s suggestion for cutting through the noise is to frame your value proposition in a way people will easily understand. He suggests focusing on who and how you can help.
Nail your elevator pitch.Building off of Dave McClure’s How to Pitch a VC presentation, which encourages businesses to focus on short, simple, memorable keywords or phrases, use this simple template to define the elevator-pitch version of your value proposition.
Challenge yourself to be brief.Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write an entire story using no more than six words. Since then, many writers have similarly tried to pack an entire story into as few words as possible. Can you convey the value you provide in six words or less?
Want more templates? Check out our Value Messaging Worksheet.
Looking for more on how to grow faster? Check out 10 Sales Tactics CEAVCO Audio Visual Used to Generate $2 Million in New Revenue.
Good advice isn’t designed to make you feel better. "It’s designed to make you better," says author, entrepreneur, marketer and public speaker Seth Godin. If you’re reading this, it means you want to learn how to boost your sales team's growth.
Maybe you want to see your team embrace a stronger sense of camaraderie. Or, perhaps you want your salespeople to set realistic goals quarter after quarter — and reach them. Sometimes you may need to address negative behavior head on.
Most managers and CEOs don’t enjoy giving feedback. But when you ground feedback in strategic understanding, root it in constructive honesty, and use it to promote individual and collective growth, feedback creates a profound moment of vulnerability between you and your team. This can be a catalyst to elevate your team from good to great.
Here’s how to boost your sales team's growth.
Focus on Your Organization First
Giving feedback to individual employees without first taking deep stock of organizational health is like having your doctor only examine your liver during your annual check-up. You’ll get a really great picture into one small aspect of your health. But, that information will be partial at best and deadly at worst without a clear understanding of the bigger picture.
In the same way, all the following advice will fall flat — or worse, give a false sense of progress — if your feedback strategy isn’t grounded in a deep understanding of your organizational strengths and challenges.
Tailor Feedback to the Individual
Feedback isn’t one-size-fits-all. One employee may need you to include a lot of actionable ways they can improve while another may work better if you let them work out solutions on their own. Some may prefer a lot of praise and recognition before any feedback, while others may need direct problem-solving conversations.
Before you start revamping your feedback strategy, explore what kind of feedback is best for each team member's sales growth. Consider implementing personality or strengths assessments. Pay attention to what feedback strategies yield the best results for each of your employees. And, as you read the rest of this article, reflect on how each of the suggestions may be implemented differently to best serve each person.
Lead with Questions
Think about the different meanings of feedback. When there’s something wrong with the way a sound system is set up, everyone within earshot may hear the telltale whine of feedback. And often, it takes someone with a view of the entire system to locate the reason for the offending noise.
In the same way, your employees will likely know something needs to be improved. They can hear the urgent sound, like an alarm, telling them that things aren’t operating smoothly. But, they need your system-wide view to help them locate the problem and fix it. And just as a sound engineer may need to examine an individual amp or microphone, you need to ask an employee the right questions to fix the problem.
When you begin a feedback session, start with curiosity. Find out your sales team’s or salesperson’s thoughts, then explore the overlap between their challenges and the feedback you’re providing.
Be Honest, But Not Too Honest
When a leader isn’t honest with their sales team, it’s pretty obvious. It may manifest as passive aggressive comments that avoid naming necessary changes. Or, a leader may scapegoat all problems on an individual instead of looking at ways to make systemic change.
It’s important to be honest with your team. It shows vulnerability and breeds trust. However, being honest doesn’t mean being harsh or shutting down conversations. You want to boost your sales team's growth, and judgment and negativity won’t get them there.
Out of anger, you may feel like telling Dan, a new sales team member, that he ruined a potential client relationship for good by not being prepared for his presentation. Even if it’s true, that feedback won’t inspire him to make changes. Most likely, it will make him feel unproductive.
Instead, shape your feedback using the previous items on this least. Consider if there are any organizational issues that may have made it difficult for Dan to do his best. Explore what kind of feedback will be most meaningful to Dan. Ask him for his thoughts and rationale on the presentation, and see how you can become better aligned in the future.
Focus on Forgiveness
Even though you know intellectually that erring is human, when the health of your business is on the line, it’s hard not to expect perfection. Holding a grudge because of a mistake a team member makes, though, can breed a negativity that infects the team. Not truly forgiving an employee leaves them vulnerable to future punishment — something that doesn’t inspire a sales team to improve.
Instead of dwelling on mistakes, you get the divine role of forgiving. Make it part of the feedback process. Kim Cameron, from the University of Michigan, notes that "a culture of forgiveness in organizations leads to increased employee productivity and less voluntary turnover." That creates a company culture that breeds trust.
Increase Your Sales Team's Growth by Evaluating Yourself
When a team leader doesn’t look at how they can improve themselves, it makes it difficult for team members to follow suit. If you aren’t honest about your own performance, it causes blind spots that don’t allow you to lead your team effectively. When those blind spots are around leadership and the behavior you model for your team, the problems you’re hiding from can spread quickly and stifle your sales team's growth.
So as you’re doling out feedback, don’t forget about yourself. Ultimately, it’s your job to drive company growth, and asking for feedback yourself makes you a more effective leader.
In the Dan example, you could end with a question: “Do you have any feedback for me as a leader? Is there anything I can do to help you be more prepared in the future?”
Make it a habit to ask your sales team for advice on how you can be a better leader for them. Listen to their ideas and take action on them. When your sales team sees you consistently improving and making an effort to grow with them, it sets a foundation for a team that trusts one another.
If you want your team to grow, start with giving individualized feedback. While it’s not always enjoyable to deal with a team that isn’t performing, addressing what needs to change is the first step in creating the success you want to see.
How do you create the most effective feedback for your team? Let us know in the comments below. Read more about boosting your sales team's growth by developing a positive culture in this recent blog.
Trust is one of the most important attributes of any high-performing sales team. Just ask Jeremy Bloom, a former Olympian and pro football player who is now a tech CEO. He wrote in Entrepreneur, “I’ve been on losing teams and high-performing ones both in the NFL and in the business world, and the common thread of success is trust.”
Trust isn’t quantifiable, and cultivating it takes some work. Many strategies exist to help you create a welcoming company culture and build trust within your sales team. Here are five strategies you can implement starting now.
Build Trust by Fostering Real Connections
Teams that trust each other accomplish great things. Think about any Super Bowl champions. Not only do they work together every day, but they spend time with each other’s families, eat dinner together and celebrate wins (and losses) together. Many remain friends for years, even as they move on to different teams.
Your sales team is no different. The stronger the relationships between your sales team members, the stronger the trust — and the stronger your company.
Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last, reinforces this message: “A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people that trust each other.”
Make it a priority to gather your team for meaningful interactions outside of meetings. Donate to their kids fundraisers. Sponsor an employee in a cause they believe in, or give them a bottle of wine to celebrate their parents’ birthday. Show commitment to both the individual and the team to build authentic trust.
Nix the Judgment
Just as real connections lift a team up, judgment tears it down. This kind of negativity seeps into any team if it’s not addressed.
Rich Karlgaard, author of The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success, says that "mocking irony, snark and cynicism can be compelling, but they’re toxic to your company’s culture."
Don’t let criticism get the best of your team. Instead, address any negative behavior over time. One-on-one meetings work well for individuals. Then, hold team-wide meetings if necessary to solidify the message.
Model the behavior you want to see in your team. Your actions and words serve as a blueprint for your team’s behavior. So, model the behavior you want to see in them. By walking the walk, you’ll create lasting patterns and cement positive team culture that will build trust.
Create a Safe Space Within Your Meetings
If members of your team are afraid to open up or feel they can never perform at high levels, it inhibits them and stifles trust building. They may clam up at meetings or become your echo, rotely agreeing with all of your input. If you really want to know what your team thinks, you need to create a safe space for them to tell you the truth.
Creating a supportive environment is tricky to do. Individual team member's egos, pressure to hit numbers and interpersonal differences are formidable opponents. Building a strong foundation of trust and transparency takes time and hard work.
There’s no magic bullet to make teams feel secure enough in their positions to share what drives them and what stands in their way. However, a good way to start is to model the behavior you want to see in your team. By being accountable to your team and honest about your own missteps, you can inspire the transparency and vulnerability that’s integral to a team that builds trust in each other.
Encourage Positive, Strategic Feedback
Too often, feedback is seen as sharing employee pitfalls. This negative perspective can make employees avoid seeking input on their performance, hide perceived failures and miss their goals.
You can be honest without bringing your team down. Frame missteps, errors and losses in a positive light, as opportunities for learning. This encourages deeper trust and allows your team to grow and evolve.
Further, to break the association between feedback and finger pointing, tie feedback to larger strategic goals. This also strengthens a sense of team responsibility and contextualizes individual challenges within the organization’s greater mission. I discuss more about giving honest feedback in this recent blog.
Let Transparency Lead the Way
If sharing positive feedback or creating a safe space doesn’t come easily for your sales team, it may be because you aren’t modeling true transparency.
Lack of clarity about foundational aspects of your organization — from your vision to what value you provide your customers — can thwart attempts to lead with transparency. You can share your thoughts, personal insights and experiences openly, but if your team isn’t aligned on company culture and sales culture, these attempts are going to fall short.
Ground any efforts for greater transparency in total alignment on your organizational building blocks. Only then can you achieve the openness that naturally builds trust — and a path towards a healthy, aligned company culture that runs toward the same goal.
Adopting the strategies above will help you create a culture that builds trust. By developing real connections, creating safe spaces and developing alignment and transparency, you and your team can reach your goals.
How do you build trust within your team? Leave comments below.