In today’s changing markets, we all know that yesterday’s sales techniques aren’t going to get results. Cold calling is out; relationship nurturing is in. Benefits presentations are out; challenge selling is in. And what’s in today will be out tomorrow. The sales teams that thrive will learn to surf these waves, not paddle against them.
So I asked Jeff Nicely, sales leader and entrepreneur, how he embraces change and what advice he’d offer to others. For Jeff, the number one habit for sales teams today is agility.
Today’s top sales habit is agility.
Jeff defines agility as “the ability to identify needs, the flexibility to make a change, and then the courage to move forward quickly to find out if this is good or not. If it isn’t, abandon it. If it is, teach it train it, and implement it with yourself and others.”
For example, many companies’ marketing teams have hosted webinars about new products, but have your sales reps tried hosting their own problem-solving webinars with customers? Have you tried out technologies that might help reps start conversations with prospects before they call for a meeting? Is your lead management process working as well as it could?
Innovative teams achieve agility through creative experimentation.
Jeff emphasizes that sales teams have to adopt a creative mindset. “This can be a very dynamic and fun process. It’s very exciting when it’s allowed to happen. Because change also creates a lot of initiative, talk, and energy.”
Essentially, a strong sales team is constantly generating new ideas and experimenting with them to see what works best. A study reported this week in the Harvard Business Review demonstrates how powerful this process is.
In the study, researchers asked 75 executives to identify a solution to a problem and try it out for no more than 100 days. 80% saw successful results, and one even saved the company $342,000 over the course of the trial.
Turning your team into creative explorers starts with small steps.
When it comes to attempting any change in life, Leo Babauta, author of Zen Habits, recommends starting small and focusing on just one goal at a time. Because our brains throw up resistance to change, it’s more effective to ease yourself into a new behavior than to make big shifts abruptly.
So sales teams can start small, testing out one new idea. For example, if your reps prospect with cold or warm emails, try out various templates and track the response rates to see how well each version works. Or test follow-up scripts for incoming leads and record how well they move prospects along the buying cycle.
Leadership makes it work.
Jeff has observed that in the most successful cases, the habit of creative experimentation starts with leadership. “Managers have to push resources; they have to allow people to be free to create and figure out a way to success. And they have to trust.”
It takes time and focus to incorporate agility into your sales culture, so if leadership isn’t on board, change likely won’t happen. In Jeff’s experience, “Most people aren’t willing to form the habit of creating that kind of process. It takes a great deal of energy and time.”
In fact, a study by Phillippa Lally of the University College of London and published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that people take between 18 and 254 days to establish a new pattern.
But you don’t have to get everyone on board overnight. Look for those creative folks on your team that love to dive in and try new stuff. Encourage these folks to try out some new techniques. Other reps will get curious about the outcome and interest will ripple through the group.
That buzz, says Jeff, is a great sign. “Celebrate the fact that people are talking and engaging on another level. All of this is an opportunity for organizations to become stronger and healthier and create a level of synergy that didn’t exist before.”
Success builds momentum.
Then, when an idea pans out, leadership can recognize and praise the results. This kind of positive change lights up others who want to hop on board. They’ll learn how to get the same results from the pioneers and pass it on to others.
In today’s selling world, change and chaos have come to the dance together. They’re having a good time and not prepared to leave soon. So you can hang out by the punch bowl and grumble. Or you can learn to move to new rhythms, have a ball, and turn any tune into your victory dance.