The Muscle Memory of Change

February 18, 2011

Change is hard; even if you want to change.  For example, cross your arms the way you normally do.  Now try crossing them the opposite way.  It’s unclear where you put your right hand, then your left. It’s uncomfortable and you have to think about it.   It’s a simple action that you do every day, and when you’re asked to do a familiar thing in a slightly different way — it just feels unnatural!

That’s in part why change is difficult.  It’s not that we don’t want to change.  Nor it is that we don’t understand the goal, direction or what to do.  These concepts are important and actually critical to any sales enablement endeavor.  However an even more fundamental principle is at work.  Muscle memory. Changing the familiar muscle memory of behaving, thinking and working with others is hard.

This ‘muscle memory’ concept was discussed in depth by Dr. Brian Lambert at Forrester’s inaugural Sales Enablement Forum this week in San Francisco.  Muscle memory is important.  For example it keeps us upright after many years of not riding a bike!  Recognizing this capabilty and then working to create new muscle memory is key to successful sales enablement projects.

Crossing your arms is one thing.  Now magnify the complexity a 1,000-fold by starting a sales enablement initiative.  This requires changing how organizations support sales across the ecosystem, including sales support, training, marketing, HR, IT and of course the sales organization itself.  You’re asking an entire organization to conduct business a new way and risk possible failure.  It may be the right thing but it is uncomfortable, it is scary.  That is because it isn’t a habit – as yet…

How do you create this change and reduce the potential for failure?  Of course you need executive buy in and stakeholder support.  And you need to motivate and engage while reinforcing to make it a habit.  According to Dr. Lambert, change requires addressing both the individual behavior as well as the organizational support.   Understanding the differences between the old and the new behaviors is key.  Once you understand these differences, it becomes easier to communicate what needs to change.

This communication is critical.  Here is sage advice from a friend who has been involved in many change management initiatives, ‘Motivate from the top down and energize from the bottom up’.

And if you haven’t had the chance to read ‘Switch, How to Change Things When Change is Hard’ by Chip and Dan Heath, I recommend reading before you start your next project.

Sales Enablement: The Reality of Complexity

February 8, 2011

Over coffee with a friend yesterday, Lore recounted how she had just landed an executive level sales enablement position at a global mid-sized software firm.  She said it was exhilarating, yet exhausting, as in one day she interviewed with 8 people from different organizations across the company.  She intensely prepared questions for and from marketing, sales, sales operations, training, IT, HR, product marketing, and channels.  In each interview she had to understand the world from their perspective, paint an overall picture of how their organization would contribute to increased sales success, and of course develop the right rapport to garner their support for her candidacy.

Yes, the process was grueling, but what it says about Lore’s new company is worthy of note.  Companies are recognizing that a systemic view is the very essence of a best-in-class sales enablement environment.   This software firm knew that it isn’t just one organization, or even 2 or 3 that are critical to enabling their sales force to sell more effectively.  Each organization that touches sales has to be invested in the overall success to develop a consistent sales enablement mindset.  

It is a complex business and there are many issues to solve.  What do sales organizations require to be successful?  How does a company enable their organization to make these changes?  What role does each organization play in the success of sales and how are they held accountable?  How and when do you measure success?

These issues and others will be addressed at the upcoming Forrester Sales Enablement Forum.  I am looking forward to sharing these insights from the Forum with Lore as she begins her new role and I wish her the most success!

Learnings from the Trenches

May 8, 2010

The good news: Sales enablement projects will have an immediate positive impact on your sales organization. Sales will love it. The bad news: Success requires a multi-organizational effort, similar to all other change management projects. Change is hard. Everything else is always a priority, unless ‘encouraged’ from the top.

What we learned

  • Always start with your best sales people.  If you cannot get buy-in here, you are in trouble.  Take the time to do this.
  • Pilot with very small team, measure before and after, and obtain the highest levels of executive support before agreeing to roll-out to the wider sales audience.
  • This change will initially create more work for marketing but those with a sales background will be the first on board.
  • Training will appreciate the system/process as it will provide a consistent core from which to teach and ground their curriculum.
  • Sales operations will love it because it provides a consistent process and leverages your CRM system.

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