The news is littered with reports of technology companies right sizing to align to post-pandemic demand, correct for over hiring and retrench on profitability goals. This restructuring has been brutal for commercial teams, resulting in a vastly different environment for sales leaders:
● Sales leaders will need to do more with less (again). Organizations are reducing aggregate headcount, especially in mid-management roles. It’s possible manager span of control will get worse than the typical 1:8→1:10.
● GTM may change. Companies are taking advantage of an opportunity to reorganize in ways that just would have been too disruptive in previous quarters. Teams are newly organized around business issues, personas, verticals, and products. As a result, sellers may find their previous expertise to be irrelevant and will have to ramp up quickly.
● Relationships will break. These restructures are broad with cascading effects across the enterprise. Most teams will consist of people working together for the first time. Salespeople will need to quickly build new relationships, and trust, both within the team and across marketing, customer success and other revenue functions.
● The account deck will be reshuffled. A restructure is an ideal time to redistribute accounts based on current economic potential, sales team focus, and capacity. While this adds to the chaos, it also represents a chance to take a fresh approach to stagnant accounts and prospects.
As a sales leader, chances are you didn’t design the restructure. In fact, you may not have had any say in it at all. Regardless, you now carry the burden of quickly sorting through these disruptions, refocusing, and stabilizing your team. The clock is ticking, and quotas remain aggressive. So, what can a leader do?
1. Be intentional with culture.
You own the subculture of your team as it lives inside the overall organization. Restructures are personal. Even if a reduction in force is not involved, there is loss – loss of familiarity, loss of expertise, loss of relationships. How you manage these losses will define your team’s culture, for good or bad:
● Give your team time-limited space to productively grieve. It’s important to allow people to express their emotions. Simultaneously, you must also encourage them to channel those feelings into forward action. A victim mindset can’t continue for months. If it does, you’ll sacrifice Q1 and put yourself behind the eight ball for the full year.
● Get out of the gate with a community experience. You need to start building new ties and relationships. This could include adding icebreakers to your weekly team meetings, carving out transition sessions to work together, or something more human/social. Pick a book for the whole team to read (or a movie or even a TikTok) and relate it to the quarters ahead. Pick a mantra for the year or a word. Make T-shirts. Don’t be afraid to be cheesy!
● Use your sales skills to hold uncomfortable conversations. As a seller, you have extensive experience with difficult conversations: overcoming price objections, preserving relationships during aggressive negotiations, handling service recovery. Put those skills to use here too: re-alignments, loss of accounts, quota assignment. Be clear in your communications. Work towards results. But stay conscientious of the impact those conversations have on people. Be particularly sensitive to interactions with offboarded and transitioned staff. Not only does this make you a decent human being, but these folks may also be prospects one day, or they may ‘boomerang’ back.
2. Build and execute a detailed transition plan.
While you may not have architected the plans that you got here, it’s now your job to take charge and drive what happens next. While some evolution will happen organically, you can’t leave transition up to fate. You need a detailed project plan of exactly what to transition, how, by whom and by when.
● Double down on account planning. Account plans serve as an excellent transition tool to transfer insights. And they provide a framework for moving ahead. Make sure sellers have continuity of insights but don’t marry themselves to the existing sales approaches. It may be time for a completely different strategy. Emissary advisors, deal coaches who’ve held executive positions in your target accounts, can be incredibly helpful in closing information gaps and assessing these plans.
● Ditch what you can. Before creating plans to transition something, make sure you really need to keep doing it. Any period fraught with change is a good time to second guess how you and your team invest your days. Are there administrative activities that can be reduced? Are there accounts that just aren’t worth pursuing now? When resources are tight, focus reduces stress and increases results.
● Don’t forget the intangibles. Humans are multi-faceted and when they leave your team or your organization, you lose more than just their account knowledge. Be sure to cover off on the intangibles. E.g., a seller may have been important to the culture of the team, or they may have had a particularly strong relationship with field marketing. Make sure you plan to proactively replace those intangibles.
3. Equip your team with skills, knowledge, and tools.
Ideally, you’ll have enablement resources to help. But realistically, those teams are affected too. You may have to cobble something together yourself. A restructure of a sales team is a critical junction for a team and being able to actively demonstrate that you’re invested in making them a better seller (not just a better seller for you) goes a long way. Sellers need to feel supported through vulnerable times.
● Train on new context. Sellers may need to focus on new products (e.g., SIEM, DCIM), business issues (e.g., CX, EX) or verticals (e.g., FSI, SLED) that are unfamiliar to them. Just think about all the acronyms in that sentence! Imagine facing a whole new set of trends, players, and jargon. Work together as a team to upgrade each other’s knowledge base via lunch-and-learns and other collaborative activities.
● Refocus on sales process. Now is an excellent time to refresh your team on your sales process (aka what do you actually do with an account plan to move a deal through the funnel). Start holding weekly deal reviews, as a team. Invite sellers to share situations, receive manager, and peer deal coaching. Build a repository where you can share decks, case studies and other sales content. (If you are fortunate enough to have a content enablement platform, then create tags, links, or folders within your existing vault of content.)
● Bone up on call skills and coaching. The pandemic was great for tech demand which by definition, made it lousy for skill development. Your team’s selling skills, and your behavioral coaching skills, have likely atrophied. It’s time to go on more joint calls. Retain your role as an observer and resist the temptation to take over the call. Focus on what sellers say and do and how the customer responds. When we interview the thousands of technology buyers in the Emissary network, they are clear. They just aren’t getting the skills and experiences that they want from their sellers.
4. Be loud and visible.
There’s a lot to figure out and undoubtedly you just don’t have all the answers. But be careful not to go dark while you wait for clarity. It’s human nature to fill a communication void with fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Most of your team hasn’t actually sold through a recession before (assuming that is where things end up going). And they’re bound to be anxious. So, be sure to communicate frequently. In fact, over communicate. Your team needs to hear from you.
● Share a vision (even if you didn’t get one). “Well, now what?” is the question on everyone’s mind—yours too most likely. But the buck stops with you. Even if your leader hasn’t built a clear vision for you, you’ve got to paint one for your team. Keep your vision to short time frames and promises that you, yourself, can keep. Focus on things within your control such as communication frequency, a focus on leading indicators, support, and opportunities for collaboration.
● Model the tone. Be extremely thoughtful in both your written and verbal language. No one is asking you to be “Pollyanna.” Restructures are hard and the current sales environment is even harder. There’s no need to gloss over the challenges or be unrealistic. Model language that acknowledges the current situation and conveys realistic positivity. Check your last five emails to your team. Do they make the grade?
● Listen. Communication isn’t just talking. Hold both group and individual meetings to take a morale pulse check. Importantly, you aren’t checking to see if people are happy. Spoiler alert: in the beginning, they won’t be! And let’s face it, you can’t really control that anyway. Instead, you’re checking to see if people perceive fair and transparent treatment.
5. Look for a silver lining.
Lastly, remember that all challenges are also opportunities. Sure, it’s cliché. But it’s also true. The reason that so much large-scale change is being forced through the system is that now is the perfect time to make disruptive changes.
Do some soul searching here. Is there something you wanted to do before, but realistically you couldn’t pull it off because it would have derailed your quarter. E.g., is there an account you really should take away from a tenured seller who has camped out on it for too long? Should you change your hiring profile or onboarding process?
The fact is that there are tons of organizations who are buying tech right now. Gartner reports that the tech market will be $4.5T this year, including a 9% growth in software spend. In fact, when we interview our Emissary human intelligence network, 85% are growing or maintaining their tech budgets. The deals are there for your team to close. But those budgets are going to be harder to get to. Wins will take more effort, more resilience, and more skill. The quicker you stabilize your team, the more likely you can earn more than your fair share of spend.
Going through a sales restructure?
Learn more about how Emissary can help you reduce ramp time and get your sellers productive quickly after a restructure of a sales team.