Today's guest post is by Meridith Elliott Powell, founder and owner of MotionFirst and author of Winning in the Trust and Value Economy.
A few months ago, I was working with one of my favorite clients on business-development training and strategic business growth. Our typical style when making change is to involve and engage the team right from the start, ensuring before we implement change that we get the team’s support and buy-in.
In this instance, however, out of nowhere, we got a major opportunity, and we had to make a quick decision. It was a unique and innovative new product line that would be the perfect addition to our client offering – a little out-of-the-box but very innovative, and it truly filled a client need. If we wanted to offer it, we needed to act quickly and sign an exclusive deal with the vendor; there wasn’t time to engage the team to get input and buy-in. The timing wasn’t ideal, but we didn’t worry about that, as this product was going to give the team a great new product to sell and offered a serious way to open doors and sell more to existing clients.
The CEO was pumped up and could not wait to share the news with the team. I cautioned that we needed to prepare for this meeting and discuss how we were going to get the team’s buy-in and support and how we would handle push-back. He felt that such preparation was totally unnecessary. He wondered why the team wouldn’t embrace a new product line that was going to make sales, client growth, and retention so much easier.
So forward we went with the meeting, and the CEO rolled out the new idea, complete with the dates of required training to get started. I asked to be at the meeting just to observe, and observe I did. The moment he started talking, his entire team, including his commercial leader, started to resist. Before they even said anything, you could feel the energy in the room change and how irritated the team was getting, and you could almost hear all the negative thoughts running through their heads.
As soon as the CEO stopped talking, they started. There was push-back, complaining – sheer resistance so strong and loud that even the commercial leader jumped in, and the CEO started to cave and immediately began making concessions. He offered to wait on the training, have the product in the company’s mix but not highlight it, and review it one more time before the contract is signed, and the list went on.
It was clear in that moment who was running the team and company, and it was not the commercial leader, and it was certainly not the CEO. The team was running the show. Unfortunately, if someone else didn’t start leading the team, then this team and company were going to miss a major opportunity.
People don’t resist change because they are bad people; they resist it because they don’t understand change, and more importantly, they do not understand how it will benefit them. Unless the change is our idea, sometimes the first reaction to it is defensive and negative. As a leader, understand that you must prepare for it and help your team make the transition. Your job as the sales leader is to simultaneously acknowledge the challenge your team members do see and help them see the benefit of what they don’t – what’s in it for them, their customers, and their company.
In this case, right after the meeting, the CEO, the commercial leader, and I had a coaching session, in which we debriefed the meeting, going through what went well (very little) and what could have gone better (a lot). The result: a CEO with a stronger backbone and a willingness to strategize before meetings that are focused on change, and more importantly, a commercial leader who is now committed to focusing on opportunity rather than challenge when change is introduced.
We had a do-over, and this time we walked the team members through all the benefits (for the team and clients) of this new product line, which were immense and why the CEO was so excited; acknowledged their worry about additional challenges on the front end; and guaranteed the support and help they would need to make the transition.
The result: a motivated, engaged, and excited team hitting record-growth numbers with the new product line, and a CEO and commercial leader who are back in charge of the team and company.