January 2005

Best in Class Performance:

Improving Sales Effectiveness Through Superior Change Management


Article Links

1) Change Management Framework

2) Preparing for Change

3) Implementing Change

4) Conclusion

We have spoken frequently in our HIPS newsletter about the importance of effective change management approaches in driving sustained improvements in selling effectiveness.   Recently we have worked with a client who has done a masterful job of applying change management techniques to its SFE efforts.   This article highlights those change management approaches.

Client Case Study

Our client is a market leading firm whose sales force is generally viewed as among the strongest in the industry.   However, senior sales management in Latin America was concerned that recent product successes might be masking underlying problems in the effectiveness of the sales organization. RMCI was asked to conduct a diagnostic evaluation of the sales force's effectiveness.


Detailed analysis of call and prescription data combined with extensive field based assessments confirmed management's concerns. The analysis indicated several issues:

•  Poor targeting of most important doctors, with high annual turnover of targets

•  Poor frequency on important doctors

•  High variability in rep promotional plan execution

Change Management Framework

RMCI identified the common issue underlying each of these problems as a culture in which reps had too much autonomy with relatively little sales management oversight.   Senior management agreed with and was very concerned about this assessment and moved aggressively to change the situation.   The steps taken by management using a change management framework developed by John Kotter and described in his book, “Leading Change” represent a best practice in how to systematically improve sales effectiveness.  

Step 1: Increase Urgency

Step 2: Build the Guiding Team

Step 3: Get the Vision Right

Step 4: Communicate for Buy-In

Step 5: Empower Action

Step 6: Create Short Term Wins

Step 7: Don't Let Up

Step 8: Make Change Stick

Because our client's change management initiative is still in progress, this article reports on the first five of Kotter's eight-step framework.   We will revisit this case study in a future newsletter to report on completion of the change initiative and the resulting impact on sales.

Preparing for Change

Senior management knew that the overly empowered sales organization was not going to be easy to change and   expected significant resistance from the sales force.   To increase urgency, the client made several personnel changes involving senior level sales management.   These changes were significant and swift, and sent an unmistakable message to the sales and marketing organization that immediate change was necessary.

Next, the client established an effective guiding team to lead change.   The new VP of Sales had a demonstrated track record of SFE success.   Other senior level commercial team management changes formed a team that was united in its beliefs about the importance of improving SFE.   This group was given the clear mandate to drive change.

Only now was the time right to focus on the vision.   When Lou Gerstner took over an IBM in rapid decline, he was asked about his vision.   His response, “The last thing we need now is a vision”.   He understood that a vision was premature if it wasn't preceded with the appropriate steps to create a sense of urgency.

The new senior commercial team developed the vision.   Using RMCI's data analysis and field observations, they built a compelling case that clearly showed the need for change.   Their approach combined carrot and stick—it required fundamental changes in behavior, but also showed how reps could benefit financially if they did change.

Implementing Change

Perhaps most effective element of the change management initiative was the guiding team's communication for buy-in.   The team treated the SFE initiative with the importance of a new product launch.   It hired a PR agency that developed a sales effectiveness change theme and logo and helped produce highly professional implementation materials.   The guiding team held multiple buy-in sessions with mid-level and first line sales management, enabling these critical stakeholders to voice concerns, get used to, and finally to support the new approaches, such as setting much higher expectations for achieving frequency objectives on top doctors.   Later, a video featuring the new VP of Sales explaining the need for change was sent to all sales reps' homes.  

At each step of the change management process, the groups responsible for leading and implementing change were empowered with the resources and authority to make change happen.   As an example, a new SFE manager was brought in from the outside, and was given the organizational authority to drive change.   The training function was charged with revamping rep and manager training to focus more heavily on the principles of targeting, frequency, and message. Sales administration developed sophisticated measurement dashboards that enabled the entire organization, from general manager to reps, to better understand their performance.


Because the implementation occurred recently, the story is still unfolding as you read this.   We can report that the client's sales culture has changed significantly for the better.   Reps have embraced the new targeting and frequency activities desired by senior managers who expect these improvements will be reflected in significant top line increases.

Currently, the client continues to implement the remaining elements of Kotter's change management framework.   In our next newsletter, we will report to you again on the change management process and our client's successes and challenges in improving their sales effectiveness.



If you have questions or would like to discuss the contents of this article, please send us an e-mail and a senior consultant will respond to you.


Other Newsletter Articles This Quarter


Case Study Update: Increasing Sales by Improving Sales Effectiveness

We believe that improving long-term sales force effectiveness (SFE) is both critical to sales success and very difficult to achieve and sustain. Our May newsletter highlighted the efforts of a European client that generated $15 MM in sales attributable to
improvements in target customer frequency.

In this article, we provide an update on the client's progress after a full year of implementation and some of the difficulties it has encountered in sustaining sales


Building Internal Sales Planning Capabilities:  New Desktop Sales Force Sizing Tool

Many life sciences firms have dedicated themselves to building internal sales force planning and sizing capabilities in country affiliates outside the United States.  Until now, many have found it difficult to build these internal capabilities because software tools have not been developed to serve these specific needs.

That's why RMCI developed the Advisor XL to support our customers in building internal sales sizing expertise with a range of training and support options to meet the
needs of any country organization from Vietnam to France to Brazil.


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