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Can sales innovations occur inside existing sales organization?

When we talk about innovation, majority of companies are accepting reality that innovations grow better in non-corporate type of environment, because they don’t have to fight existing structure and forms of thinking, That reality is main driver of start-up community, spin-off practices or introduction of agile and other more flexible operation practices inside corporate structures.

Clay Christensen explanation of problems that strong and high performing companies are facing, when they came across disruptive innovation, gave us good insight into why that is so. Main reason is that everything that makes strong companies successful is exactly the reason why they don’t want to introduce disruptive change and they rather go with incremental improvements.

  • Markets for new changes are not big enough.
  • Customers are not there yet.
  • Resources should be used in high margin and high potential areas.
  • Potential of market for changes cannot be analyzed since it doesn’t exist.
  • Processes and values are fixed to another mindset.
  • Value network of established companies is usually different than the one of challengers based on different market approach.

All those mentioned reasons are obstacles for good management of well performing companies to react better and faster to market changes based on new technologies, approaches, innovations. And when they do, their new competition is already coming, usually from bellow. In order to react quicker, management has an opportunity to tackle changes through set up of new, smaller organization, that will move faster, fail quicker, be more exited about small wins and could operate in different value networks. That organization can be separate department in the company, spin-off or acquisition.

If we transfer this situation to sales environment, we can make parallel, that companies that have strong and established sales practices are reluctant to introduce changes into their sales models, until they don’t see decline in their performance. But at that time, it could already be to late, since new sales models will become market standards and customer will expect new sales approaches, which will be provided by new players in much better form than incumbents will be able to produce.

Every sales organization, especially successful ones, have their special secret, usually referring to relationships and sales abilities of their sales force and sometimes management. Sometimes they can also refer to strength of product or market position. But in all cases, all those sales organization are absolutely reluctant to introduce new sales practices, test them, move into directions of new sales approaches or at least upgrade old ones with new elements. Mainly for the same reasons mentioned above, when we talked about obstacles good management is facing when dealing with disruptive innovations.

When we talk about development of sales models and practices, some innovations can be classified in the areas such as:

  • Introducing better tools for opportunities and account management,
  • Improving sales productivity with use of new tools and practices.
  • Developing more automated marketing and sales support activities.
  • Introducing more targeted approaches to better choosen customer sets.
  • Using all the potential information sources to create better account and opportunities insights – potentially in automated ways with use of AI.
  • Extensive use of more relevant sales development methodologies and tools.
  • Automated forecasting procedures, based on extensive usage of probalistic calculations and predictive analytics.
  • Evolution of value creation activities, moving into area of development of undiscovered needs.
  • And others.

But embracement of new approaches demand changes in sales culture of the company. It means accepting uncertainty. It means accepting failures. It means constantly adjusting your activities as sales organization to new insights and feedbacks you are getting. It means having clear picture about what you want to do, how you want to do it, analyzing the results and estimating if failure is due to wrong activities, bad luck or influence from environment. It means trying approaches, that you don’t feel comfortable with. It means running different sales practices (old and new) simultaneously until transitions are finalized and until customers don’t embrace new realities. It means hiring people with different sales skill sets and abilities. It means letting go some activities to other departments and develop some new ones inside sales organization. It means working in environment where use of technology is upgrade of human behavior and where intuition is based on hard facts and algorithmic proposals.

And all that is hard. Sometimes impossible to do. I personally see value in approach based on Coelho thought from The Alchemist: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” You should always aim high. But in order to use resources wisely and execute on your visions, you need to weight your chances smartly and create environment where successful implementation is a potential and not a wish. You need to work with what you got and then work your way to where you want to be in a controlled fashion, not in »all in« style.

If we learn from parallel with how companies are tackling innovation paradox, maybe we should be aware that the most successful sales organizations, have the most challenges in implementing new sales practices and tools. If you are one of those, think about how to introduce new forms of sales activities in a format, that will separate existing and new sales organization and will enable testing of new approaches in new, smaller, more flexible unit. When you do that, only then, you also need to decide on criteria for transition of those new practices to whole organization.

If you are trying to introduce/sale new sales tools, models, approaches and practices, target companies with weaker sales organizations or the ones still setting up their sales organization, since they will have better potential and less obstacles to embrace new technologies and use them to create different sales approaches. And maybe down the road they will become industry leaders and you will be the partner that will help them on their way to that spot.

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Clayton M. Christensen: The Innovator’s Dilemma; When new technologies cause great firms to fail
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