• Long-time B2B sellers are often resistant to change and argue that if it’s not broken, it doesn’t need fixing
  • Today, organizational and commercial change are almost constant, which creates tension among tenured sales reps who want to stay in their comfort zone
  • Sales enablement must support leaders’ change initiatives by creating a win-win outcome for individual contributors and the company

“I’ve been selling a long time – just leave me alone and let me make my number.” If you’ve ever heard this from one of your longer-tenured sales reps, you’re familiar with the frustrating resistance to change that sometimes hampers efforts to improve overall sales effectiveness. The good news, however, is that at least you’re innovating and seeking out new ways to add enterprise value. If you’re a sales enablement practitioner introducing a new process, technology or other change to sales reps who aren’t interested in adapting, here are four options to consider:

Dog and computer

  • Make the change a game-changer. The easiest way to earn a rep’s trust is to provide a faster path toward closing deals. Be sure that any new deployment demonstrably benefits individual contributors at least as much as it does management by saving reps time, providing them with knowledge and resources at exactly the moment they need it, or reducing needless bureaucratic friction in their sales cycle. Examples include streamlining access to sales assets, mobilizing learning content and reducing the distraction of unnecessary email. You can also automate tasks such as phone dialing. Whether a Millennial or a Baby Boomer, professional reps will adopt any change that smooths their way toward Winner’s Circle.
  • Play to their strength: competitiveness. Tap into the innate need to win that infuses every career sales professional. Using formal game mechanics or everyday word-of-mouth, sales leadership can make it clear that those who are the first or most successful at adapting to change are favored with the top spot on the leaderboard and whatever benefits, financial or otherwise, are associated with winning. This approach can apply to upselling a newly launched product, video recording the most peer-favorited pitch for a new product, or any new initiative that leadership sponsors.
  • Play to their strength: maturity. Tenured sellers are likely to already have made a career decision to continue as individual contributors rather than move into management roles, but this doesn’t mean they have nothing to offer younger team members as mentors. Leverage their extensive tribal knowledge by creating coaching opportunities via ride-along sales calls and best-practice-sharing processes, without stealing time from their own deal-making. It’s also feasible that sooner or later, especially when it comes to technology changes, these interactions will turn the students into teachers, and long-tenured reps will take interest in and perhaps migrate toward whatever their younger counterparts are using to succeed.
  • If the carrots don’t work, there are always the sticks. Sometimes change is not optional, such as with new product pricing, the sunsetting of a long-sold but unprofitable solution, or converting to a new sales force automation (SFA) system. One approach is to extract cooperation from change-resistant veterans by gating essential content or tools behind the login for a new application they have been avoiding. As a last resort, there’s always the option to play the compensation card: requiring the sale of newly defined product mixes to earn a bonus or reach President’s Club, or adjusting incentive payout percentages to reflect minimum profit margins on certain deals. The most severe option – withholding commissions if reps don’t provide data within the SFA system – has been used many times, but no one really wants to go there.

B2B sellers are a unique job persona in that they are typically rewarded for what is essentially selfish behavior – we will pay you more to sell more – which often fails to protect other company requirements such as profitability, governance or customer satisfaction. For long-time sellers, particularly those who consistently achieve quota, it’s a challenge to balance supporting their ongoing individual success with implementing necessary bigger-picture enterprise adaptations. To effectively sell to the seller, it’s crucial to create a win-win outcome that makes it easy for old dogs to learn new tricks.