How do I change how people do things at work?

We are increasingly being asked how to take existing, successful sales forces and get them to successfully sell new things. Organisations are recognising that alongside their ‘traditional’ products and services, they also possess considerable subject matter expertise that has value in itself, and an obvious next step is to ‘branch out’. You don’t have to look far to see examples of this; both Vodafone and Telefonica O2 now advertise consulting services to offer their end to end communications expertise to their customers in a more structured way.

The challenge for businesses trying to do this is that these apparently related services & knowledge areas are actually bought by very different people, even in the same business. Technology ‘consulting’ decisions typically sit within a broader business change programme, at C level, and if organisations want to sell their knowledge and expertise as a separate consulting proposition, they need to evolve the conversations and relationships that their sales people have with their customers. More often than not, this includes changing who their sales people have relationships with. In the case of mobile communications, for example, it is rarely the case that the buyer of consulting services is the same person who managed the handset contract.

To be truly affective in this new role, you need sales people to ‘do’ differently. If you are trying to build C level relationships for the first time, do not assume that the tools that have served you well thus far will be up to the task.

Firstly, to be engaged as a trusted advisor at C level, you need a different type of relationship and to be having different conversations with your contact. This is about what they say and do in order to get themselves in front of the right people at the right time. It might also be about creating the ‘right time’ by anticipating future challenges and obstacles that can be overcome by your knowledge.

Secondly, they need to have contact and influence with their buyer during the problem / strategy definition stage because after this time, your consulting expertise won’t be what the customer is after. So be prepared to bide your time to create the long term opportunities you are looking for.

Thirdly, think about your brand - being well known in one arena will not make you an overnight success in another. It might be a bigger barrier than you expect.

In short - this is not something you or your sales people can create overnight. So be realistic about what is possible in the short term. The process of behavioural change will provide the answers that you need - and the process relies on getting the right balance between:

  • Staff engagement with the changes required - to what extent has everyone ‘bought into’ the need to do things differently and how effectively has the message been communicated both at a company and team level? Consider running an engagement workshop to launch new products and explain all about them. Getting people excited about things is the best way to get them to adopt them.
  • Building new capability - what are the practical implications for individuals and teams to bridge skill gaps? What do you need people to DO differently in the future? Building capability does not need to be expensive or time consuming if you adopt the principles of ‘Precision Development’ - identify key groups and dominant competencies to be worked on first.
  • Removing barriers to behavioural change - have you thought through how incumbent processes like CRM and critically ‘pay-plan’ should be changed to reinforce the behaviours that you want for the future? If you currently pay people based on performance, you should pay people to deliver precisely what you want delivered.
  • What else needs changing? - think about both recruitment & performance management from the perspective of future needs. If you need people to behave differently, select and attract people who are a good fit for the future, and train recruiting managers on how to select against a future skill profile. Provide tools for managers like an interview bank of questions and high performance behavioural indicators. If you decide that you need to recruit from outside the sector, remember that managers may need extra help identifying strengths if the experiences that come up in interviews are from outside the industry

To contact Leon Fisher, the author, please call 07912 194 946 or email

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