The Art of Merging Sales Teams
Brady Bunch Sales
The much-loved 70’s TV sitcom The Brady bunch threw up endless small-life disputes relating to two families coming together under one roof – teenagers getting braces, breaking mom’s favorite vase and cursed Hawaiian Tiki charms. The series had heart. And, of course, it had Alice.
If you’ve ever led your commercial team through a merger or acquisition (M&A), you might have felt a bit like Carol or Mike Brady. Two families thrown together with all their existing habits and baggage, the kids wanting to keep their own bedrooms and not share their bathroom with the interloper.
There are so many challenges in getting two sales teams to sing off the same hymn sheet:
- Territories need to be rearranged and negotiated
- Reporting lines change
- Cross-product training needs to be deployed
- Sales tools need to be integrated and rationalized.
These are all serious operational challenges, and topics for future articles, but today I want to talk about accelerating cultural alignment. In other words, how to speed the path to “one happy family”.
Many leaders start with the operational list above, then create sub-committees to go and look at options for each one, and create and refine integration plans.
And – POOF! – there goes the next twelve months.
From our experience working with many sales teams going through M&A, you’re better off to start with culture. In order to embrace the “what and who” of their new roles, tools and teams, your people first need to understand the “why”.
M&A activities can be terribly disruptive to salespeople – the first question most will ask themselves is “Is my job safe?”. And this can bring months of defensive action from the team – and the loss of sales performance while everyone tries to keep their head down and slide through the storm.
It’s the story of a lovely lady…
5 Ways to Bring Cultural Alignment to the Sales Team
1. Communicate Vision and Guiding Principals
These business foundations are always important, but become critical during a merge. They are the “why” of the change, and important to gain buy-in from the team.
Mergers happen for many reasons – sometimes because there is a great untapped synergy that “lifts all boats” (for example, complementary product offerings, “filling a gap” in the bag). Sometimes it is financially driven – a method to gain efficiencies and cut overheads. Whatever the reason, it’s important for leaders to be as transparent about their Vision as possible early in the process about the high-level goal. Your people aren’t stupid, they’ll figure it out sooner or later and there is a lot of trust to be won if they hear it from you first, not on the grapevine.
Guiding Principles are also vital. These are the “values” or basis on which the business makes decisions. If you can share the principles that underpin merger decisions with your team early (for example, that people’s decisions will be based on historical performance data, not personality) this can create a helpful “lens” through which your team can see that the decision-making process has a fair basis.
Communicate Your Vision
2. Create a Common Language
As quickly as possible, get the two teams using the same language for sales and planning to help them gel. This common language refers to the selling process itself – how we plan meeting goals, the “language” we use for strategy, how we think about pricing and client value, how we deploy teams to calls and so on.
Product training is obviously necessary but is not the difficult part. (In fact, in our view there is often TOO much product training, particularly in highly technical product fields like healthcare or technology. Reps obviously need to understand the product, but it is much more important to understand the client’s business and the problems they can solve. Too much of the former often comes at the expense of the latter – Account Executives have been taught so much about the product that they can’t stop talking about it long enough to listen).
3. Encourage Team Selling Early
Prioritize team selling, and mix teams from across the two organizations as early as you can.
We favor team selling on critical calls anyway, especially selling into complex accounts. If you’ve ever seen a team of 2 or 3 go into a call with clear roles and responsibilities and execute an agreed game plan with a customer, it is truly a thing of beauty.
If you don’t have a simple, robust, value-add pre-call process in place for critical meetings, go do it now. (Do it even if you’re not going through a merger – it’s one of the simplest changes to the process that you can make to boost performance. If you do it right, it has the enormous secondary benefit of feeding your competency assessment and coaching engine. (Find out why here and see a demo here)
Team selling becomes even more important after a merger.
There will still be plenty of meetings to review new territories, KPIs, policies and reporting lines, but these meetings are all internal, and during a merger, most people will approach them defensively. But once you force two salespeople from opposite sides to meet a customer together, the focus turns outward, and they can’t help but cooperate. Early mutual wins will help them start to feel like siblings, not adversaries.
Apart from the natural “osmosis” that comes from cross-team selling, you get something else almost magical.
4. Refresh Selling Skills
Once the dust has settled (and you know who is staying in the organization), team building is important. Many less experienced leaders gravitate towards off-site meetings to play volleyball, compare varieties of merlot on a tour of the local wineries, or shoot at each other at paintball.
These can be great fun, but we prefer team-building that’s focused on supporting the team’s mutual success at work. Selling skills often get rusty anyway (especially after a pandemic) – but is there a better time to sharpen the axe than immediately post-merger?
Avoid at all costs boring powerpoint-led training. Get some experts in, run realistic live simulations set in your (combined) sales environment, film them, let them make mistakes together and pull them apart with some humor. There are few activities that create a team bond faster than going through a shared experience like this with real-life coaching. (And they can always reinforce that bonding when they compare merlots in the bar together each evening).
5. Move Quickly
One last thing. As complex as a merger is, as a leader you need to move fast. These events are a massive distraction to the sales team, and time really is money. Three or six months of uncertainty for a sales team of 30 or 300 has a massive financial impact (both direct and opportunity cost). You’re often better to make a quick, “85% right” decision than a slow, 100% correct one.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Remember, you’re the leader, but you can also be their Alice. Quick, confident decisions, communicated earlier and truthfully will help your team move through the rough waters, build trust and become one happy family faster.
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Kim Moller, Senior Vice President of Sales
MiMedx Group, Inc