Most sales organizations make a distinction between their “inside” sales (reps that are closing deals without being face-to-face with their buyers) and “field” sales.
We all know that change is a constant in sales. From messaging and product updates to new market dynamics, there’s a lot your salespeople need to know about week-to-week.
Some changes, however, are so major that salespeople must start having completely different conversations with their buyers. These sales transformations, such as M&A or a major product launch, are often critical to a company’s growth (or survival) – which means there’s a lot of pressure on sellers to execute the new strategy quickly.
Mergers (and acquisitions) can be an especially disruptive sales transformation because they require the combined company to integrate separate sales teams. These groups could:
- Have major overlap (customer, product, structural)
- Be former competitors
- Use different sales methodologies
- Have significant cultural differences
That’s not an exhaustive list, either!
Despite these challenges, sales and sales enablement leaders must determine how to get the entire field force up to speed on the new strategy, while also ensuring that reps stay productive in the meantime.
The stakes are high for the entire business any time M&A is involved. In fact, almost 70% of mergers fail to achieve their expected revenue synergies, according to McKinsey & Company. But what does a good post-merger integration process look like for sales teams specifically?
Post-Merger Integration: A Sales Guide
1. Consider Cultural Implications of the Deal
Our first lesson comes from sales expert John Barrows, CEO of JBarrows Sales Training, who chronicled his experience as the sales leader of an acquired company on his blog, Make It Happen.
Barrows breaks down several issues with the integration plan – including lack of support from the acquiring company, inaccurate client data, and a go-to-market strategy that was basically developed on the fly.
But the biggest barrier to a smooth integration, Barrows argues, was the cultural difference that existed between his company (a “scrappy” startup) and the slower-moving corporation that purchased it.
“I mistakenly assumed that the corporation’s salespeople would be like mine — ready to take initiative, make changes, and build,” Barrows writes. “But when you’re in a large corporation moving at this pace, there’s something to be said for having a comfortable position, making good money, and not sticking out. So people were more set in their ways.”
In situations like this, sales enablement leaders from both organizations should first work to redefine which behaviors, skills and knowledge reps need to execute the new go-to-market strategy. Then they should adapt the overall sales enablement program to incorporate the best practices and behavrios of both companies into onboarding, ongoing training and coaching efforts.
One way to ensure the desired changes take root is by providing guided selling and playbooks thatcommunicate sales enablement priorities and goals to the entire organization. Then, enablement leaders can check for mastery of the new strategy by incorporating short video coaching assessments that ensure reps have the knowledge and skills to deliver updated messaging.
2. Show Your New Teammates What Works
Our next post-merger integration lesson comes from David Sill, head of sales enablement at DiscoverOrg, which bought major competitor RainKing in 2017. In a recent Sales & Marketing Management article, Sill shared a critical takeaway from the experience that applies to any number of companies out there.
“When a company has invested in tools and workflows that speed processes and make everyone’s lives easier, you should train the other sales team as quickly as you can on those tools,” he writes.
Tapping into the “tribal knowledge” of both organizations was a pivotal moment in DiscoverOrg’s integration process, Sill added, because it allowed one sales team to make the other feel valued by providing new tools and resources.
Sales enablement leaders can help ensure both organizations share knowledge and best practices with each other in a couple of ways.
One is to build a sales transformation “tiger team” comprised of key stakeholders from both companies, including people in sales ops, sales management and, where applicable, the marketing and product marketing teams. The purpose of the “tiger team” is to ensure that reps have all the resources they need to master any post-merger selling scenarios they’ll face. This includes best practices around tools and processes, as Sill mentions.
Sales teams can also use technology to better facilitate cross-team knowledge sharing. A sales readiness tool like Brainshark, for instance, makes peer learning easy by allowing sellers to create video recordings that can be instantly delivered to the rest of the sales force. These informal videos can also be converted into formal training content by the sales enablement leader.
3 – Earn Buy-in from the Sales Force
If sales reps are not able to formally voice concerns and challenges related to integration, then they’re likely to be less invested in the results – and more likely to continue doing whatever made them successful before the merger.
That’s why getting them involved in integration efforts up front is a key factor for merger success, according to sales consulting firm Growth Dynamics.
“Providing an opportunity for the sales team to have a voice in the process establishes communication, transparency and trust,” writes Growth Dynamics CEO Ty Swain. “It also creates role awareness and accountability for top performance. If the sales team sees themselves as the ones defining top performance and driving change, they will support it.”
So, how can your organization get both sales teams more involved in the integration process?
Start with the first-line sales managers who will be leading the charge once the merger has closed. Create a merger training program that equips every manager to lead transformation efforts and ensure they’re able to do it through a readiness assessment – which could be done in-person or via a video coaching activity.
The second step is to highlight early sales rep success stories. If a seller was able to close a deal that leveraged the value of your recent merger, for instance, ask the rep what was most important to closing the deal, why the buyers agreed, and get that valuable information out to the rest of your team as soon as possible. Video coaching technology can also be your friend here, as it allows leadership to easily show proof of the integration’s progress and give other reps a model for success.
4 – Make Micro-Assessments a Priority
News travels quickly once mergers are announced. Customers want to know how the move will affect them. Competitors will jump at the chance to question the value of the deal – or claim how clunky the integration process will be.
To stay ahead of the noise, companies need to ensure their reps are message-ready as quickly as possible. And one way to be sure your reps are ready to execute new messaging before they’ve tried it out on a buyer is through micro-assessments.
Micro-assessments are effective because, like microlearning courses, they focus on one specific learning objective, such as positioning the value of your recent merger to buyers. Traditionally, this involves structured role-playing with a sales manager or coach. Today, it can also include the use of video coaching tools.
Video coaching is useful not only because it can validate that reps have the knowledge and skills needed to have effective sales conversations, but also because reps can access the assessments the same way they would take a microlearning course: whenever, wherever and however they work.
Considering all the change that takes place once a merger has closed, a tool that can take even some of the pain out of sales team integration can have a big impact on a merger’s ultimate success.
Are you a sales enablement leader dealing with business transformation? Download our survival guide for more keys to success.