Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Can Sales & Marketing Change?

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Sales & Marketing 2.0 conference in San Francisco (another great Selling Power event) where a lot of the presenters, including my good self, spoke about the changes in buyer behavior and the impact of this on sales and marketing. What struck me most about the audience questions and the discussions in the hallways was an acceptance of the need for both Sales & Marketing to change but skepticism on the ability of either to do so. Reflecting on this over the past week I decided to look at the whole notion of resistance to change in the context of Sales and Marketing Professionals.

In a 2003 Journal of Applied Psychology piece on Resistance to Change, Shaul Oreg of Cornell University reviewed the literature around this subject and the different traits associated with it, eventually coming up with a Resistance to Change Scale that had four major factors at its core:

1. routine seeking

2. emotional reaction to imposed change

3. short-term focus

4. cognitive rigidity

So let's look at each one of these items and apply them to Sales & Marketing professionals (albeit in a very generalized and non-scientific fashion!).

Routine Seeking: How many sales people do you know that love their job because it is predictable and every day is much the same as the last? Think about it, isn't sales (especially the complex sale) just about as unpredictable as it gets?

And on the Marketing side, if we take a look at the rapid changes in tactics and tools over the past few years, you would have to draw the conclusions that any routine work has been disrupted by social media, marketing automation and the ever increasing push for more measurable outcomes.
So I think it is fair to say that "routine seeking" should be a non-factor for both.

Emotional Reaction to Imposed Change: Let's face it, Sales is a rollercoaster of emotion at the best of times where the buyer imposes change on the seller constantly, for example: change of buying criteria, change of decision makers, not to mention the dreaded change of mind! And yes Sales people can often wear their emotions on their sleeves but any of them who have long and successful selling careers learn to bounce back very quickly.

On the Marketing side, while often not as dramatic or personal, buyers and the market impose change upon them constantly too. Such changes as how they want to be marketed to. Take the move, for example, from direct mail to email to social media that has happened in a relatively short period of time.

Any change will bring emotional reaction but in the case of Sales & Marketing given the fact that both operate on the leading edge of change as dictated by the buyer, they should be able to overcome any adverse emotional reaction relatively quickly.

Short-term Focus: This relates to the immediate inconvenience of change or the short-term adverse effects of it.

On the Sales side, again I would argue that both are part and parcel of the everyday sales experience. Often a sales cycle has to be recalibrated when sudden unforeseen changes occur with a prospect or they have to get up-to-speed with a new and improved product that has teething problems. In the latter case, this is often the one that causes most angst with Sales professionals, however, unless there turns out to be a fatal flaw in the new product or wholesale market rejection, the noise level drops pretty quickly as the product becomes stable and the sales people become comfortable with selling it.

While Marketing may have had a somewhat smoother ride traditionally that too has changed. The greater scrutiny on return on investment and the explosion of marketing automation tools has shifted the emphasis away from the creative and towards the scientific. Couple this with the ever increasingly savvy buyer who often relies more on third-party reviews and information than on anything Marketing produces, and you get a world where there is now a lot of short-term pain.
So yes the short-term impact of change will cause stress for both Sales & Marketing but Sales have always had to deal with that and Marketing is now quickly learning to deal with it too.

Cognitive Rigidity: This factor taps into the frequency and ease with which people change their minds. In the context of change it relates to accepting new ideas and ways of doing things. It is often talked about in conjunction with the "tyranny of experience" as new ideas conflict with the way things have been done in the past.

In Sales clinging to the old way of doing things usually has a pretty obvious and immediate impact on the individual, i.e. they sell less and their earnings shrink. So there is an inherent motivation to be open to new ideas, which is not to say, of course, that all are. There are as many beliefs among Sales professionals as there are proven methodologies. Many will still advocate that the relationship aspect of sales trumps all, while others will look more to the value creation piece as key. Despite the fluid nature of Sales there can be a certain cognitive rigidity when Sales people have to internalize a new way of selling when they have had success with the old way, hence the tyranny of experience.

Marketing in many ways is probably going to display a high degree of cognitive rigidity when faced with the prospect of having to learn and adapt many of the skills and tactics more traditionally associated with sales. This is going to require an openness to change far beyond adopting new technologies or new media.

In essence of the four, this factor is likely to be the biggest inhibitor to change for both disciplines but it will also likely be the greatest predictor of which organizations will come out on top in the future. The faster Sales and Marketing Groups can cognitively accept the changes, the greater the advantage they will have over their competitors.

Conclusion: Now having spent some time looking at the challenge of initiating change in how Sales & Marketing operate, their roles, their skills and tactics, the more I am convinced that both groups are much better equipped to adopt such change than many give them credit for. There are many other functions or job roles within an organization that if you measured against the four factors listed here would show a far greater propensity to resist change.

So without underestimating the challenges ahead I am feeling confident that Sales and Marketing can adapt to the seismic changes ahead, changes which I will address in a whitepaper to be published the next few weeks.


  1. Interesting. I have not seen the obstacles (resistance to change) listed in this 4 point manner before.

    Just through my observations, I think Marketing is slower to change than sales. Is it possible that sales & marketing are farther apart than you write because the changes you write about are basically all in the automation bucket for marketing. Same stuff different media. Mail is now through email; still a couple paragraphs to gain interest. Taglines are now through twitter; still a tag line. Billboards are now webpages, etc... I agree woth your post but think that sales and marketing ma be farther apart than you indicate.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, while I agree automation plays a big part in the changes for Marketing, I think the bigger change for them is going to adopting the skills and tactics of sales people using those technology tools. So rather than just sending messages through whatever media it will now be more important that they use these interactions to undercover and develop needs in the way a sales person would early in a sales cycle. That is going to require them learning a new set of skills not just learning new technologies.