Don't Scare the Chickens

When his executive team wanted to make drastic changes to the sales organization, a wise old CEO replied, “Don’t scare the chickens. If you scare the chickens, they stop laying eggs.”

Translation – Be careful not to distract the sales team. If you do, they might stop selling.

This particular sales team was having a banner year in a difficult market. What the CEO artfully communicated was not to mess with momentum. He was a guy who understood the psyche of front line sales people and how easily they can be distracted or de-motivated.

Every day sales executives are faced with circumstances that may warrant change. Typically, it is a negative sales forecast that starts the change engines rolling.

Company executives and sales leaders are constantly thinking about ways to build sales momentum. Unfortunately, many initiatives they introduce have a negative impact. Ideas that look good on paper (and spreadsheets) fall apart when implemented.

Over the past few years, I have observed companies make many chicken scaring mistakes such as:

  • Changing compensation plans in the middle of a quarter
  • Canceling their annual sales conference because “they didn’t want to take the people out of the field”
  • Buying a competitor and not merging the two sales teams. The teams were pitted against each other, often competing for the same deals.
  • Eliminating support resources (to save money) forcing sales people to spend an inordinate amount of time performing administrative duties.

So, what can a sales leader do to positively impact momentum? Here are a few ideas:

  • Get the chickens involved in the planning process. Top performing sales people will have insights on what would help the team be more successful. If they are part of the solution, they will influence other team members to buy in.
  • Make sure your objective is perfectly clear – “We need to take sales from X to Y.”
  • Show HOW the objective can be achieved. Make sure it is achievable for the average sales person. Shoot for incremental improvement, not home runs.
  • Provide tools that will immediately impact the sales people such as training, coaching and lead generation.
  • Identify what activities, if executed properly, will lead to the desired result. Measure those activities and show how they are contributing to results.
  • Make sure there is a clear “What’s in it for me” for all involved. This could be a compensation spiff, a reduction of pressure, or even the ability to keep your job.

As sales leaders we are under constant pressure to move the needle. Let’s make sure we do so in a measured, thoughtful way. Remember if you scare the chickens, they will stop laying eggs.

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