Selling Change

It's all new... the latest version! New and improved, updated; enhanced formula, just released! Hot off the press, the newest style! Less fat, more protein, superior quality, finer taste; easier to use, better, more comfortable, lower price...

At one time or another all of these phrases have been used to sell products or services, and they all promote the same thing - change. The marketplace must like change or marketers wouldn't flaunt it; change, therefore, must be good.

What's Good Can Be Bad - "If it ain't broke..."

But of course change is not always perceived as being good. In their daily quest for new customers, sales people constantly struggle to overcome buyers' comfort with the status-quo. In organizations of all types people tend to look with skepticism at new policies and procedures, and look with deep concern at new compensation plans or updated benefits programs; and people at all levels regularly cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!

In the day-to-day real world, change most often promotes uncertainty, doubt, fear, resentment or loss, and this is not news. The concept of "creative destruction" - an economic theory based on the premise that new ideas inevitably bring about the demise of older (more comfortable) ones - was popularized way back in the early nineteen hundreds by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter.

Yet without change comes stagnation and potential loss. Current-day examples include Xerox in copiers or Polaroid in instant photography, each experiencing significant declines in market share and profits as competitors introduced new and improved, lower-cost alternatives.

The cassette tape replaced the eight-track, but was then outdone by the compact disc, which is now being undercut by MP3 players; and the list can go on.

Closer to Home - A Selling Mission

If we're to learn from these examples, then we must accept the fact that change - either in the form of innovation, continuous improvement or both - is a critical component of growth and ongoing success. Without innovation and change we run the risk of losing our competitive position, or worse. "Whatever made you successful in the past won't in the future," said the late Hewlett Packard CEO Lew Platt.

But if people tend to resist change as previously noted, how might managers or business owners best go about getting the team to accept it - to buy in? How can we help people more readily embrace improvement programs, try new protocols, accept new pricing models or generally believe in the up-side of change?

Simply stated, we must sell it.

Just like the sales and marketing experts who create the "new and improved" ad copy, slogans and selling presentations, we must sell the concept of change to our staff members and sales teams before trying to present or roll-out new policies, procedures, campaigns, programs or plans.

And just like any sales mission, this will require forethought and planning.

We might start by identifying how the team will benefit from a proposed change. What's in it for them? What are the consequences of not changing? What will it cost? What opportunities might we lose?

What's the competition doing?

The next step is to determine how to properly position a proposed change. Since we know there is a tendency toward defensiveness, it's important to make people understand that they are not the problem. In other words, a change in policy or approach need not mean that the team has been doing things the wrong way. Rather, it means the world is changing and we must change too, lest we fall behind.

Finally, once the presentation is made and the new "whatever" is launched, there must be follow-up and assessment. Has everything worked as we'd hoped? Should we modify the new plan? Are there unforeseen consequences? While we don't want to send a message indicating we're not resolved to the new program or approach, it is also a good idea to let everyone know we're fair and open-minded - that at the end of the day we're all on the same side.

Change may be unsettling, but without it our futures are at risk; and there are clearly ways to minimize the negative effects. It will require effort, planning and persistence, as behaviors and attitudes are not easily influenced.

Margaret Thatcher may have summed it up best when saying, "You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it!"


A professional and seasoned consultant, coach and trainer, Paul Donehue has made a life's study out of working with and motivating people. His extensive background in sales, management and as an entrepreneur has provided the perfect vehicle for him to interact with and observe the behavior of leaders and professionals in numerous fields, and to see first-hand how many have been able to achieve and surpass their goals. Now president of Paul Charles & Associates, a training and consulting firm...

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