In 2016 alone, there were more than 12,000 business mergers and acquisitions. If you were part of even one of these, whether as the acquirer or the acquired, then you know how disruptive corporate M&A activities can be.
Regardless of the size of the transaction, M&A can have a major impact on the businesses involved, and cause a great deal of uncertainty for employees and customers alike. These events can be especially challenging for sales professionals who must adapt to new organizational cultures, expanded product and service offerings, new compensation models, and frequently, new leadership. Nonetheless, savvy companies are embracing the opportunity to build a new sales organization that is more than the sum of its parts.
When 1+1 Must Equal 3
In the aftermath of significant M&A activity, sales leaders are most often consumed with two priorities:
- How do I retain and grow the customers that my company just acquired (including the associated revenue) and,
- How do I successfully merge two (or more!) sales teams and ensure that I can retain the strongest talent for the best performance?
Most experts would agree that two critical components of a successful sales integration plan are Communication and Culture, and we would agree. Sales management should not underestimate the importance of sharing information about the integration process with both their customers and their sales team, even going so far as to actively involve salespeople in the integration process. If transparency is one of your company’s core values, this is perhaps the most important time to demonstrate it and be open about your company plans, and the tough choices ahead.
Because sales reps need to maintain a laser-like focus on pipeline and revenue targets to succeed, many companies try to protect them from the messy work of post-M&A integration. In this way they can concentrate on customers and continue to close business. The problem is that customers and salespeople almost always react negatively to ambiguity.
Uncertainty about the combined company structure, customer engagement rules, and product roadmap can all impact revenue generation. Without good information about the work in progress, salespeople, in an effort to calm these concerns, may give customers answers that are inconsistent with the company’s plan and, as a result, send the wrong message.
Sales reps also need reassurance about internal issues such as how they will be compensated and who will cover which accounts. Otherwise, in the worst-case scenario, high performers may defect to competitors. (And as we know, competitors are all too happy to exploit these fears and woo star salespeople or poach critical customers.)
But it’s the third critical component – or “C” – that many sales leaders forget to take into account, and it may be the most important to ensuring future sales performance: Capabilities.
So how do you begin to incorporate Capabilities assessment and development into your integration plan? Here are a few ideas:
Identify and document the different skills and competencies required of your newly merged team
If your company is merging with a long-time competitor, and your customer profile, product set and market dynamics are fairly similar, this might be an easier task. But regardless of the delta between the two companies’ previously independent businesses, understanding the required competencies is a critical first step to making good staffing decisions, and developing a comprehensive training and development plan for your new team.
Establish a baseline from which to measure future progress
The skills and capabilities of your sales reps can differ widely based on their tenure, experience and job history. This can be a hurdle for sales leaders who must build a training and development plan, yet are unsure exactly where newly acquired reps stack up today.
Many of our customers solve for this by launching a Qstream challenge in advance of a major sales meeting or post-M&A training session. The insights gained from reps’ advance responses can be invaluable to determining the baseline skills and knowledge of your new team, and identifying where future training should be focused to upskill the entire group. The sense of community, not to mention a little competition, engendered by participating as a team can also support executives’ goals for building relationships and rapport between new colleagues.
Reinforce the content and behaviors that matter most for your new team
Sales training is a crucial part of the M&A integration process. But good sales leaders know that training is not an event, it’s a process, particularly when your reps not only need instruction on new products and services, but also new pricing, value messages, buyer personas, and more. By leveraging Qstream post-training, sales leaders can reinforce the critical knowledge and skills reps need to be successful within the new organization, while providing managers with detailed information about each rep’s unique strengths as well as areas for improvement.
Engage Your Coaches Early and Often
We’ve all heard stories about mergers that are executed with great precision and vision, yet despite thoughtful communication, intensive product and sales training, team-building and incentives, fail to produce the forecasted results.
There are lots of likely causes for this, but one potential remedy is a lack of engaged coaching, throughout the integration process, to ensure that high performers are identified and retained, that customer disruption is limited, and that reps get the one-on-one attention and development they need to perform within the newly merged team.
Qstream’s Coaching Hub makes it easy to engage sales managers or field-based coaches in regular, data-driven coaching sessions, with clear accountability for performance improvements and next steps. When linked to competencies and proficiency ratings, sales managers can also accelerate some of the tough choices of who to retain long-term, and avoid the pitfalls of too much or premature downsizing after a merger or acquisition closes.
Sales force integration is a critical success factor for any significant B2B M&A transaction. The best-performing M&A leaders will be those that recognize the complexity of sales integration, as well as the potential risks, and develop a comprehensive, data-driven approach to sales readiness. To learn more about Qstream’s data-driven solution to the 1+1=3 equation, request a demo now.