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How do you change the behavior of an experienced salesperson?
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By Dave Kahle

Every client I deal with, in one way or another, eventually asks that question. The words may be different, but the question is the same. In this turn-of-the-century economic environment, it's a universal question. If you haven't confronted the issue yet, it's only a matter of time before you will.

Here's the context in which this question surfaces. The company needs to make some change that impacts the sales force: A new compensation program, a new automation tool, a new sales process, a new way of working with inside salespeople -- a new something. Most sales forces are made up of a variety of people, ranging from the inexperienced rookies, to the veterans who have been around for anywhere from five to twenty-five years. The rookies are eager to learn and quick to adapt to the new thing, while most of the veterans are set in their ways and resistant to the new initiative.

The question of how to get the veterans to embrace and implement the new thing always comes up within the framework of a specific change that the company wants to make. From my perspective, however, it is a larger issue.

The veterans may be resistant to the specific change being implemented today. But there will be another change next year, and again the year after that, and the year after that, and so on for the rest of our careers. Today's issue, whatever it is, is just a symptom of a larger problem. Like an iceberg, the veterans' resistance to the new initiative is what you see above the surface, but beneath the facade is a much larger force to be reckoned with. It's not resistance to this particular change; it's resistance to any change that's the issue. Ignore it today, and you're likely to ram up against it again in the near future. So, sooner or later, every principal or sales executive is going to face the challenge of implementing change with experienced salespeople.

It is important to recognize that there are exceptions to the rule. Some experienced, veteran salespeople openly embrace the next thing and actually lead the way. But that kind of attitude is rare. If you have a veteran with a "change is great, let's do it" attitude, be thankful. The rest of the world must confront this issue.


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