By Harry Chopra and Jeff Thull
Integrating two unique sales organizations often leads to frustration from management when revenue and growth are less than expected, and frustration from the sales organization because they are thrown into a very disruptive and unpredictable situation.
Well before acquisition contracts are completed, well intentioned management often assumes that synergistic capabilities between each company’s products and services will create valuable solutions, a strengthened brand, and very profitable revenue results.
We dread that word…synergy. There is no more challenging place to apply the concept of synergy than within an organization when your firm has acquired another and the allure of multiple “synergistic gains” promised by management are expected from the sales organization.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, just about everything. Here is a short list and what to do about it.
Fragile: Handle With Care
Acquired sales organizations are particularly fragile. Uncertainty abounds and teams quickly lose their focus on the customer, right at the time when you desire just the opposite behavior! We believe that the first order of business is to over-communicate that you will be assessing how the incoming sales organization, with its unique capabilities, can be fluidly integrated into the business BEFORE you make any decisions. Meeting as many sales leaders and sales professionals as possible to understand their landscape of operations and their customers is very critical. Granted, some of the sales professionals may not make it through the acquisition process, but it will be good to have conversations with a cross-section of the incoming organization. Understand their strengths, compliment their successes and be in a position to make informed decisions. These conversations will help to promote mutual respect and trust throughout the acquisition process.
Opportunities in the Pipeline
Altering the incoming flow of business without understanding the nuances that apply to the incoming sales team is another little mine field best to avoid. The priority should be the continuity of revenue flow, before going after the operation’s smaller savings from optimized processes. For each business, orders are typically vetted, approved, processed and provisioned differently. Creating an integrated or re-engineered order process and piloting the new procedures, before disrupting what already works, is always optimal.
" Creating an integrated or re-engineered order process and piloting the new procedures, before disrupting what already works, is always optimal.”
Creating Cash Flow
Again, an often overlooked part of a sales integration effort is the billing, invoicing, and collection aspects of the incoming sales organization. There are critical but obvious questions to ask. What is their current process? Are any parts outsourced? What needs to be changed in order to manage the incoming processing requirements? As with Order Processing, in the spirit of continuing momentum and minimizing distractions, develop a business case that supports managing Accounts Receivables and Bad Debt expense as is, until you have a plan in place that can transition these activities to a single team who will have this responsibility. Any missteps in this area can create costly results.
It’s “My” Customer
All successful sales professionals are protective of their customer relationships and their territories. As much as we like to believe we can adapt and change, change is painful and disruptive. Assigning new roles to the incoming team and getting them comfortable without breaking their momentum is probably the most difficult thing to do. The best place to start is by understanding the customer overlap between the sales teams and the types of prospects they call on. If there is a significant customer overlap, but each sales organization calls on completely different functions within those customers, the best answer may be that you DON’T integrate the teams, but allow them to continue to operate in a collaborative manner. If collaboration is a cornerstone of the future state, it will be important to adjust your sales incentive compensation mechanism to support that strategy.
Remember, It’s About Me
Don’t tell me that creating “synergy” with “them” will make my life better.
The first questions from an incoming sales organization will likely be about what will personally change for them. Will you change my sales territory? Will you change how I get paid? Are you going to change my reporting line? More often than not, despite the impact on momentum and disruption, the answers to all of those questions are usually in the affirmative and will fuel more distractions. Because of all the upheaval, it’s difficult to get around to all the details of change.
So, why not announce there will be no changes for now, and skip the disruption. Perhaps tackling these changes during the next fiscal year makes much more sense. Typically, if you’re lucky, it will take at least 60 to 90 days for a joint task force from both your current and incoming sales leaders to think through any changes you should make to the team structure, territories and incentive compensation. If each sales organization recognizes that its sales leaders have input into the process, then your job of communicating to the new organization will be much easier and well received.
" As much as we like to believe we can adapt and change, change is painful and disruptive. Assigning new roles to the incoming team and getting them comfortable without breaking their momentum is probably the most difficult thing to do.”
Protect the Front Door
Another piece of ill-advised sales intervention is immediately redirecting the incoming leads from an acquired company’s website, because it purports to violate the acquiring company’s branding standards. Here again, in the name of continuity and uninterrupted revenue flow, continue to monitor all leads while developing a rational plan for combining both websites. Determine who will be involved in the transition and what the overall objectives will be. How will any change enhance and sync with your new business solutions? How will Search Engine Optimization be accomplished for the combine organization? How will the target website drive customers towards sales and customer service professionals? How will results be measured?
Sustaining Valuable Customers
Customer support is the function that makes significant contributions to maintaining strong customer relationships. Integrating this function is actually more difficult than combining the sales function. Let’s consider the parameters that are involved in this operation. First there are the metrics such as coverage hours, speed to answer, timely resolution, and on-going customer satisfaction. Additionally, each support organization has the expertise to manage their installed solutions. There are also established escalation paths to the appropriate experts in case there is non-resolution of a case by a Level 1 representative. Finally, there are established access channels of email, web, chat and phone that are available to customers to reach your organization.
Again, disruption without a tested process is revenue suicide. Develop a target plan with a joint team to create, pilot and implement the plan. Until such a plan is developed, it would be wise to keep operating the two client service teams independently.
If the incoming sales organization has a CRM system in place, their account master will have valuable contact and interaction information. This CRM system may also have an opportunity management process built in that has other integrated applications, such as leads management, order processing, contracts processing and incentive compensation. It may even be more mature than your own implementation and be built on better technology architecture. Organizations of any size will have systems that will need to be migrated.
" Synergy is the goal and disruption is the enemy.”
This is yet another argument to NOT integrate teams until you have had a chance to think this through and form and test an interim operating model to move forward. Our experience has been that being comfortably schizophrenic for a period until these systems are migrated is actually a sane approach to managing the delivery of all the pipeline and order statistics that are required of someone in your position.
Of course there will be a product integration strategy that protects any current customer engagements. While we understand that not all incoming products survive a transition with customers, you will need to rationalize product architectures on a going-forward basis. However, most organizations do not have a comprehensive plan to transition clients from one product to another and consequently lose customers in the process.
Another approach to consider would be involving the newly acquired product team in an effort to better understand the ramifications of decisions the team will be making. While this is not typically a sales function, as a sales leader in either sales or marketing, ultimately you are responsible for ALL customers and you will be making decisions that will impact the sustainability of a quality customer base as your business moves forward.
So let’s say that you fought all of the fires and managed to keep the incoming sales organization humming as they enter into the newly “announced” sales and client service organization. Your next major concern should be prolonged uncertainty for all of the individuals involved. Sixty days is the optimal time to announce the leaders and a clear reporting system for your new organization. Explaining the rationale behind your decisions is even more important. People may not agree with you, but they will appreciate your candor, perspective and your ability to galvanize a complex set of functions as you move forward with their best interests in mind.
To summarize, synergy is the goal and disruption is the enemy. The odds are stacked against you in terms of delivering a clean sales and customer service integration, but the more you are aware of the people, processes, skills and systems of an incoming sales team, the better you will be able to formulate your plans and sequence the implementation in a very cohesive manner. Our experience has been that striving for perfection in these instances is an unattainable goal. We recommend being “a healthy schizophrenic” until the systems are tested and in place. People will eventually work together and show progress towards synergistic goals when they understand the what, why and how, and recognize that the customer’s success will ultimately drive their success.
Harry Chopra leads the global sales and client services function for S&P Capital IQ and he brings 28 years of sales, marketing and client services experience to the role. Over his career, Harry has had the opportunity to work in multiple industries, including Telecommunications, Technology, Payment and Billing Systems, Asset Management and Financial Technology. Besides experience in the North American marketplaces, Harry spent 8 years in a sales capacity in the Asia Pacific region. His current role at S&P Capital IQ entails the delivery of financial markets and customer intelligence to Financial Institutions, Investment Management organizations, Investment Banking organizations, Private Equity organizations and Corporations. Harry has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Delhi and an MBA in marketing from the Ross School of Business, at The University of Michigan. Most recently, Harry was sponsored by S&P to be a part of the Columbia Business School’s Executive Education program designed around the challenges of leading large organizations.
Jeff Thull is a leading-edge strategist and valued advisor for executive teams of major companies worldwide. As President and CEO of Prime Resource Group, he has designed and implemented business transformation and professional development programs for companies such as Shell, 3M, Microsoft, Siemens, Boston Scientific, IBM, Boeing, Compuware and Georgia-Pacific, as well as many fast track, start-up companies. He has gained the reputation for being a thought leader in the arena of sales and marketing strategies for companies involved in complex sales.
Jeff is a compelling, entertaining and thought-provoking keynote speaker with a track record of delivering over 3,500 speeches and seminars to corporations and professional associations worldwide. His work is published in hundreds of business and trade publications.
Jeff is the author of the best-selling books Mastering the Complex Sale: How to Compete and Win When the Stakes are High, Second Edition; The Prime Solution: Close the Value Gap, Increase Margins, and Win the Complex Sale; and Exceptional Selling: How the Best Connect and Win in High Stakes Sales.