Question: My new sales manager is having a difficult time getting our experienced sales force to execute a number of the changes we have implemented in the past year. Any suggestions?

Answer: Change is always difficult. Particularly with an experienced sales force. I’m reminded of a quote by J. Paul Getty that I sometimes use in my seminars:

“In times of rapid change, experience can be your worst enemy.”

It seems that when it comes to change, the more experienced you are in a certain job or position, the more difficult it is for you to change.

However, while it may be difficult, that in no way excuses the need to change. Lots of things in life are hard, and lots of things in your job are hard. So what? Your salespeople need to get with the program.

So, let’s rule out any negotiating, any exceptions, any backing down from your position. Let’s not tolerate any whining, complaining, undermining or excuses, either.

However, let’s accept that you have mandated some changes, and a good percentage of the salespeople are not making them. Time to take some action.

I’ve always found it helpful to think in specific terms as opposed to general statements. So, “the sales force isn’t executing the changes” is too vague a proposition to offer any clear solutions. Let’s get specific.

Go from the “sales force” to specific salespeople. One by one, determine who is not executing which changes, specifically.

It helps to be methodical. Create a spreadsheet with each salesperson’s name down the first column, and each specific change you expected him or her to make in each column to the right.

Now, think specifically about each salesperson. If that person has successfully implemented that change, put an X in the box under that column. Proceed this way, thinking about each person and each change.

This little exercise may be enough to uncover the obvious solution. For example, if you find that no salesperson is implementing a specific change, that leads you to a certain course of action. If you find that most salespeople are implementing most changes, but that only one is not implementing any, that then leads you to a different course of action.

Going from the general to the specific is a great way to uncover the details of a problem, and often points out a very obvious solution.

But what if the solution isn’t obvious, but this exercise has given you a clearer picture of the problem. Now what?

Think of two general kinds of solutions, and realize that the ultimate is probably going to be some combination of the two.

One kind of solution is to work on the structure of the change. This would be indicated when you find that most, or all of the salespeople, are not implementing some specific change. The problem may be with the change, not the people. So, look at what you are asking them to do. Is it beyond their capabilities? If so, reduce the complexity. Has it been thoroughly communicated? If not, hold a remedial training session. Does it conflict with what you are paying them to do? For example, you may be paying them 100 percent commission, and then asking them to bring in new accounts. That’s a conflict. If that’s the case, change the compensation plan.

Each of these solutions has to do with you changing some aspect of the structure in order to stimulate the change that you want.

The other kind of solution has to do with the people. Are some people resisting the change and others not? If so, the problem isn’t with the structure, it’s with the people.

Identify the individuals who are guilty. Then, one by one, articulate your best insight into why this person is not coming on board. I like to make this real simple. Is it a “can do” issue? In other words, they just don’t have the ability? Or is it a “will do” issue? They can, they just won’t.

The answer’s obvious if they don’t have the ability. You have the wrong person in the job. Change that.

If they won’t, then you have to make the pain of not changing more intense than the pain of changing. Individually, one-on-one, make it clear to the salesperson what the consequences of not changing will be. Then stick to it.

Work individually with each offending salesperson, as opposed to working with a group of them. It’s too easy for them to gather negative energy from one another.

One more thought. If you are going to have heart-to-heart conversations with a group of salespeople, you may be better off picking your battles, and winning one before you start the other. Start with the most likely person for you to win the battle with, and execute your strategy with him or her. When that person is in line, move on to the next one.

Dave Kahle is a leading authority on distributor sales. He’s authored nine books, presented in 47 states and seven countries, and has trained thousands of salespeople and sales leaders. He can be reached at, or 800-331-1287. Visit for more information or sign up for his free weekly Ezine.