Are Your Sales Reps Open to Change?

What qualities do the most successful sales reps possess? Ask some of the best sales leaders and you may get 20 different answers.

Some might say ambition. Others will choose resilience. Then there’s focus, persuasiveness, and empathy. Trish Bertuzzi, the founder and CEO of inside sales consulting firm The Bridge Group, argues that – among other things – great sales reps are passionate and coachable people.

Image provided by: Alex Barth

The truth is, all of those traits are important. And there are many more that apply to the job. If you have a member of your team with those qualities, you’re off to a great start.

But at the startup and expansion stage, there’s one major characteristic that sales reps must have and it’s not likely to show up on a lot of lists (to Bertuzzi’s credit, it’s on hers). And despite not being commonly named as a must-have quality, this trait will likely be THE determining factor for whether your sales reps will be successful in the long term:

A willingness and openness to CHANGE.

At the expansion stage, change is inevitable. Companies are often focusing on new or evolving target segments, launching new products, altering their messaging, growing their headcount, and adding new managers. And that sort of change doesn’t happen on occasion. It happens every quarter, every week, every day. Change, quite simply, is status quo for early stage businesses.

For example, a sales manager may set goals for their team one quarter and decide the next that they were way too high (or too low). That will likely lead to adjustments based on new data, changing market needs, and the capabilities of the company’s product; and that life of constant transition can make less flexible sales reps incredibly frustrated.

Of course, that doesn’t make those reps bad salespeople. It just means they might not be the best fit for an expansion stage sales role.

As entrepreneur-turned-VC Mark Suster points out on his blog, Both Sides of the Table, it’s not uncommon for seasoned sales reps to struggle to adjust in the startup and expansion stage environment. After all, they’re often used to predictable, static sales operations that aren’t as prone to constant change. As a result, those reps might be better off in larger, more developed businesses with highly defined processes.

The type of sales rep that expansion stage companies need is someone who is receptive to new ideas, finds opportunity in change, and thrives in a fast-paced evolving environment.

In order to possess those qualities, sales reps need to be open to a few key things, says Anthony Iannarino, president and head of sales for SOLUTIONS Staffing:

  • Having their beliefs changed: Regardless of experience and previous success, salespeople at expansion stage companies have to be willing to convert to a new way of doing things – and on a fairly regular basis. That brings coachability into play, but it requires, above all else, a willingness to embrace change.
  • Changing their own beliefs: New ideas, goals, and markets may challenge what salespeople believed to be true for much of their careers. If they’re stubborn and unwilling to change their own sales beliefs, then they’ll fail to keep up with early stage companies’ rapid growth and evolution.
  • Taking new actions: Claiming to believe in change is one thing. Taking action to prove the willingness to adopt that change is an altogether different quality. At the expansion stage, sales reps need to be willing to take a leap of faith. Even if they’re skeptical of certain change, they need to place their trust in management.

So how can you determine whether or not a sales candidate is open to change?

During the interview process, really dig into their resume and ask the candidates why they left their previous jobs. Get into the details of their previous work environments (what did they like or dislike about that job?).

Focus on their answers and keep the “change opposition” concept in mind. If you notice any hints that they might be resistant to change, they may not be the right fit for your evolving expansion stage organization. If they pass the test, then start looking for the many other traits that make for great salespeople.

Devon War­wick is a Sales and Mar­ket­ing Ana­lyst at Open­View Ven­ture Part­ners focused pri­mar­ily on busi­ness devel­op­ment for port­fo­lio com­pa­nies. You can fol­low her on Twit­ter @devwarwick.

Share Your Thoughts

  • Peter Shields

    Change is difficult for most people. If you find good sales people that can adapt to change, that is great, but my experience tells me it won’t be easy. Company leadership needs to be flexible and open to change, it means being close to customers and the market. Company management needs to proactively help most sales reps handle and manage change. Finding reps that handle change well is a difficult.