Mergers and acquisitions are never easy. The three biggest causes of failure are typically poor integration, culture clashes and overpayment for the acquired business. At an exec level, the business will need to address these and integrate the businesses but you’ll be looking for sales performance at a faster pace than the wider integration.
So, what gets in the way of fast-tracking sales performance post M&A?
1. Clear direction
Do your sales teams know (really know) what the direction of travel is – the vision and roadmap for the new business? Do they have clear messaging for their customers? The details may yet to be worked out, but being clear about company strategy and direction is important.
2. Do they know what’s expected of them?
Often sales people are given some product training and told to go out and cross-sell. But are they clear on what's expected? Are there processes to support them? Do they know the overlay, subject experts or sales colleagues they should be working with? Are there KPIs and measures that support cross-selling and cross-team collaboration? Without these, it's often too hard for sales people to change and easy to stay in their comfort zone.
3. Do they have sufficient knowledge and skills?
Products and services
Overview training of the product and proposition is a start but if that's as much as you've done there's probably more to do. Do sales people know who to talk to in their customers - and do they have those relationships? Do they know what questions to ask - and how to respond to the answers? Can they articulate the proposition confidently? If not, there's work to do here.
Do you have a clear sales process? Does it map to the customer's buying journey? Is there a common methodology and language? Does your sales process align to the forecasting system? In our experience, between 18 and 25% of sales people don't have a sales process at all and few companies really have a clear company-wide methodology. Without a consistent approach, sales people won't know when or how to bring in their colleagues in a productive way and the cultural gaps will persist - 'This is how we've always done it in oldco'.
Internal processes and people
It takes time to join up all the internal processes and integrate everyone onto common systems and platforms. After an M&A there are often changes in job functions and roles so it’s not surprising most sales teams are confused about who they should go to for support at various stages in the sales process. Is this confusion getting in the way? Are there processes or people who are truly (if unintentionally) blocking sales?
Take a look at this guide for more information about assessing Knowledge & Skills
4. Is there trust? This is a biggie!
Post M&A, sales people are often nervous, life is ambiguous. They worry about the impact on their customers. Now they’re being asked to introduce new products and services – even to bring in a sales colleague to lead the sale – of which they have little or no experience. Two of the biggest concerns are ‘If I bring in this other salesperson will they screw up the relationship I’ve worked so hard to nurture?’ and ‘If I sell this new stuff, will we really be able to deliver it without screwing up and damaging the relationship I’ve worked so hard to nurture?’. Rather than seeing the opportunities to grow the customer, extend and enhance the relationship and build greater value, they worry about what they could lose. The three points above make a difference to building trust but that’s not usually enough so take time to understand the underlying causes. And recognise too that, in some cases, concerns may be entirely justified.
Lack of joined up back-office systems like CRM, finance and quote systems can also fuel the fire of mistrust. It makes everything more complicated and difficult. And we all know what happens to things that get put on the ‘too difficult’ pile. It’s important to get things joined up as soon as possible but it’s also important to pragmatically and temporarily work around disconnects.
5. Is there clear leadership?
As a sales leader, M&A is a time of getting pulled from pillar to post but being a strong mentor, manager and leader to your combined team is essential. Many sales leaders unintentionally abdicate involvement in their sales teams as they focus on the details of integrating two or more disparate companies. Reporting, management meetings etc all suck your time away from being a strong sales leader. And that can leave mid-level sales managers - if you have them - holding the fort, often with little direction themselves. It's not uncommon, too, for the Sales VP or director to become the roadblock for signing off on key decisions or customer bids and this can exacerbate the problem further. Take a look at how your sales leaders are spending their time and what they are proactively doing to support and develop their sales team.