Even moderate change in an organization can leave employees fearful and disoriented, and mergers and acquisitions can be extremely disrupting. In companies going through a merger, the sales and sales operations departments undergo multiple stages of change that can be chaotic and difficult to manage.
Your salespeople will struggle to see the benefits of working in the newly formed company as they try to cope with leadership changes, sales compensation plan revisions, pressure to sell new products, and many other transformations. Not to mention the fear of suddenly becoming redundant.
Effective communication is vital during a merger or acquisition and its delivery pivots on the same secret as a catchy song or a funny punch line – timing. Put together a thoughtful, timely plan, with messaging that informs your salespeople every step of the way. Give your team a road map to the integration and details on their potential financial compensation. You have to answer the questions on everybody’s mind to help make the process as smooth as possible.
You do not want the rumor mill spinning out of control during significant change. If gossip prevails over concrete information, you will end up with a demotivated, distracted sales force.
Let’s take a look at the biggest concerns sales teams deal with, and how effective communication can help them during a takeover.
Pre-merger. At First, There Was a Rumor…
M&A negotiations are hush-hush. But no matter how hard leadership tries to keep it confidential, rumors most always fly inside and outside the organization, before the deal is sealed. Mergers and acquisitions are hot news.
At this point, competitors may start stalking your talent, while your team may lose focus.
What can you do to ensure business as usual in the sales world?
You can carefully prepare for the day you announce the M&A. Your sales force’s reaction will depend a lot on your messages.
Your M&A “playbook” must provide answers to the questions your team and customers will likely ask.
Make sure your sales force understands the benefits right from the get-go. Mention what they have to gain starting with the first messages they receive.
What will the future look like? Are their jobs secure? What will the sales compensation plan look like? How much time will it take to finalize integration and reach that cruising stage?
Give them the bigger picture as well. Will they be a part of a stronger company, with bigger opportunities? Work for a better brand? Gain access to new markets? From the day you announce the deal, sales reps must do a good job of explaining it to customers. You have to enable them to do that.
On the day of the announcement, give them solid Q&A documents, templates for customer interaction, and so on. Your clients will want to know what is going on, especially if your company is the acquired one. The last thing you need is a sales force that gives the impression of an uncertain future.
In such busy times, you cannot afford the luxury of trips and face-to-face meetings, so you can benefit from an integrated online training platform to bring everybody on board and up to speed.
During the Integration: Building a One Team Mentality
Pay attention to your stakeholders, especially those who will be greatly affected by the transaction. No amount of communication is too much for them.
The integration will probably mean different things to different groups:
Sales frontline will experience the highest impact. They will be the first to learn about market and client perceptions of the deal. You want to retain your top performers and help the sales frontline reassure customers and keep them on board.
Sales operations staff will also be strongly affected. They will be concerned with data transfer, merging operations, unifying processes while coordinating between the sales force, sales leadership and executive team. Compensate and acknowledge them for their efforts.
Sales compensation will have to merge sales comp plans and ensure employee retention. Yes, measures to keep talent usually involve money, and retention bonuses should come on top of their regular sales comp plans. Use incentives to drive the desired behaviors and align sales efforts with shifting organizational objectives. Communication also plays an important part, consistent, realistic messages will instill a necessary sense of unity and security.
You do not want a divided organization thinking in terms of “them” and “us.” Help employees from the merged companies become part of the same team.
- Before permanent structures are in place, you can create what McKinsey calls a temporary sales war room, or interim leadership group within your sales structure. Senior salespeople from both companies run the war room, with a mandate to retain customers and sustain sales levels during integration. These employees receive the authority to make (certain) on-the-spot decisions and have priority access to senior executives/top management for special approvals.
- Don’t spend too much time in the interim phase. The quicker you move toward a permanent leadership team, the better. Appoint heads of key functions, operations and of key territories. A fast appointment signals stability to the market, your competitors, your clients and everyone else.
- Listen to your stakeholders’ feedback as much as possible, anticipate their needs and communicate proactively. You can build stakeholder engagement by showing you listen and care to address their concerns.
We could go on forever analyzing M&A communication scenarios. The truth is that when companies merge, change becomes the norm. Integration affects leadership structure, compensation plans, territories division, process architecture, underlying systems and pretty much all day-to-day operations.
Plan carefully, communicate as much as possible and expect the unexpected.
Optymyze has been providing companies in various industries with the know-how and tools to successfully deal with sales operations integration and continue to grow. Curious to learn what we can do for you?