In the course of my consulting work I’m frequently asked how to launch lasting change across a large sales organization. I always respond with, “Quickly deliver value to a small portion of your business through a successful pilot.”
Unfortunately, what makes a good pilot good is rarely examined—it’s the ultimate rollout that garners all the attention. Former Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter’s recent passing reminds us of an important lesson in that regard. Although it wasn’t obvious at the time, NASA’s Project Mercury was a model pilot program on an unprecedented scale.
Although it fell short of its stretch goal of beating the Soviets to manned orbital flight, Project Mercury closed an enormous performance gap and restored American confidence at the dawn of a dangerously escalating nuclear age. Without it, future large-scale success (putting a man on the moon) would have been impossible.
Mercury succeeded because it got three critical areas right--mission, people, and solution. Your sales transformation pilot can do the same by following these steps:
- Properly frame the mission. Mercury was commissioned by President Eisenhower, who galvanized public support for NASA by tapping into the fear of communist domination of space. Start by making sure your pilot has visible executive sponsorship and a clearly articulated goal.
- Engage the right people. While NASA assembled a vast array of top technical experts, the visible face of the program was the “Mercury Seven” astronauts. They were the most important resource of all. Your selection of the target business unit(s) for a sales transformation pilot is just as crucial. Place the greatest weight on the strength of the local leadership team. They should be above-average communicators who will be resilient in the face of setbacks.
- Provide the right solution. NASA leadership made a series of great decisions that drove Mercury’s ability to deliver results quickly. Those decisions were guided by two principles: a) use existing technology and off-the shelf equipment wherever practical, and b) build competence through a progressive test program. For sales transformations, my project prioritization framework (below) can act as a similar guide. It can help you clarify which elements of your sales transformation are important to include in the pilot and which you should postpone or drop.
Click the links below for additional resources to support your sales transformation. By coupling those ideas with the pilot lessons from Project Mercury, you’ll have the ingredients to not only achieve orbit but to reach the moon and return safely with your initiative.
- How to conduct a sales effectiveness diagnostic. Sales transformations are typically preceded by a diagnostic study to identify which changes will provide the biggest "bang for the buck."
- Make your sales transformation an overnight success. How to tackle the five most critical elements of any sales transformation.
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Everett Hill helps clients grow. He partners with CEOs and sales leaders to take all-star B2B sales organizations to world class. Prior to founding Catalytic Advisors, he built a strong operational career as a sales leader and General Manager with significant P&L responsibility. He holds degrees from Princeton University and Harvard Business School, and is a distribution partner of Miller Heiman, Inc., the proven, global leader in delivering performance-enhancing sales solutions.
Image credit: NASA