Mergers and acquisitions are widespread in today’s business environment—there were nearly 15,000 M&A last year in the U.S. alone. Although they’ve become commonplace, even moderate changes in an organization can leave employees fearful and disoriented, especially sales and sales operations teams.
Your salespeople will struggle to see the benefits of working in the newly formed company as they try to cope with new bosses, changes to compensation structures and pressure to sell new products. Not to mention the fear of suddenly becoming redundant.
Competitors may start stalking your talent, and your team may lose focus.
Educating your combined sales force and operations teams before, during and after M&A is key to not only retaining top sales talent, but ensuring they can thrive. Easier said than done? Maybe. But with the following five strategies, you can minimize uncertainty, compensate sales teams effectively, and deliver optimal sales performance throughout the M&A process.
Step up your communications game
M&A activity can introduce large-scale changes to every aspect of your salespeople’s jobs. A well-defined communication strategy will help to prepare sales reps, operations and management professionals for these changes and reduce their anxiety and uncertainty.
Make sure your sales force understands the benefits of the M&A from the get-go. 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 have to do a good job of explaining it to customers. You have to enable them to do that.
Communicate with your customers, too
Your customers will be just as averse to change as salespeople, and they will want to know what is going on, especially if your company is the one that was acquired. Give them extra attention during M&A to ensure stability. Pinpoint key accounts that will be targeted post-merger and develop an effective strategy to maintain, and even enhance, their satisfaction.
M&A also presents the opportunity to save any troubled accounts – highlighting the benefits in store for them due to the change.
Bring all your processes under one roof
The combination of multiple sales forces can result in the use of multiple legacy compensation processes and technologies, which can introduce even more confusion and inconsistencies in how salespeople are rewarded. Unifying processes, and doing it early, will ensure consistency. Retention bonuses should come on top of their regular sales comp plans, and you can use incentives to drive adoption and align sales with shifting organizational objectives.
Address the entire continuum
M&A activity can lead to expanded data sets, data integrity issues, lack of clarity around compensation and incentives, and business flow disruptions. Sales operations teams may be overwhelmed but they play a crucial role in setting strategy and ensuring the newly combined company aligns its business processes with company goals. Compensate and acknowledge them for their efforts. It’s important that the team doesn’t get caught up in managing day-to-day tasks so that they can focus on strategic direction following the M&A.
Show salespeople the upside
Being a salesperson while your company is going through a merger or acquisition can be a miserable experience. Existing customers may leave, and new targets will often be hesitant to buy until the dust settles, which will put you in a deep hole vs. your goal. Under these conditions, even the top salespeople may experience a dip in performance that’s out of their control. To preserve the long-term effectiveness of the sales force, it’s important not to let market factors like this result in a drain of your best sales talent. Do the proper analysis, but don’t be hesitant to make adjustments to the incentive plan or goals if the data shows you it’s necessary.
Track results and measure success
To ensure success and improve sales team performance, it is important to measure outcomes. There are three mains ways to do so. First, consider the transition. Does the sales force know where to find information they need? Have fewer salespeople been calling their compensation analysts with questions or confusion? Second, collect feedback from the sales team through informal roundtables or surveys, to assess any process and technology challenges that need to be addressed. Finally, pay close attention to sales performance analytics – if things are going well, you’ll see sales performance across the team improve with minimal disruption to the sales process, and with variable compensation fully aligned with performance.
Any M&A activity has the potential to have a serious effect on sales and sales operations. 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.
Taking steps to communicate, inform, and engage your sales professionals will keep everyone on track before, during, and after the merger. As a result, companies can drive sales performance and retain their best talent in the face of M&A.
About John Ristuccia
John Ristuccia is Vice President, Professional Services for Optymyze, a worldwide provider of enterprise cloud applications and services for improving sales and channel performance. John has more than 17 years of experience transforming sales processes and improving operational efficiency and sales effectiveness. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology from the University of Delaware.