May 222012

Training Implementation: Autopsy of a Failed Sales Process Implementation

Training Implementation: By John Kenney on Mon, May 21, 2012

In spite of strong vital signs at launch, one new sales process became increasingly lethargic, lost motivation and slipped into a quiet coma before expiring. To the dismay of the team that labored to construct a high performance sales process, the embryonic journey from concept to adoption by the field sales force was never completed. This fruitless implementation was doomed by one major flaw. The diagnosis that follows reveals what happened and the lessons learned from this implementation we witnessed in 2011.

The Background Story

Implementing a new sales process consists of 2 major steps:

Step 1: Research the buyers’ process and design a new sales process that is mapped to it

Step 2: Train the sales force on the CRM tool, sales aids and the exit criteria prior to launch

However, successfully implementing a new sales process requires a third step:

Step 3: Reinforce the new behaviors to drive adoption

Understandably, it makes no sense to simply take the first two steps without the third. However, 90% of the energy and resources for this custom sales processes development were focused on the first two steps while the third step became an afterthought. The priorities seemed right at the time. There was tremendous visibility on the launch deadline. Senior leaders scrutinized the progress of the project which was accompanied by a substantial investement in a new CRM platform, building to a crescendo as the launch date approached. Slipping the launch date would spell catastrophe, so few resources were allocated to the post-launch activities.

Failing to focus on the reinforcement step undermined all of the work before it.  Without the focus of a plan to drive adoption, the implementation team was left to assess the poor performance and then attempt corrective action. But the corrective actions were too late because the window of hope and enthusiasm that empowers behavior change had closed. To regain momentum with a doubting and tentative sales force will now require double the effort to overcome their first negative encounter with the new process. What could have changed the outcome?

Behavior Change is Indispensable

The key to success of this project was not simply to change the CRM practices and selling behaviors of sales reps. The transformation needed to permeate the sales organization; changing the behaviors of sales executives and sales managers as well. Old habits die hard. Even though the new process was well-designed and the training was engaging, adoption foundered. Let’s look at the behavior gap:

Desired New Behaviors


  • Follow the flow of the new process for every opportunity
  • Use the CRM system and job aids correctly to make progress towards exit criteria
  • Develop proficiency through repeated use and coaching


  • Coach the reps to become adept at the new process
  • Use the job aids as teaching tools
  • Develop proficiency through repeated coaching


  • Recognize, encourage and reward the new behaviors
  • Require compliance and accountability
  • Foster continuous improvements

The Adoption & Reinforcement Plan

The failed implementation had an intrinsic flaw. To their credit, the team had constructed an adoption and reinforcement plan, but they never convinced senior leadership to support it and take the initiative to make the activities a priority. Here are the key elements of the plan that could have guaranteed success:

1.  Email Status Update:

  • Content: Implementation news, success stories, featured job aids
  • Cadence: Weekly until Week 16, then bi-weekly
  • Leader: Executives and Managers (alternating weeks)

2.   Group Manager Call:

  • Content: Review live opportunities in progress
  • Cadence: Bi-weekly 60-minute call for 30 weeks
  • Participants: 5+ Sales Managers

3.   Team Deal Strategy Call:

  • Content: Sales managers and reps collaborate on live deals using job aids
  • Cadence: Weekly 30-minute call for 30 weeks
  • Leader: Sales Manager

4.   Reinforcement Team Call

  • Content: Deep dive into a specific tool or how to execute a stage in a live deal
  • Cadence: Bi-weekly 60-minute session for 30 weeks
  • Leader: Sales Manager

5.   Recorded Training

  • Content: Deep dive into a specific tool or how to execute a stage
  • Cadence: Bi-weekly 30-minute session for 30 weeks (alternates with #4 Team Call above)
  • Media: Web training; available on demand

6.   Day in the Life Of (DILO)

  • Content: In-depth observation of the application of the new tools and process
  • Cadence: Each rep participates once or twice during the 30 weeks
  • Participants: Sales rep daily routine is observed by executive, manager, or specialist

7.   Senior Leadership Call

  • Content: Recognition and visibility of the importance of the new process; success stories
  • Cadence: Bi-weekly for 10 weeks
  • Leader: Sales Leadership

8.   Manager: Rep Observations

  • Content: Sales manager participates in live sales calls to observe and coach
  • Cadence: Travel with 2 sales reps per week for 20 weeks
  • Leader: Sales Manager

This Reinforcement schedule involves the entire organization, it includes a variety of activities, and it engages through an assortment of communication vehicles to shine a sustained spotlight on the adoption of new process. The fatal flaw in the failed implementation was that the sales organization only made superficial attempts at #8 above and sporadic efforts at the other 7 elements. At the end of Week 2 the sales managers asked their reps, “So, is that new process working out okay?” Ouch!

Sadly, the tragic fate of this of this stillborn sales process could have been avoided. Accepting the passive resistance of the senior leaders doomed its adoption. Exposing them to the comprehensive plan outlined above would have earned their support and established a strong reinforcement cadence in those critical early days. The responsibility for the reinforcement of the process was never transferred from the implementation team to the sales leaders and managers.

To avoid a similar fate for your own sales process implementation, you should download the template of the Adoption & Reinforcement Schedule and be sure to gain commitment from all levels that it has a top priority.  I would like to hear about your own experiences and ideas, so please comment below. Implementing a new sales process offers a rare opportunity to take a quantum leap forward in sales effectiveness and realize the dream of predictably achieving revenue and margin goals. Reinforce!


Training Implementation


To Discuss how these Solutions will add value for you, your organization and/or your clients, Affinity/Resale Opportunities, and/or Collaborative Efforts, Please Contact:

Tom McDonald,; 608-788-5144; Skype: tsmw5752

Training Implementation, McDonald Sales and Marketing, LLC