About Anne Kohler

Anne is the COO and Founding Partner of The Mpower Group. She has been leading consulting and financial management organizations for over 25 years, and has extensive expertise in strategic sourcing, change management and organizational design, supply chain management, ERP, and process reengineering.

Selling the Change – Think Like a Sales Person . . . . . Part II

changesLast week we started exploring “Selling the Change” and approaching it from a sales perspective.  We all recognize that change is hard.   As professionals in a Shared Services environment (Procurement, Supply Chain, Strategic Sourcing) one of our primary roles is that of a change agent as we are trying to play a more strategic role within our organization.  Getting suppliers to work with us under a more strategic context is the easy part.  Getting our own organization (sometimes even our own Procurement people) to do things differently is another story. Building a better process or adding new technology is not how you make change happen.  It must be sold!!!  Without the cooperation and acceptance of your internal business partners, you will never be successful.  So, “Sell the Change” you must.

Here are the Top Ten Critical Selling Principles:

  • Principle #1: Identify your Market Segment (stakeholders)
  • Principle #2: Know how the customer (stakeholder) likes to receive communication
  • Principle #3: Build the Brand
  • Principle #4: Selling the Product
  • Principle #5: Educate your customer (stakeholder)
  • Principle #6: Develop Effective Collateral
  • Principle #7: Establish a Need / “Burning platform”
  • Principle #8: Highlight the Value of Change
  • Principle #9: Anticipate Objections
  • Principle #10: Illustrate what Others have Achieved

Last week we took a closer look at the First 5 Principles.  Now, let’s take a look at the Last 5 Principles:

Principle #6:  Develop Effective Collateral
Under this principle you may have a picture in your head of a sales person whipping out a fancy, slick brochure or folder that points out all of the “features” they are offering.  But effective collateral takes what may be a complex process or thought and makes it simple.  Decide on the key messages you are trying to deliver and make them:

  • Simple but not simplistic
  • Creative as well as analytical
  • Always, Always, answer the question “so what”

Principle #7: Establish a Need / “Burning Platform”
This principle is critical because in order to sell the change you need to find a compelling reason for someone(s) to change.  In many organizations, change may be required simply to survive – “if we don’t make this change, we will go out of business”.  In other cases, the change can be positioned more positively – “this new system will give us a competitive advantage” OR “this leadership program will allow you to be in-line for a promotion”.  Regardless of the reason, this must be presented to your customer (stakeholder) and will be at the foundation of your sales pitch.

 Principle #8:  Highlight the Value of Change
Have you ever heard of WIIFM or What’s In It For Me / Them?  This is also a critical component of your sales presentation.  Understanding what is valued by your customer/ stakeholder (their Value Drivers) is necessary for a “sale”.  You need to sell the benefits to them, which means that your  pitch must be customized to each stakeholder.  In addition, if your solutions are designed based on the value drivers of your customer adoption, will be easier as well.

Principle #9:  Anticipate Objections
This principle is also important.  Take the time up front to anticipate any objections your customer/stakeholder will have and build them into your approach.  For example, here is one of my favorites:


Being prepared to respond to any objections will let the stakeholder know that you took the time to address both their needs and concerns.

Principle #10:   Illustrate What Others Have Achieved

Everyone likes to hear what others have achieved and accomplished.  In addition, stakeholders may not be comfortable being on the leading (bleeding) edge of change.  Providing benchmark information will go a long way to help sell the change.

Well, we have now covered the Top Ten Critical Selling Principles which we applied to “Selling the Change”.   Here are some other tips to consider:

  • Sell to all levels of the organization – not just executives
  • Always pre-sell to executives to make certain you have
    political coverage
  • Involve your non-Sourcing  / Supply Chain team members
    to sell too 
  • Sell early and often
  • There is no such thing as relevant over communication
  • Benefits sell, features don’t
  • Tailor your “pitch”  – different audiences require different messages

 By the way, do you know who should be the first person you hire for any major change initiative?  It should be a sale / marketing professional . . . .think about that :-) !

Let us know what you think and join in the conversation . . . . . .

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Selling the Change –Think Like a Sales Person . . . .

changeIn my blog a few weeks ago “Culture Eats Strategy . . . . or Does It? ” we talked about the need to either work with, or change, corporate culture in a time of transformation.  In either case, Selling the Change is essential. Whether you are going through a transformation or NOT, change is all around us and we cannot escape it.  The ability to embrace and manage change is THE most critical competency every professional needs to have.  In a Shared Services (e.g. Procurement, Sourcing, Supply Chain, IT, Finance, HR, etc.) environment in particular, we are often called upon to lead our internal business partners through change.  Having the competency, tools and experience in selling that change can be the difference between success and failure.

Here are a few things to consider:

10 Reasons why Change Efforts Fail (The first four tie directly back to Selling the Change):

  1. Lack of a clear vision
  2. “What’s in it for me” is unclear
  3. Senior management wants to help – doesn’t know how
  4. Lack of an ongoing communication process
  5. Decision processes not clearly defined
  6. Failure to deliver early, real results
  7. Everything is high priority
  8. Old performance measures block change
  9. The voice of the customer is absent
  10. Stuck in the status quo or current way of thinking

Why is it important to Sell the Change:

  • Establishes a “burning platform” – creates a sense of urgency
  • Highlights the value of change
  • Addresses  issues / concerns / fears
  • Secures support and alignment
  • Prepares targets / organization on  “what to expect”
  • Allows you to share successes and lessons learned

So why treat selling the change from the perspective of the sales person?  The real question is Why not?  The sales process is easy to understand (that’s easy for me to say :-) !), has stood the test of time and can work for anything you are trying to sell – so why not CHANGE?

Here are the Top Ten Critical Selling Principles:

  • Principle #1: Identify your Market Segment (stakeholders)
  • Principle #2: Know how the customer (stakeholder) likes to receive communication
  • Principle #3: Build the Brand
  • Principle #4: Sell the Product
  • Principle #5: Educate your customer (stakeholder)
  • Principle #6: Develop Effective Collateral
  • Principle #7: Establish a Need / “Burning platform”
  • Principle #8: Highlight the Value of Change
  • Principle #9: Anticipate Objections
  • Principle #10: Illustrate what Others have Achieved

Let’s take a closer look at the First 5 Principles:

Principle #1: Identify your Market Segment (stakeholders)

This one is simple – you should NEVER start a change initiative unless you have clearly identified your stakeholders and done an analysis to determine if they are a friend or a foe. This will be at the foundation of your selling plan because you need to know WHO you are selling to and what you need to sell.  This is identifying your Market Segment.  A stakeholder analysis tool and management plan must be part of your change management toolkit.

Principle #2: Know how the customer (stakeholder) likes to receive communication

This principle requires that you start to build a relationship with your customer – in this case your stakeholder.  Understanding how your stakeholder feels about the change will be important as you develop your ongoing communication strategy.

Principle #3: Build the Brand

It may sound hokey but branding a change initiative is a way to draw attention to the product (change) and the VALUE the product (change) will deliver.  If you are going to brand – name, logo, packaging, messages MUST all be aligned with the VALUE.

Principle #4: Sell the Product

Selling is a team sport!  Not only should your change agents (e.g. category managers, sourcing leads, supply chain leaders) sell but also you should engage executives, sponsors and supportive business unit personnel to help you sell.  Provide them with the tools they will need to be effective.

Principle #5: Educate your customer (stakeholder)

Customers (stakeholders) who understand what you are selling are more likely to buy.  People can’t support what they can’t understand. The goal is to have “committed” stakeholders, not just blind compliance.  Understanding can win over resistors.  Keep in mind that education is not “training”. Training teaches the HOW – Education teaches the WHY.

I hope I have started to sell you (educate) on why Selling the Change requires you to think and act like a salesperson.  I have run out of time (and word count) so I will finish up next time.

 Let us know what you think and join in the conversation . . . . . .



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Another Meeting – Don’t Waste My Time . . .

timeismoney . . . . or that of the 20 other invitees!  Does this sound and feel familiar?  If not, I would like to know where you work because they have cracked the code that seems to have escaped MOST companies / organizations.  Most of our clients are looking for ways to cut out waste.  They go about it by streamlining processes, eliminating work, running LEAN initiatives, etc. all in an effort to move from tactical to strategic and it is a noble effort.  My argument here is NOT that these efforts won’t bear fruit – I am sure they will.  But, there might be an easier, more immediate payback by looking at the amount of time they and their staffs spend in meetings.

By the way, I am not against meetings.  I actually prefer human interaction and live (even if it is virtual) communication / collaboration over text and email (reading thousands of emails can also be a huge time sucker).  The problem lies in the fact that most meetings are a complete waste of time.  People are late, the right people don’t show up, there is no clear objective or agenda and I can go on and on.  This is such an important issue that “Effective Meetings” is a half- day session in The Mpower Group’s Supply Chain University and one of the most highly rated – go figure.   I must admit that when we first offered it as a training session I was embarrassed, since I think most of the concepts are common sense.  But frankly, in business as in life, common sense does not always prevail.

I chuckled when I read an article from Forbes.com and Kotter International (yes, John Kotter, the Change Management guru) “I Want That Hour Back: The Meeting Invitee’s Bill of Rights”.  The article points out that if a company can eliminate meetings that “don’t matter” and employees can focus on those that do, then days, weeks and even months can be reclaimed to get real work done.  While my clients are looking for much more difficult ways to improve efficiency, making meetings more effective can be a painless fix.  By the way, the BEST meeting is the one that does not take place at ALL unless needed.

I have a personal story here that I like to share with my trainees and it is a true story.  About 10 years ago I was on a professional executive board of my business school.  Every member was very senior and had an MBA from this institution.  Every year we had an annual retreat which lasted about eight hours on a Saturday.   It was the responsibility of the board chair to set the agenda and run the meeting.  Here is how this played out:

  • I was handed the agenda as I arrived which had over 25 items on it
  • The only timing in the agenda was the start time and the end time
  • There was no stated objective
  • There was no indication of which items were info share, discussion or decision required
  • We never got off the first agenda item
  • The discussion was disjointed and went off into tangents that had nothing to do with any of the agenda items
  • There were no decisions made
  • There were no action items at the end of the meeting
  • This meeting was facilitated (hardly) by an MBA with 20 MBAs in attendance 

That was 168 hours of executive time that I assume some charitable organization would have loved to take advantage of.  It was a complete waste of everyone’s time.  I resigned from the board soon thereafter.

Here is a simple process that we use and ties nicely into the article’s Bill of Rights:




1. Clearly articulated objectives sent in advance
2. A focused invitee list
3. A well-considered agenda
4. A thoughtfully designed experience
5. Reasonable preparation sent with sufficient time to complete

Please note that ½ of the activities all take place BEFORE the meeting.  This is critical – don’t hold a meeting unless you have the time to PLAN.


6.  Start on time and end early
7.  Ensure everyone is paying attention in the meeting
8.  Key decisions and questions placed up-front
9.  Alert facilitation

 Strong facilitation is key to a successful meeting.  Make sure that you have an energetic and focused facilitator – especially for looong meetings.


10. Thoughtful, brief and timely notes of discussions, decisions and action

 Take the time to summarize the results and ensure that the objective was met.  Also record the results and get confirmation that all attendees know what the action items are.  

If you are the meeting organizer / facilitator then respect the rights of the attendees and follow these simple steps.  If you are an attendee – JUST SAY NO unless your rights AND time are respected.  Focusing on effective meetings can go a long way to raising your “stock” within your organization so try it. 

Tell us what you think – join in the conversation . . . . .. 

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Culture Eats Strategy . . . . or Does It?

Puzzle 2Transformation is HARD!  If you don’t believe that then you have never gone through one.  Often, when a transformation fails or an organization does not achieve its’ desired business results, “culture” is identified as the culprit or perhaps the scapegoat so says two Supply Chain Management professors in “Culture Eats Strategy . . . and how to deal with it”. Professors Hanson and Melnyk believe that blaming culture is often misguided and wrong.  “To understand and work with culture in times of change, it is necessary to break with conventional wisdom in many areas and dispel several management myths.”   The article, while written by two Supply Chain brains, focuses mostly on the challenges of making change happen within an organization and how important it is to “manage” that change and deal with / embrace corporate culture.

What is corporate culture?   Here are a few definitions:

  • the collective values, beliefs, principles and PURPOSE of an organization
  • “what people do when the boss is not around”
  • consists of group norms of behavior and the underlying shared values that help keep those norms in place

Culture develops over time, gradually, and in ways that are sometimes difficult to see.  As an employee, it is often hard to articulate the elements of corporate culture because you are living it every day.  But if you simply think about it as behaviors that are accepted and or rewarded then it becomes clearer.  For example, is it accepted for meetings to start late?  Do most people show up to work at 7:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m.?  Might you get run over at 4:30 p.m. if you are too close to the exit?  Is it common or unusual to see a tie or a jacket or even hosiery?  Do employees offer suggestions freely or do they sit quietly and simply take direction from the boss?  Culture is also taught, in that it is passed on from current members to new members (very much like a family . .).    

Make no mistake that culture is a very powerful force  – particularly in a time of change.  So, how do you deal with culture?  You have two choices – 1. Work within the corporate culture – find parts of your change strategy that are consistent with your PURPOSE (culture) and exploit them or 2. Work to change the culture – it is doable BUT it is also HARD.  Culture takes time to emerge and it also takes time to change.

In either case, it will be necessary to dispel a few important Management Myths:

  • Show them a better way and they will embrace it – here employees must not only understand the “how” but also the “what” (the PURPOSE or the desired outcome). The “what” is often not communicated which is a problem. In addition, the “what” should also include “what’s in it for them”.  This requires frequent and ongoing  communication. Also, showing them a better way means that un-learning the old ways will be necessary and this is not easy. 
  •  Culture and strategy are natural enemiesthis is only true if management believes there is an inherent conflict.  Here, you need to understand the characteristics of the strategy / change and how to work with elements of the corporate culture where the purpose is aligned.   Where there is no alignment in purpose, creating a “crisis” ( I prefer “a burning platform”)  may be required.   This is  a compelling reason why the strategy / change is critical to “survival” and that the status quo is no longer acceptable.  This can provide motivation for the organization to abandon current practices and to adopt new ones.
  •  Don’t tell people how to do their jobs – tell them what you want done and get out of their way – conventional wisdom tell us that this is normally a very strong management practice. Unfortunately it relies heavily on organizational culture which drives behavior and decision making.  So in times of change, it will be necessary to tell people exactly what to do and how to do it – even executives.  This is hard for everyone involved but it is necessary until the culture can be brought  into alignment with the change strategy.

In summary, corporate culture is often blamed when a transformation fails.  Understanding the culture and how it aligns with your change strategy is critical to success.  Culture can eat a change strategy for breakfast – but with the appropriate “management” it can support it as well. 

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Could a Stakeholder Analysis have Saved the World Cup?

Fifa-World-Cup-2014Perhaps this question is a bit premature considering the World Cup is just getting underway in Brazil.  Every indication, if you believe the daily press, is that the event is a disaster in the making.  In this article “As Brazil Barrels Toward World Cup, Brazilians Aren’t Feeling It”  there appears to be one stakeholder that is clearly dissatisfied – the people of Brazil.

What could have been done differently to avoid this issue?  If you think about agreeing to be the host country of any major event, i.e. the World Cup, the Olympics (oops – Rio has signed up for 2016 as well) it requires a MAJOR transformation.  Any major transformation will need a significant amount of change management to be successful, which starts with understanding the needs and value drivers of your stakeholders. 

Riots in the streets, numerous protests, labor strikes, etc. do not sound like the people of Brazil were identified as an important stakeholder in the Transformation.  Here is the definition of a stakeholder:

Any group or individual who can affect or be affected by the change or the transformation and/or has a personal interest.

Why is a Stakeholder Analysis so important?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Allows you to categorize stakeholders
    • those who will drive the change
    • those who will make the change happen
    • those who will be targets of the change
  •  Helps you understand the current level of commitment / support / resistance by individual stakeholder groups
  • Allows you to build the required  level of commitment by individual stakeholder groups
  • Will be the foundation for your selling / communication plan

If you take the time (it does not take long) to do a Stakeholder Analysis, it can go a long way to identifying critical needs and issues up front so that you can deal with them early.  The issues must be dealt with, so it comes down to “pay me now or pay me later”.  If you choose the latter, it will most certainly cost you more time, effort, money, credibility and maybe even an election.  “So far, the Brazilian government has taken the brunt of the blame. President Dilma Rousseff’s ratings have been going down. The stakes for her are particularly high: There are elections in Brazil in October, so there is a sense that if things don’t go well, the electorate could punish the incumbent. “All the issues that Brazil is facing with their people must be the exact same issues any country would face or has faced in the same situation.  So, common sense would tell you that these issues have two characteristics – they are predictable (we can forsee them happening) and they are inevitable (we know for certain they will happen).  I would like to believe that some research and planning was done up front to identify approaches and lessons learned from others who had done this in the past and were successful. Obviously that feedback had not been incorporated into the plan. 

One mistake that is often made is only focusing on the most “influential” stakeholders and forgetting those in the trenches that have a significant impact on your success or failure.  We see this quite a bit in organizations where executives are carefully attended to and the rest of the organization is forgotten.  That approach only works if the executives can make the change happen without the involvement or cooperation of anyone else. If that is not the case, then the approach is doomed from the start.

For Brazil, the World Cup and President Rousseff it is too late to pay up now.  Let’s see if they learn their own lesson and are better prepared for the 2016 Olympics.  A Stakeholder Analysis might be their ticket to success.

Let us know what you think and join in the conversation . . . . 

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