Leading the transformation from a transactional business to selling broader solutions is a major challenge for most companies. Especially when you have a sales organization that is already very good at what they do. So how do you communicate and execute on your vision for the organization? It starts with a change in mindset –– a different mental model.
The S Curve of Learning as modeled by Whitney Johnson in her latest book, Smart Growth: How to Grow Your People to Grow Your Company, provides a useful roadmap and common language to navigate growth and transformation, both for individuals and organizations.
The S Curve of Learning is defined by three phases: the launch point, the sweet spot, and mastery. Whitney adds nuance to this model by articulating six stages of growth across these three phases: Explorer, Collector, Accelerator, Metamorph, Anchor, and Mountaineer. I have experienced each stage of the S Curve and have seen countless leaders navigate their own S Curves. So, it’s helpful to have a roadmap to guide you.
When you lead a team through something new, you are at the launch point. Things can feel slow and overwhelming because there is so much to learn. At the launch point, you are an Explorer. The opportunities and challenges can feel endless and as a leader, you are an explorer in the sales transformation process. It is the time to consider the possibilities, define success, and identify the path forward.
From here, your vision of what the sales organization can be is emerging, and you have a plan to execute. You transition into being a Collector. This is the time to gather input, feedback, and data to assess the fit and value of your identified direction. For leaders shifting to consultative selling, this means spending ample time talking with customers about what they value. And even more important, talking with prospects who choose your competitors. Taking time on the front end to collect this information will strengthen your ability to lead your team successfully through a transformation plan.
Things start to click in the sweet spot. You reach momentum as you accelerate up the curve. At this phase you can expect your sales team to be implementing the transitionary changes and your customers to be adopting your new solutions. For you, this could mean setting up management practices that promote solutions selling and providing guidance to the sales organization on how to add value for their customers. Early successes can create confidence across the business in your new direction.
As you pick up speed, you are what Smart Growth defines as an Accelerator. You and your team have the data you need and are feeling capable and competent in executing on the transformation. The results are showing and as a leader your focus shifts from creating the change to scaling and replicating the success. Instituting best sales practices, encouraging and developing your team, and paying attention to the right metrics are what fuels the continued success.
The growth continues as you move toward what Whitney termed the Metamorph stage. At this point, the sales transformation you have set out to create has become woven into the fabric of the company with new ways of doing things becoming the norm. What was once a desired future state to sell solutions strategically instead of selling transactionally has become part of who you and your team are. The new identity you’ve worked so hard to create with your team and in the market is taking hold.
The final phase of the S Curve is when you and your team have achieved a level of mastery that produces sustained high performance. The sales transformation as you originally conceived of it is complete, and you have successfully executed on the growth that was once just a vision. New behaviors and new ways of approaching business are now engrained or Anchored for your team.
Once you’ve reached the top of the S Curve in your chosen sales transformation, it’s time to find the next idea or vision that will keep your business growing and moving forward. This final stage of growth is called the Mountaineer. After a climber enjoys the view from the top of a peak, they shift their attention to identifying a new mountain to climb. Similarly, once your transformation is complete it’s time to look for your next mountain (or S Curve) to tackle. For example, after mastering the shift to a consultative sales process, maybe you move to adopting a subscription model to drive recurring revenue.
As customer demands and expectations shift and innovation creates new opportunities to provide value, it isn’t likely that finding a new peak will be difficult. The key for you as a leader is having a clear roadmap to help guide the journey and being ready to do the work of navigating the next S Curve. The Smart Growth approach can help you lead your team toward success.