I once participated in the design of a new sales process. Our existing process had too many people involved, making prospects confused about who they should be speaking with on our side. It added unnecessary complications to an already challenging process.
After three different experiments, we decided to go with a process that would only involve a sales exec and a sales engineer, cutting out an account manager from the process. While we now know that such a process is quite industry standard in the software world, the majority of our team had no experience with this new structure.
A few weeks later, I had lunch with with a colleague on the sales team and our conversation went along the lines of:
“Hey, how’s the new sales process going for you guys?”
“Oh, it’s going well and we’re learning to collaborate much better. I actually worked under a similar structure at my previous job, and I can tell that this is much better than the model we had before.”
“Wait, what? You’ve worked with a similar sales process before?”
“Yeah, I guess I never brought it up…”
Now to add some context… The team member was still relatively new to the company, having joined us a few months before, and was probably still uncomfortable speaking up and proposing ideas. During team meetings, I had noticed that he only gave his opinion when it was actively sought, but remained silent otherwise. And during the sales process redesign, he wasn’t directly involved with planning and decision making, so didn’t actively provide feedback.
It also never occurred to him that he was the only individuals with experience on the new sales structure. He assumed that the leadership and those involved in the process change knew more than he did.
As result, we failed to leverage a valuable source of insight during the planning stages of our new sales process. It definitely could have helped us avoid some newbie mistakes when we implemented our sales process.
What did I learn? That when implementing new solutions, I need to always proactively ask team members whether they have faced similar situations before. I can’t just assume that people will speak up. Especially with new team members and junior employees, there’s a tendency for them to assume that the leadership knows more than they do, and that they are not in a position to speak up yet (takes a while for some people to understand that startups want people to speak up). I’ve also noticed that for many new employees, their top priority is to learn how to meet expectations of the existing system rather than question the system and improve upon it. We often mis these opportunities to learn from insight rather than trial and error.
So what do I ask people now before designing any new processes or changes?
- Has anybody faced similar challenges and problems before, maybe at your old job?
- What were similarities and differences between the situations?
- Anything we should make sure to do, or avoid doing?
These questions alone won’t guarantee a successful solution, or allow us to skip steps in our innovation process, but they will definitely help us avoid unnecessary mistakes.
Next time that we consider changing a process, creating a new role, or even designing a new product, let’s ask everyone on the team: “Does anyone have experience with this?”
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