Want a place at the table? Think like a salesperson

6th December 2021

Want a place at the table?

Think like a salesperson


One common challenge that faces practitioners who deliver change is that often stakeholders involve change teams too late.  I’m sure many people reading this blog will have had a situation where they were engaged in a project after key design and solution decisions were made—often long before there was a thorough understanding of the objectives and outcomes that the programme was looking to achieve.  If a project is initiated to “Implement XYZ system”, then it is very likely that XYZ system will be implemented (possibly even within the desired timeframe and within the desired budget).  However, if there’s been no understanding of the desired benefits or problem that is being addressed, how will anyone be able to know whether the change was actually a success? 

The way to remedy these situations, of course, is to have the right types of change practitioners involved up front to help facilitate a clear understanding of the desired outcomes.  Once the outcomes are understood, work can accelerate into understanding the detailed needs and potential solution options.  It might even be that there are cheaper, better and quicker options than implementing the system that the stakeholders first thought of.  What better way of showing value than to actually save money and time, while also maximising benefit? 

These are easy words to write, but reality is (unfortunately) quite different. It isn’t as easy as simply stating “involve us earlier and your projects will be easier”.  Too often, stakeholders don’t see the value in involving change practitioners such as business analysts, change analysts, delivery managers and so on early.  This is where a mindset shift is required. 


Thinking like a salesperson 

The word “salesperson” often has a negative connotation, and it’s easy to think of highly questionable high-pressure tactics that we’ve probably all seen from time to time. Few people enjoy opening their front door to someone who immediately sticks their foot in and won’t leave until you’ve agreed to take their brochure and have committed to consider buying whatever it is they are pedaling. That is only one form of selling and it is definitely not the form of selling I’m referring to in this article. 

Take a moment now to pause and think about the best sales experience you’ve had, either at work (procuring a service from a supplier, if you’re involved with this) or at home (perhaps in a shop, or anywhere there is a salesperson).  I’d guess that: 

  • They let you know they were there at the right time (they didn’t interrupt, but you knew they were there when you needed them).   
  • You trusted the person.  
  • They worked to understand your needs 
  • They followed through with their promises 
  • The product and service met your objectives 

When written out like this, it is hardly rocket-science is it?  Yet these are some of the key attributes that will help change practitioners shift-left and get engaged before an initiative is even formulated.  You can probably brainstorm a few other points of your own, but let’s take the ones above and translate them to a change and delivery management environment: 


What  Possible activities/questions to ask include: 
Right time  Networking: Internally and externally. Get to know those who initiate change. Do they know that a change team exists? Could a team member offer to facilitate their ideation sessions (and write up the output)? If so, this could be a way of ‘getting a foot in the door’. 

Provision of information: Can people find the change team? Is there a clear route to engage them?  

Cultivate trust  Credibility over time: Is there the ability to showcase previous successes? Can project teams and sponsors talk to each other to see the benefit of early engagement? Can an internal ‘pitch’ be made to key stakeholders showing the progress made? 

Consistency in relationships: Are people given time to cultivate the relationships they have with key stakeholders? Is it accepted that it isn’t possible to be project-focussed 100% of the time, and some time must be spent on ‘client management’ and relationship building (whether internally or externally)? 

Work to understand needs  Fact finding: Are the team ready to undertake quick, short, sharp, pre-project fact-finding? Are the change team equipped to write ‘internal proposals’ showing the value they will bring?   

Iterative elaboration: Are the team prepared to elaborate iteratively, knowing ‘just enough’ up front to shape the work? 

Follow through with promises  Action management: Is there a log of actions that is actually managed and followed up on?  

Realism: Are deadlines realistic, or are they aspirational and never met?  Is there the ability for people to challenge and openly raise concerns? 

Product/service met objectives   Benefits-focussed: Are the team focussed on benefits as well as features?  Or are they so busy ‘in the weeds’ that they risk delivering the features without understanding the context? 

Benefits management: Is there an approach to ensure that benefits are maximised, and measured? Does the change team help define this; if not, could they? 


This is just an example of course, and you may have your own bullet points and actions.  I’ve deliberately steered away from sales language here (prospecting, qualification, needs-analysis etc.) but those of you familiar with sales will likely see the underlying pattern.   

The key is to build rapport, understand needs and build relationships.  This is something change practitioners do all the time.  The only difference here is that the same techniques are being used outside or a project or change environment, to cultivate earlier engagement.  

So perhaps we’re closer to being salespeople than we might initially think! 

by Adrian Reed, Business Analysis Expert