When I speak at change management events and present on webinars, sometimes I’ll say:
“Show of hands. How many of you went into the change management profession because selling was a key component of the role?”
Very few people put their hands up when I’m in front of a physical audience, and the chat boxes of webinars rarely light up.
But, when you are in a “people profession” like change management, selling is a major aspect of your role.
In reality, a huge part of a change professional’s job involves selling.
Now, we’re not talking about the kind of selling where you’re trying to land a contract for a change initiative.
Rather, we refer to selling to leadership, selling the value of your change team, and selling to those individuals who will be impacted by the change.
Selling, as a skillset, can be very uncomfortable. Especially for someone like a change manager who isn’t in “sales” per se.
However, “selling” differentiates high-impact change management professionals from more tactical change management professionals.
Selling, as an aspect of your role, can single you out as a professional who gracefully steps in and out of negative situations, sensing how to refocus the energy of an interaction and reframe its context.
We therefore carry more impact than a professional who holds back when the client’s agenda does not fully serve the initiative’s objectives.
In fact, holding back can increase the risk on a project.
That being said, the concept of “selling” is not about the mechanics of change management.
Nor is it about the tools and templates.
Rather, this is about talking about solving people’s problems.
That’s where the selling aspect of the change manager’s role comes into play.
It makes sense why we may be uncomfortable with the selling aspects of our role as change managers.
But keep in mind, as you review the following five reasons, that while selling is an important part of our role, it is not the entire role.
1. We are often taught to put others first and ourselves last.
Indeed, the social manner of “being polite” can sometimes interfere with our comfort level about selling and influencing.
However, this is a necessary discomfort that change managers need to place into a positive, authentic, and value-based paradigm for ourselves.
2. Selling isn’t seen as a “helping” profession.
As change managers, we have the mindset of helping people and the organizations we serve to adjust to business change.
Because we come with the mindset of belonging to a helping profession, we may find it antithetical to see selling as helping.
But as you’re about to see, we can hold the concept of “selling” in a more positive light as change managers.
3. It is challenging to quantify the benefits of change management work.
It may seem much easier to sell technology and project management work.
Meanwhile, like many other “people professions”, the results and sometimes the work we do as change to engage people seems “fluffy.”
The point is that influencing, persuading, or selling a key stakeholder are intangible skills.
We need a “case for change” for getting buy-in for our own work.
One of the techniques we can use to help is to “sell to the gap”.
Working with your senior executive, sponsor, or supervisor, first describe what success looks like for the work you are assigned to accomplish.
Second, lay out the reality of what you have to do the work.
Third, “sell to the gap” of what is missing in between.
Let’s redefine “selling” for change managers.
It is unfortunate the many of us have such questionable feelings about selling.
However, we have to prepare ourselves with the case for change and/or logic to support what we are asking for.
We must also encompass it in a story surrounded by success.
To better position the concept of selling applied to change management work, consider for yourself the following definitions of selling for change professionals:
- Partnering with a client to set context for ideas and actions to facilitate choice.
- Persuading others to act or think in a way that is authentic to them.
- Influencing a person’s decisions while holding positive intent for the impact of their decisions.
As you ponder these definitions, what comes into your mind as far as how these skills could have made your previous work more successful?
How can you apply them to the change initiatives you are leading right now?
Download our free Practitioner Guide, “Embracing the Selling Role of a Change Manager”, for a deep dive into this topic.
We will also send you a checklist and action guide that creates new possibilities for you as a change leader.