Building a Winning Sales Organization Following an Acquisition

Author: 
Dave Gerry

Building a winning sales organization is no small task. Finding and hiring the right kind of people with the right mix of skills, developing a compensation plan, identifying training needs and aligning everyone with business goals can all be daunting. 
 
And that’s in normal conditions. What about after a merger or acquisition? More than ever, that scenario calls for strong leadership and effective communication. In general, the challenge of any merger or acquisition is ensuring that the companies coming together end up as a unified team of people all working toward the same goals.

When it comes to sales organizations specifically, those goals should include supporting and growing your customer base to increase revenue. But here’s the rub: sales organizations are not all the same. They have differing metrics for success, compensation models (including incentives and bonuses), go-to-market strategies, territories and target markets, different types of customers, products and services, and on and on.

Sales Takes the Lead

The list of things that need to be addressed and integrated is seemingly endless. Unfortunately, and somewhat surprisingly, the complexity involved in integrating sales organizations is often overlooked. Because mergers and acquisitions are usually handled in a tightly controlled and compartmentalized way, sales professionals – the very people who are closest to your customers and who hold the keys to their success – are often left out of the process. Not only does this create confusion, uncertainty and hesitation among a sales team, it can kill momentum and stagnant sales.

That’s why it is imperative in any merger or acquisition that sales leadership take the lead in presenting and communicating a shared vision of sales strategy, goals and execution, as well as what constitutes top performance. Most importantly, you have to have a sales process and methodology that you are operating against. This means having a clear definition of the role sales plays, the sales process, performance metrics and a definition of success.

But that alone won’t cut it. You also have to be able to effectively communicate that process/methodology to the new merged organization, so they know what is expected. And finally, you have to hold them accountable and build a formula to help them succeed. 
 
Retaining and Hiring the Right People

Also important is holding onto the best salespeople from either organization in what can be a very chaotic environment, especially in the near-term. You just have to be able to find out what motivates your salespeople. Do they want to do something bigger or broader in the merged company or just make their big salary elsewhere?

That said, you are going to lose some people after an acquisition. It’s simply inevitable. A big reason for that is, for people in the acquired organization, lack of equity in the new company can be difficult to overcome.  

So what types of people should you be looking to bring on board? The key thing that changes post-M&A is that all the motivators are different in terms of the ideal candidate profile you are after. Generally speaking, the goal should be stability. To achieve that, it’s important to refine the profile of potential candidates to be geared towards up-and-comers and/or career-level professionals.

Up-and-comers who are looking to establish themselves, regardless of how chaotic things are in the midst of a merger or acquisition, may be more valuable than someone in their prime who thinks “I can make money anywhere” – and then bolts for greener pastures. And, as roles may become expanded, you’ll want to look for people who are intellectually curious – who want to sell a broader profile of products.

If you are looking to scale the business post-acquisition, you probably want to attract the type of candidate that can be there for the next five-plus years. If you’re growing, you’re changing gears from a startup rep to more of an IBM/HP level rep.

Because of the complexity inherent in sales organizations, getting everyone on the same page after a merger or acquisition is easier said than done. But establishing and communicating a sales process and methodology, defining top performance and retaining and hiring the right people are all steps in the right direction toward building a winning team.

Dave Gerry is chief revenue officer at WhiteHat Security, which helps companies accelerate the deployment of secure applications and websites.