Getting Culture Right: Five Lessons for Merger Success in the Sales Department

Health Industry Hub | April 10, 2019 |
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Imagine your sales team was working at top speed, well aware that Q4 was right around the corner, when the CEO announced the acquisition of a formidable competitor. A sort of panic sets in: this meant merging two sales teams that had been accustomed to going head to head.

This situation presents a challenge precisely because each team is so effective – and not surprisingly, so competitive. How do you successfully integrate sales professionals who have their own way of doing things, and two teams with their own culture? It isn’t easy. It takes an equal amount of operational organisation, resource alignment, empathy, patience and psychology – and an understanding that it’s a continual work in progress.

That isn’t always the way it goes. According to the International Journal of Applied Studies, the largest contributor to merger and acquisition failure is people – specifically, a lack of effective communication between them, and an inability to successfully traverse cultural differences. Says the study author, “…the employee must be pivotal. Any attempt to sideline the employee…will spell doom for the new setup.”

So, how do you avoid doom?

1. Have a plan and commit to its faithful execution

That well-worn adage “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” applies, without question, when it comes to merging sales teams. Developing a point-by-point operational plan that outlines every minute detail of an acquisition and merger is critical – and worth the substantial effort. Invest on the front end and you’ll spend less time fixing things during the integration process.

2. Identify cultural patterns in each team and evolve a new culture that brings the “best of” together

Company cultures can vary widely, are typically formed at the top, and can be difficult to change once ingrained. One company may have a vastly different approach to how it hires its sales and customer success talent, educates its teams, determines sales goals and expectations, and manages performance. Further, it’s a good idea to be sensitive to team pride, and if that can be preserved in the evolving culture.

The key to shifting cultural patterns lies in determining what produces the most positive results for the newly integrated company as a whole, acknowledging the best “heritage” aspects, and applying these practices effectively across the entire department. A new culture should feel more like evolution than hitting a reset button.

3. Share tools and processes for success

When a company has invested in tools and workflows that speed processes and make everyone’s lives easier, you should train the other sales team as quickly as you can on those tools. At the same time, the other sales team may have processes and programs of their own valuable to both teams, so plan on sharing information in both directions. By doing so, you assure the newly acquired team they’re valued – and at the same time expected – to get up to speed on software and processes.

4. Choose when to combine the teams and when to keep them separate

Some might think the best way to get two teams on the same page is to simply combine them and let each individual find their own way. But that’s not necessarily the right approach when the two teams are on different learning curves. Similar to educating young students, you don’t want the advanced learner to disengage out of boredom, nor the slower learner to skip important steps because the pace is too fast.

The key is to give each team some space in advance of a full-scale integration. Carefully choose which areas of integration to initially combine, and which to keep separate. Hold daily sales huddles locally for several months following the acquisition, until no purpose is served by maintaining two identities.

5. Find common ground in a new identity

One of the biggest challenges of the acquisition is getting two sales and customer success teams that had previously viewed one another as “the enemy” to transition beyond that mentality. Not surprisingly, expecting bitter rivals to suddenly hug it out would take some doing. Respect has to be earned, and it isn’t freely offered. Social settings help this part of the challenge. Bringing everyone together for the annual sales kickoff can deliver on its “bonding” promise.

The End Game

Getting deeply driven and competitive sales teams on the same page isn’t easy, but by avoiding common missteps and forging common bonds, one emerges as a stronger, smarter, singular team – a whole greater than the sum of its parts.


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