The Change Agent

Sales transformation expert Paul J. Loftus shares his five-pillar approach to remake and improve any organization from the inside out

This year, all around the world, many companies will attempt to reinvent, alter, renovate, and improve their sales process. Sales transformations are difficult. Many companies try them, and almost as many fail. With so much at stake, no organization can afford to waste time, money, and energy without the perfect road map. That’s why Paul Loftus, vice president of sales and revenue retention at Wolters Kluwer, has developed the Five Pillars of Sales Transformation. Over the past nineteen years, Loftus has led dramatic renewals at various companies; he helped renew ADP’s National Account Benefit Administration division, he opened new public-sector markets, and secured new heights in the Human Resources Business Process Outsourcing division. Most recently, Loftus helped Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting reach record sales by leading the sales evolution from a traditional publishing organization to a modern software company. He recently sat with Profile to discuss his multiple sales transformations and his Five Pillar plan that every successful sales leader needs to know.

Paul Loftus, VP, Sales and Revenue Retention of Wolter Kluwer

How did you become a sales transformation leader?

I’ve always raised my hand for jobs and roles that aren’t the most desirable. That’s how you learn. That’s how you get the chance to really make your mark and gain visibility and insight into important parts of a business that you wouldn’t otherwise see. I realized early on that nobody was going to throw me the keys to the Porsche, but they would let me drive the car that needed the most work.

How has your father influenced your career?

My father passed away nineteen years ago, but even well after his passing, he has had an extremely powerful impact on my life and career. He had a sound work ethic and a belief in family and God. He truly lives in all of his six children and now in his grandchildren. As a matter of fact, the strength from both of my parents was passed to all of us in different capacities; they produced doctors, company presidents, entrepreneurs, and artists. No matter the profession, we are all very driven but still value a work/life
balance. My dad was a well-read businessman who believed in solving customer problems before that was fashionable. He would solve their problems even when it wasn’t with his solution, and that approach created strong relationships. He taught me and my siblings that relationships are everything and that the customer or people always come first. My mother’s conviction to what she believes in and my dad’s strong ethical business code will always be the guiding light to anything I embark on in business or personal life for the rest of my life.

Now that you’ve led some successful transformations, you’ve developed a Five Pillar plan. But where did that all start?

You make mistakes and learn from every assignment. Some mistakes will be bigger than others, but it’s what you do after you make those mistakes that defines you and your leadership. I’ve found that everything starts with good talent. Collective IQ is stronger than a single IQ. I started to learn a lot about teams and about myself, and I’ve always been interested in putting those lessons and ideas together to form a plan to avoid the repetition of mistakes.

Do you find that employees embrace these transformation projects?

Nobody wants to be told they’re in a turnaround situation or that they need transformation. They want to understand the potential and be included in the improvement processes. I believe the best leaders need to be very sensitive to that and clearly communicate the plan along the way. You have to listen to the culture and to the people. The difficult part is sorting out the noise generated from change and the real problems that could result in bigger issues.

Why do companies call you? What’s behind a sales transformation?

It can be many things: a new CEO, a new strategy, poor sales, market changes. Usually it’s some combination of many factors. Most recently, at Wolters Kluwer, we needed to evolve our way of approaching the marketplace. If it’s true what CEB says that 57 percent of the sales process has been completed through self-research prior to a sales person being contacted, then we need to stop talking features and start provoking our customers to think differently by providing market insight. The fast-car, big-cigar salesman has no place in today’s environment. Companies today are looking for sellers to provide them industry insight, minimize their risk, or show them how to be more productive. The best sales teams no longer sell with their product, but rather, they sell to their solution. It’s massive change.

What’s the goal of a sales transformation?

It’s simple. You want to increase revenue by aligning sales execution with the business goals and by generating higher levels of productivity from the sellers. You need to provoke different thoughts or new behaviors by getting your clients and prospects to simply stop and say, “I never looked at it that way.”

What are the Five Pillars of your process?

It starts with alignment. You have to be aligned with the business’s CEO. A good CEO wants fast results, but he or she must understand how the transformation will unfold. It might seem slow at first. Most transformations will regress before they reach the desired state. Next is talent. You have to have the right talent profile that will meet the needs of your customers. Third is process and ensuring that you have the right tools and steps in place for consistent and sustainable success. Fourth is messaging: the communication to your associates of why we are doing what we are doing and a value proposition that resonates with your clients and prospects. Last but certainly not least is technology/enablement. The adherence and discipline to a customer relationship management system and a sales governance will create a culture of accountability.

What does someone in charge of a transformation need to do well?

You need to have thick skin and listen. In general, people don’t like to change and definitely don’t like to be told to change. Believe in the process but listen the entire time. It is inevitable that there will be adjustments needed. Be agile, listen, admit when you are wrong, and adjust quickly.

What common mistakes have you seen?

When I started doing this, I would try to flex too hard and force too much change too fast. That brings frustration and fatigue. There need to be phases to your approach. Leaders should understand that every organization is different. Your assessment of where people are and how much change they can accommodate is critical.

Tell me about potential results. What can companies expect?

It might take a couple years, but if you follow the Five Pillars of Sales Transformation, I promise you will see results. I did a three-year transformation where, in year three, we broke all kinds of records. We hit our EBITA (earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization) and revenue targets while delivering double-digit sales growth. We did all this while decreasing our sales expense by 24 percent and increasing our first-year sellers’ productivity by 40 percent.

What do you enjoy most about this kind of work?

I actually don’t do it for the results. I do it for the process. I love taking something that could be viewed as chaotic or messy and putting the form and the discipline and the structure around it that allows for people to be more productive and shine in their environment. I believe the best managers should have a goal to manage themselves obsolete. If you’ve done that, you’ve done exactly what the organization needs, and it will be time for you to take on your next challenge. My goal is to put an organization on a trajectory to be wildly successful and then walk away and do it all over again.