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SPA September 26th 2017 - How is Unlearning enabled in Sales Organizations?...
Tue 26 September 2017, 10:00 – 16:00 BST
Without sales revenues how do organizations survive? Increasingly turbulent and dynamic environments confront firms to revisit sales strategies to ensure sustainable revenues. In this process, strategic orientations, routines and behaviors that have dominated in sedate environments may be outmoded. For B2B sales organizations, an important element of environmental turbulence is the changing nature of buying, buying processes, and buyer behavior. As buyers demand agile responses and value-creating solutions to their needs, sales oganizations need to explore customer alignment to prevent obsolescence and deliver sustainable revenue performance.
To prevent obsolescence, extant sales literature identifies environmental alignment with a learning orientation, and capability to learn will enable sales organizations to respond and compete. Sales literature promotes the positive contribution of learning as a process that enhances knowledge, skills, attitudes and motivation of sales people in delivering future performance. However, for some sales organizations operating in low turbulence environments and contexts, engaging with learning is often alien as standardised routines and behaviors are well understood and therefore have limited requirement for learning. Furthermore, some sales organizations view learning as short-term sales training, and ignore the importance of establishing learning orientations with the mechanisms, such as feedback, information seeking, and experimentation.
Contemporary sales organizations need to understand how to enable learning to support sales professionals as they wrestle with a multi-level, multi-faceted buying landscape populated by procurement teams with transparent and variable buying criteria. Although extant sales literature promotes sales learning through sales training, adding more or conflicting knowledge, skills and behaviors without challenging or discarding irrelevant existing routines and behaviors may become barriers to successful learning. Therefore, sales organizations need the capability and mechanisms to discard obsolete routines and behaviors that have a negative effect on contemporary buyers or misaligned to the new strategy. Alternatively, asking questions of current practices may identify those practices to be held in parenthesis and deployed in unique and relevant situations. Discarding and parenthesis are forms of unlearning, and a vital and neglected element in sales learning strategy.
The Challenge of Sales Unlearning
Sales organizations, leadership, and management teams looking to ‘unlearn’ may meet resistance as deeply engrained and entrenched practices and methods, legitimized by sales success, and built through accretion, institutional training, experience, and sales management reinforcement, may have ossified and fossilized to become a dominant logic. As dominant logic is resistant to learning and unlearning, sales organizations cannot rely on unstructured and lengthy forgetting or fading and instead structure intentional mechanisms for unlearning. Extant sales literature makes few references and gives little consideration to the enablement of unlearning, simultaneously with learning, even though it recognises the need to unlearn outmoded or obsolete routines. Furthermore, few sales authors acknowledge the important role of learning mechanisms in enabling readiness for change in the quest for productive sales performance. This qualitative research investigates the phenomenon of sales unlearning through four, sales organization cases facing the challenge of moving from sedate to turbulent environments. Using the theoretical lens of organization learning mechanisms, the study is beginning to develop theory and answer the question ‘how is unlearning enabled in sales organizations? As the research hits its’ mid point, the findings that are emerging are showing how important the ability to ‘unlearn’ is for sales organizations looking to compete in dynamic environments and contexts. This talk shares these insights with the SPA and its members.
Georgina. P. Lack (March 2017)
PhD Candidate & Teaching Fellow, University of Bath
PhD Supervised by Dr. Iain Davies & Professor Juani Swart