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Going paperless without creating panic

May 7, 2009

Kimball Office just launched a bold initiative to eliminate the paper brochure.  Not only is this a fantastic step toward sustainability, it takes the notion of engaging internal audiences online to a whole new level.

Imagine if you will a sales force of thousands across the country, then layer on top of that the fact that they are selling Kimball Office furniture as distributors, and add to that the fact that an overwhelming number of those distributors not only sell the Kimball line but also feature dozens of other companies’ furniture.

Now take away their brochures and replace them with a web-based brochure builder.

That noise you just heard was the intake of breath that immediately follows the panic caused by a revolutionary shift in sales tactics.

Kimball’s challenge is not only to create an effective sales tools without using paper, but to sell internal users on the value.  The success of those distributors and salespeople as well as Kimball itself depends on it.

And so far, it looks good.  The online brochure builder tool they’ve created is far superior to anything that could be done with paper.  “Collateral at your command” is how they position it.  An online video uses what appears to be their own team members to extoll the virtures of the new tool, and its pretty convincing.

These seem to be steps in the right direction, and they are helped along by the nobility and currency associated with the cause of sustainability. There will certainly be resistors, whether due to lack of comfort with the technology, delivery of training, a history of success with traditional brochures, or a host other reasons. With a continued consistent strategic rollout, focused on the business benefits to them, that reluctance can be overcome.

I’d offer the following recommendations to anyone considering a similar dramatic shift that will impact the success of your team and company:

1) Test drive with real users. Never roll out a new online tool without beta testing it with real users and – most importantly – making the investment of time and resources to implement changes based on their feedback.  They are the ones who will have to live with it every day, so make sure you test it out across a wide variety of user types, from the entrepreneurial experimenters to those reluctant to adapt to change and technology.

2) Make sure it works. On the most basic level, make sure it works consistently across operating systems and browsers, within firewalls etc. This will mean testing and tweaking the tool, and it also may entail some additional explanation and updates on technology.

3) You’ve got one chance to make a first impression. The level of care you put into launching a major operational change to employees is probably the number one predictor of successful adoption. Strategic timing, user-focused messaging, and sincere leadership are key.

4) Offer incentives for adoption that matter to your audience. Find out what motivates your team to change the way they do things – whether those rewards are intrinsic or extrinsic – and provide meaningful, performance-based rewards for buying in.

5) Don’t assume that “if you build it they will come.” It may be an amazing thing that will make their lives better and the company more profitable, but it may also require them to change everything about they way they’ve been doing their job that, in their opinion, has been working just fine.

I am curious to see how the Kimball Office campaign trickles down to the interaction between salesperson and customer.  Since I hope to be in the market for office furniture in the coming months, you may see a follow up post about that soon.

One Comment leave one →
  1. David Fields permalink
    May 13, 2009 1:20 pm

    Your observation about resistance to change cannot be overstated.

    Many will resist any change to, “The way they do it.” Any Major shift, carries with it a subtle inference that the old way is wrong. This is the perception at any rate. Some take this as a personal attack. This makes their receptiveness to change even worse.

    Care must be take to ensure this is sent out as a way to “enhance” and “improve” rather than just change how things are done. Ramping changes like this up slowly toward a “go-live” date helps with this type of transition as well.

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