Impact Story

Transforming a 5,000+ person sales organization to deliver profitable growth

A leading distributor asked McKinsey for help developing and executing a strategy to drive profitable sales growth. Together, we crafted a robust sales force effectiveness program that required building capabilities and changing the behavior of more than 5,000 sales reps and over 500 sales managers in dozens of markets around the world.



increase in annual gross profit


sales reps received capability training


While the client had initially suspected that improved product mix management would be their largest opportunity, we quickly discovered that the sales force’s effectiveness was limited by inconsistent capabilities, approaches, and tools, in addition to mix. We partnered with a cross-functional team of field and corporate leaders to build a comprehensive transformational program consisting of a new sales approach, toolkit, and capability-building.

As we accompanied sales reps on their customer visits, we realized that the role of the rep had to be fundamentally redefined—from order-taker to product advisor. To support the transition to the new role, we developed on-the-job coaching, digital tools, and analytics that helped reps build new skills in identifying the right opportunities in current and potential accounts and introduce new products to them. This meant building reps’ product knowledge and creating a well-defined process for engaging customers and closing sales. For example, we introduced a CRM-based sales coaching tool to help reps and managers target critical elements of the sales process, leading to more effective closure of deals.

To ensure implementation success and sustainability across the client’s large sales organization, we coached regional sales managers on helping their reps succeed in their redefined roles. For example, we built managers’ coaching capabilities through focused field and forum training programs and provided them with digital tools to enhance their performance management routines.

We took a rapid, yet staged, approach to rolling out the transformation. This meant starting with smaller pilots, working closely with the client to develop and test the transformation approach and tools in two markets. Following the initial pilot, we refined the approach, codified our learnings in a playbook, and launched the program in three more markets, where regional sales managers used the playbook to lead the roll-out. Finally, we coached 20 field sales leaders to scale the transformation to the other markets, with implementation consultants supporting them along the way.


The transformation had impressive financial impact, with annual gross profit rising more than $50 million. The client developed core selling skills, such as opportunity identification and sales call preparation and execution, all supported by enhanced performance management routines. Reps’ deeper product knowledge enabled them to deliver more value to their customers, and managers learned how to coach and develop their reps to sustain this improvement. The field sales force brimmed with confidence as they saw company results improve, customers benefit, and their own contributions recognized and rewarded.

Dismissed by many at the start as just another corporate initiative, the transformation won strong endorsement across the organization by the end, thanks in large part to co-creation of the strategy by McKinsey and client leaders and the credibility that the effort gained from our implementation team. The team’s experience in design, scale up, and risk mitigation, combined with their integrated, on-the-ground way of working with clients, helped to gain full support of the change and to make the results sustainable.

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