In my last post, I shared some tips on how sales people might best use their time during this challenging period. This week I wanted to focus on the role sales leaders have to play.
- Stay in frequent contact – First and foremost, as a sales leader, you need to stay in frequent contact with your team. There are two primary reasons for this, firstly, you cannot assume that everybody has settled easily into the idea of working from home every day, with no face to face contact with others. This is a particularly easy trap to fall into when you manage a field sales team. Field sales people obviously spend much of their time working independently and are often based from home, so it would be easy to think they will cope well with the changes, but remember that they are used to visiting customers, attending meetings and spending some time in the office. Not only that, but their social lives will also have been directly affected, reducing their overall contact with others. Add to that the fact that sales people are more likely to be extroverts, who thrive in the company of others and it quickly becomes clear how this current situation might begin to have an impact. People’s mental health is more at risk now than ever before and even those who have never experienced difficulties may well be doing so now. Remind your sales people that regular breaks are important and that getting up out of your seat and moving around a bit every now and then actually improves productivity and effectiveness.
Secondly, regular contact is important to maintain continuity and a sense of ‘business as usual’. Of course, we’re some way from ‘business as usual’, but that doesn’t mean everything stops. If the economy is to recover from this situation, businesses and employees need to make every effort to adapt and prepare. As a sales leader you need to support and enable your team to do this.
- Display strong leadership – Geographically isolated teams operating in economically uncertain times need strong leadership and guidance. Unless you manufacture, or supply manufacturers of, hand sanitiser you’ve probably noticed a significant decline in new enquires. Even the supermarkets, who are currently enjoying increased revenue, know they will be hit with a dip in sales later in the year when the panic subsides and people start to use up the stock piles they’re busy building! However it is that this current situation is impacting your business, it’s your sales people who are on the front line and therefore likely to be the first ones to experience its effects.
Clarity, support and guidance are therefore critical to maintaining levels of engagement and motivation at this time, as is the sense of teamwork. When things start to pick up again, you want your sales people to hit the ground running and that means you need to keep them focused and clear on individual, team and organisational objectives and provide them with the coaching and support to achieve these. Take the opportunity to speak to your team, not just as individuals, but regularly on team calls and encourage them to keep in touch with and support one another. Use these team calls to share successes and wins, it heightens positivity and encourages best practice.
- Flex your Sales Approach – It may just be the case that the sales processes and skills your sales people have used previously are not so relevant in the current climate. Bring your team together, virtually, to talk about what’s working and what’s not. Encourage them to think creatively and innovatively about how best to sell your products/services. Perhaps you can sell the same product but position it differently. For example, at Salestrong we can deliver the majority of our sales training interventions virtually, but we don’t usually mention this unless a client asks. And yet, a couple of weeks ago, our marketing team sent out a mailer reminding our clients that this was an option we offered.
You will also need to look at individual and team goals and objectives. I have stated above that you need to ensure your team are clear on what those goals are, but there’s a good chance these goals will have to change. Communicate any changes to your team and give them the opportunity to ask questions because if they’re left with any unanswered concerns or doubts these will simply start to manifest, directly impacting engagement and performance. Of course, these are difficult times and you might not know the answer to all of their questions, or be able to offer reassurance when it’s sought. If this is the case, just be honest and reiterate what it is you do know.
- Up-skill your team – One of the biggest challenges sales leaders face when looking to up-skill their team is determining how to do this without pulling them away from the business of selling for too long. If sales are quieter for you at the moment, then leap on this golden opportunity to up-skill your team and align your sales processes. There is much that can be done virtually and, with travel restrictions in place, it’s far easier for you to manage diaries and bring your team together (virtually)!
In addition to team sessions, a great way of accelerating individual capability with your sales people is role-playing customer conversations. Admittedly, you’ll hear the groans of horror from your sales people a mile off the minute you suggest it, but whilst people are typically horrified at the thought role-play. accompanied by constructive feedback. is almost always the activity they get the greatest learning from. Here are a couple of quotes from our delegates that sum this up:
“I dread the role plays…but have to reluctantly admit that they’re very productive.”
“Although it takes you out of your comfort zone the role plays are actually very valuable (and fun for some!!) as the experience does make you focus on your approach and personal skills.”
- Increase your focus on (virtual) coaching – Coaching is, without doubt, the greatest tool you have available to you as a leader to accelerate sales performance. If your coaching efforts have been somewhat remiss, now is most definitely the time to turn that around.
For those used to conducting only face to face coaching, who are perhaps feeling unsure how to coach virtually, fear not, there are actually many advantages to virtual coaching and the research points to the fact that it’s just as effective. Firstly, the coachee typically feels safer and less inhibited when in their own environment, meaning they open up more and the sessions are more productive. It’s also easier for you to take notes and for you both to take breaks when working virtually. You will be far less likely to exhibit unconscious visual clues during a virtual coaching session and, of course, time and money are not lost to travel.
Coaching facilitates all of the tips I’ve outlined above and therefore is vital in helping you and your team through the next few weeks and months. For more tips on Virtual Coaching, take a look at our Guide to Virtual Coaching.
Positivity is the going to be key to getting through this period, as the sales leader, you need to bring that positivity for your team.
One final note, look after yourself. Supporting your team and managing the additional pressures and responsibilities that the current situation has brought with it, can take its toll. If you don’t have some support in place and none seems readily available, pick up the one to friends and colleagues who are also in leadership positions. Sharing your frustrations, concerns, etc and understanding that others are feeling the same way, can go a long way. You can also use it as an opportunity to learn from each other, sharing ideas about how you’re managing this situation.