Leading Your Sales Team Through Uncertainty
March 25, 2020
Leading your sales team through uncertainty may seem impossible, especially in today's ever-changing climate. The global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus COVID-19 seems to be turning into a worldwide recession.
And no matter where you are or what your organization sells, you’ve likely seen an impact on your business.
Maybe your team, usually in the office at least part-time, is now fully remote. Or, your supply chain is drying up and you are facing production or delivery delays. Perhaps your business has slowed to a crawl and you don’t know when your next deal will close.
We’re all in this situation together, and as leaders, it’s up to us to support our teams in uncertain times. Here are three areas to focus on:
- Nurture Culture
- Optimize for Remote Work
- Get Back to Basics
Selling Through Uncertainty
Wednesday, March 25 2020 at 10 AM EST
Tuesday, March 31 2020 at 10 AM EST
Wednesday, April 1 2020 at 3 PM EST
1. Nurture Culture
Maintaining a healthy culture is one of the most important responsibilities of any leader. And if you're trying to lead your sales team through uncertainty, it’s even more important. Culture is at the core of everything, after all.
But when you yourself are uncertain, it can be difficult to create a healthy environment around you.
How to Develop a Healthy Sales Culture
Step one: Build on your values
That’s why an important first step is to get back to your values. How do they apply to whatever is going on?
Maybe you have a value of caring for employees as if they were family. Think about how you are doing that as the pandemic spreads. Any initiatives you have undertaken to encourage or mandate that employees work from home will align with that value.
Or maybe you have a value of commitment to your clients. How are you demonstrating that value in what you do?
As you reflect on your values and ensure that your actions align to them, you’ll remind yourself and your team why they believe in your organization.
Step two: Improve communication and accountability
Next, whether or not these are your core values, consider the importance of communication and accountability. It is almost impossible to over-communicate when trying to lead your sales team through uncertainty. Remember, when they are not hearing from you, your team is likely speculating about what’s happening – and their guesses are likely worse than reality.
Instead, get ahead of the situation. Announce whatever information you are able to share, and don’t be afraid to tell people you’re still figuring things out. They’ll appreciate that you shared what you could.
And as you are continuing to communicate, hold yourself accountable to follow up on previous announcements.
Let’s say you previously announced a change in your delivery of your products and services due to supply chain or travel disruptions. If the situation worsens and you need to change your plans, don’t be afraid to go back to your team with an update.
Accountability doesn’t always mean that you do exactly what you planned. Instead, it means that you did all you could and communicated promptly when you realized you wouldn’t be able to finish as planned.
Accountability in Sales
Step three: Proactively improve team-building
In uncertain times, the connections people have to their teammates can be a significant comfort. So the fact that in the current coronavirus response people are practicing social distancing to slow the spread might have positive health implications, but it can easily harm your team culture.
Consider ways to improve team building despite any constraints you may have. Simple things like moving to videoconferencing instead of just conference calls for internal meetings can help people feel like they are connected to their teammates. What silly games could you implement to keep people connected?
Here at CFS we have a fun tradition where, when two people come to work in similar outfits, we take a “twins” picture and post it in a thread in our project management software. It’s funny to see the different sets of twins that happen over the course of a month. So when we moved to fully remote work a few weeks ago, we kept up the tradition! When people notice in video conferences that they have a twin, they each take a picture and add it to the thread.
How to Run a Sales Team Meeting
What team habits and traditions could you maintain despite the changes in your work environment?
We have a client that moved their happy hours to virtual happy hours, where they all get on a videoconference at the end of the day and have a drink together to close the day out. Figure out an approach that best fits your team.
Finally, consider starting new initiatives to proactively support team building. Reading a book together, participating in a virtual training, or taking an interesting assessment can all promote positive communication and help you lead your sales team through uncertainty.
2. Optimize for Remote Work
One of the most common impacts of the current pandemic is the increase in remote work due to social distancing guidelines.
While many teams allowed some level of remote work in the past, the volume has increased. And for anyone who previously enjoyed working from home on occasion, being forced to do so may be frustrating.
As a leader, you can help your team stay focused and get work done as they transition to a fully remote approach.
Step one: Ensure that you have the right technology
If you’ve told your employees to work from home, it’s up to you to make sure they have the tools and equipment they need to make that happen.
The basics, of course, are likely to be computers and phones. Ensure that people know how to forward their office phones to their mobile phones and that computers can be safely used outside the office. In addition to the necessary hardware, ensure that your team can access key files and information easily from home. If remote access to your server requires a complicated VPN, consider whether it is possible to move your files to a virtual file management service.
If you have compliance concerns, this may be challenging, but it’s worth the time to figure it out. I’ve lost count of the number of salespeople I’ve spoken to who are unable to easily access files from the home office server when they’re on the road. Figuring out a solution is imperative to ensure people can work remotely during this current situation, but it will also benefit you on a longer-term basis once social distancing guidelines relax.
Finally, make sure you have the right software tools to easily enable remote work.
This can include a cloud-based CRM platform, a project management tool, an online Sales PlayBook, and any other tools you need to support your sales process. Ensure you have a variety of easy-to-use communication tools ranging from chat services to videoconferencing services. For all your systems and tools, document best practices and share them with the team. Troubleshooting challenges will be more difficult if employees can’t ask IT or sales enablement to stop by their desks and help them resolve problems.
Depending on your prior policies regarding remote work, you may believe you have this fully under control. In that case, prepare for challenges due to increased usage, system constraints, and even training problems. Have a cross-functional group including IT, Operations, and HR prepared to respond to system breakdowns, and provide your team with backup solutions if one system goes down.
But if you never allowed much or any remote work in the past, you may find this entire concept overwhelming.
In that situation, form a cross-functional group to immediately identify your current ability to support remote work and what systems will need to be improved or adjusted. This team may need to step up like never before to help you lead your team through uncertainty.
Step two: Keep a consistent meeting cadence
Just because you are no longer in the same office doesn’t mean you should cancel existing team and one-on-one meetings. In fact, with all the uncertainty your team is facing, you may need to increase the number of team meetings. When possible, conduct meetings via videoconference rather than conference calls. Seeing people face-to-face will help your team stay engaged and feel a sense of community.
Consider scheduling more social meetings like a virtual working lunch or happy hour, where people can drop in and chat like they would if they were in the office.
The longer people are away from work, the less connected they may start to feel to their colleagues. Work to replicate the easy interaction that can have as people stop by each other’s desks or talk in the kitchen.
With how quickly things are changing around us, consider scheduling a weekly (or even more frequent) town hall-style meeting, where leaders can share announcements and respond to any employee questions. As I mentioned above, it’s much better to over-communicate than to let people’s concerns and uncertainties fester.
Step three: Support flexible work situations
As employees work remotely, remember that their situations are likely to be much more complicated than when they could come into work.
Schools and daycares across the world are closed, so many of your team members will likely have children in the home who will need to be cared for. Those with partners or roommates may have limited office space or quiet places to make calls. Work to support your employees as they figure out how to be effective in their various situations.
Some may find it easier than others to stick to a traditional 9-to-5 schedule. Identify essential meetings people need to participate in and, if possible, provide flexibility aside from those times. Many of my friends with younger children are working in shifts so one can focus on work while the other is caring for their children, then vice versa.
In these uncertain and complex times, focus on the clear deliverables you expect and allow your team to figure out how best to accomplish them.
3. Get Back to Basics
Despite the unusual situation we’re all facing, the basic principles of sales management still apply. Leading your sales team through uncertainty starts by going back to basics.
Step one: Engage your team as individuals
As a manager, it’s up to you to engage and connect with each of your team members. Now, more than ever, you are in a position to provide them with the individual support they need.
Check in with each of your people to ensure they have an effective work-from-home setup. Make sure they have all the tools they need and that they know how to use them. Ask about their plans for dealing with childcare or space constraints. If necessary, help them brainstorm solutions to any impediments they might be facing.
Get a sense of how anxious people are and whether they feel they can do their jobs. Salespeople especially may be concerned about whether or not they will be able to hit their targets and earn commissions as the economy slows.
Take the time to develop a plan with each sales rep for how they will approach the coming weeks and what they plan to do. Hold them accountable to execute on their plans, then review the results with them and develop new plans. This is a good time for shorter-term, tactical planning to allow your team to quickly adapt to changing conditions.
Sales Management Planning
Step two: Adjust your go-to-market approach
Some companies will be able to maintain their current go-to-market approach and will see continued success in the coming months. But for most of us, that’s not the case.
When leading your sales team through uncertainty, you may find that you need to focus on selling different products and services, or even developing new products and services, to meet market needs. For example, we can relatively easily move from delivering in-person trainings to virtual trainings. Our method for developing Sales PlayBooks has always been virtual, so that won’t really need to change.
Analyze your offerings to see which can be delivered in the current market and which might need to be modified. You may have some solutions that are impossible to deliver right now. You may identify new offerings that address needs the current situation has created. Once you’ve figured out what you’re selling, look at who you are selling to. Some industries are more inclined to spend, while others are stalled and less likely to invest. Develop a plan to reach out to likely buyers while keeping the longer-term prospects engaged.
Finally, review your message. Consider whether to adjust your messaging to directly address the pandemic or the economic situation. Having a new message can help your sales team confidently engage both existing prospects and new targets.
Really think about what people are likely to want to buy from you right now and why they would be willing to buy it.
By the way, this is a great topic to discuss during a sales team meeting. Brainstorming ideas for messaging together as a team can allow the sales team to contribute based on what they are hearing in the market. And if they are involved in developing messaging, they’ll be more likely to use it when they’re interacting with prospects.
Step three: Keep your team engaged and learning
Speaking of brainstorming together with your team – make sure you have multiple ways to keep your team engaged, learning, and growing throughout this situation. At this point, we don’t know how long social distancing mandates will last. And even when they are lifted, we don’t know what the economy will look like.
While virtual happy hours and individual support are helpful, one of the best ways you can keep your team engaged is to provide opportunities for learning and growth.
If you are already doing training, consider how to transition it to a fully virtual curriculum. Whether it’s product training or sales training, keep it going. If you’re not consistently training your team, now is a good time to start! Figure out internal subject matter experts for product training and set up webinars. For sales training, determine whether you can resource it internally or whether you should find an external partner. When possible, target the training to specific skills that will address concerns and challenges your team is encountering.
In addition to the basics of sales and product training, consider other areas of training and growth for your team members. Maybe you could work on their EQ or productivity skills like time management. Or you could create virtual customer panels and allow your team to ask questions. Or conduct assessments like DISC or Myers-Briggs and review the findings.
Maintaining an environment of growth can provide a positive experience for your team as they are going through difficult situations elsewhere.
I hope this guide is helpful as you work on effectively leading your sales team through uncertainty. Stay tuned for part 2, where we’ll discuss how to maintain sales momentum in challenging times.
Selling Through Uncertainty
Wednesday, March 25 2020 at 10 AM EST
Tuesday, March 31 2020 at 10 AM EST
Wednesday, April 1 2020 at 3 PM EST
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