I’ve heard more than one CEO and VP of sales express concern around members of their sales team that appear to be “waiting out the pandemic.” Hope is not a strategy, and this type of denial results in salespeople not taking the right actions, enough actions or consistent actions to ensure a healthy sales pipeline.
The pandemic forced change upon everyone and unfortunately, human beings don’t like change. So, what can sales leaders do to get their sales team to accept change, stop waiting and start acting?
#1: Apply the “The Stockdale Paradox” principle from Jim Collins’ popular book, “Good To Great.”
Collins found that great companies maintained an unwavering faith that they would prevail in the end. They also had the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of their current reality.
The brutal fact for many salespeople, particularly field salespeople, is that the future of sales will be a hybrid approach of outside and virtual selling.
The brutal fact is sellers must master both virtual selling skills and face-to-face selling skills.
A salesperson’s temporary home office must look like a real office. Even if individuals on your sales team don’t have the luxury of a separate room for an office, they can purchase a green screen, wall divider or some type of backdrop. Create a work environment that looks like you are in business, not waiting for business to open up.
#2: Train and coach optimism. At your next sales meeting, conduct an exercise titled, “What’s good about this pandemic?” Be prepared to hear grumbling, “I don’t know” or skeptical looks.
Don’t cave. When you ask people to look for the good, they eventually find it.
For example, I’m hearing from individual contributors and VP of sales that they are connecting with more prospects and customers because they aren’t spending time driving or flying. They’re hearing positive feedback from customers that salespeople are more engaged in follow-up after a sale, ensuring client satisfaction.
#3: Ask provocative coaching questions. Mike Marks, managing partner of Indian River Consulting Group, reminds his clients to ask this important question: “How does your customer want to buy?”
This coaching question changes a salesperson’s perspective to the only perspective that matters: your customer’s. The answer might mean confronting more brutal facts. Your buyer might prefer a blend of video sales calls and in-person appointments.
A word of caution.
Make sure you don’t swing your sales organization too far. I’m hearing companies say they are never bringing people back to the office. They’re cancelling regional and national sales meetings forever because of expenses.
For some salespeople, working remote is great. For others, particularly young sellers, not so much. They have roommates and three dogs competing for space and Wi-Fi. Some salespeople are simply more productive when they have the hallway conversations with peers and colleagues.
Don’t cancel your conferences and meetings forever. Some of my best memories, friendships and relationships have occurred because of face-to-face interactions. Conversations over coffee, cocktails or dinner.
You aren’t managing robots. You are managing human beings, and human beings are wired for connection.
Remember, your financial statement doesn’t log the income earned from retaining people who are happy to be part of a team.
Your financial statements don’t capture the revenue earned because a colleague gave a well-timed piece of encouragement to a peer after hearing their difficult conversation with a tough prospect. That encouragement helped the salesperson get back in the sales saddle to make more calls and sales.
Face the brutal facts.
Adapt and make the changes. Ask the great coaching questions. And find a healthy balance as we all navigate through ever-changing business waters.