2020 fundamentally changed the way sales managers need to engage with, manage, and empower their teams.
In fact, 75% of organizations say that during COVID-19, managing salespeople is more complex than before. This is likely because so many teams have gone remote.
This may seem obvious, but managing a remote sales force is a major adjustment for most sales managers. Working in a remote environment has not only changed the level of engagement sales managers have with their sellers, but it’s also changed the dynamics of buying and selling.
It’s more challenging to make a sale. Sales cycles are longer. More stakeholders are involved in the decision. Buyers are demanding a better digital experience. Buyer needs have changed. Communication has shifted to virtual. And the list could go on.
Keeping your sales team motivated and moving forward means you, the sales manager, need to find new and creative ways of supporting and coaching your team.
As the road to recovery from the economic impacts of COVID-19 remains bumpy, you can help reinvigorate and energize your team by taking a closer look at how you’re approaching these three things: meetings, the work-from-home (WFH) experience, and training.
1. Meetings: Make your meetings more meaningful
How often do you think your team leaves a meeting thinking “what did we accomplish?”
Meetings are essential for team building, collaboration, and decision making, but all too often they are poorly planned, disorganized, and inefficient. That results in a drain on you, your team, and a decrease in productivity.
This is especially true now that most meetings are happening virtually via Zoom (or Teams, Skype, Google, etc.). Virtual meetings have an added stress because we have to work extra hard to not only pay attention but to decipher non-verbal communication and body language.
Recently, on Blind, a popular anonymous network for professionals, a user-submitted poll was curated to gauge general engagement on video calls. The poll titled, "How engaged are you in most work meetings?" was submitted by an engineer at VMware. More than 4,600 users responded to the poll, and 6,123 provided additional commentary on their personal experiences during these meetings.
One-in-five professionals reported that "they are actively listening and providing live feedback." More than one-quarter (26%) said that they were "doing other stuff" during the meeting and "simply listening for their name" to be called. More than one-quarter (27%) reported that they are "trying to pay attention, but often zoning out."
Let’s face it, most meetings have little to zero accountability for being meaningful and engaging.
As a sales manager, you can take back your time and make meetings better by giving these ideas a try:
Make meetings shorter and more focused. Schedule your meetings for the least amount of time needed to accomplish the objective. Scientifically, people can pay attention for approximately 10-18 minutes before they start checking out. Which means, if you limit your meetings to this amount of time, you would get the maximum attention and productivity from your team.
If you need more time by the end of the meeting, then find another time to pick up the conversation, or figure out if the rest can be handled via chat or email.
On that same note, be intentional about your meetings. Make sure you have a purpose and an agenda. Make it clear to everyone what the purpose of the meeting is and what you’re trying to solve or accomplish so they stay focused.
Invite a client.Invite clients, former clients, and potential clients to talk at your meetings. The purpose of this isn’t to sell to them, it’s to learn from them. Learn how their business works. Learn about changes going on in their industry. Learn about your customer’s customer.
Change the leader of the meeting. Rather than you being the only one that leads team meetings, ask or assign one of your sales reps. For example, instead of leading your team through an otherwise painful pipeline meeting, make each rep take turns leading that meeting.
It will remind them about the importance of preparation and accountability. It will also help make your team more disciplined in inspecting their pipelines.
2. Working from home: Make your team’s work-from-home experience better
Working from home isn’t all rainbows and unicorns.
WFH makes it much more difficult to strike that crucial balance between work and the rest of our lives. There are extra distractions and priorities vying for your attention, like a sink full of dishes or a crying baby, that oftentimes can’t be ignored and makes it harder to accomplish all of your daily job tasks on time.
By comparison, working in an office with colleagues, formal meetings, and watercooler chatter creates that needed sense of structure that you can’t replicate while working from home.
Sales managers can help their teams improve their WFH experience by encouraging healthy habits like hitting “pause” every few hours or so to get up, move around, have a drink of water, and go for a walk.
You can also work with your team to do the following:
Invest in the right equipment. If your company approves expenses, encourage your reps to upgrade their current work set up at home.
Whether that’s a standing desk, a better laptop with a quality webcam, or a more ergonomic chair. Giving your team the ability to set up a more comfortable and productive workspace will help them produce better results.
Inspire better time management habits. Lead by example on this one. The only way your team will improve their time management habits is if you demonstrate the right things to do. For example, it’s easy to become a work-a-holic when you don’t have the boundaries of an office. You get sucked in, working straight through the day without taking a break and then continue working into the night answering emails.
These kinds of days can happen, but you shouldn’t do it all the time. If you show your team you don’t need to work 24/7 and that it’s okay to “unplug,” you’ll not only inspire better time management habits, you’ll inspire a happier and healthier team.
Increase the lines of communication. Let your team know all the ways they can get in touch with you if they need you. While you need to set your own boundaries, it’s important for your team to know they can rely on you when they need to talk.
Whether it’s about a personal issue or a sales challenge when your team knows when and how best to communicate with you, it fosters better relationships.
Creating open lines of communication will help your team be transparent about what’s going on in their lives so you can help remove barriers and give them what they need to succeed.
3. Training: Make learning fun
As you and your team continue to navigate the changes brought on by 2020 and COVID-19, it’s even more important to commit to training and development.
With change comes a desire for routine and familiarity, but it also brings on the need to learn new things. Whether it’s new technology to adapt to the current virtual selling environment or different skills to make sure you’re creating a great first impression on video.
As a sales manager, it’s your job to give your sales team the tools and training they need to be successful. That means helping your team make learning a habit by creating a training process that’s ongoing, consistent, and fun.
You can do that by incorporating these ideas:
Ask each member of your team to lead their own short training session. This could be on a topic of their choice or a topic you think that individual would excel at teaching. Either way, getting the members of your team actively involved in the training is one of the best ways to accelerate learning and engagement.
Introduce improv and humor. Imagine one of your training sessions is focused on working together as a team to strategize an account. You’re working together to come up with ideas and actions to put into place. You’re feeding off one another and building on each other’s suggestions. Essentially, you’re improvising.
Improvisation helps improve your team’s ability to think quickly and respond to each other’s input in the moment. Just like a real sales conversation. Another way to add improv and humor to your team training sessions is to role-play.
It can be uncomfortable at first, but once everyone gets involved, it can be a lot of fun. A warm-up exercise I like to do to put everyone at ease is the “one-word story.” We go around to each person and they add one word to the story. Everyone will be laughing by the end.
Start a reading club or a “watching club.” Get everyone reading a new book or watching a movie or series that you can discuss as a group. It doesn’t have to be specifically about sales, in fact, it’s better if it’s not!
The real learning is in deciphering what principles from the book or movie can be applied to sales. For example, the book Freakonomics illuminates human and group psychology in a way that will no doubt inspire improvements in your sales approach.
Movies like Mission Impossible or The Bourne Identity highlight improvising when the original plan fails or facing unforeseen challenges. TV series Homeland teaches us about the internal politics of decision making. Even the new Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit teaches us about the methodical game of strategy that’s definitely instructive for the modern seller.
Sales lessons can be derived from anywhere and, with this club, your team can uncover them together.
With 2020 behind us, it’s time to look forward and adapt. Regardless of the circumstances, sales is an ever-changing profession that requires constant re-thinking and re-inventing.
As we dive into the new year, now is the perfect time to revisit how you can improve your meetings, your team’s work-from-home experience, and training.
By taking a closer look at these three areas, you’ll be able to more effectively support and position your team for success in 2021.