The Crux of Selling during COVID-19 is Relationships
Normally, excellent sales teams depend on equal parts nature and nurture. In times of crisis, this ratio skews: teams require more nurture from management in order to truly thrive. COVID-19 has challenged all of us and it’s how we respond that will set our team apart in an already competitive and, now, cash-strapped business landscape.
Currently, sales teams across Canada are learning how to redefine their business practices and customer relationships to better suit pandemic-era sales. These changes are not always intuitive and teams benefit from leaders with a cohesive vision and action plan to keep the team moving forward in perpetuity, adapting as necessary to our ever-evolving circumstances. These plans should cover everything from employee success to customer communication, because when employees feel well supported, they’re able to do their best work.
Prioritize the Personal Goals of your Sales Team
Sales managers should never lose sight of the humanity of their teams and, to that end, all employee success measures and team goals should seek to nurture the entire person, not just their sales metrics. This support can—and should!—take a variety of forms, both inside and outside the confines of the office.1
The best way to encourage high performance in sales teams is to make sales representatives feel that they are valued and that they have a future with the company.2 They should feel that their sales manager believes in them and wants them to succeed. To create an environment like this, managers should advocate for their teams, encouraging the company to sponsor further learning, training programs, or formal education for the team. This way, the sales team is not only able to improve and refine their skills, but will feel valued, knowing that their company is willing to invest in their future. Feeling deeply involved with the success of a company is a great way to drive high performance.
Educational offerings can be rolled into broader employee success programs which are best overseen and managed by a dedicated HR professional where possible. Such a professional will be able to offer one-on-one goal development and planning with each member of a sales team, making sure that each team member is being regarded as an individual, rather than just one of the bunch.
Sales Managers Must be Open to Feedback
Asking for feedback is easy. Listening to that feedback and actioning corrective measures, where necessary, is the tough part. But sales managers owe it to their teams to be responsive to thoughtful and constructive feedback, especially right now. On most teams, sales representatives are the ones best equipped to meet customer needs—sales managers should trust the information coming back from those relationships. In creating welcoming spaces for feedback, sales team managers can create efficient and collaborative work environments where everyone feels heard—another key tenet of nurturing sales representatives. This step is crucial and, ultimately, can induce sales representatives to be transparent and forthcoming about what they need to succeed, whether that is support on difficult calls, greater product training or information, or extra support in developing COVID-19-era protocols to keep their customers comfortable and happy.
Sales Managers Must Equip Their Teams for Success
Expecting the best from a sales team necessitates that sales managers are giving everything they can to facilitate that success. That commitment has changed in recent months to include a better grasp of telecommunications technology, purpose-built training, educational and product knowledge manuals to share with clients, and an entirely new script for speaking with clients in modes other than “in person.”
First, sales managers should decide how to present the company: the impression should be confident and competent, so as not to seem vulnerable, but should not seem callous. Customers that feel their sales representatives are insensitive to their own situation is a surefire way to derail a successful relationship; the customer should always feel listened to and like they can relate to their sales representative.3 To make them feel heard and understood, sales representatives should be respectful as they acknowledge the severity of our COVID-19 reality. It’s important to prioritize Zoom calls over phone calls or emails for this difficult conversation, and to let the customer lead.4
A customer-led sales call can start by opening with a softer sales pitch and simply asking the customer directly: how would you like to proceed? How is your business? Where would you like to go from here? What can I do to help your business?
Sales managers should collaborate with their teams to develop new ways of connecting with customers, including those ongoing relationships where there is little expectation of a successful sale. This is the reality of our economic landscape at present. But with the right leadership, teams can invest now in customer relationships that will pay dividends in the future.
1 Crunchbase. “5 Ways Sales Teams Can Adapt During COVID-19.” Accessed August 15, 2020. https://about.crunchbase.com/blog/5-ways-sales-teams-adapt-covid-19/.
2 Steenburgh, Thomas, and Michael Ahearne. “Motivating Salespeople: What Really Works.” Harvard Business Review, July 1, 2012. https://hbr.org/2012/07/motivating-salespeople-what-really-works.
3 “Connecting with Customers during a Crisis | McKinsey.” Accessed August 15, 2020. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/connecting-with-customers-in-times-of-crisis#.
4 Waldron, Ted, and James Wetherbe. “Ensure That Your Customer Relationships Outlast Coronavirus.” Harvard Business Review, April 1, 2020. https://hbr.org/2020/04/ensure-that-your-customer-relationships-outlast-coronavirus.