If you manage sellers, frontline sales managers or indeed anyone, you understand they’re under stress, apprehensive, and craving any type of normalcy until actual normalcy returns.
Most sales leaders we talk to are currently in break/fix mode: Some are having to shrink their organizations or reduce pay. Most are trying to figure out how to help customers whose businesses or entire industries have been upended.
All are worried about the health and safety of their teams in addition to working hard to help sellers quickly become accomplished in a virtual environment. The key to managing much of this lies in how you’re communicating with your team while stress is running high.
Stressed sales teams require frequent communication, which can be challenging for sales leaders for a couple of reasons.
First, you have the same family and work concerns as everyone else. Second, your team is now looking to you for a number of things: empathy, reassurance, humor, coaching, help with customers, straight facts on sales metrics, evolving business strategy, even problem solving with personal technology issues.
It’s a tall order, and not all of these things come easily to every sales leader. But they have to be done, and structured, team-wide communication is the key.
What we mean here is regular, agenda-driven cadence calls, usually with an accompanying PowerPoint. Most sales leaders have some sort of call, typically to discuss pipeline, with varying degrees of formality and frequency. We suggest you tighten up on both.
We’ve coached a lot of sales leaders in the last decade and advised them on their management cadence. Many have a preference for ad hoc check-in calls with individual team members, eschewing a more formal cadence. The appeal is obvious. 1:1 calls require less preparation, no presentation materials, and you can do them from the airport lounge.
The current climate, however, requires sales leaders to deliver strong, consistent and reassuring messaging to their whole team, in addition to conducting check-in calls with individuals. Refer to this recent NY Times article on messaging strategy when leading in a crisis.
Sellers, particularly those working in isolation, want to feel unity with their colleagues and have the assurance they’re hearing the same message as everyone else from the person in charge. You.
If you’re a little out of practice, below is a suggested agenda. Or, get a more detailed PDF version here.
- Health & Safety. State that everyone’s health and safety is your top priority. Reiterate any company resources available to team members in this area.
- Outstanding Performance. Give a shout out to individuals or groups stepping up and doing an outstanding job or just making life more bearable for customers and colleagues.
- Today’s Facts & Figures. Good and bad. This might include pipeline, trends, status of an ongoing customer situation, or an explanation of how company announcements affect the team. If you are announcing major decisions, explain how the decisions were made and why. Use plain language. Make sure everyone understands.
- Reiterate Business Priorities. State what your sales team should be focused on today. Make specific requests of your team or give individual task assignments to keep them moving forward.
- Gratitude & Reassurance. Offer your personal gratitude to the team for their continued hard work and reassurance that this situation will not last forever.
- Take Questions. Anticipate the questions you’ll get and prepare your answers in advance. If you are aren’t allowed to share information, state when you expect to know more. And follow up on any questions that remain unanswered.
If you’re not sure what your call frequency should be, start with once a week and adjust according to your sellers’ needs. Once you establish a cadence, stick to it. Routines help people in isolation maintain focus.
Many of you will have evolving messaging and strategy coming from upper management. Don’t wait until you have perfect information before having a team call. Go with what you know now and tell your team to expect change. They’re professionals, they get it.
Not comfortable conducting video calls either because you’re unfamiliar with the technology or don’t like being on camera? Get comfortable. Now. And help your direct reports get comfortable, too.
Having your team be able to see, as well as hear, each other will foster connection, which lowers anxiety.
And don’t sweat it if your household accidentally intrudes on your virtual meeting space. At some point, your German Shepherd is going to stick his nose into the camera frame during a video call. It’s ok. We can all use the comic relief.