Keeping a high-performing sales team motivated is difficult at the best of times, once you throw in a pandemic, an economic recession and the introduction of social distancing – as a sales leader, you could be in for a shock.
After having spoken with many senior business leaders over lockdown, a recurring issue that kept cropping up was motivation and energy and how to bolster your teams when there’s so much uncertainty and noise going on in their personal lives. Naturally, we engaged sales expert and neuro-leadership aficionado, Matt Griffin, on this topic to get his thoughts in our second edition of our webinar series, ‘Leading Your Sales Teams Post-Pandemic’.
Matt has worked in sales for over 16 years, spending time at the likes of SBL and CDW honing his skills in technology – both internationally and domestically. He’s become well-known for his unique senior leadership style which has always served to take the human psyche into consideration when aiming to get the most out of his divisions.
When approached on the topic of keeping sales performance up during lockdown, he had some surprising but very poignant points to make. Matt believes that empathy can’t be left out of the equation in sales and wellbeing factors so heavily into your team’s achievements, now more than ever before we have to make time to rediscover what makes our colleagues tick.
Something that became apparent is that you must take context into consideration when assessing your sales team’s performance. Whether you adopted an authoritative leadership style or more of a hands off laissez-fare tactic in the past, the chances are you’ve found your management groove and may have gotten your teams to not only deliver, but overachieve as well.
Unfortunately what emerged from our session was that the approach you used to take pre-pandemic simply isn’t going to cut it in a post-covid world. We’ve all collectively changed since then, in mindset, priorities and even what inspires us to be our best selves. That’s not to say that managers should ease up on their KPIs or expect less from their teams, but a change in how you motivate your teams is certainly something you should consider.
Threat vs reward
Over the last five or six months, the world has gone through a series of quick and unrelenting changes to the way we live our lives. This has been incredibly mentally taxing on businesses, but even more so on the individuals that make up those businesses.
Keeping Matt’s concept of neuro-leadership in mind, he referenced that due to the above external factors, many people have shifted from a challenge mindset towards a threat mindset. What that means is that they are not motivated by the positive drive to succeed, but are in a heightened state of fear and waiting for the impact of another sudden change to hit.
You may have noticed it in your own business, their way of working becomes more defensive than assertive, and their focus will no longer be on business outcomes or sales targets because they’re too preoccupied with this ‘fight or flight’ response.
What makes this twice as tricky to navigate is that more often than not, leaders aren’t physically with their teams at the moment, which means that many are blinded to some of the usual indicators that something isn’t quite right with your direct reports.
Simply being aware of their new mindset is half the battle, keeping in mind that you as a manager can sometimes cause a threat response in your language can be a key factor to consider.
Matt strongly recommends tweaking your communication style to accommodate this, for instance avoid creating additional doubt or worry by avoiding phrases like “we have some changes to discuss” or “I need to give you some feedback” and adopting a more positive outlook yourself can make a world of difference.
Don’t forget furlough
We also can’t neglect our furloughed employees in all this, and not just those who were placed on furlough but those left behind to pick up the pieces too.
While furlough was and still is a legitimate business response to the pandemic, and is something that saved many businesses from making mass redundancies they didn’t want to make, from a leadership perspective this goes deeper than just looking at the numbers.
You have to bear in mind that these people have been out of the business for a long period of time when things are moving at triple the speed for those still in it. They’re not privy to the journey that your business has gone on lately and will be coming back to a totally new landscape, so we almost need to approach it like onboarding a new starter.
Those returning from furlough need to be re-embedded back into the business at a reasonable pace, and likewise those who continued to work will need time to adopt them back into their processes.
Maximise your time
While we may be making a couple of trips to the office a week, working from home isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Meaning that our time with our teams is still significantly less and that key observation time we have with our colleagues is reduced. The difficulty here is that you’re not able to prevent a negative situation from arising because unless your colleague tells you outright, you’ve no way of knowing.
There’s only so much you can get from a group Zoom call, so Matt stresses that it’s more important than ever to ensure that your team have dedicated time to express themselves to you so you have a true handle on what their situation is.
Of course, you may have team members who don’t find it easy to open up on a video call setting and could just hide their true feelings. Matt believes that this comes down to trust: Being open and transparent with your teams is one of the best ways to build rapport and trust. Part of that, which many may not be comfortable with, involves sharing your own concerns during the pandemic.
Matt also recommends making the most of the time that you spend together in the office, so treating the days you’re all in together as almost like an internal showcase event. If every other day is focused on sales and being results driven, let your days on-site together be about celebrating success or embedding new ideas and tactics.
To try and overcome the threat mindset, you may also want to set up a team meeting where you all share how you’ve personally triumphed over some of the barriers you’ve experienced working and selling in this new climate.
There’s no doubt that the current situation has made all of us feel quite insecure, from day to day things like going to the supermarket seeming like an obstacle course to feeling fearful over hugging a loved one, we are more tentative in our decisions than ever.
Throw in the worries about redundancies, companies going bust and the looming threat of a second wave that could send all our hard work crashing down again, and you’ve got a very unstable workforce. One way to combat this is to make a marked effort to create a secure environment, one that they truly believe in and feel comfortable working towards a common goal.
Once more Matt brings us back to sharing our own thoughts as leaders with the wider team. So reenforcing the ‘why’ behind the organisation, establishing that purpose behind what you’re doing as a collective – those things can bring your teams back to earth and keep them grounded, focused and altogether happier.
Afterall, every single one of us has been negatively impacted by covid – so putting on a brave face may actually come across as disingenuous, don’t be afraid to share when things are difficult. This in turn will encourage your colleagues to do the same when they hit a roadblock, rather than waiting til it becomes a mountain and acting rashly in frustration.
Ultimately, the bottom line is that if your sales professionals aren’t bought in, happy and reinvigorated, your customer will be able to sense that from their proposals and pitches, and your growth will suffer. So whether you’ve had a rough Q2 and 3, or have managed to prosper through – it pays to have a team that’s not just meeting your expectations but also feels comfortable and safe enough under your wing to go the extra mile.
If you’d like to tune into our next digital event, head over to our events page and fill in the form to register your interest. This time round, we’re discussing how to stay cyber resilient in the working from home era.