Part of the magic of working in sales is that salespeople are the masters of their own destinies. Good sales reps don’t need to be micromanaged.
That’s good news for any sales manager with a staff of outside salespeople who currently find themselves unable to leave their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, it’s a manager’s job to keep the staff motivated and productive. When the days blur together and half of the sales team struggle to drag themselves out of bed in the morning, sales managers should have their work cut out for them.
There are steps managers can take to keep their team’s spirits up, as well as their productivity.
Here are seven ways to keep your field team motivated as they work from home:
1. Keep in touch
Right now, even your best self-starters are coping with fear, boredom, family, a lack of privacy, and constant interruptions. Even if they don’t need a manager to tell them how to do their jobs, they do need someone to talk to and keep them engaged.
Think about what you need right now to keep yourself motivated and productive; without the structure of time clocks, mandatory staff meetings, and client appointments, it’s hard for anyone to stay focused.
Your team needs these things as well—and they need you to give it to them.
So schedule that mandatory daily staff meeting via Zoom or another video conferencing platform. Get the gang together remotely, even if it’s just to swap work-from-home “fail” stories. Give everyone a chance to see the rest of the team every day and talk about work with their co-workers.
Most people draw energy from interacting with their peers. Make that happen by scheduling team meetings and one-on-one phone calls with each employee.
The team will stay strong and goal-oriented if you do everything you can to keep their heads in the game.
2. Take it easy
Even though it’s important to maintain productivity within your team, now is not the time for any manager to be dropping the hammer on employees who seem off their game. Who isn’t off their game right now?
Rather than assuming that a staffer is slacking off or making excuses when a quota is missed or a mistake is made, find out what’s really going on.
I read a great piece in the Harvard Business Review that explored the true reason why we’re all having such a hard time adjusting to the new pandemic rules — it’s because we’re grieving. We’re grieving our lost freedom, our sick friends, the ones we fear might not make it. We’re grieving our stalled friendships, our favorite routines, our once-plentiful stock of toilet paper.
Think about that next time someone on your team comes up short or seems to be struggling. Be amazed when your team does well. Appreciate and celebrate the good days.
Offer an empathetic ear and a flexible schedule. When necessary, offer a do-over or a get-out-of-jail-free card. Your staff is doing their best to work from their dining room tables amid awkward living arrangements, adjusting to remote communication with colleagues and clients, and figuring out how to make ends meet when half of their clients are closed for business.
That’s a lot more stress than they usually have to deal with. Cut them some slack.
The way you react to a struggling sales rep could determine how much employees will trust you once things get back to normal. Let your employees know you have their backs and their best interests in mind.
3. Be a leader
A good leader is someone who steps up when everyone else is pushing back, giving up and losing their cool. Leaders make an effort to embrace change and understand what their team needs to embrace change themselves.
Understand and prepare for this new “normal” for your team. Set goals. Be clear about expectations. Help everyone create a schedule that works for his or her family situation. Then, focus on activity and results — not on the time clock.
Once everyone understands what is expected of them, give everyone the tools and guidance needed to meet those expectations.
4. Spark passion
Unless your company makes toilet paper or hand sanitizer, whatever you’re pushing might be a tough sell.
Making sales when most businesses are stuck on pause can feel like running on a hamster wheel. Call after call, your reps are hearing, “Not now.” They’re frustrated. They don’t see the point in making any more calls.
Change the narrative. It’s important that your team “sell for tomorrow,” even though nobody’s buying today. Remind them that it usually takes six to eight touches before a new client will buy anything anyway. Encourage them to continue to reach out. Touches via phone or Facetime during a pandemic are still touches, after all, and it’s important that they understand that persistence can still pay off.
More importantly, let your team know that their clients want to hear from them, to talk shop with them, to break up the daily monotony with them. If clients aren’t in a position to buy, call them anyway. Stoke and maintain relationships. Solidify their loyalty. Get them ready for the day when they are in a position to once again say, “Yes.”
5. Sharpen skills
Salespeople are usually too busy to kick the tires and tune up their engines. We wind up changing the tires while driving 90 mph.
Take this time as an opportunity to get your team into as many online training sessions as possible. While they’re sitting at home with no clients to take to lunch, help them sharpen their current skills while learning new and effective ones. It’s also a great opportunity to learn new software and practice their video conferencing presentation style.
Learning isn’t just for your employees, either. Encourage managers to join you in taking online courses in supervision, management, and leadership. When all is said and done, your entire company can step their games up by properly utilizing their newly free time.
6. Have fun
This pandemic is serious business, and right now joy can be hard to find. But it’s more important than ever to remain positive and keep your team engaged. One way to do this is to get creative and pump a little bit of excitement and happiness into your sales meetings.
Turn one daily sales meeting per week into a pajama party. Tout another one as a virtual happy hour. Have a facemask fashion show at another. Ask everyone to snap selfies and photos of their quarantined families and select one or two reps per meeting to show theirs off in 60 seconds.
Come up with small prizes for the winners such as sending lunch to someone’s home, or giving a lucky employee next Friday off.
Co-workers enjoy joking around, shooting the breeze and catching up with each other’s personal lives. Devote a couple of minutes at the beginning or end of every virtual staff meeting to fun. A staff that plays together works well together.
7. Celebrate wins
A big win could be the first sale in two weeks. A small win could be a team member who finally was able to work both the camera and the microphone during a video meeting. Either way, take a moment to appreciate and celebrate your team's wins, no matter the size.
Congratulate every achievement. At a time like this, celebrations are more necessary and more appreciated than ever.
In times like these, managers have to exercise skills they didn’t learn in business school, such as empathy, patience and appreciation. Even though your outside sales team is stuck inside, act as their leader and motivator to deal with the current state of their job, and look forward to its brighter future. Use this time to give them the skills, inspiration, and confidence to perform their best, and watch them bloom and grow.
About the Author: DR. CINDY MCGOVERN is known as the “First Lady of Sales.” She speaks and consults internationally on sales, interpersonal communication and leadership, and is the author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller Every Job Is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work. Dr. Cindy is the CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting, a sales management and consulting firm in San Francisco.