Co-written with Juan Kingsbury, Founder, Career Blindspot
When Bob Dylan sung about how “The Times, They Are A-Changin’,” he likely didn’t have 2020 in mind – though he certainly created a relatable lament about unexpected transitions that still resonates today.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic someday may inspire its own collection of musical tributes, those of us who lived – and worked – through it have no shortage of superlatives to describe the intensity of the period.
In fact, nearly three-quarters of workers felt the Coronavirus pandemic represented the most stressful time of their entire professional career – a load heavier to carry than that of events like 9/11 and the 2008 Great Recession. When you consider that the pandemic didn’t just impact our jobs, but our mental and physical health and our personal relationships, it’s surprising that number isn’t higher.
Another, more recent statistic, represents a good gauge of the turmoil that still exists in professional circles: One in four workers plan to look for new opportunities now that the main threat of the pandemic has passed. This portends a decent amount of turnover, triggered by a workforce that has become used to greater flexibility in their work and personal lives and a greater faith in the value of their current skill set.
This all comes as we, as sales leaders, are trying to restore some semblance of normalcy to our sales plans, to keep pace with an economy that is figuratively, if not literally, on fire; and also, to support our human resources, who likely experienced a lifetime of tumult squeezed into 14 months.
So, what do our sales professionals need to hear from us to feel reassured that we have a sense of the changing landscape, goals that are rooted in reality, and, by extension – their backs?
Juan and I recently hosted a webinar to discuss this phenomenon and zeroed in on four takeaways that can help sales leaders put this all into its proper perspective…
1. Don’t deny reality.
The last 14 months have caused you and your people to change. That’s why The Brooks Group recommends conducting assessments of each member of the sales team, applying science to look at their behaviors, motivators, and emotional intelligence, with an eye toward information that will help you get a sense for how they’ve changed. Though some change is good, we also want to recognize changes that skew negative, and provide the right amount of support.
2. The more a person’s role has changed, the more opportunity there is for stress.
Stress is everywhere – here at work and at home – and these stressors were heightened during the past 14 months. Prior to the pandemic, many of our salespeople enjoyed the luxury of being like “farmers,” taking orders, nudging people every couple of weeks, and essentially cultivating the same patch of crops. When leads started drying up during the pandemic, it became incumbent on sales to become hunters – staking out the fields for new buyers, and new prey. Clearly, hunters have significantly different motivators than farmers and as such will require new insights and motivators to support their success.
3. Watch for burnout in your 2020 high performers.
Here’s a fictional, but realistic, scenario: Let’s say of one of your great producers comes to you and says, “Hey, I’m burned out, and I’ve just decided that that we’re going to go live off the grid in the mountains of New Mexico.” As a manager who presumably has a decent relationship with this professional, do you simply let them go, or do you fight to salvage the relationship, offering some middle-ground solution that addresses the burnout?
Again, being able to apply science to the situation is helpful. Go back to the assessment, look at motivators, and ask good questions. Does your associate want to go to New Mexico to meditate and drink matcha tea? Is it a family obligation that is forcing the move? Or is there something you can do to help alleviate the stress of your top performers now that the fire drill of 2020 is over?
It could simply be that, after a year of Zoom, they’re tired of the virtual selling compromise. Perhaps you can help promote the notion of a hybrid environment – even a co-working space where you can use a conference room by the hour to meet clients. Certainly anything is better than dogs barking in the background!
4. As a leader, model the behavior you want in your team. Do as I do, not do as I say.
Know when to push (and how much pressure to apply) and when to back off. There are enormous stressors coming from all sides of the sales equation right now – goals, KPIs, customer expectations, supply chain issues, etc.
Any boss can yell and micromanage, but if you’re actually trying to reap the fruit of a healthy, productive team, you need a keen understanding of where pressure is best applied to support the notion of closed deals. Being too passive, for example, may be demotivating, while being “assertively empathetic” will help the sales pro feel supported, and provide a jolt of energy that they can ride to the close.
There’s never been a more critical time to truly understand the essence of your sales professionals. A whole person assessment – like the Brooks Talent Index – can help you truly understand how your team is interacting with each other and with clients, as well as what’s driving individual performance, their emotional intelligence, and their sense of self-awareness.