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How to Motivate Your Sales Team During COVID-19

Let’s face it, if your business is not in video communications, medical devices, insurance, or cyber security, sales are likely to be lousy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meaning, sales leaders are left to answer and solve two difficult questions:

  1. How do I restock an empty pipeline?
  2. How do I ensure my team’s morale is high and motivated to perform the behaviors necessary to restock pipelines? Especially when achieving quota – and receiving a great commission payout – is out of the question. 

Using West Coast Career’s experience in building sales teams through the 2008 Global Financial Meltdown, combined with outsider support, this article lists three actionable steps revenue generation leaders can take to ensure their sales team’s morale stays high, even when no one is buying.   

Step 1: Ensure Your Team Believes in the Plan

One of the main factors impacting team morale is leadership. It starts there and the team has to trust that everyone is on the same page with their eye on the same goal. Not only do leaders need to ensure a robust sense of trust and alignment within the team, but they are also responsible for fostering a culture of empowerment—as opposed to one of control. 

A culture of empowerment starts with extreme transparency in the plan. Reps want to know The Five W’s: 

  • Who are we targeting? 
  • What are the goals?
  • Where are we focusing our efforts? 
  • When are we expected to do this? 
  • Why are we taking this approach? 

Employees also want to know how the plan and expectations have been adapted to fit a new environment where very few prospects have a budget to invest. Perhaps most importantly, they want to know that leadership understands that the approaches needed to connect with buyers have changed – and that leadership will have their back as they test and explore a value-focused strategy. 

Step 2: Embrace a Value-Focused Strategy

“The goal is to make 150 calls per day.” “Smile and dial.” “Coffee’s for Closers.” 

Traditional sales-first approaches, expectations, and mentalities like the quotes above are not effective in regular business climates, never mind one characterized by extreme uncertainty and volatility. Sales leaders who expect reps to maintain MQL to SQL ratios, sales cycle rates, or deal sizes in this climate have lost touch with the realities experienced by front-line reps. When expectations and goals don’t match realities, trust in and respect for the leader erodes while team morale declines.  

So how do successful leaders get the most out of their teams when yesterday’s tactics no longer work? They embrace a value-focused sales strategy. This strategy recognizes the challenges faced by reps today while adopting a truly consultative sales approach characterized by three pillars: 

  1. Understanding and empathizing with the challenges faced by a prospect 
  2. Providing complimentary advice, insights, and perspectives not found anywhere else and that are valued by the prospect
  3. Resisting the urge to sell 

Taken together, these three pillars force reps to play the long game. That means not focusing on closing deals now, but instead following a path that leads to better and bigger success in the long term. And in the short-term, reps can stop worrying about “striking out” and instead focus on doing what they do best – solving problems and pain points. This translates into a win-win situation for reps and leaders alike, driving and boosting team morale.  

Step 3: Don’t Forget The Basics

During times of extreme pressure or crisis, it’s easy for leaders to forget the basics of team motivation and morale. During times of normalcy, sales leaders keep engagement and happiness levels high by offering bonuses and commission accelerators. This approach taps into the fact that salespeople are intrinsically driven by money. But when monetary incentives aren’t available as a lever to push, leaders need to identify the non-financial incentives required to keep morale high. A report in McKinsey Quarterly, using data gathered from the firm’s survey of 1,047 employees, managers, and executives, notes that these types of motivators can help foster employee engagement across sectors, jobs, and business contexts.  

Specifically, respondents reported that praise from direct managers, personal attention from leadership, and opportunities to lead projects are no less—and at times more—effective than the top three financial incentives: cash bonuses, salary bumps, and stock or stock options.

For seasoned managers and leaders, the non-financial incentives listed above should not be surprising. Praise and personal attention, particularly in times of uncertainty, matter to reps. And from an employee performance perspective, it needs to matter to leaders too. Just take recent research from Harvard Business School and Microsoft, which found that employees who received twice the number of one-on-ones with their manager relative to their peers were 67% less likely to be disengaged

Disengaged employees do not feel valued, supported, respected, or secure. According to studies run by the Queens School of Business and the Gallup Organization, disengaged workers were found to have:

  • 37% higher absenteeism
  • 49% more accidents
  • 60% more errors and defects 

Organizations with low employee engagement scores also revealed diminished business results:

  • 18% lower productivity
  • 16% lower profitability
  • 37% lower job growth
  • 65% lower share price over time

Take Action Now

High team morale is a driving force of top-line revenues, customer satisfaction, and the bottom line. But in times of uncertainty and restrained budgets, sales team morale can plummet. For leaders, this requires changing their playbook to accommodate the selling realities faced by their teams. That requires building a plan that their team believes in, changing the sales strategy to focus on long-term value creation, and ensuring that basic management principles are being followed. Combined, these factors will help sales leaders overcome the fact that few prospects are buying and impacts this has on their team’s morale.  

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