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Sales Leadership During a Pandemic: What Does It Look Like?

Dan Smoot
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Whether it’s with your team, family, company or friends, it feels like there’s just one conversation in the world right now, with good reason. COVID-19 has taken all of our plans–both personal and professional–and chucked them right out the window.

Call it pivoting, regrouping, recalibrating or whatever you like. The fact is, we are all in the same boat: rethinking our once well-designed plans against a fluid landscape that changes not by the day but seemingly by the hour. At times it feels chaotic, but it’s also true that the challenges posed by this pandemic are not insurmountable. The reality is that many companies will emerge on the other side of this, perhaps not unscathed but definitely unbroken.

For companies with sales staff now working at home–and customers that it’s no longer possible to visit–there’s one major question: What does sales leadership look like in a pandemic environment?

Here’s what I’m telling my staff.

1. Focus on what you can control

In a crisis, people seek order and stability. With so much that’s not remotely in your power to change, it’s reassuring–and productive!–to focus on the elements within your sphere of influence. For sales teams, that should really center on developing their pipeline, positioning for the future, and driving real-time results right now. All are doable.

2. Solve for the problems of today

There is no business as usual now. Your salespeople should never waste their customers’ time – or their own – having conversations about things that will have no impact at this moment or the foreseeable short term. They should already understand that big projects that require substantial investment will get back-burnered as CapEx and OpEx thins. The nice-to-haves that might have once enticed customers are now out of the question.

Instead, turn to identifying and solving customers’ immediate needs. For us, that’s helping companies ensure their work at home workforces have the network visibility and app acceleration they need to be successful. For you, it will be something else unique to your company and offering. Have candid conversations with your customers now. Where’s their pain? And how can you help them stop hurting?

3. Remember your ability to connect is paramount

Truly excellent salespeople can influence a customer no matter the medium. For these individuals, doing their jobs remotely is a complete non-event. They know how to leverage their ecosystem for support. They’re excellent writers, able to get in touch and connect with customers over email. They know how to ask the right questions and listen to what’s said (and what’s unsaid) on a call. They can pull together a useful webinar, proof of concept or trial solution. They’ve got virtual demonstrations down cold.

But even more critically, a great salesperson can deftly cultivate trust to forge genuine connection. They are credible because they know how to connect customer pain to their company’s unique value proposition. Doing that well is more important than ever because customers are, frankly, facing quite a lot of challenges.

4. Enable your people in this new environment

Regardless of function, everyone is being asked to be more flexible. But we need to equip our sales teams to pivot more quickly than most because our usual go-tos could be off the table. There are no more lunches and golf outings or happy hours, onsite customer visits, and networking events. That’s the reality for right now.

The victorious teams will be the ones who quickly adjust to this new normal and move to help their sales executives with enablement designed for this virtual era. Are you quickly ramping up to provide them the tools to demo or present at a distance? How about teaching them how to have a productive customer conversation when you never actually sit face to face with them in real life? As a sales leader, have you mastered having the executive conversation in our new environment? You should.

5. Watch your email messages for tone and relevance

Open your email inbox and there are probably more earnest emails on “Our response to the COVID-19 crisis” than you can count, all from companies you maybe did business with one time (if ever).

If you’re relying on email as one tool in your inside sales arsenal, that’s fine. But make sure you’re crafting a message that is sticky, specific and solves the problems of today. I do open inbound emails, sometimes from genuine interest and occasionally from morbid curiosity. Marketing messages with generic, tone deaf subject lines like, “CAN WE HELP YOU MAKE BETTER CONNECTIONS WITH CUSTOMERS?” have a one-way ticket to the trash bin.

It’s clear to me that, as with so many things, this crisis should change how we measure the sales organization. If your team can’t sell a technology that’s clearly hyper-relevant for this time, it means you don’t have the right sales talent on your bench and your messaging isn’t hitting the mark. But if your organization excels at selling in this new remote paradigm, just imagine how powerful they’ll be once the crisis diminishes. Because whether at home or in the office, you’ll know they’re capable of creating authentic relationships and delivering messaging that works.

That is a gamechanger.

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