Your reps have a lot on their mind these days: will the accounts they’re working blow them off? Will they meet quota this quarter? Will their job even be here next quarter?
As a leader, your job is not only to simply assuage these fears but help your team overcome the very real challenges behind them. Doing so naturally requires a shift in your sales strategy, but leadership in times of crisis goes beyond what’s written on paper: How you motivate your team, your approach to decision-making, and how you communicate changes are as important as what those changes are. In this new world, soft skills are the “hard skills” – and mastering them can help leaders then get on a path to drive growth, security, and stability within their team culture.
What does great look like here? We spoke with Richard Harris of Richard Harris Consulting to share how the strongest leaders enable their teams to thrive in any economy. Harris has been working with sales teams and sales leaders for 20+ years including both Fortune brands and early and high-growth start-ups. Here’s what he had to say.
First, empathy. It’s at the core of sales – and this extends far beyond the buyer-seller relationship. It’s also essential to your sales team’s performance. Much has been said in recent years about the power of empathy to motivate and inspire your team. But what does empathetic leadership really look like?
Richard Harris describes it this way: “Regardless of what’s happening in the world, the most effective leaders understand the humanity of their employees. They lead with honesty and vulnerability – especially in uncertain times. People are often afraid that if they are honest, it will signal weakness. However, acknowledging the reality of what sellers are surely experiencing in the field shows that they understand the challenges they face. It allows you to lead from the front.”
Beyond empathy, Harris also encourages decisiveness. It may be difficult to make decisions when so much is changing but clarity of vision and a clear plan of action allow sales leaders to quickly respond to current events, but proactively prepare for future twists and turns, too.
However, “Decisiveness does not mean rashness,” Harris cautions. “Consider the lessons of the pandemic. Some leaders made the decision very quickly to fire people; sixty days later they were strapped for employees. Decisive plans should look beyond what’s just happening now to what may happen as a result of these events, and what may follow those events. It should use the knowledge that you do have to move the company forward.”
And if six months later you discover you made the wrong choice? Says Harris, “Go back to point number one. An empathetic – and effective – leader will own that mistake.”
During challenging times, you may find yourself saddled with landing complex strategies or organizational shifts with your sales teams. Luckily, you don’t need a communications background to get the message across clearly. The key, as Harris described, is to encourage your sales team to be a part of the solution.
“Don’t just roll down changes from on high. Socialize your approach with your teams. Tell them what you are thinking, how it might affect them, and then ask for their ideas. Even if you don’t ultimately take their advice, you have given your reps a chance to voice feedback, and share insights from the frontline.”
Additionally, Harris recommends thinking about communications beyond just all-hands read-outs and emails about reorgs. For example, one of the most important channels for communicating change is via your sales training.
“All strategy shifts involve some type of sales training. As a sales trainer or enablement practitioner, I would take that new training to a focus group of reps. This approach builds buy-in, helps you identify potential blind spots, and builds your credibility as a leader. More than anything, you want open dialogue between sales leaders and sales teams.”
Trying to build a strategy in high-pressure environments is a lot like walking through a hall of mirrors: it can seem like there are more wrong turns than right ones. In reality, there are many paths to success; it’s just a matter of being able to find them.
What can you do if you find yourself at an impasse? “The biggest mistake a sales leader can make is not seeking the advice of others,” says Harris. “If you think you know it all, you’ve set yourself up to fail. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of strength.”
Harris also suggests turning outside your typical network for new inspiration: “Every person needs to have a personal board of directors. That ‘board’ can comprise business mentors or a professional coach. But it can also include personal relationships – people you know you can go to for advice, to push you, and to tell you the truth.”
Exposing yourself to outside or unusual points of view can shift your perspective – and help uncover the best path forward. “You want to cross-pollinate your learnings,” says Harris.
It’s time to get reflective: do you feel like your team can weather rough waters? More importantly, do you feel like you can?
“Good vibes” may sound like TikTok fluff, but the power of positive thinking is not to be overlooked. As a leader, if you don’t have confidence in your plan, how can you expect your team to?
“Morale can catapult sales teams over the biggest blockades,” says Harris. “Everyone is talking about how to handle the downturn and potential sales strategies to put into place. Those things are important, but ultimately morale cuts through all of that. If your reps don’t believe in you, your strategy, or your business, you’ll fail before you even start.”
Thriving during uncertainty is about more than strategies and Powerpoint decks – it’s about inspiring and motivating your team to face the unknown with confidence. Building on the tactics above, you’ll be able to enable your team to find success in every economy.
Hone your leadership skills further with our guide to empowering your team with strategic sales enablement.