April 27, 2021

A large part of a sales team's motivation comes from a sense of togetherness and camaraderie. Mutual encouragement in the office is an important part of a salesperson's day-to-day life.

But then came Covid-19. The sales teams were sent home overnight to work from the home office. The “classic” teamwork has been turned on its head.

Panicked companies worried about their future put orders on hold. In industries particularly affected by the pandemic, companies have laid off their employees or put them on short-time work. For sales teams, the usual processes for sales, delivery, and customer care changed without warning.

Although the economic forecast is uncertain, sales managers should not downsize their teams. There are ways to adapt to the new way of working and to guide employees through this unprecedented time.

As lockdowns begin to wear off around the world, there is a chance some sales reps will return to the office. However, there is nothing to suggest that there will be a return to "business as usual" in the foreseeable future. Home office will likely be the "new norm" for some time to come.

There are so many rules in the everyday office structure, plus both written and unwritten expectations. Much of that had to change, from cybersecurity to communication channels.

Working from home is a completely new situation and the changes are unsettling for many. The way sales managers lead and motivate their sales teams in the new world of teleworking will ultimately determine success.

So how can sales managers successfully motivate sales teams in the new normal work scenario?

Changeover to a virtual sales model

Traditional face-to-face interactions are increasingly being replaced by video conferences. If only temporarily, the pandemic has forced us into a kind of dystopian virtual world. We live and breathe on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack and other such channels.

What does that mean for sales? Sales team motivation needs to be put in context.

A report by McKinsey and Company on the change in sales says that B2B sellers have reacted with astonishing speed: Around 90 percent have switched to working remotely via video conference or telephone.

The McKinsey report offers some useful insights into what will determine the potential success of a new virtual sales model. The effectiveness of remote working is not determined simply by switching to digital channels. Success depends on how the salespeople are used to work across different channels and how they are supported in navigating the new sales processes so that they can confidently redesign the customer experience.

Leadership is the key

This includes enabling employees to work effectively and efficiently from home, building and managing new expectations, and reviewing how employees are fairly paid.

Managers need to provide more individual guidance on work practices and expectations. Practical things like security, access to applications, process instructions, and naming contacts for any questions are vital to help employees transition to the new teleworking rules. Personnel and other guidelines also need to be revised. Some standardization and structuring will help sales reps feel more confident working remotely.

Sales managers need to use this as an opportunity to review processes. Sales teams may temporarily need to focus less on sales and more on customer support and assistance and relationship building. Services need to be reevaluated with a longer term perspective. Sales reps won't feel motivated when sales goals are out of reach.

Communication is the basis for everything

Without the usual face-to-face interactions in the office, communication is critical. Executives should schedule frequent short video meetings to keep sales teams in touch. A separate channel for communication between team members should be set up so that everyone is on the same page and has an overview of what is happening. Using different tools will only complicate things and almost certainly alienate some people.

Sales managers need to schedule regular phone calls with each and every team member. You have to find out how every single employee is doing:

Do you have a family?

Is it difficult to make calls at certain times?

When do you start work and when do you finish it?

Are they taking real breaks? (There is no chat at the water dispenser at home).

Work-life balance is even more important now as the line between home and work becomes more and more blurred.

Celebrate small successes

Praise is even more important for employees who work remotely. For more reluctant team members, it's very easy to disappear under the radar when working from home. Selling won't be easy in the current climate. Selling is a tough job even in the best of times. Working from home also makes public recognition more difficult.

In times of crisis, a bad sales day is not necessarily a bad sales day. Relationship building and good customer calls are very important right now. Sales reps need to figure out how to support customers. Are there partner companies that can help?

Set realistic expectations

Are the sales quotas set at the beginning of the year really achievable in the current climate? Many salespeople may be concerned about their job security, especially when their usual business profit rate has dropped significantly.

Review incentive systems

Encourage activity and review any compensation plans or commission systems. Offering small daily or weekly cash rewards or meal cards could be a welcome incentive. Setting smaller sales goals and celebrating small successes will help build trust in the team. You can still celebrate your star salespeople.

Promote team loyalty

In the office, working relationships develop easily in strong teams. Birthday cakes, chats during lunch break, and drinks after work help these threads of relationship to germinate and grow. So how do you replace team building activities in remote teams? It takes a lot more effort to keep team bonding alive with people working remotely. Virtual coffees and zoom drinks are a great way to get involved in a more casual way.

Empathy, listening, inspiring and encouraging

In a webinar on "Keeping your sales team motivated and managed through Covid-19", sales management expert Michael Wills speaks openly about the need for sales managers to be "people first" and "sales managers second" in the pandemic. In the current climate, sales are falling. It's up to the sales managers to divert concerns about the numbers away from the CEO and other members of the executive team.

It's very easy to question employee motivation when you can't see what they're doing. In the office, too, a culture of trust is an essential ingredient for sales success. Even more effort has to be made to maintain the relationship of trust when employees work remotely.

The motivation of the sales team depends on knowing what your sales reps need. Listening to employees is essential. Why not take a WeThrive employee engagement survey to find out how far your remote team is doing? Find out what you're missing and redesign your recovery and growth strategy.

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