How to lead an isolated sales team

Today, at this unprecedented time, I wanted to invite a discussion about how sales leaders can support their teams.   Many people did not experience the 2008 market downturn or the even earlier 2001 crash.  Many will be stressed and confused with the current situation.  I believe that we can, and should, share our best practices, to work through this situation and to provide a route map, in readiness for the recovery.

People used to daily on-site interaction with their team, will generally not react well to isolation.  This could be a consequence of simply not having a viable “home office” space to work from.   In parallel, being told to physically “self-isolate” from others for health reasons, can also lead to people withdrawing from their colleagues and their manager.  

Lack of regular virtual contact, poor I.T support, disinterest in them as a person, minor team disagreements, requests placed on them in a poorly worded email, etc are examples which can be perceived as harsh demands.  Many seemingly minor irritations usually resolved over a coffee and a chat in the office, can escalate into serious disagreements when working in isolation.

Remote Management was a subject I wrote about in an earlier insight here I explore 10 leadership techniques.  All 10 techniques apply today, however, the option of regular face to face meetings referred to is no longer an option, making the other nine techniques even more important for the leader to adopt.  I’m going to add three new points:

  1. Mentoring
    Introduce a mentoring or “buddy” arrangement: asking an experienced member of your team to act as a mentor for a less experienced team member.  This creates a sense of purposefulness in the mentor, and a sense of being cared for in the mentee, bringing them together.
  2. Training
    Video team training sessions for your team to develop better skills for remote selling,  features of your solution that meet your customers’ new working practices, and an ability to describe how three reference customers are benefiting from your solution.  These sessions have dramatically more impact, and success, if the team members themselves are asked to prepare and deliver content.  Each team member could work on a specific topic to present, making for team-wide engagement.  The leader should recognise each contributor for their specific contribution.  It is essential that the leader follows up each call the same day with a written summary of the new ideas, actions and approaches.  Training, however good, is easily forgotten and not adopted into daily operating procedures.  Each call should start with a quick debrief on feedback from implementing ideas from prior calls.
  3. Sales and marketing working together
    Marketing and sales must maintain close co-operation during this time.  Sales leaders should invite marketing to their training calls.  Marketing can learn by listening to the sales team as they present and share their ideas as well as “best practices” gathered from other team’s training calls.  This rapid dissemination of new working practices will define who are the winners in the new operating environment of technology sales.

I draw my inspiration on leadership best practices from as wide a range of data sources as possible, both current and historically.  One of my favourite books is “Slim, Master of War”. It’s about a military leader who inherited an army.   This army was not only beaten and demoralised, facing a seemingly invincible enemy, but also for every one combat casualty, he lost 120 more to illness, mainly Malaria.  By introducing strict healthcare, Field Marshall Slim reduced illness by a factor of 10.   With relentless training, planning and the ability to respond to change rapidly, he pushed back the enemy from all their occupied territories.  Slim’s commanding officer said of him “he had an exceptional ability to gain and retain the confidence of those under him and with him without any resort to panache.  Success did not inflate him or misfortune depress him”.  “Slim, Master of War” is by Robert Lynham and I recommend it strongly.

I’d welcome ideas and suggestions from all of the many sales leaders I am connected to, so that we can evolve the best in class sales leader guide right now.  I will consolidate the submissions and make sure they are made available to all.  The tech industry is one I have been proud to work in for many years, it has responded before to change and upheaval and has come back stronger.

This is the first of our insights we will be publishing in the coming weeks.  They are aimed at trying to support the tech sector customer facing workforce, in operating effectively and efficiently in today’s challenging circumstances.

Stay safe and well.