Even if we don’t all return to the office after we receive the all-clear from government officials, managers and leaders have to prepare for the future. In the office, employees will have to follow new protocols. And, if employees continue to work from home, managers must be ready to deal with burnout issues and find ways to keep team members engaged. David Veech, author of Leadersights: Creating Great Leaders Who Create Great Workplaces, shared some of his advice on this topic during a recent Manage Smarter podcast.
Establish New Processes
First up, when your team gets back to the office or it becomes clear that working in remote locations will last for a while, managers should recognize that employees will continue to feel unsettled. In this unsettled state, you have the perfect opportunity to establish a new order. If there is an operational detail that you’ve been meaning to address, now’s the time to take care of it. Do you want your sales reps to immediately post what happens in the CRM following each customer and prospect touch point? Hold a review session on how to make that happen. Don’t let reps wait until Friday afternoon when the week is winding down to make updates. If they enter information into the CRM right after the touch point happens, they have a better chance of summarizing accurately and capturing the emotion of the interaction.
As you think about your internal process over the next couple of months and set goals, you’ll have a better chance of successfully making changes when you assign responsibility. Your new process will only work well if you put someone, or perhaps more than one person, in charge of implementation. Team members who are operating under new processes will run into problems that nobody considered. When you appoint someone to take responsibility for addressing those issues and making revisions to keep the process running smoothly, they’ll keep the project on track. And they’ll benefit from professional development during the project.
One detail many sales managers have noticed is that outside sales reps became more efficient during the shutdown. Instead of driving or flying around to have a client touch point, they’ve been conducting business with video chat tools. In some cases, customer service has dramatically improved because reps have a lot more time to devote to the task. As you think about new processes, consider whether your outside sales reps could take more account management work or customer service calls. This change is an example of ‘return to better’ instead of ‘return to normal.’ And during the challenging business conditions your clients are experiencing, they’ll notice the extra effort you’re making.
Pre-pandemic, the typical sales manager may have chatted once a week with each rep. These conversations may have included a coaching session, a chat about goals, and an account review. The in-office experience also provided plenty of opportunity for the rep to chat with their manager in the break room or the hall. During these chats, the rep got questions answered and continued to work efficiently.
If your rep is still adjusting to working at home, they may hesitate to reach out and ask you questions. The end result is that their productivity may lag. Take the lead and connect with every rep every day. You may find it helpful to gather everyone into a group video chat for ten minutes to review problems. Agile development teams hold a daily huddle every morning to review roadblocks and figure out how to remove them. You can do the same thing. These group chats can be all about encouraging each other to do their best or it can be about addressing a specific problem a team member is having.
Short Interval Leadership
Sales managers might want to be in charge and make the decisions for their reps. They know in the short term that the department would run more efficiently. But in the long term, they are weakening the department and the reps. Veech suggests that you touch base frequently during the day with a rep who’s struggling. When they ask a question, especially if they want a quick fix for a sales problem, don’t immediately give them the answer. They don’t need to know exactly how you would handle the situation. They need to develop their own ways to solve these problems.
To help them learn, engage in coaching. Start by asking questions. Lead them through a question and answer situation to help them see a solution they can own. Because sales managers are so busy, they should consider investing in an automated coaching solution that will generate the questions they should ask, based on the situation, and also track the rep’s progress over time.
Return to Better Instead of Normal
We’re all talking about returning to normal. Maybe that’s not a good enough goal. Why not come up with a plan to ‘return to better?’ This strategy will energize and engage your sales reps.