How to Succeed as a Chaos Coach

BY C. Lee Smith
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Have you caught your breath yet? If not, start centering yourself and prepare for your role as a chaos coach when conducting business as unusual for the foreseeable future. Even in the best of times, managers must prepare for constant course corrections. And since March 2020, the economy seems to point to a course correction on a daily basis. To help us make sense of where to get started on this topic, we spoke with Jeff Piersall, the author of Dogs Don’t Bark at Parked Cars and who’s also known as the Chaos Coach, during a recent Manage Smarter podcast.

A Chaos Coach Knows When to Pivot

During the past several months, sales managers have been shocked into a new reality. The pandemic has slowed sales to a trickle in some verticals, especially those that rely on consumer entertainment spending. Other verticals, such as food distributors, have seen their supply chains disrupted. They may have been steadily shipping to restaurants and have had to shift the focus of their business to another vertical, such as grocery stores. For other sales managers, those in the toilet paper or hand sanitizer supply chain, keeping up with overwhelming demand has been impossible.

The wise sales manager should be spending time monitoring the volume of sales and leads. Are they slowing down, speeding up, or changing? Any shift in the usual pattern is your signal to dig deeper and find out what’s going on.

To be an effective leader, you won’t ‘settle for the status quo.’ Even outside of a pandemic, a great leader looks for a better way to do things, cautions Piersall.

Build a Trustworthy Team

You won’t be able to manage big changes on your own. In fact, you may not realize the extent of needed changes if you don’t have a trustworthy team. In too many organizations, employees are obsessed with making themselves look good in front of the boss. They’ll hope things will get better on their own and that all they have to do is wait it out. If they don’t tell you what’s going on, they figure they have time to fix a broke situation. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work out, especially since you may need to embark on an entirely new course of action.

Sales leaders who are entering new territory also need courageous thinkers. In our Voice of the Sales Manager survey, around 28% of respondents noted that being courageous was necessary to succeed in the profession. That’s a relatively low percentage compared to the scores given to characteristics such as problem solving (68%) and confidence (66%). But chaotic times call for unique strengths.

Piersall has seen too many people who are "frozen by fear.” If your demeanor is contributing to that problem, make it clear that you don’t intend to shoot the messenger who brings you bad news. In your role as chaos coach, what you need are people who will respectfully disagree with your ideas and explain why. Give them the courtesy of considering their ideas. And if you reject them, explain why and ask them to commit to the mission you’ve chosen. If they won’t commit and you can’t coach them to change, you may need to let them go.

Protect Your Revenue Stream

In a chaotic business environment, you also need to protect your current revenue stream. Piersall believes sales reps should stop focusing on trying to sell more to existing accounts. That’s because, in many cases, 80% of the business is coming from 20% of the clients. You need to take good care of those clients.

Now is the time to work on relationships and that is something good salespeople know how to do. Like everyone else, your clients are having trouble dealing with the challenging times. They’ll appreciate any personal touch you can offer.

Your reps might be shying away from talking to your existing accounts because they’re afraid they’ll try to cancel the business they’re doing with you. That could be the wrong mindset. It’s time to coach your reps on good account management. Don’t miss this opportunity to offer them something of value and to strengthen the relationship you have with them.