We’ve been taught that humans have a fight or flight response when they feel threatened. The age of coronavirus ranks as a major threat, and to survive, you’ll need a good coaching tool to tap into the art and science of leadership. To keep the organization on track, leaders must emphasize the right characteristics and set a positive example for what they expect from employees. Rishad Tobaccowala gave us a roadmap for good leadership during a recent Manage Smarter podcast. He’s also the author of "Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data."
We’re currently faced with one of the biggest changes in human history, especially in terms of how we do business with each other. Your team members are going to resist change. Mostly, because it’s hard. They’ve conquered the challenges of selling in a face-to-face environment. Now, many sales reps have to learn how to sell using other methods.
Right now, leaders have to work with employees to embrace the change that’s been caused by the novel coronavirus. They want to sell the way they’ve always sold. But we know it will take a long time before we can return to something like face-to-face selling and in-person networking. To encourage your team members to change, you need to consistently reinforce the idea of change and you may need to provide incentives. If you reward reps with a day off or a bonus when they successfully close a deal via video conferencing, other team members will notice.
While you’re touting change, don’t forget about common sense. Today, because we have so much data available at our fingertips, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers. Those numbers don’t talk back to us. They make sense on many levels.
The problem is some managers prefer numbers to people. They rely on the science part of the art and science leadership algorithm. They don’t look up to see there’s a disaster headed their way. How else can we explain Boeing’s rush to get the 737 Max into the air or the pressure the sales reps felt at Wells Fargo to make their numbers and ultimately opened fake accounts? Managers relied on data and ignored common sense. Tobaccowala tells us to ‘balance the story and the spreadsheet when we’re communicating change to our team members.'
Business experts like to talk about agile leadership as a key quality for survival in today’s climate. That may be true. But to be an effective leader, to be the person your team looks up to, you need other characteristics. Start with being capable. Your team expects you to have their back. If you’re not able to complete a task one way, find another way to get it done.
Now, more than ever, your reps also need inspiration. They know what their numbers are. What they need to hear is how what they’re selling will make a difference in a customer’s life. You’re the person who should be building them up every day.
The big worriers in your organization may secretly believe that the entire sales profession is about to be replaced with data and algorithms. Sure, it’s true that more buyers are much further down the purchase funnel by the time they get in touch with a vendor. But the reality is that sales is a personal profession. Prospects still want reassurance that the solution they’re considering is right for them. And these interactions, whether on the phone or via video call, give sales reps an opportunity to customize solutions for the prospects’ specific needs and wants. What has changed is the messaging and the method of communicating. Show your reps that you’re committed to helping them get to the other side of a big challenge.
Empathy is another characteristic that can help you win loyalty and boost team motivation. Our research, Voice of the Sales Manager, indicates only 47% of sales managers believe soft skills are key for successfully running their team. If that sounds like you, make it a goal to tackle at least one soft skill in the next month and work on it with a colleague. If you’re not sure where your weaknesses are, take a comprehensive sales skills assessment and study the results.
Art and Science of Leadership
Your reps might also be nervous during this time of economic uncertainty. They may have friends who’ve been laid off and have heard rumors about furloughs in your organization. That environment is a setup for employees to keep their thoughts and concerns to themselves and work hard. It also means they’ll hesitate to point out if they think you’re doing something wrong.
Meanwhile, your organization could be headed for disaster. Sales reps are the first line of communication with prospects. They’re faster to pick up on feedback about a new feature and whether it will sell. Their feedback is vitally important, and you need to balance it with the spreadsheet models that your analytics are cranking out. Above all, you need to take both the art and science of leadership strategies into account.
If your sales reps are too afraid to tell you the truth, the entire organization could be at risk. You can borrow the ‘judgment-free’ model so effectively promoted by a popular fitness club chain. Encourage reps to come forward with their honest feedback about your products and services. Use an automated coaching solution to help you understand how to communicate with each team member. And reward your sales reps by listening and taking action based on the information they provide.