When the pandemic first hit, sales leaders scrambled to find ways to keep their teams motivated and successful while selling in a virtual environment. Today, sales leaders recognize that the shift to virtual selling will be with us for a while, if not permanently. These leaders must again adapt and find new ways to engage their teams.
During a recent webinar, Virtual Sales Management: How to Lead and Succeed in 2021, Rob Salafia, founder and CEO of Protagonist Consulting Group and a lecturer and executive coach at MIT Sloan School of Management, and Erika Bzdel, Allego’s vice president of enterprise sales, joined moderator Shauna Leighton, Allego’s senior marketing manager, for a discussion about how sales leaders can support their teams’ success in 2021.
“When we suddenly became a completely distributed team, we lost our common touch point,” says Bzdel. “We had to figure out how to virtually communicate in ways that supported connection and engagement and enabled us to keep our fingers on the pulse of what is happening in the market—and with our teams.
“Generating engagement is critical right now, but creating connection in a virtual environment requires leaders to take a new approach,” says Salafia. He recommends that sales leaders concentrate on three areas: get present, get personal, and get productive.
Get Present: The Power of Showing Up
The virtual setting of todays’ sales teams requires leaders to spend more time and effort creating a presence that builds a sense of trust and relationship with their teams.
Start by acknowledging the elephant in the room—distractions.
“Everyone has a different situation at home or where their office is,” says Salafia. “You never know what situations people are walking into. You can’t eliminate distractions, so the best thing you can do is to normalize them.”
Working virtually also means that we often move from meeting to meeting, screen to screen, without time to process events, tasks, or emotions. Throughout the day, those tensions can build and prevent us from being truly present for our teams.
Salafia recommends building in some pause points throughout the day. That means leaving time between meetings to regroup, write down action items, and think about the next meeting: Who’s going to be there? Why am I there? What’s the outcome I’m looking for? How do I want to show up?
“The best way for us to make that authentic connection with the person who we’re speaking to, whether a prospective client or a member of our team, is to have awareness of how we show up. These pause points enable you to be more present and to listen more effectively,” says Salafia.
Salafia also recommends taking time to check in with the people on the call before diving into the details of the meeting. “Get everyone in the same ‘room’ so you can learn what’s going on with them and what’s happening in their day.”
Get Personal: Gain Insight with Deliberate Questions
Working in the pandemic means that virtual sales teams are balancing more than just their territories, books of business, and quotas. Effective sales leaders acknowledge that fact and find new ways to provide employees with what they need to succeed.
“When sales people are face-to-face with a client, we get a lot of feedback from reading the room and picking up on things like body language and tone,” says Bzdel. “The same rules apply when we are trying to motivate a team. But in this new environment, where you’re on a screen, reading those responses becomes very difficult.”
Bzdel says that to get a better understanding of people’s mindsets, you need to be deliberate in your communications. This means shifting conversations from specific goals and targets to more open discussions about how the salesperson is doing and about what they need.
Over time, the information the salesperson shares can reveal larger trends that can be brainstormed with the wider team.
For example, think about your external sellers. These seasoned reps were used to selling in face-to-face settings where handshakes and lunches were the norm. Now they are forced to shift to a whole different way of selling, relying on phones and video. Giving these salespeople the chance to explain their challenges and frustrations opens a discussion and helps the manager provide coaching and other resources to help them succeed.
Get Productive: New Ways to Support the Virtual Sales Process
Once they recognize what their sales teams need, effective sales leaders provide new ways to ensure their teams are productive.
“When our workforce got distributed, there was a feeling that we needed to have meeting after meeting to prove we’re still connecting. But sales is not a nine-to-five job. And if I’m relying on one scheduled point of contact, that can hamstring me, especially in this environment.”
Instead of scheduling a meeting, Bzdel often provides a variety of shorter, more impactful touch points via bite-sized videos that her team can engage with on their own schedule and review again when needed.
This type of content works well for virtual sales teams, but can also be adapted for use in sales enablement of new employees.
Because they are engaging with one key piece of information at a time, sales personnel are better able to build their skill sets. They can add that information, lesson, or skill to their dialog and return to the video when needed.
“Asynchronous communication allows me to provide information that my team can get, recall, and engage with on a time frame that doesn’t have to be completely aligned,” says Bzdel. “This flexible communication is critical for the way we sell today and for whatever comes next.”
For more ideas and inspiration for modern sales management, watch the complete webinar on demand: Virtual Sales Management: How to Lead and Succeed in 2021.